Friday, August 31, 2007

Five Things For Lehigh Fans To Do This Weekend

Oh, yeah. I know all of you out there are worried you're going to be like this guy this weekend with no Lehigh football game to watch. Worse, you might get stuck doing chores around the house, or possibly getting conned into going to the movie theater to catch I Know Who Killed Me. Fear not, though: you've come to the right place. I've come up with five things to do on this Labor Day weekend instead of laboring about what you're going to do with this weekend without football.

5. It's the last free Saturday you're going to have until December 28th; may as well get some Brownie Points with your significant other and get that nagging project done or go do that thing that they want to do this weekend. (Believe me, you'll be thanking me when Thanksgiving weekend you're faced with convincing them to take an impromptu road trip to Furman, SC.)

4. If you have ESPN 360, Villanova will be playing Maryland live on your computer on 6PM Saturday. Time to do some scouting - preferably with a cold Yuengling in hand.

3. If you have to see a Lehigh sporting event this weekend, you could take in Lehigh's nationally-ranked men's soccer team on Saturday when they take on Drexel.

2. If you don't get ESPN 360 and men's soccer isn't your thing, there's another game in the Valley this weekend you can scout out: those guys in Easton are hosting Marist at 6PM as well. (For fun, you can start a friendly pool: how many starting QBs will Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani be playing in this game? Three? Four?)

1. You could have that final cookout to test out that chili recipe, to test that deep-frying technique for your turkey, to test that "killer cocktail", or simply to make sure you're in practice for the many, many tailgates you'll be partaking in this year at Murray Goodman or elsewhere. There's no better place to experiment on this stuff than on friends and family.

Next week, check out my projected two-deep, analysis of the Lehigh/Villanova game, and more!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

CSN Patriot League Preview Released

It's finally out: the College Sporting News Magazine's Patriot League preview. It includes a full preview of every team in the league, three lengthy articles, and basically should do quite a bit towards getting you pumped through this labor day weekend for the opener versus Villanova (only ten days away!).

Of course I invite you to read the entire preview (and not just the Patriot League part of it), but to tease you here's my predicted order of finish:

  1. Holy Cross
  2. Lehigh
  3. Lafayette
  4. Bucknell
  5. Colgate
  6. Fordham
  7. Georgetown

Here's the five questions I'm imagining you're asking about this.

For God's Sakes man, why Holy Cross at #1? First of all, never underestimate the value of an offense returning nearly all the pieces from last year. They had a great year last year, and most likely will only get better this year with junior QB Dominic Randolph and senior WR Ryan Maher. Defensively they are more of an X-factor, but they do have one of the best defensive backs in the nation in senior CB Casey Gough, and if they put all the pieces together they certainly have the tools to win the whole thing. And don't underestimate that they were picked to finish in the middle of the pack at Media Day. The Crusaders already had Babe-the-Blue-Ox-sized chip on their shoulders, and that day it just got bigger. You were warned.

Is Colgate really that bad to remain at #5? The problem with the Raiders is that although their offensive line should be better from last year (when it was a M*A*S*H unit), junior QB Alex Relph (or, possibly, junior QB Anthony Fucillo) is a huge question mark on this team. Teams with big questions at QB I tended to underrate (Lafayette, Colgate) since it takes time to see how they will come along. If Relph doesn't pull things together, stopping Colgate will be easy: put eight men in the box and stop RB Jordan Scott. (Not coincidentally, if Lafayette's QB Mike DiPaola doesn't come along as well, you can pull the same strategy on the Leopards.) I stand by my pick - though I'm quick to point out, many many people have pointed to Colgate as a sleeper pick for the title this year.

Man, all that writing you do is so great. What does it take to be able to do something like this? I've very glad you asked this question: a tough, but fair question. First of all, you need to be certifiably insane for starters. You need to be able to devote unheard-of amounts of time and energy, be able to schedule time incredibly effectively so that your wife and son don't leave you and you don't lose your job, and above all you need to be able to track down exactly which Hoya offensive linemen are returning from 2006 -- in May.

What is going to happen with the Academic Index (AI) and scholarships? I feel like it is a mortal lock for the AI to be modified in some way. I am hoping that it won't be done in the same way it's done for the Ivy League (which I don't believe to be a fair way to implement it - the "banding system" favors Harvard, Yale and Princeton too much) but will be done in a new, visionary sort of way. As for scholarships, the coaches and the league brass seem like they are very gung-ho about the possibility, though it remains to be seen if the university presidents are as gung-ho as well. My vision is some combination of a tight AI and scholarships will be in the works very soon.

