Friday, April 25, 2008

Patriot League Tops in APR, And The Playoffs Expand

Two quick big news items that hit the wire today, both covering the entire world of FCS football.

First was that Lehigh and the Patriot League were singled out for praise in an AP story in regards to academic performance. The NCAA singled out 712 sports teams across the NCAA for their excellent work in the classroom, of which 150 were from the Ivy League and 89 were from the Patriot League.

Yale produced the most impressive classroom performance for the second straight year. Of the 29 men’s and women’s sports offered by the school and measured by the NCAA, the Bulldogs made the list in 28 sports. Dartmouth was honored 24 times, followed by Brown (21), the University of Pennsylvania (20), Princeton (19) and Harvard (18).

Other schools that fared well included Bucknell (17), Lehigh and Holy Cross (15), Davidson (14), Lafayette and Colgate (13). The Naval Academy, Duke and Georgetown each had 12 teams on the list, and Notre Dame had 11 although the Fighting Irish did not make it in football.


Lehigh didn't make it in football either - and interestingly, 11 of the 15 teams which were honored were women's sports. The full list of Lehigh's award-winning sports are: Baseball, Men's & Women's Cross Country, Men's & Women's Tennis, Wrestling, Women's Basketball, Women's Golf, Women's Lacrosse, Women's Rowing, Women's Soccer, Softball, Women's Track (Indoor), Women's Track (Outdoor), and Women's Volleyball.

The second item - and one that I will be talking about next week for sure - is the expansion of the FCS football playoff field to 20 teams in 2010:

As a result of the NCAA Board of Directors� approval of a new budget that allows for the expansion of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision post-season bracket, the Northeast Conference will gain automatic access into the Division I Football Championship beginning in 2010. NEC Football is also eligible for automatic qualification into the championship bracket during the 2008 and 2009 seasons if its champion meets specifications of the bridge program.

The recently-approved budget contained a proposal from the Division I Football Championship Committee calling for an increase in the number of FCS playoff participants to 20, a 25 percent rise from its current 16-team format. The NEC will acquire one of the four added berths and be guaranteed an opportunity to play for the 2010 FCS Championship.

The other automatic bid is widely believed to be the Big South, home to Stony Brook, Coastal Carolina, Liberty, Charleston Southern, Gardner-Webb, and VMI. Should they compete as a league for the next two years, their first year of playoff eligibility will be, indeed, in 2010.

The interesting thing to the Patriot League is the domino that might now have fallen in terms of scholarships for the NEC. It seems likely that the NEC will vote an increase in scholarships offered from 30 to 45 to prepare for 2010, making the competition for Division I football players even more intense in the northeast.

2010 will officially look like a very different world than even 2008 in terms of FCS football. When recruiting against the NEC, there was always the carrot of a possible autobid to play in the FCS championship. In 2010, NEC schools can offer the exact same carrot - and scholarships to boot.

What, if anything, will the Patriot League do?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Buzz" Around Lehigh Football

No, I can't say it's particularly... well... original, but with Lehigh's Brown/White game completed, it's time to catch up with with some of the (shudder) buzz - or rumors, and the like - that's hovering around the Patriot League and the Lehigh program. (Why do I feel, well, dirty after writing that? Is it only because "buzz" feels ...so... so... 1996?)

We'll start with the NFL Draft, make a side trip to the Lehigh Athletics Hall of Fame, "The Rivalry", and end up with new plans for Murray Goodman Stadium' new (natural) turf. And I'll try to do so without making a single reference to Independence Day.

