Saturday, September 03, 2005

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Predictions of Other Games

Here's my predictions of other games today, released right before we head to Goodman to see Lehigh play Monmouth.

Patriot League
Fordham at Rhode Island, 1PM. Win or lose, this will be an intriguing view into Fordham's squad this year. If they beat this lower-echelon Atlantic 10 team, they will be sending a message to the Patriot they're for real. I think they do in a very close game. Fordham 35, URI 31.

Sacred Heart at Holy Cross, 1PM. Mid-major Sacred Heart may think they have a shot, but they won't have a chance in this one. HC 45, SH 3.

Central Connecticut St. at Colgate, 1PM. No need to sweat, Colgate fans - the Devils will be handled easily. Colgate 56, CCSU 10.

Georgetown at Bucknell, 6PM. The first Patriot League game of the year, both the Hoyas and Bison hope to get the season off on the right foot. I see Bucknell as a strong title contender, and I see them defeating Georgetown despite a gallant effort. Bucknell 35, G'Town 28.

Lafayette at Marist, 7PM. Coach Tavani doesn't want his Leopards to overlook Marist. However, I will. Lafayette 63, Marist 7.

I-AA Top 25
Lock Haven (D-II) at #1 James Madison, 6PM. As if. JMU 42, LH 0.

Fort Lewis (D-II) at #3 Montana, 4PM. Wouldn't a scrimmage be better? Montana 77, FL 7.

#4 Eastern Washington at San Jose St. (I-A), 6PM. The Eagles have a real shot to pull the upset here, and I'm going to take it against a moribund San Jose St. team. Cali will learn the ways of Eagle QB Erik Meyer here. EWU 28, SJSU 17.

#6 Georgia Southern at Northeastern, 2PM. 2 years ago, this probably would have been a great matchup. This year, however, with the Huskies rebuilding, I smell a mismatch. GSU 38, NU 17.

#7 New Hampshire at UC-Davis, 9PM. The Aggies out of the Great West should be improved in an interesting matchup, but picking against QB Ricky Santos is folly. UNH 44, UCD 16.

Jackson St. at #13 Hampton (Detroit Labor Day Classic), 1PM. Hampton has a great team, but these classics are notoriously hard to predict, and I think the Tigers may keep this closer than some people think. HU 38, JSU 21.

#17 Cal Poly at Troy (I-A), 7PM. The Mustangs have a pretty good team, but I just don't see them knocking off a pretty decent Troy squad. Troy 34, Cal Poly 24.

#18 Montana St. at Oklahoma St. (I-A), 7PM. Travis Lulay can't make this one close, I'm sorry. OSU 50, Montana St. 17.

Georgetown (Ky.) (NAIA) at #21 Wofford, 7PM. Wofford will keep their streak of blowing out woeful out-of-conference opposition alive. Wofford 49, GU 14.

Delta St. (D-II) at #23 Texas State, 7PM. No magic here - the Bobcats get down to business and hammer hapless Delta St. TSU 49, DSU 12.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Orleans Donations Tommorrow At Goodman; Press Roundup; Thursday I-AA Wrapup

Hot off the presses. I have just learned from Jeff Tourial (Lehigh's Sports Information Director) that Lehigh's graduate student senate will have a collection table for folks who would like to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They will be outside the stadium tomorrow morning beginning at 11:30 am. All proceeds will benefit the Red Cross hurricane disaster relief fund. So if you want to help, stop by at the collection table.

A few notes on Thursday's I-AA games. No really major surprises, aside from the mild upset of Northwestern St. over I-A Lousiana-Monroe. I should have picked the UMass/Richmond game (since UMass was indeed ranked), but it's a good thing I didn't since I would have definitely got it wrong. Furman and Jacksonville St. played an absolute barn-burner, with Furman QB Ingle Martin completing a TD pass with the clock expiring to secure a 37-35 victory (and also preserving my pick).

The press roundup comes in today from far and wide. There is a great article in the Easton Express-times concerning Lehigh football members who had family, friends, and lives shattered by Hurricane Katrina. I won't quote the article here, but I'd urge you to link to it below - if that doesn't make you want to help the victims of Katrina, I don't know what will.

Morning Call:
Monmouth Coach Impressed With Lehigh

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Quartet Tackling Katrina's Wake
Lehigh Rides Two Streaks
Graziani and Hawks Set Very High Goals

Asbury Park Press (Monmouth):
A Tall Order For Defenses

The digested version:

Monmouth football coach Kevin Callahan gushed so much about Lehigh on Wednesday that Mountain Hawks coach Pete Lembo was hoping there might be a place for him on The Morning Call sports staff.

