Saturday, December 02, 2006

FCS Playoffs and Some Basketball Notes

The FCS playoffs, second round, have started. My predictions are posted on the College Sporting News website, which you can check here. The big upset prediction? Southern Illinois upsetting Montana. As for TV, you can watch New Hampshire at UMass on CN8 (or watch it live here), and at 4PM on ESPN2 you can watch Montana State get hammered by Applachian State. (Well, that's what I think will happen.)

The Lehigh Women's basketball team is currently on a swing through Ohio. After losing last night to powerful Ohio University 57-40, the Lady Hawks have fallen to a disappointing 2-5 after a 2-0 start (including a surprising win over Syracuse of the Big East). Hopefully 1-5 Akron will prove to be a good chance for a win, whose only win came over Binghamton this year, but the Lady Hawks will have to overcome some woeful shooting from the past few games to get this thing turned around.

Predictably, the men dismantled D-III Swarthmore 96-33, which stopped a three-game slide to Quinnipiac (who almost upset UConn earlier this year), Harvard, and Notre Dame. The game against the Fightin' Irish was a close affair that the troops really wanted for coach Taylor, which hopefully will turn into some positive momentum into December. A win tonight against Central Conneticut State would really get some positive momentum for the 3-6 Mountain Hawks going into the "real season". Surprisingly, Bucknell has struggled somewhat at 2-6 while Army has surprised a 5-2. I'm used to Army not eclipsing the 5 win barrier all year, so it looks like a wide-open race this year. The team to beat in the early going? 6-1 Holy Cross.

Finally, Lehigh's wrestlers beat Drexel and hopefully have put their early-season struggles behind them. At 3-3, there's lots to still get excited about.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lehigh Football Ending... or Beginning?

The chants of "Lafayette Sucks" from Easton have died down; Lafayette's time in the FCS playoffs are done after this weekend; Lehigh's fall sports season is coming to a close; and the temptation is to put away the talk about Lehigh football for another year.

Although I'm thinking about talking about other Lehigh sports in this space (though with the Lady Hawks basketball team sitting at 2-3 losing to the Lady Dragons of Drexel, and the men's basketball team sitting at an incredibly disappointing 2-6 after losing to Notre Dame last night), the truth is this blog is about Lehigh football, first and foremost. And although the 2006 season is over, recruiting for 2007 is very much underway already and in two short months we'll have an idea about how far Lehigh is in regards to getting another Patriot League title and FCS playoff bid in the future.

With the FCS playoffs not even over yet, rumors are flying. Will a former Patriot League freshman of the week be willing to sit out a year in order to transfer to Lehigh? Will a certain I-A star, recovering from shoulder surgery while falling behind on the QB depth chart, transfer to Lehigh? Where are the Mountain Hawks concentrating their recruiting - California? Louisiana? Texas? All good questions; all juicy unconfirmed rumors; all fascinating. But the answers aren't here yet.

There's even talk about the Ivy League - are they outrecruiting us? Could it be true that the Ivies are actually accepting athletes with a lower academic index (or AI) than Patriot League schools? If this is true, it would explain a lot about the sudden resurgence of talent overall in the Ivy League in the past couple of years vis-a-vis the Patriot League, especially concerning NFL-caliber players - which are present on every Ivy team in recent years, even lowly Columbia. Who thought that the Patriot League would have to be *more* selective than the Ivies?

The NEC, once a limited grant-in-aid conference, is also flexing its muscles with the possibility of offering up to 30 full (or split into more partial) scholarships which also has the effect of affecting the recruiting landscape. NEC schools can offer a very good education at a fraction of the price of a Lehigh. Although I feel like a Lehigh (or any Patriot League) education is more than worth the money, the truth is Patriot League schools could be getting squeezed further by NEC schools getting that "not eligible for grant-in-aid's but not made of money" recruit.

We still have the biggest carrot of all to offer - that coveted FCS autobid. The Ivies won't let their teams compete for it, and the NEC still yet has to have a team qualify for an at-large bid. But the landscape has changed where Lehigh coaches could just show up with pictures of seniors who have never lost in the Lehigh/Lafayette rivalry and get recruits. It's harder than ever.

If the "elephant in the room" is true - the possible transfer of a big-time I-A QB from a BCS school to Bethlehem - it could be a huge shot in the arm for recruiting. It would be a signal that Lehigh isn't fooling around - they want to win championships and win an FCS championship.

The wait on solid information continues.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday's Word: Rematch

Against the advice of some of the readers of this blog, Sunday's word isn't going to be the word "apologist" (for my Leopardphilia this week) or "unprofessional" (for my humorous post about UMass).

Instead, I'm going for "rematch".

There is going to be plenty of time to recap the 2006 Patriot League season, which ended Saturday with Lafayette's loss to UMass 35-14. There's time to go over the performance of coach Coen and to start thinking of the offseason. But it's still playoff time, and the two games everyone must be following are a pair of regular-season rematches between bitter leaguemates.

It's somewhat ironic that in the BCS world we're very likely going to be denied the rematch that most fans would rather see (Ohio State/Michigan) in favor of a game which will be a whitewash in Ohio State/USC. In the world of the FCS playoffs, however, we get two interiguing second-round matchups that are very special rematches that could demonstrate exactly why the NCAA shouldn't shy away from them in any postseason, BCS or FCS.

Illinois State made no bones about who they wanted to play next Saturday. "Bring on Youngstown State!" Illinois State's Gateway title hopes were somewhat dashed after losing to Youngstown State 27-13 in their "worst performance of the year" as some fans put it. In that game, the Redbirds only scored 6 offensive points at home to the eventual Gateway champions. Illinois State is coming off a dominating performance on the road against Eastern Illinois 24-13, while Youngstown had to come from behind (and get a huge assist from James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews) to squeak to victory 31-28. Next week at the Ice Palace Youngstown I think will have their hands full with an Illinois State team which is eager to avenge the memory of that loss.

The UMass/New Hampshire game should be another nailbiter with a lot of emotion. In a 28-20 victory for the Minutemen four weeks ago, New Hampshire was denied on the UMass 3 yard line with under a minute to play. You have to believe Wildcat QB Ricky Santos has to be dying to get another shot at a team that many believe belong in Chattanooga this year. Still, the Wildcats barely squeaked by Hampton 41-38 after converting a 4th down 25 yard TD reception to RB Chad Kackert.

Southern Illinois/Montana and Montana State/Appalachian State will easily be eclipsed by these two other second-round matchups. Although it will be interesting to see both of those games, it's the "rematches" that will probably be the highlight of next weeks' slate of games.

It's not the first time the BCS could look to the FCS as to how they should run their postseason, nor will it be the last. But "rematches" are great games and great theater. They should be encouraged, not denied the chance to happen.
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