Friday, July 25, 2008

Six Days to Media Day

Next Thursday, the Patriot League will be hosting their 2008 Football media day, and as always I couldn't be more excited. It's one more indicator that kickoff for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (at home September 6th versus Drake, 12:30pm) is right around the corner.

I thought for a Friday before media day it might be a good idea to post some of the big Patriot League questions going into the 2008 season.

1. How will Fordham do in 2008 with the bullseye on its back? Oddly for a team who is a returning champion with so many returning players (including junior QB John Skelton), some publications are hesitant to pick the Rams to win the whole thing (in fact, Phil Steele picks them 4th). Why? Is it simply because it will be harder the second time around? Will Forhdam's spread offense be easier to solve when teams are more prepared for it? Or are folks just putting a lot of stock in the defending Patriot League champions' losses to Dayton of the PFL and Bucknell last year?

2. Can Holy Cross win a big game after we lose daylight savings time? The Crusaders, featuring the offensive preseason player of the year senior QB Dominic Randolph, has been nearly unbeatable - in September and early October. However, they've folded down the stretch two straight years in heartbreaking fashion. In 2006, they lost a Patriot League title with a 29-28 fall-from-ahead loss to Colgate on the last game of the season. In 2007, a last-minute interception sealing a 24-21 Fordham victory - and a 31-21 loss to Lafayette the following week nixing any possible at-large playoff possibility. Can they reverse their fortunes during championship time and finally get coach Tom Gilmore Holy Cross' first league championship in seventeen years?

3. Could Colgate take the whole thing by staying retro on us? The leading rusher in FCS last year, senior RB Jordan Scott, had a very rocky offseason and will be suspended for one game this year. But when he's in the game, Colgate promises to be an old-school put-the-rock-in-Scott's-hands sort of team when the game is on the line. Can Scott take another season of 35-40 carries a game - and carry the Raiders to the Patriot League title?

4. Do Patriot League presidents think there is a problem with the existing need-based aid model for football? This offseason has brought change to the way the Patriot League will be computing their academic index (or AI for short) - of which (hopefully) more details will be forthcoming next week. The change in the AI seems to be an acknowledgment that there is/was some sort of problem that needed to be solved in terms of competitiveness within the league and outside the league.

But there is a growing chorus of fans who are wondering if the league is losing its competitiveness with the rest of FCS because of the Patriot League's policy of not offering merit-based aid to football players, not solely because of the AI. With merit-based aid in other Patriot League sports such a wild success - notably men's basketball - athletics administrators have had a hard time justifying why football is so different. But that's not who needs to be convinced: the question is, do the Presidents think that the AI reform "fixes" the problem of competitiveness - or is AI reform only one step on the way to some form of limited merit-based scholarships?

5. Are Lehigh and Lafayette becoming the same team? Both in the unaccustomed role of "dark horse", one team boasts a fearsome defense, and a tough run-oriented offense with no established star. The problem is: the other team could be described in the exact same way.

In the preseason, Lafayette seems to have the edge since Lehigh seems to be having an open tryout at QB while Lafayette at least boasts junior QB Rob Curley who played very well down the stretch in "The Rivalry". If senior RB Matt McGowan can stay healthy this year for the Birds and perform up to his potential, however, Lehigh could have the upper hand - and if either Lafayette or Lehigh get things going on offensively, they both could make a surge at the title.

How will both teams - picked to be #1 and #2, respectively, in last year's preseason media poll - perform now that the bullseye is now firmly off of them and on Fordham, Colgate, and Holy Cross?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Got $4,000 Just Lying Around?

I am a huge nerd for Lehigh football history - and somebody just put something very intriguing up on Ebay that is a part of that storied history: a scorecard from the 1896 Michigan/Lehigh game.

And for only $4,000, it can be yours.

112 years ago, the "Lehigh XI" made the trip to the midwest to play Michigan's fearsome football team in a classic David-versus-Goliath match at the Detroit Athletic Club field in Detroit, MI (which is still around today and once hosted amateur fields in the late 1800's). It would be the only time Lehigh would play Michigan - and quite unlike Appalachian State last year, Lehigh would get throttled 40-0 from this reprint of the game summary.

Special thanks to the Michigan Victors blog for all the images from this unbelievably rare item - and an extensive description of the item, including scans of every page inside (including this picture of Lehigh's 1896 team). One of the pages features a list of the players on Lehigh's 1896 travel roster - and none of them are over 200 lbs (Becara, the right guard, weighs in at a "whopping" 196 lbs)!

