With my "contest" of renaming Lehigh/Lafayette extending into early next week, and the release of EA Sports' NCAA '07 to rail about next week as well, here's my annual feature which is sure to whet your appetite for Patriot League football this year. That's right - it's my annual recap of the offseason for every Patriot League team!
Each offseason brings a lot of upheaval in college football - it's inevitable. New classes come in, coaches leave, and stars graduate. It's a lot to keep track of. As a service to you, the Patriot League fan, I've netted it out and compiled the important information from every offseason and compiled it here.
Here's your guide to what's been happening up to this point.
Coaching Changes: A new offensive coordinator in Ashley Ingram cements the "spread option" offensive philosiphy in Lewisburg, while a new defensive line coach in Pat Kingman takes over as well. They take over for two coaches who are now head coaches elsewhere: Tim Camp (D-II Eastern Oregon) and Jim Reid (VMI).
The Hardest Guy To Replace: DL Sean Conover was a dominating all-Patriot defensive lineman who has been signed by the Tennessee Titans. The defensive line will miss his presence.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: QB Andrew Lair, a transfer from Navy, should instantly be in the mix at QB. Lair's father and brother played football at LSU, and his height (6'2) and weight (195) could make him a great player.
Incoming Class Grade: C+. If it wasn't for Lair and another great recruit in DL Kurt Schneider, I'd probably be giving Landis a "C", but his recruiting classes always perplex me. Is there really a need for eight RBs and only four OL? Some good depth in the defense overall, but the Bison offensive line needs beef and depth, and this class offers the beef but not the depth.
Spring Game: The game was not scored, but the Orange spread option attack broke through for six TDs on the Blue defense. QB Terrance Wilson g showed that he's not going to go quietly into the night with Lair's presence - he had a solid day and basically showed that QB will be a position battle in the preseason.
Overall Offseason: Landis is not only rebuilding, he has some big holes to fill on both sides of the ball. The Bison have a lot of questions entering into the preseason, and it remains to be seen if they will answer all of them by opening day.
Coaching Changes: Biddle "promotes from within" as QB coach Dan Hunt takes over the offensive coordinator position. He replaced Mike Foley, who coached the Raider offense since 1997.
The Hardest Guy To Replace: LB Jared Nepa was a hard worker and a tough customer as the defensive captain of last year's playoff-bound team. The Raiders need to replace the heartbeat of the defense in 2006.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: This may surprise you: the best player in this class isn't a transfer or lineman, but 6'6 WR Patrick Simonds out of Sidney, NY. Simonds played on the NY Class C Champions and was a dominating receiver - there's every indication he can be dominating at the Patriot League level, too.
Incoming Class Grade: A. Biddle is starting to give me nightmares. Up to seven big OL. Up to eight big DL. Four big LBs. For good measure, he even brought in a transfer QB and an RB to add depth to two already-crowded positions. An outstanding class.
Spring Game: In a first, coach Biddle actually talked a little about his spring game, calling it "so-so". He did mention some guys who will be starting, though, like OL Rich Rosabella and LB Mike Gallihugh.
Overall Offseason: If you believe Biddle had a "so-so" spring, I'd like to introduce you to my rich Nigerian friend. Biddle's championship squad is only getting better in 2006, with every indication they will be "reloading" instead of "rebuilding".
Coaching Changes: New head coach Kevin Kelly comes from Navy with esseintally a brand-new coaching staff. Only the assistant head coach, Rob Sgarlata, remains from the Bob Benson era.
The Hardest Guy To Replace: No doubt it's DE Michael Ononibaku, the most talented player to leave Georgetown in some time. He's pursuing a career in the NFL, and that talent will be missed.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: Could DE Chudi Obianwu, out of south Jersey, be Ononibaku's heir apparent on the line? Obianwu made life miserable for QBs there, so it will be interesting to see his development as a Hoya.
Incoming Class Grade: B-. A balanced, OK class, but without that marquee guy that Georgetown needs. Good talent across the board, especially defensively. Crucial to the Hoyas' success will be finding an impact runner in the four freshman RBs coming into the program.
Spring Game: A peek into Kevin Kelly's offense would seem to feature QBs that are going to run a lot -- maybe even in a spread-option style. QB Ben Hostetler had a fine spring, so don't be surprised to see him in the starting mix at QB. The defense did a fine job stopping the offense in general.
Overall Offseason: Kelly has been brought in to take Georgetown to the next level in the Patriot League. He looks like he's on the right track, and he seems to be starting a young team in 2006 that will hopefully be contending for league titles in a couple of years.
Coaching Changes: Coach Ed Foley was dismissed and new coach Tom Masella joins the Rams from Central Connecticut State. A veteran of New England football and fresh off his upset of Colgate last year, Masella took almost all of his CCSU staff with him to rebuild the Rams.
The Hardest Guy to Replace: Many key cogs return, choosing to return as fifth-year seniors. Oddly, P Anthony DiFino may be difficult to replace as the best punter in the Patriot League last year.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: He may not think the Patriot League is Division I football, but 6'6 QB John Skelton, the big Texan, was a potential walk-on at UTEP and may be a gem down the road for the Rams. (Psst: Fordham is Division I.)
Incoming Class Grade: B. Even though it's not a big class, when you get two 300 lb linemen you get a guaranteed "B" from me. Interesting that the Rams nabbed some players from a lot of different places around the country. You wonder if it might have been better to get more kids for much-needed depth in a variety of positions, though.
