Friday, December 08, 2006

FCS Semifinal Picks

Once again, here are my picks for this weekend's football "final four", the Division I Football Championship, the only NCAA-sanctioned national champion for Divsion I football. (P.S. Did you order yourself a Lehigh Football Nation hat recently - a perfect Christmas gift for that Lehigh football fan on your list?)

Montana over UMass. It's not easy to pick against UMass, especially after their come-from-behind, denying QB Ricky Santos in the final minute, 24-17 victory. But in a very even matchup, you can't deny the fact that the Griz at home have been absolutely dominating. Holding Southern Illinois to 136 TOTAL yards really made me stand up and take notice. If Montana can shot down Minuteman RB Steve Baylark the same way they stopped Saluki RB Arkee Whitlock - and I have every faith that they can - I don't think QB Liam Coen can carry the Minutemen with his arm. In contrast, Montana QB Josh Swogger and the Montana offense have gotten better, not worse, as the playoffs have gone along. At home, it's got to be the Griz. Gleeful Griz 21, StewMass 10.

Youngstown State over Appalachian State. I may get flamed for this one, but I think the "Boone magic" simply isn't going to work against a thoroughly tested Youngstown State team. Like Swogger, Penguin QB Tom Zetts is coming of age at the exact right moment while RB Marcus Mason is hitting his stride, which should prove to be difficult to stop. As for the defense, you can get yards against them, but you had better be careful - the sure-handed unit which forced 4 turnovers last week were a huge difference-maker. Although the Mountaineers have a massive running attack with QB Armanti Edwards and RB Kevin Richardson, they haven't always been sharp, though they haven't needed to be. I get a strange feeling that the Penguins can get the upset here by capitalizing on Mountaineer mistakes. The champions' crown from 2005 is heavier than most people think, and I think the weight of the champion will cause just enough errors on the Mountaineer side to lose this game. Perilous Penguins 37, Morose Mountaineers 31, OT.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

14 Hawks Make All-Patriot

Finally - FINALLY - I'm getting to congratulate the Lehigh Mountain Hawk Gridders that made the All-Patriot League team this year. PK Jason Leo heads the list of ten Hawks that made the first team - more than any other Patriot League squad. In addition, Leo won Special Teams Player of the Year for his efforts punting and kicking.

The complete list of honorees is as follows:

1st Team Offense
QB Sedale Threatt
TE Landon Maggs
OL John Reese
OL Jim Petrucelli
PK Jason Leo

Threatt gets the nod, rightfully in my opinion, for first team QB over Lafayette's QB Brad Maurer and Holy Cross' QB Dom Randolph. Threatt may not have gotten the most yards passing (a solid 2,008 yards), but his passing accuracy (61%, good enough for a 144.66 QB rating) and his abilities as a runner (8 TDs to go with his 14 TD passes gave him 22 on the year) really vaults him ahead of the other two. Next year, it should be awfully interesting to see Threatt and Randolph, who will be returning for their senior and junior years respectively.

In a really weak year for receivers (the top receiver, Holy Cross WR Ryan Maher, had less than 800 yards receiving!), it was a real disappointment to not see one of my favorites, WR Frank "Al Del Greco" Trovato get a nod at receiver (594 yards, 4 TDs). Of course, he would be better suited as a pick for a return man (283 yards, 1 huge TD against Villanova), but curiously the league does not honor kick returners or punt returners in their all-Patriot teams. This means that two guys that really should get accolades this year, Trovato and Lafayette PR Shaun Adair, get shut out for awards, even though they're both near the top of the all-purpose yards lists. My opinion? They should offer a slot for 1st Team/2nd Team return men. Trovato and Adair deserve recognition.

Reflecting the weakness in receiving, TE Landon Maggs won first-team TE in a field which didn't feature any Adam Bergen's in their midst (Maggs only had 98 yards receiving and 1 TD). Having said that, Maggs, along with OL John Reese and Jim Petrucelli, were key "O" linemen in generating 3,765 yards of total offense.

2nd Team Offense
RB Marques Thompson
OL Jimmy Kehs

RB Thompson (100 all-purpose yards per game, 8 TDs), quietly got the props he deserved after quietly being a force for the Lehigh offense week in and week out, but with Lafayette RB Jonathan Hurt and Colgate RB Jordan Scott ahead of him, it's not surprising he was on the second team. As for OL Jimmy Kehs (who will be a senior next year), I'm baffled as to why he wasn't first team as to me he was our best "O" lineman. As much as I love our line, I probably would have picked Kehs on the first team with Reese and Petrucelli on the second team. My choices to replace Reese and Petrucelli? Lafayette's OL Jesse Padilla and Bucknell's OL Stephen Niemczyk, also relegated to the second team.