  • Let's start with Don Bostrom's Morning Call column today talking about the number of local Lehigh Valley athletes that have been NFL draft picks, including hall-of-famer Chuck Bednarik. That doesn't interest me as much as the fact that he lists Lehigh football players that have been draft picks over the years... and (most importantly) that we're well ahead of Lafayette on that score (9 draft picks to 3).
  • Bostrom lists eight draftees... but as a matter of fact, there are at least nine: Pete Williams (49ers, 1958), Reed Bohovich (Giants, 10th round, 1962), Thad Jamula (Browns, 13th round, 1971), John Hill (Giants, 6th round, 1972), Kim McQuilken (Falcons, 3rd round, 1974), Jerry Mullane (Giants, 14th Round, 1976), Mike Rieker (Saints, 6th round, 1978), Steve Krieder (Bengals, 6th Round, 1979), Rich Owens (Redskins, 5th round, 1995). (There are plenty of other Lehigh players who have also played in the NFL that weren't drafted as well, notably Rabih Abdullah '97 who got a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots.)
  • The one not mentioned in Mr. Bostrom's article was Pete Williams, who was just inducted into Lehigh Athletics' Hall Of Fame last week. Williams was a true ironman (playing both offensive and defensive tackle) at the end of the "ironman era" in pro football, playing in every game (and almost every down, too) in the three years he was eligible (freshmen were not allowed to play varsity then). He was the captain the 1957 squad that went 8-1 and captured Lehigh’s first-ever Lambert Cup trophy. As if that weren't enough, he scored three TDs, one safety, and even kicked an extra point.
  • Rereading The Last Amateurs the other day, I wanted to pick out the following quote: "Wrestling is by far the number one sport at Lehigh." I enjoy the book and everything, but that always makes me laugh. I know wrestling is big, but bigger than The Rivalry? Hah!
  • You want more evidence? Well, just take a look at this piece in the Brown & White that asks the question: After Lehigh/Lafayette, Does The Rivalry Live On? I think after reading it - if you didn't know the answer already - the story is brought home with the story of a split household, with a Lehigh Dad and a Lafayette Mom. (What do they do for tailgates the third weekend in November, I wonder - bake Brown & Maroon cookies?)
  • The big news comes from my buddy ngineer off of one of the message boards, but not through an official release. Quote:
It was announced today that the day after graduation ceremonies end in Goodman Stadium that the old turf, that has been there for over 40 years, will be torn up and replaced with a new sod/turf system with underground irrigation and drainage design, which the current field does not have. AD Sterrett said going to an artificial surface was never seriously considered. Football is meant to be played on grass, pure and simple. However, the current turf has gotten 'exhausted' which has made it susceptible to disease/fungus, requiring a lot of work to keep in the good condition it has appeared.

However, there will also be a new "Field Turf" field constructed to replace the exisiting artificial surface upon which field hockey, lacrosse, and soccer sometimes play. It will be designed to accommodate all aspects of college football in the even to another 'monsoon' event, such as occured with Holy Cross three years ago. Should such a recurrence happen, the game would be played at the Ulrich Complex.

Finally, the scoreboard will be upgraded. Not sure if this year or next. But it is over 20 years old and replacement parts are no longer available. No details on what type of board, however, but it will definitely be designed to be easier to read with the afternoon sun.

I don't know what's more gratifying: knowing that the turf will be replaced at Murray Goodman and better drainage added (as someone who was there at the '05 monsoon, I can appreciate it), or that the scoreboard will be upgraded (almost a necessity now that "that school in Easton" has a DiamondVision color replay on their - admittedly impressive - scoreboard). Both "unofficial" announcements are great for the program, and I'll be looking forward to finding out more!

With more and more schools (like "that school in Easton") going to FieldTurf, that we're keeping natural grass is really welcome - and in the wake of some studies that are investigating potential health hazards with lead in artificial turf fields, it seems like resisting the urge to go plastic has always been the right decision.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brown & White Q&A With Coach Coen

As promised, here's my transcript of my Q&A with coach Coen at the conclusion of the Brown & White game. Tell you what, I'm pretty excited to see what this linebacking unit can do against a live offense in Drake in September. Only 138 days until the opener!

LFN:
Tell me about your impressions of the Brown/White game.

Coach Coen: Well, we're very pleased with the defense. They've really been ahead of the offense all spring, which is fairly common, but they did a great job turning the football over today. They did a much better job playing the football in the air, certainly, than we did a year ago, so I'm pleased with that. Good effort, certainly.

But on the other hand, you're disappointed that we had as many turnovers as we did offensively. We've got to keep working. The kids all worked hard in the spring, we had a great offseason in the weight room, we've just got to keep getting better, bigger, stronger, faster, and those things.

LFN: The defense was very aggressive, that stood out.

Coen: We've got a great defensive staff. Except for one game last year, they pretty much kept us in every game a year ago. I think we've got the players, particularly our linebacking group, that can really apply the heat. They'll be getting after people. Compared to last year, I think we tackle better than we did, and we play the ball better now than we did, so we've made some plays there. The secondary looked very athletic. I think they are more physical - all of them - as a group than the group was a year ago. That's one of the things I see. It's great. They caught balls that were up in the air. That's what we need to do.