Spring Game: With a ton of injuries, it was hard to say what the spring will tell us, but it can't be good that QB Derric Daniels couldn't dominate the defense. It remains to be seen if Masella can get a more effective offense together.
Overall Offseason: Last year, we saw a talented team fall apart with a 2-9 season, and Masella is there to pick up the pieces and move forward. It seems like he is still trying to figure out the best team to put on the field on Saturdays. Fordham remains a huge X-factor n the Patriot, and the offseason has done nothing to dispel that view.
Coaching Changes: It wouldn't really be a Tom Gilmore-coached Holy Cross team without, oh, yet another coaching shakeup. With Lehigh raiding Holy Cross' fridge for defensive coordinator David Kotulski and offensive coordinator Bob Griffin retiring, the Crusaders once again have new coaching faces in key places. Their replacements come from within: former WR coach Chris Pincince is the new offensive coordinator, and former DB coach Richard Rogers is the new defensive coordinator.
The Hardest Guy To Replace: That honor, without a doubt, goes to RB/PR Steve Silva, a tough son-of-a-gun who was the sun around which the team revolved offensively. It's not only hard to replace his 2,134 all-purpose yards, it's hard to replace the presence on offense and special teams that he had as well.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: Big RB Matt Jackson could be a major find out of Ohio. A big guy, and a guy with a lot of production out of Glen Este, he could be the type of workhorse back that Silva once was.
Incoming Class Grade: A. So much talent, and so much quality in the trenches, with big OL and quality linebackers. All that, and they snagged some good QBs and a 6'3 WR too in Bill Edger! If he had gotten one or two more DL this would have been an A+, but this is an outstanding class in my mind.
Spring Game: With eight offensive starters lost to graduation, the Crusaders spent most of their time looking at what they have on offense. Three turnovers have to be a concern, but it looks quite possible that a couple of sophomores with good spring games, QB Dominic Randolph and RB Mike Kielt, may be starting in September.
Overall Offseason: Since coming to Holy Cross, Gilmore's team has gone from embarassment to a winning record. The challenge now is to get permanently into the Patriot League title discussion, and those linemen on both sides of the ball are good. It's the progression of the skill players that will determine how well Holy Cross does in 2006, and there are still questions to answer coming out of the spring.
Coaching Changes: Most of the key players are back, though running backs coach John Troxell left to become D-III Franklin & Marshall's head coach and defensive line coach Antoine Smith left for Youngstown State. Joe Dougherty takes over for Troxell (from Fordham), and Al Holcomb take over ver Smith (defensive coordinator at Kutztown).
The Hardest Guy To Replace: For the Leopards, it's not one guy, but three: the dominating linebacking unit of 2005 in LBs Blake Costanzo, Dion Witherspoon, and Maurice Bennett. The heart and soul of the Leopard defense will have to be replaced.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: Leopard fans are ga-ga over their class in general, but one name that stands out is 6'3 LB Keith Heaney out of Middletown South (NJ). An all-state LB, his size should frighten us Mountain Hawk fans down the road.
Incoming Class Grade: B+. I have been living in fear of Tavani's recruiting classes for the past two years, and this one is extremely solid again. Great defensive names, two beefy FBs and two big and tall TEs. What's preventing me from giving Tavani a third straight "A" is a lack of skill positions. The 2 QBs look solid (including well-regarded QB Josh Jones from Florida), but only two WRs and two light RBs may be a concern.
Spring Game: A strong defensive performance shows that the Leopards will continue to be driven by the defense. The defensive linemen - Marvin Snipes, Daniel Liseno, Kyle Sprenkle, and Keith Bloom - were particularly impressive.
Overall Offseason: Just a few short years ago, it looked like Lafayette was going to go Division III. Now, that seems like an eon ago. Lafayette is here to stay, and their strong offseason goes to show that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Patriot League once again.
Coaching Changes: Coach Lembo decided to go to Elon, and new coach Andy Coen (Penn) took over the reins in January. Coen didn't totally clean house, but did bring in new offensive and defensive coordinators in Trey Brown (Penn) and Dick Kotulski (Holy Cross).
The Hardest Guy To Replace: LB Anthony "Graz" Graziani was a hard hitting guy that threw himself all over the field. The defense will miss this vocal leader and tough customer.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: RB Josh Pastore, a transfer out of Kent State, could see his name immediately into the tailback mix. At 5'11 and 210, he could really be a true punishing power back in the Patriot League.
Incoming Class Grade: B+. I really would have liked to have seen one more big OL in this class, but Coen got an impressive array of skill players with two QBs, six WRs, and three RBs. Defensively, he also got a lot across the board, especially at LB. Not bad for a "short" recruiting season for coach Coen.
Spring Game: Injuries on offense meant a incomplete offensive picture, but defensively Coen's 3-4 defense looks like a winner. Converted DL Matt Mohler had an exceptional day, showcasing his talent at LB with an interception and good solid play.
Overall Offseason: We've got lots of talent, and a fiery new coach players and fans love. Still, big questions remain, especially on offense. QB Sedale Threatt is great, but his receiving targets and running game is largely unproven, and the spring did little to answer those questions. Hopefully as the preseason gets under way questions will be answered.