It's part of the coaching manual to praise opponents to media and lower expectations of your own team before a game, but Callahan's thorough, five-minute speech about Lehigh's strengths during a media luncheon at Starters Pub sounded like vintage Lou Holtz, only without the lisp.

"It's easy to see why they've been to the NCAA playoffs for five (of the last seven) years," said Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan, who expects former Phillipsburg standout running back Leonard Brice to see some action Saturday.

"What concerns me about them? Just about everything. There's a great chance they'll eclipse last year's accomplishments by a wide margin. They were the best offense in the Patriot League last year. And you know what? They don't turn the ball over.

"They're very explosive."

...

Callahan didn't need to puff up the 14th-ranked Mountain Hawks because in the eyes of the public, his team is already in a no-lose situation when it comes to Goodman Stadium for the 1 p.m. season opener on Saturday.
...

The presence of so many wide out sky scrapers could also shake [Monmouth WR Miles] Austin free from some of the defenses opponents threw his way last fall.

"Every game I pretty much got double-teamed," said Austin. "[Brendan Kennedy] can catch the fade ball, probably the best on the team. People have to worry about him now. If Shane [Sharpley] is on the other side catching touchdowns people have to worry about him, too.

Monmouth's most intriguing off-season move was the shift of Kennedy back to receiver where as a junior in high school he latched onto a team-best 21 passes for 416 yards and three TDs.

"Going (back) to wide out, I suggested it," said Kennedy. "I thought it would help out the team, get Brian on the field more often."

"They're very big targets," said [Monmouth QB Brian] Boland who, the same year Kennedy was a high school senior, was concluding a brilliant scholastic career at Brick Memorial.

"Most of the teams we play won't have corners close to the same height as these guys," he said.

"We're going to know where [Boland]'s at, know everything he does," Lehigh cornerback Brannan Thomas said. "They're a tough offense, especially with the players they have. Their quarterback puts up pretty impressive stats... They're not going to be intimidated."

...

[F]acing his most demanding schedule with road games at Delaware, Harvard, Bucknell, Colgate and Fordham, Lembo said he has learned to shield himself, and the team, from outside expectations.

''We talk a lot about what we can control and what we can't,'' he said. ''We can't control what people think. We can't control what's written in the newspaper and we can't control the fact that some of our fans may be looking ahead to other games. What we can control is how we practice, how we treat ourselves as a football family.''

The Lehigh University Mountain Hawks have never lost a season opener during coach Pete Lembo's watch and have won their first game for seven consecutive years.

"There's a huge emphasis we place on winning the first game," Lembo said. "We don't look ahead. I know other people have a tendency to look ahead. We don't. I give our players a lot of credit for understanding and buying into that."

But that's not the streak that will be driving the Mountain Hawks come Saturday.

"The streak we have now we've lost our last two games," said Julian Austin, the Mountain Hawks' junior safety.

...

Lembo said that senior quarterback Mark Borda, the Patriot League's preseason player of the year, has worked hard in camp — sometimes too hard.

''Mark has pushed himself so hard that we actually had to cut back on his reps in practice,'' he said. ''He was wearing himself down a little. We gave him off a day last week and again on Sunday and he really came back with a lot of zip on the ball.''

And Lembo said Borda's best attributes are not seen from the bleachers.

''He's a terrific person and I like being around him every day,'' Lembo said. ''I like his approach to the game, I like his humble attitude, I like that he takes nothing for granted.''

...

"We had a number of players last year show flashes of brilliance in certain games," Lembo said, "and in other games, they might not have made as great of an impact -- everyone from the quarterback right on down to the nose tackle. I would say consistency is right up there at the top of my list.

"Next in line is toughness," Lembo said. "We lost some very good players from last year's team, but they were also some of the toughest kids in the program -- guys who battled through serious injuries, guys who practiced incredibly hard every day, guys who you knew, in the locker room, were keeping things in line.

"While I'm optimistic we can fill those holes in the games, it still remains to be seen if we have enough guys with those intangibles to give us that same presence we had last year."

"Last year was a great time," said Graziani, who will resume his starring role at linebacker as a fifth-year senior after leading the Mountain Hawks with 111 tackles in an All-Patriot League season. "I loved it last year. I just wanted to come back and experience it one more time."

"This could be a very special year," said defensive tackle Royce Morgan, who returns after making 2( sacks over the first seven quarters of last year before a broken leg and dislocated ankle finished his season. "On the team level, I expect us to do great things in our league and great things in the playoffs."