If it takes us a while with a new quarterback and some young offensive linemen to get up to speed, then we're going to need them to be making those types of plays for us.

LFN: What did you learn about the quarterbacks after today?

Coen: They all made some mistakes, were pressured quite a bit. They all showed some escapability, all of them, which was nice. This was the first we were really live on the kids, when the fur starts to fly, that says a lot about everybody.

You know what? Chris [Bokosky] went on a great first drive, which was great to see, one of the more impressive drives we've had during the spring. I think they're all competitors, and I think they've all gotten better from March. It may not look that way today, but from March 21st to now they've all gotten better.

They've got to keep getting better in the spring and summer, and when we come back in August they need to be ready. [In terms of picking the starting QB,] I wasn't on any timetable, I wanted to give all the kids an opportunity for us to evaluate them, to make sure we're making the right decision. They're great kids, they've all got rapport with everyone on the team, so when we come up with a guy in the middle of camp, we know we'll be good to go.

LFN: How has the receiving staff been?

Coen: Ben (Ivester) made some catches which was good, Sekou (Yansane) had the one fumble unfortunately, other than that, we've caught the ball pretty well all spring. We've been obviously harping on that after a disappointing year last year catching the ball.

LFN: What happens now, going into the offseason?

Coen: We've got some time off here, end of classes coming up, then finals. We'll meet with them on Monday to go over what we expect of them in the offseason.

LFN: Anyone really stand out today or overall?

Coen: Al Pierce, he made another great play here today at the end, he's really stood out all camp. He's been the one guy that really jumps to mind.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Press Links Of Brown/White Game

The Sunday papers had three articles talking about the Brown/White game complete with post-game reactions from coach Coen and some of the players.

More commentary pn the spring game tonight from coach Coen on the Lehigh Sports Magazine (8:30PM tonight on WFMZ, or online on lehighsports.com).

Expect pictures, and the transcript of my conversation of my interview with coach Coen, up soon.

Morning Call: Defense Dominates Brown & White Game
Morning Call: Homegrown Hawks To Play Important Role
Express-Times: VanAckeren Likes Hawks Secondary

The press is raving about senior SS Brendan VanAckeren and some other local products as well, such as senior FS Quadir Carter, junior LB Matt Cohen, and junior WR Travis Artim.

Highlights:

Senior tailback Matt McGowan, one of the four captains named before the game, gained 11 yards on three carries. For him, it was just good to feel healthy again.

A hamstring injury in preseason camp limited the former Hazleton star to just one start all last season.

“It was frustrating for me because I had never been injured,” McGowan said. “It was one of the hardest things I ever had to endure. But I’m totally healthy now and really looking forward to this season. We’re going to be all right. We’re trying to make adjustments to some new things and it will all come together.”

McGowan figures to get a lot of carries, with Kwesi Kankam and Josh Pastore leaving the program.

“The departure of those guys hit the team hard, but those were personal decisions that they needed to make,” McGowan said. “They’re still our brothers and we love them, but we’ll be all right.”

“I wish the offense had executed better, but the defense was really dominant,” Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. “The offense started out great, and I was hoping to see more of that.

“But the defense was really getting after people and that’s good because on every good football team I’ve been a part of, the defense set the tone. The defense kept us in every game we lost last year except Holy Cross and we think we can be even better. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the right people on offense.”

"I thought they [the defense] did a great job," Coen said. "One thing we noticed, we really caught the ball way up in the air. The kids made some great plays back there in the secondary. That's great. We need those things."

There's a lot of potential back there, a lot of guys stepping up this spring," said VanAckeren, a graduate of Liberty. "Not only performing well but getting their assignments right, their checks right, so it's great to see.

"I think we have a good group, a good core coming out of spring. I think we should be all right back in the secondary."

"Every day we've been getting better," said Carter, who has two career interceptions. "I think it was evident in the spring game that the DB's are doing pretty good since the first day."

"They're definitely more quiet than what we've we had," Coen said. "I think we've got some true leaders on this team. I was very happy with the selections the kids made with our four captains [VanAckeren, Diamond, tailback Matt McGowan and offensive lineman Kevin Bayani]. Those are four great kids.

"The summer will be a tell-tale sign for the leadership because they have to do the work on their own until we get back together on August 7. As a team, we're at about the same spot we were a year ago. But we didn't have a great offseason in the summer. This year, they're going to have to work harder and do better."
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