Are we going to have another year like 2006 with losses to the Ivies and a league champion with barely a .500 record? I really don't think so. Unlike many folks, I'm an optimist about this year since the crop of star players around the league this year - to me - is stronger than in 2006. Senior QB Sedale Threatt, senior LB Mike Gallihugh, senior CB Casey Gough... not to mention that last year the Patriot League was breaking in three new head coaches. I think there is a good chance Georgetown, Fordham and Lehigh will be better, Bucknell's young team will be better (especially if they can avoid injury), and the Ivy and NEC teams won't sneak up on us anymore. That should not be underestimated - and I'm thinking that the Patriot League will be better against the Ivies and NEC. Call my fearless prediction: a .500 as a league in all of our out-of-conference games, and the champion will have a 9-2 record.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week One

Since we're all sitting here waiting for the Lehigh football season to start (and waiting for my Patriot League part of the FCS Preview to come out), I though I'd post my picks for Week One of the Patriot League Season. Some of these are cross-posted in my FCS Way column for Week One , but I intend to add any extra "Fearless Patriot League Picks" to the blog every week as well for fun.

To explain how I do picks, I quote my College Sporting News column this week:

Know one thing about my football picks: some folks are scientific, some folks try to analyze punting statistics, and yet others try to make people feel good about their teams by picking “moral victories” or close games. That’s not how I operate. If I see a 70-0 blowout, I will call it a 70-0 blowout. That’s why I call my games “Fearless Picks”. Disagree with me if you must, but there is no fear in these picks.

The other part of my schtick involves the nicknames at the end when I pick the scores of the games. Please don’t take offense at my renaming your “RedHawks” the “ChickenHawks”. If you’re from the “RedHawk Preservation League” and you’re offended, please, just relax. It’s a football game, not the extinction of a species.

And finally, these picks are for pure entertainment purposes only. As a buddy of mine once said, “If you’re betting on [FCS] football, you need serious help. No, really.”


Enough talk. On with the picks!

Colgate over Albany. Until the incredible run of the NEC last year, nobody would probably think twice about picking this game. But Albany of the NEC, twice a giant-killer in 2006 (over Lehigh last year 17-16 and Delaware 17-13), has garnered newfound respect in the annals of FCS. Meanwhile, Colgate of the Patriot League struggled to an uncharacteristic 4-7 record last year, so this matchup is simply loaded with question marks. Are Colgate a force to be reckoned with this year? Is Albany really here to stay? I get the feeling that this time, the Raiders will get things going on the right foot, as Albany won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year. Refurbished Raiders 17, Almost-Dominant Danes 16.

Holy Cross over #8 UMass. I have absolutely no idea why, but folks around the country seem to have absolutely zero confidence in Holy Cross, despite the fact that they return nearly every piece of their offense from last year and pose a matchup problem for UMass, especially in the secondary. I love this pick. Crisp Crusaders 30, “Thirty-Minute-Men” 27.

Rhode Island over Fordham. Why do so many folks think that Rhode Island is so bad, and Fordham is so great this year? Last I checked, Fordham was struggling to score against anybody in 2006, and although Rhode Island didn't tear up the yard they also weren't terrible either to teams not named New Hampshire. This game will be surprisingly uncompetitive for most people, but not for me. Rhody Rams 38, Also Rams 7.

Lafayette over Marist. The only thing keeping from this being a super-sized blowout is the fact that Lafayette will be auditioning QBs during the whole game. Add to that the fact that Lafayette are notoriously slow starters and you will have a low scoring affair that may end with more questions than answers. Leaping Leopards 24, Redd Foxes 10.

Stony Brook over Georgetown. As much as I'd love to see the Hoyas take this game, they'll have to prove it to me before I really can believe it. And Stony Brook ain't that bad, either. Sea Cucumbers 27, Ho Ho Hoyas 13.

Bucknell over Duquesne. Even with the injury bug keeping some good kids out (like sophomore LB Sam Nana-Sinkam), there should be plenty of talent left to handle the Dukes. The real question is who the starting QB will be: my vote goes to Marcelo Trigg. Bisonators 35, Dunkin' Dukies 17.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lehigh Media Day Roundup

This Saturday, Lehigh hosted their annual media day to celebrate the close of summer practice. As for me, I'm spending this sticky Sunday night going over the amazing array of different content that has been generated by this day (which includes this picture to my left).

Let's start with the report on the Lehigh official website, followed closely by reports from the Allentown Morning Call about senior C John Reese, Lehigh's many local connections, and Express-Times piece on the many injuries in camp, and you can't forget Keith Groller's latest blog posting involving senior QB Sedale Threatt. (Did I also forget the loads of new podcasts on Lehigh's iTunes store, including two videos?) The mash-up at the end of this posting should shed a nice, digested light on all this content.