Another gem inside the program include the "hype" for Lehigh in the program, where they do their best to dress up Lehigh's 1-2 record at that time ("More ground was made in this game against Pennsylvania than had been made against her the entire season" - a polite way of describing a 32-0 shellacking). Lehigh's only win was against Rutgers - the Engineers prevailed 44-0. The 1896, a young, inexperienced squad that would take their lumps and end the season 2-5, refused to play Lafayette at the end of the year - the only year in "The Rivalry" from 1884 to the present day when Lehigh and Lafayette didn't face each other. The reason? Lehigh thought that members the 1896 team - filled with early-century superstars Charles "Babe" Reinhart and George "Rose" Barclay - were not real amateur athletes. With Reinhart and Barclay leading the way, Lafayette would be "paper" co-national champions with Princeton in 1896.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eagles Swoop Into Lehigh For Training Camp

With the 14th Dalai Lama's historic visit just ending last week, and Lehigh's high school 7-on-7 shootout and the final Lehigh University Youth Football clinics slated to end on Wednesday, there certainly isn't going to be any rest for the support staff at the Goodman Sports complex this summer.

After hosting youth football players, believers in Tibetan Buddhism from all over the country, members of the media from around the world, hundreds more students and alumni interested and inspired by the Dalai Lama's teachings, and even some Buddhist protesters, the Goodman complex now has an even bigger challenge - the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp (admission: free) and the circus of fans and media that accompany this intriguing annual event. The first practice is tomorrow, starting at 8:45AM.

Lehigh is entering its 13th year of hosting the Eagles preseason camp - before 1995, the Eagles had chosen to host the camp in a variety of different non-D-I sites, including Widener, West Chester, Albright, and HersheyPark stadium. Lehigh's combination of location (it's close enough to Philadelphia, but not too close, while allowing for fan outreach to the football-crazed Scranton, Western N.J., and ABE Eagles fans) and facilities (three natural grass practice fields at the John C. Whitehead practice fields, as well as Lehigh's strength training center at the A. Haigh Cundey Varsity House) are hard to beat for an NFL preseason camp, and it's a great place to watch the "big boys" practice.

The training camp is also a real economic boost for Bethlehem in the summer. Channel 69 news estimates that on average it brings about 5,000 fans a day to showcase Goodman stadium - and these fans also stop in town at Lehigh Pizza, La Lupita Mexican Restaurant, Bridgeworks, Goosey Gander, or countless other local eateries. Not to mention that the players themselves get food there as well - as Jim Gouvalis, manager of Lehigh Pizza implies, many might use Donovan McNabb's name to get, well, that little extra-fast service.

In the years that Eagles camp has been at Lehigh there has been plenty of history, but three incidents in particular stand out. The first came in a bizarre situation in 1997 where the (in?)famous Mike Mamula was accused of exposing himself to a hotel worker - and where Mr. Mamula had been seen and reported hitting the local strip*- um, er, nightclubs. But that was before the media circuses that involved Terrell Owens' appearances in Bethlehem in 2004 (where a crush of 25,000 fans showed up to see T.O.) and 2005 ("Next question" and the drama of will he show in Bethlehem or won't he show?).

This year shouldn't have anything quite as dramatic as the T.O. years, but still should offer more interesting subplots involving RB Brian Westbrook's holdout, the health of QB Donovan McNabb (a never-ending concern, I might add), and, of course, how the rookies will do. Most intriguing, however, is the subplot that this might be head coach Andy Reid's last at the helm of the Eagles.

A fantastic guide for Eagles fans comes from the Morning Call for the best time to show up, where to go, and what is available at the camp for food, drinks, and merchandise. (The Eagles shirts available at the practice, IMO, are the best deal you'll find anywhere - and they have every Eagles thing under the sun there, too.)

Personally, I try to hit one day of Eagles camp a year with my wife (a huge Eagles fan) and my young son (a budding Eagles fan) while combining it with Musikfest. It's a fantastic family day for all of us: we see the Eagles practice in the morning while my son enjoys all the NFL Experience activities like throwing footballs, catching a pass in the inflatable games, and even doing art projects in the activities tent. Then in the afternoon, we hit Musikfest as it opens and enjoy the live music and food stalls into the early evening. We're really looking forward to doing it again this year.

Admittedly, it does give me something to do before Lehigh's freshmen report to Lehigh for the birds I follow more closely: the Mountain Hawks' training camp.

UPDATE: Nothing like Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford pissing on Lehigh's parade, as he appears to be too much of a sissy to stand 100 degree heat. (Ever leave the press box, Bob?) Let's see, have the Eagles rip up their tendons at the NovaCare complex, or practice on the natural grass at Goodman? Memo to Bob: we don't give a crap about your trip up the Northeast extension. Take 413 and shut up.
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