1st Team Defense
NT Eric Rakus
DL Paul Fabre
DL Royce Morgan
DB Julian Austin
DB Brannan Thomas

My biggest shock here, I have to admit, was seeing Royce Morgan on this list. Royce still pulled together a solid season, though (9 games, 26 tackles, 7 tackles for loss 2. sacks). But when you think about it, these stats were accumulated after splitting time all year after coming to the team late after an eligibility dispute. When put in that context, those are pretty impressive numbers. Rakus' place is more than deserved (54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble), while Paul Fabre tied for the team lead in sacks with 3. Although this has to go down in history as the only 3-4 team with 3 *linemen* getting the accolades and 0 *linebackers*, congratulations to our "D" line! (Even if I would have put Lafayette's DL Kyle Sprenkle over DL Paul Fabre.)

CB Brannan Thomas and FS Julian Austin finished up their fine careers with 1st team all-Patriot nods as well. Thomas managed a fine season after he decided to forgo playing offense to exclusively play defense, with 20 tackles, 3 INT, and 5 passes defensed. Considering he was a full-time defensive player for only 6 games, these are impressive numbers. Austin had, well, a Julian Austin-type season with 43 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries (including that huge one for a TD against Holy Cross) and 5 pass break-ups. Our secondary, the strength of our team, got some deserved accolades.

2nd Team Defense
LB Matt Mohler

DB Ernie Moore

First of all, I think DB Ernie Moore should have been first team - I probably would have put him there over Brannan Thomas. Our leading tackler with 64 tackles and 4 INTs deserved to make it. (I think the fact that the four honorees were all seniors had a lot to do with that, while we're going to happily get Moore back for next season.)

LB Matt Mohler (a converted "D" lineman) was probably our best linebacker on the year, with 41 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks, but if Colgate LB Mike Gallihugh, Fordham LB Marcus Taylor, and Bucknell's LB Dorian Petersen didn't get 1st team, there would have been a mutiny among Patriot League coaches.

Congratulations to all the winners! You should all be proud of what you've been able to accomplish this year. Next week I'll do the "Lehigh Football Season In Review", just in time for the Division I Football Championship game. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Week In Lehigh Sports: 12/6/2006

I know I promised to get to Lehigh Football's All-Patriot League awards, and I have a few awards of my own to give out as well, but with the Lehigh Men's basketball team travelling to Princeton tonight to play the always-tough Tigers, I wanted to give a little preview of the men's basketball, women's basketball, and wrestling teams for this coming week.

Tomorrow I'll get to the football accolades, I promise!

Men's Basketball
After beating the NEC's Central Connecticut State 55-52 last Saturday (on a last-minute shot by G Jose Olivero), Lehigh meets their basketball nemesis tonight when they face Princeton. We may as well call them "daddy" after looking at their overall record against us: 29-2, with our last win coming in 1930. (22 consecutive losses. 22!) Our super-freshman G Marquis Hall had better be ready to play some defense: the Tigers have been known to launch it from 3-point land a lot this year at a 40% clip. Not to mention the added aggravation they show you with their 27 passes before taking a shot, backdoor cuts, and the like.

It doesn't get any easier at University of Miami this weekend (yep, that University of Miami, Donna Shalala, Bernie Kosar, and the like). Hurricane G Jack McClinton is hitting 55% 3-pointers per game, the starting 5 are all playing extremely solid... oh heck, let's not get depressed about this. Oh, did I mention that they just upended #21 Georgia Tech last Sunday as well? I know it's early, but Miami has the look of a team that will not be mired in the lower-echelons of the ACC this year.

As much as I would be overjoyed to see a win in either of these games, the truth is I'd be quite happy to just keep both games competitive. We're 4-6 now, but if you see a 5th win in either of these games, prepare to party.

Women's Basketball
The Lady Hawks lost a heartbreaker to Akron at the end of their "Farm Aid" tour to Ohio, in a 62-61 heartbreaker. F Adrienne Blount had another great game from the forward position, but G Sara Ellis had another tough day from the outside. On the bright side, the Lady Hawks at 2-6 just finished their 4 game "road trip from hell" and will be back in Stabler Arena for two upcoming games against winnable teams.

Tomorrow they play America East's Binghamton (2-5), and then play D-III NJIT on Saturday in two very winnable games. Getting a head of steam up before they face national powerhouse N.C. State of the ACC will be critical. Also getting the defense in order would seem to be a priority: the Lady Hawks are giving up 63.5 points per game on their brutal road trip.