Probably the most important piece of information to come out of this barrage of news is that junior RB Matt McGowan's ACL injury appears to be "less serious than originally thought" and that he may be able to be available in some capacity for the Villanova game (though coach Coen did describe his status as "day-to-day" at this point. Being as that the injury was originally called a torn ACL, this is big news.

Another interesting tidbit comes from Keith Groller's blog in his interview of senior QB Sedale Threatt. I'll leave the best details for the mash-up, but what's really interesting is how much Sedale has truly, personally, taken upon himself every decision he's made at QB - how he "could have made a pass here, made a play there".

Also as importantly, coach Coen was more upbeat about the injuries that had plagued the team in last week's practices. Coach Coen didn't say specifically what was causing his indigestion, but when it came out that senior RB Richard Forman got dinged up in the middle of the week, it became more clear: imagine a limited number of practices as it is, and needing to practice without your #1, #2, and #3 backs. No wonder the two freshmen RB Kwesi Kankam and Jaren Walker got so many looks and were mentioned specifically that they will be suiting up, at least, versus Villanova. Coach Coen was really impressed with Kankam in particular - which is great news, knowing we may be able to run four or five deep at such an important position despite the knocks.

More freshmen also did well in practice on offense in WR Travis Artim and WR Craig Zurn, both local kids who were mentioned by name by coach Coen. They had spots open up due to injuries at wideout.

Also important that the sophomores in the LB crew were singled out for praise again: LBs Matt Cohen, Tobi Showunmi, Heath Brickner, and Al Pierce. He also mentioned sophomore DT B. J. Benning as a guy on the "D" line that has done well. In the scrimmage following media day, the defense had a great day "swarming to the football, and they must have had seven sacks", coach Coen said, to go with senior CB Brannan Thomas' interception return for a TD.

And don't forget freshman DBs John Kennedy and Jarard Cribbs, also singled out by coach Coen for special-teams duties.

Overall? It's been a strange preseason, with the number of important injuries and with the number of freshmen which have the chance to have important roles in this 2007 team. I can't remember a time when the possibility existed that there could be four or five freshmen on the two-deep to start the year. Normally, that would be a cause for serious concern. How come, then, I can't seem to shake this optimism for the season ahead - especially on defense? How come I also get this impression that this no-name "D" is going to be something special?

13 days until September 8th...

While No. 2 running back Josh Pastore recovered enough from a quadriceps strain to return to practice earlier this week, projected starter Matt McGowan predicted Saturday his cranky hamstring won't keep him sidelined for Lehigh's Sept. 8 opening game against Villanova at Goodman Stadium.

"I'm very hopeful to be back by the opener," McGowan said during the team's media day Saturday, while quickly noting he's already been doing some light workouts.

"You get knocked down, you gotta get back up," Pastore said. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

If that's the case, the Mountain Hawks should have a plenty of power in their backfield.

During the first day of padded practices in mid-August, McGowan went down with what was initially feared to be a torn hamstring. But he appeared to have no difficulty Saturday walking around Goodman Stadium or snaring passes from quarterback Sedale Threatt -- albeit from a stationary position.

Pastore's day to get back in action has already arrived.

"I like to run outside a little more than Matt does," Pastore said.

"I'd rather run somebody over than run around them," McGowan said.

"Josh is very fast and Matt is very powerful," Coen said. "It's a good 1-2 punch. Josh came back the other day and practiced very well," Coen said. "With Josh and Matt, I feel very, very good."

...

Having (senior C John Reese) was a godsend for Coen, who was concerned about the gaps left by graduation.

"I've been an offensive line coach for a long time, and I've coached all-Americans and guys who went on to the pros, and, as a center, he's the best I've ever been around," Coen said. "He's a quiet leader who complements Sedale. The other kids can feed off him and his poise."

And, it's not as if Reese decided to come back just for the heck of it. He worked extremely hard in the off-season to build size and strength.

"He's a testament to the value of redshirting," Coen said. "He was a great player last year, and now he comes back every bit as fast and 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he has ever been. Another year just allowed him to develop physically even more."

"This is a game I love, it's the game I've enjoyed since I was a little kid," Reese said. "I wanted to put on the brown and gold uniform of Lehigh one more time. I've had some personal awards over the past few years, but that wasn't enough.

"I want to come back to do something special as a team. I want to be there at the end, on top, with a whole group of guys."

"I'm not as vocal as Sedale, but it's great to have balance with your leaders," he said. "It's good to have people who lead by example and can show people what can be accomplished through hard work. I try to do that and Sedale does it that way, too."

...