"Having that prefix on the word 'champions' doesn't fit us too well," said Adam Selmasska, a senior guard from Easton and another co-captain. "That's what we're trying to do take the next step, take it to the next level."

"We got close, but we didn't win," said Borda, a former star at Bethlehem Catholic. "We have the ability to play with those types of teams. It's a little disappointing because we lost those games... I have one year under my belt. My confidence level is a lot higher than last year. I have a lot of confidence and high expectations for our offense."

"Our defensive backs are just a fun group of kids to be around," Lembo said. "They're very diverse. And they're probably as tight-knit a group as we have on our team.

"Our expectations and goals remain very consistent from year to year -- to win our first game, to be in the hunt for a league championship come November and to be playing meaningful football games at the end of the season."

To the Mountain Hawks, that would only start the good times rolling.

"I have a lot of confidence in this team," Graziani said. "Our expectations and goals are set pretty high. I want to be part of it."

See you Saturday!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thursday I-AA Predictions

Since we have a lot of games this Thursday, my regularly-scheduled predictions are going to be here a little early... for the Thursday games only involving members of the Any Given Saturday Consolidated Top 25 rankings. For my Saturday picks, tune in on Saturday morning.

Top 25
Bacone College (NAIA) at #T18 Sam Houston St.
Sammy Bearkat may be suiting up by the time this one is over. And the coaches may be eyeing Samantha Bearkat as well. SHS 70, Bacone 0.

#11 William & Mary at Marshall (I-A). Some think that a Marshall team that is retooling may be tested by the Tribe, but I don't think so - it's not the right time for William & Mary to be breaking in a new QB. Marshall 35, W&M 17.

#7 Southern Illinois at SE Missouri St.
SEMO may not be in the same class as Southern Illinois, but last I checked they're a full-scholarship team, and will keep things relatively close. SIU 31, SEMO 20.

West Virginia Tech (D-II) at #T5 Western Kentucky.
Attention WKU fans: bring your pads to the game tonight. You may need them. WKU 54, WVT 3.

#2 Furman at #21 Jacksonville St.
The most interesting game of the night. The defending OVC champion Gamecocks will see if they can run with the defending SoCon champion Paladins. I think this will be a tight game, but I think that QB Ingle Martin and the Paladins find a way to put the game out of reach in the 4th quarter. Furman 23, Jacksonville St. 14.

#10 Northwestern St. at Louisiana-Monroe (I-A).
A fun northwestern Louisiana rivalry game to distract from the tragedy of the hurricane. Many think the Demons can pull off the "upset". I'm thinking, though, that the ULM Indians are improving quickly and will prevail in a close one. ULM 23, NW St. 17.

Arkansas-Monticello (D-II) at #T22 North Dakota St.
If D-II Henderson St. can handle the Boll Weevils of UAM handily, imagine what a good I-AA program can do to them - at home. NDSU 56, UAM 0.

Drake at #12 Northern Iowa.
A nationally televised game in Iowa, and a battle for I-AA supremacy. Some think Drake have a chance. They don't. UNI 63, Drake 6.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Preview of Monmouth/Lehigh

3 days until opening day. All the waiting is just about over. And as promised, here is your Lehigh/Monmouth preview.

It's the only home game Lehigh will be playing in September, where the weather should be sunny and nice. It's also going to be Kid's Day... and as of right now, I am tentatively planning to be there with my wife & child. I am greatly looking forward to it! I really enjoy going to games in September in warm weather, while sitting on Goodman's grassy bowl area.

The plan is to be podcasting at the end of each quarter with updates, in case you can't make it!

Injury Report

To those fans who have just discovered this blog, it's my policy to only report the Lehigh injuries that are "questionable" and above. "Questionable" means there's a 50/50 chance they play.

DT Josh Cooney (back, questionable)
CB Calvin LaMont (groin, questionable)
CB Brannan Thomas (quad, questionable)

It's always great to see relatively few injuries to start the year, but there are some concerns here. Cooney is a key member of the defensive line rotation, though we could see Chris Zambrano or Eric Rakus take his place in the rotation. At CB, Thomas and LaMont will probably be spelled by sophomore Julian Ahye. Hopefully all three will spend time in this weekend.