Wrestling
Predictably, Lehigh's grapplers fell out of the coaches' Top 25 this week, but an opportunity exists to have pollsters take notice again with key dual meets versus longtime rival Penn State (95 meetings!) and Pittsburgh (51 meetings!). Key to our chances of taking both meets will by the Ciasulli brothers - Seth, the freshman in the 133 weight class, is 4-2, while Matt, the senior in the 141 weight class, is 7-1.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

FCS Playoffs, And No Ivy league

It always seems to come up this time of year, when teams like Montana, Appalachian State, Youngstown State and UMass are playing in the FCS (formerly the I-AA) playoffs. Namely, how come the "Ancient Eight" (pictorially represented to my left) are not in the playoffs? The short answer? They don't want to.

I think any Lehigh fan (or Patriot League fan, for that matter) knows what the playoff bid has meant for the conference in terms of football identity. It has been invaluable in giving not only the obvious rivalry game (Lehigh/Lafayette) meaning, but also games like Colgate/Lafayette, Lehigh/Colgate, Fordham/Colgate, and others. You can get an Ivy or NEC education, but only the Patriot League gives you the opportunity to play for a national championship.

The Northeast Conference, or NEC, doesn't have an autobid but has been desperately trying to get one. I think they see the instant "street cred" you get from a spot in the playoffs. But more curiously, the Ivy League has consistently said "no" to participation, despite the fact that Ivy players, coaches, and many fans would say "yes" in a heartbeat. Why? The Ivies participate in the playoffs in every other sport that offers playoffs. The arguments they give - "playoffs run into finals" and "the Ivies only participate in Division I postseason, and the FCS isn't division I" - are so downright ludicrous that it's surprising the big brains from the Ivy League actually came up with the justification.

The reason why the Ivies don't wnat to participate in the playoffs is very complicated, but I think this year I'm starting to notice something. It is not a unified front against the playoffs, but it is an uneasy alliance between two factions, both of which don't really think FCS football has any value. This NY Times article, released at about the time of Harvard/Yale, displays the clear factions within the Ivy League braintrust.

Faction 1: The schools who have presidents that couldn't dream of competing in today's D-I football world without the caps on athletic budgets that our subdivision offers. (read: Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, Brown)

Faction 2: The schools who have presidents that still, somehow, in their heart of hearts think it would be better to stay as a Division I school at the level of a Stanford or Rice and play in the occasional bowl. They feel that in the late '70s and '80s the Ivies were in the Top 25 and should never have "demoted themselves" to I-AA at that time. (read: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn)

This #2 is the most interesting. It's the same disease that plagues Army and Navy - these "delusions of grandeur" that their 2-9 or 6-5 teams that sneak into the lower echelons of the D-I rankings will do wonders for their national profile. Remember, Army, Navy, and the Ivies recruit nationally and internationally for recruits, something that many schools cannot dream of doing. (To a lesser extent this also applies to SWAC schools, a conference of historically black colleges & universities that recruit nationally as well.)

The Ivy uneasily remains in Division I, Championship Subdivision, because they don't want to jettison their lower-spending schools and go the route of Army or Navy. But the current mission of the Ivy doesn't really involve the CS playoffs with either of these two factions. To them, I feel it's either play I-A Bowl Subdivision, or play cost-containment, and to hell with your silly playoffs.

The powers-that-be in don't put any value into it - to their detriment, in my opinion. All you need to do is look at the Patriot League (and, specifically, the Lehigh/Lafayette rivalry) to see what the playoffs can do for a league and a rivalry. Fifteen years ago, Lehigh/Lafayette was all about getting drunk and going after some goalpasts - and who cares who wins the game. Now? It's a national event that has radically shifted the focus of the game to titles and pride - and has awakened the sleeping contingent of Lafayette fans. There is no question the games in the past three years have been fantastic for the league (even though Lehigh has lost all three), and has saved the rivalry from being a cute backwater game into a game of national importance. "The Rivalry" has never been healthier.

In contrast, when I look at Harvard/Yale, I see what Lehigh/Lafayette used to be. A celebration of drinking with lots of people not giving a rat's ass about who wins or loses. Even though this year's game meant Yale had a chance to share the Ivy title, few knew about it aside from hardcore Harvard or Yale fans.

To me, the two Ivy factions think the following about Harvard/Yale: 1) it's fine the way it is, in obscurity, or 2) others think that it should be a "big-time" game like Army/Navy. Until the Ivy presidents are smart enough to think of option 3) if the Ivies elected to be in the CS playoffs, Harvard/Yale would become bigger and a more positive experience simply by default, they'll still let the Ivy League and this great rivalry slide into obscurity.
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