"My hope is that kids grow up around here coming to our games and that they'll want to come here to play one day themselves," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said during media day interviews on Saturday on the stadium grass. "We always give the kids in the Valley a long, hard look. Of course, we've said many times that it's harder for all kids to qualify academically here. You have to find the right financial and academic fit.

"But I would like to always get a lot of local kids. I remember when we had Phil Stambaugh starting at quarterback and the Pius X people came down here in droves. I remember when Brett and Josh Snyder played here, lots of Northwestern fans were around.

"They create a lot of excitement for the community, although there are a lot of people in our community who would love us just as much if every kid were from Florida. Still, it's nice to have players who people can readily identify with because they've already seen them play in high school."

[Senior WR Pete] Donchez and [junior DB Brendan] VanAckeren said they love playing in their own backyard where the high school memories remain fresh.

"We follow what the local schools are doing and we still kid around a lot about who beat who on Friday night," Donchez said. "[Junior DB] Quadir [Carter] and I went to middle school together back at East Hills. So, we go back a long way and get along real well. Being from Bethlehem, we're honored to be a part of this program.

"But no matter where you're from, it's an honor because of how hard it is to get in here academically and athletically."

VanAckeren said he was aware of the Lehigh tradition growing up.

"The Bethlehem guys all feel honored to be a part of the Lehigh tradition because we knew what it was all about when we were kids," he said. "Before I got here, you had a lot of Becahi guys coming here like Mark Borda and Frank Trovato. Then there were a few years where the pipeline died off a little bit. Personally, being around the school and the team for all of these years, makes it more special to be a part of it now,"

VanAckeren said there's some added pressure performing in front of friends and family every week.

"You have a lot of people you know in the stands every week and you're kind of playing for them as much as you're playing for your team and school," he said. "You know more of the community, so you don't want to let them down. You want to play to your potential and bring home a championship."

...

Threatt has been a sheer delight to talk to the past few seasons, always talkative, always interesting, always entertaining, and, almost always upbeat. A lot of players don't offer anything different than the standard, cliche-driven drivel that's instilled in them by their coaches and football coaches are the worst when it comes to the "let's be careful not to provide any bulletin-board material" philosophy.

But Threatt always gives you something different you can use.

So, on Saturday's Media Day at Goodman Stadium, I just had to chat with Threatt for a little bit even though I had plenty of other stuff.

The consensus about the 2007 Mountain Hawks season is that they will go only as far as Threatt takes them. It's a notion that I don't disagree with.

He is a dynamic performer, good enough to be named the Patriot League's Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. But there's a sense that he can be better, and he will need to be if Lehigh is going to win more of the close games that eluded them in 2006 and even the Lafayette nailbiter at the end of 2005.

Threatt is well aware of the expectations placed on his shoulders. Second-year coach Andy Coen has talked often about the need for the offense to have more of a quick-strike capability and Threatt knows he must be the trigger man.

"Last year, there were some plays that we didn't finish that could have been big plays," Threatt said. "I might have had a 30-yard completion that was underthrown and either Frank [Trovato] or Sekou [Yansane] came back and ran under it. Plays like that could have been bigger.

"We didn't have as many big plays as we wanted last year and we were so close to so many of them. There were certain plays where I just didn't do something. People say it's a team effort and I believe that, too, but there were certain plays where I know I needed to step up and didn't.

"I remember a sure touchdown pass I overthrew to Lee Thomas against Princeton. I could have shoveled to the right and made a throw against Yale in overtime. A couple of plays here and there where I could have made a difference and I just wasn't there."

When asked the key to the season, Threatt didn't hesitate. He has faith in his teammates, but he knows that his position is critical and he must do a better job in the game-defining moments, especially since Lehigh is expected to be in a number of tight struggles like last year when six games were decided by eight points or less.

"I don't want to sound like it's all about me or that I'm selfish or anything like it, but I really feel I have to play well [for us to be successful]," he said. "I have all the confidence in the world in my team. The only worries that I have is really making sure that I show up every Saturday ready to play. I tried to work on my decision-making in the offseason. I watched a lot of tape over the summer. I've been working on my throwing. This is my last go-around, so I've been trying as hard as I can to be as ready as I can."

My feeling is that Threatt will have a big, final year and the Mountain Hawks will follow his lead.

...

Coen said of Artim on Saturday: "Travis has done very, very well. I couldn't be more pleased with him. If we played a game tomorrow, given our lack of health at the wide receiver position, he would play. He's done a really nice job. He's got great hands and, I'll be honest, he's faster than I thought. He understands how to get in and out of cuts.I want our more experienced receivers to get healthy and for Travis to learn a little more, but he has done very well."

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