10 things you didn't know about Monmouth University
1. They are a member of a limited-scholarship conference, the Northeast conference. The Hawks have won back-to-back NEC titles.
2. Last year, Monmouth took home the "Sports Network Cup" as the best I-A mid-major team in the nation (mid-major meaning non or limited scholarship level).
3. WR Will Holder was the first Monmouth football alumnus to appear on an NFL roster. (Unfortunately, he didn't survive the final round of roster cuts.)
4. Two Monmouth Alumni - Katie Gallagher and Stephenie LaGrossa - were on Survivor: Palau, proving beyond a doubt that if you want to go to college to be a reality TV star, Monmouth's your place.
5. West Long Branch, where Monmouth is located, could be the perfect spot to spend the summer, as it's minutes from scores of beaches on the Jersey Shore, and also a half hour from New York City.
6. Jon Bon Jovi has an honorary degree in humanities from Monmouth. No word on the possibility of Bret Michaels of Poison joining him with a "Alchohol & Drug science" honorary doctorate.
7. Monmouth boasts 3 players on the Sports Network preseason all-mid-major team: QB Brian Boland, C John Castoro, and DB Nick Castellano.
8. Completing the idea of Monmouth as a "school of Rock", next week Monmouth is hosting a symposium on work and musical influence of Bruce Springsteen, where experts on the "ethnographic examination of New Jersey Culture" will debate the Boss' musical legacy.
9. Monmouth indirectly played a part in the Boss' rise to superstardom, as he played in venues in and around Monmouth in the '70s.
10. Monmouth beat Georgetown pretty resoundingly last year, 27-10 at West Long Branch. So they are not a slouchy program by any means.

Overall
Most fans of ranked I-AA teams look at any NEC school and think "patsy". Monmouth is not a patsy. They have shown they have talent with a win over Georgetown and back-to-back mid-major championships. They have an "O" line that is bigger than Bucknell's. Their leading rusher last year was lost to graduation, but there is talent on this roster. The Hawks absolutely should not be overlooked.

Offensive Breakdown
Last year junior QB Brian Boland was the best QB in the entire Northeast Conference by a longshot. He's accurate, completing more than 56% of his passes last year with 12 TDs. A former Rutgers transfer, he shouldn't be allowed to pick apart the defense - he's proven that he has talent. Against Georgetown last year, he showed some mobility on a 40 yard TD pass. Against Robert Morris, he completed 3 passes for 63 yards in a last-second win.

The "O" line is anchored by senior C John Castoro, a Maine transfer. There is size in this line. Hard to know how good they are with no games to look at, but if they give Boland time he can definitely kill you.

It looks like senior RB Bobby Smith will take the reins as Monmouth's versatile starting RB. He's a threat on the ground (4.6 yards per carry) and through the air (173 yards receiving). Junior RB Rob Lutz is also no slouch with a 4.4 yard per carry average.

Senior WR Miles Austin is another fine athlete - last year, he averaged 20 yards per reception with 9 TDs. I was unable to confirm whether he will start this week. Junior Adam San Miguel is their second sppedy wideout, and senior Michael McClelland is also a decent receiver. Overall, Monmouth boasts talent and experience in all wideout positions.

Defensive Breakdown
The Hawks "D" line features 3 seniors in a somewhat undersized line. Senior Brian Sweeney is the all-around wrecking crew, with 3.5 sacks last year. Still, with all that experience, to go with Monmouth's average of 16.5 points given up per game, you have to give their line props.

Junior LB Mike Castellano, a Villanova trasfer, was the linchpin of the Monmouth defense last year, with 71 tackles and 13 1/2 tackles for loss, not to mention 1 INT and 2 fumble recoveries. You figure he will only be better this year. The other linebackers are not as experienced as Castellano, however.

Senior DB Nick Castellano (no direct relation to Mike) is another fine player, with 81 tackles last year, 2 sacks and one INT. Are you getting the picture yet that Monmouth has some pretty gosh-darned good players?

Special Teams
Junior P Sean Dennis averages 40.1 yards per punt, which would make most Patriot League head coaches elated. Monmouth's PK will either be sophomores Mike Pizzuli or Fred Weingart, neither of whom has kicked in a game for Monmouth.

Miles Austin generally returns kicks for the Hawks - if he indeed is injured, that would be a huge blow.

Keys to the Game
1. No hubris allowed.
Monmouth has good players pretty much in all the key positions. They may not have the depth or the condition that Lehigh has, but a sloppy game could mean a long afternoon. This is not a game off.
2. Pressure Boland. Containing RB Bobby Smith will definitely be a concern, but more important to me is to not allow Boland to pick apart the secondary, and given enough time, he will. Senior DT Royce Morgan and junior DE Matt Mohler will need to get in his face all afternoon.
3. Rath running roughshod.
Senior RB Eric Rath running between the tackles should be the key to getting Lehigh's 2005 season going, matching up against a reltively smallish front seven. How Lehigh's "O" line does against Monmouth could be a great indicator of how 2005 might shape up for the Mountain Hawks.

Fearless Prediction
The backups will come in, but not until the second half. Monmouth has enough skill to keep things interesting in the first half, but Lehigh pulls away in the second as Lehigh gets the job done.

Lehigh 45, Monmouth 10

Monday, August 29, 2005

5 Days Until Opening Day; My Take on the 2-Deep

Can you believe we're only 5 days away from Monmouth/Lehigh? I can't wait ! There's a real buzz in the air this season that maybe, just maybe, Lehigh is poised for great things this season. It all starts with a good win against Monmouth this weekend; and it's the only thing to be concerned about this week. On Wednesday I will be posting my Lehigh/Monmouth preview and breakdown, so look for that later this week.

[8:58 8/30 Missed Will Mitchell - revised.]

Last year I started the tradition on speculating about who coach Lembo will be picking for his 2-deep on opening day. This year, I'm happy to continue the tradition by picking who I think will be on the squad for 2005.

Many of the faces are the same as 2004. Rath, Borda, Walker, Graziani, Morgan, Cardwell - you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that they are the starters. But there are a few surprises.

On offense, QB Sedale Threatt to me is the unquestioned #2 QB, solidifying his hold on that after a great spring and great camp. TE Pete Morelli appeared to squeak by TE Landon Maggs to be former TE Adam Bergen's replacement, though both may end up getting their fair share of receptions in 2005.

A mild surprise may be having WR Lee Thomas as the #3 wideout. WRs Gerran Walker and Winfred Porter are locks on the #1 and #2 slots, but I liked what I saw from him last year over Adam Kovacs and Aaron Argenta. In the event, the Moutain Hawks appear to be stacked at wideout - so stacked, that I was unable to keep a spot open for WR Pete Donchez, one of my faves.

The "O" Line still is gelling, but one name to note is OL Colin Hewko, who rose from the scout team this year and got some key time in camp. I think he has a great shot to see game action this year.

Quarterback: Mark Borda; Sedale Threatt
Running Back: Eric Rath; Marques Thompson
Fullback: Greg Fay; John Piascik
Tight End: Peter Morelli; Justin Welsh
Tight End: Landon Maggs; Joe Sutherland
Tackle: Adam Selmasska; Andrew Plummer
Guard: Jim Petruccelli; Colin Hewko
Center: John Reese; Jason Russell
Guard: Jimmy Kehs; Shaun Strickland
Tackle: Tom Toth; Eric Anderson
Wide Receiver: Gerran Walker; Adam Kovacs
Wide Reciever: Winfred Porter; Aaron Argenta
Wide Receiver: Lee Thomas; Gregg Petrosky

On defense, we have a great looking front four that if healthy could cause opponents fits. Fabre, Morgan, Mitchell and Breninger are a talented group that I'm realy excited about. The second-team is also mighty good, notably Matt Mohler and Tyrell Jenkins. Mike Murwanski, another fave, is waiting in the wings as well.

No surprises in the linebacking corps, but our first freshman, DB Jarvis Lewis, cracks the second-team CB position.

Defensive End: Owen Breninger; Matt Mohler
Defensive Tackle: Royce Morgan; Chris Zambrano
Defensive Tackle: Will Mitchell; Josh Cooney
Defensive Line: Paul Fabre; Tyrell Jenkins
Outside Linebacker: Travis Stinson; Micah Greene
Inside Linebacker: Matt Purdy; Justin Weaver
Outside Linebacker: Anthony Graziani; Chris LaMont
Cornerback: Andrew Nelson; Jarvis Lewis
Strong Safety: Courtney Elder; Julian Austin
Free safety: Kaloma Cardwell; Calvin LaMont
Cornerback: Brannan Thomas; Devin Dobson

Special teams sees another freshman, P/K Jason Leo, backing up K Justin Musiek and P Josh Mann. I think Leo may be booting on kickoffs too - just a hunch. Returning kicks will be Gerran Walker primarily, but Petrosky and Trovato should also figure in the mix.

Kicker: Justin Musiek; Jason Leo
Punter: Josh Mann; Jason Leo
Return Specialist: Gerran Walker; Devin Dobson
Return Specialist: Gregg Petrosky; Frank Trovato
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