Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rust, TV Games, And Seawolves

The Rust family has guaranteed that football alumni will always have a dry place to tailgate for Lehigh games - the Rust Family Football Pavillion, to be dedicated on September 6th before the Drake game, is a new, dedicated area on Goodman Drive for football alumni to gather before and after Lehigh games. (Hopefully they'll let this non-football alumnus get some shelter under the pavilion every once in a while - and maybe offer me some fried turkey, too.) Tailgating at the pavilion will start at 10:30AM, while at 11:30 AM an official dedication ceremony will also take place. I hope to be there to witness the dedication myself.

The final piece of the broadcast puzzle fell into place for Lehigh's broadcast TV schedule, which was announced today by Lehigh Athletics:

Game TV Broadcasts
Sept. 6, Drake, SE2
Sept. 13, at Villanova, (none)
Sept. 27, at Princeton. WFMZ-TV, FSN Pittsburgh, FCS
Oct. 4, Cornell, SE2
Oct. 11, Fordham, SE2, FCS
Oct. 18, at Harvard, WFMZ-TV, NESN
Oct. 25, at Holy Cross, WFMZ-TV, FSN Pittsburgh, FCS
Nov. 1, at Georgetown, (none)
Nov. 8, Colgate, SE2, FCS
Nov. 15, Bucknell, SE2
Nov. 22, at Lafayette, WFMZ-TV, FCS, DirecTV ch. 617

SE2 means Service Electric 2 (available on Service Electric cable systems in the Lehigh Valley)
FCS means Fox College Sports Atlantic (available on Verizon FiOS and other cable providers)
FSN means Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh (available on western PA cable systems)
WFMZ means Channel 69 Allentown (which is available on many local cable systems in southeastern PA)
NESN means the New England Sports Network (available in the Northeast)

All the Lehigh games are carried on the radio on ESPN 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley, and all the games have either audio or video streamed over the internet at Lehighsports.com, provided by Yahoo! Broadcast. They are top-notch, and have been streaming Lehigh audio for more than a decade and video for the last three years at least. I've used Lehigh's broadcasts for years, and they are invaluable to me as a lunatic Lehigh football fan.

The game I'm really glad to see on there is Lehigh at Princeton, which I was worried wouldn't be available on any TV. Knowing it will be on WFMZ is great.

Oh yeah - for the Villanova game, while Lehighsports.com won't have a video stream, CSTV XXL will be providing a feed from Villanova for that game - for a fee. I can't vouch for the production of the game, or how it will look - it won't be the same broadcast team you're used to for regular Lehigh games. I post it just so y'all know that it's there. (My advice: the monthly fee for lehighsports.com is a *lot* cheaper.)

Finally, some bad news for the Patriot League as Colgate got smoked by Stony Brook 42-26 in their opener. The Seawolves, playing out of the Big South conference, racked up 444 total yards on a Raider defense that has historically been pretty tough. If this is a taste of things to come for the Patriot League, it's going to be a long year.

I know Stony Brook has 63 scholarships, but this is ridiculous.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Patriot League Offseason 2008: Holy Cross

On a football Friday, just before Colgate plays Stony Brook and a day after Jacksonville State let me down against Georgia Tech, I bring you the continuation of my "Patriot League Offseason" series. Next up: *your* Holy Cross Crusaders.

HOLY CROSS
Coaching Changes: We all knew it was too good to last, right? After a year where the Crusaders' staff remained intact, Holy Cross saw the architect of its high-flying pass offense, offensive coordinator Chris Pincince, fly the coop to Rhode Island (along with a bunch of New Haven University folks, included several former Holy Cross assistant coaches) to become offensive coordinator for the Rams. Gilmore promoted from within to fill the position, making tight ends coach Mike Pedone the new offensive coordinator. There are more new faces, too: Andy MacKenzie was hired as a quarterbacks coach, and Matt Fanning joins the staff as running backs coach.

The Hardest Guy To Replace: Randolph's two top targets from last year, WR Ryan Maher and WR Thomas Harrison, have both graduated and won't be easy to replace. A grand total of 1,702 yards receiving and 16 TDs graduated, not to mention a couple of speedsters with excellent hands. Although Holy Cross' vaunted passing attack still has senior QB Dominic Randolph at the helm (not to mention senior WRs Jon Brock and Brett McDermott), it remains to be seen how he'll do with his two top targets gone.

Big Name in the Incoming Class: At 6'4' and 295 lbs, OL Andrew Jameson's exploits on the local high school gridiron makes him a big man (and a big name) coming into Holy Cross, who won the recruiting battle over Brown, Cornell, and Lafayette. Coming from nearby Brockton, his team won the "Big Three" championship last year with Jameson playing as a two-way lineman.

Incoming Class Grade: C+. A fairly small twenty-two man class only boasts three defensive linemen and three offensive linemen - both areas that will be needs for the Crusaders after this year, with four "O" linemen and one "D" lineman who are going to be seniors. The two QBs they secured in their incoming class seemed like solid recruits, but if I'm a Holy Cross fan I'm worried about depth, and this class just simply didn't provide that in key areas.

Spring Game: Some real interesting developments from the spring season: the first involves the blossoming of senior WR Brett McDermott as the primary receiving threat for the Crusaders (who had 5 receptions for 51 yards in the spring game and 2 runs as well for 33 yards). The other is the possible emergence of sophomore DL Mude Ohimor who had 2 sacks in the controlled scrimmiage as well - a possible defensive impact player that the Crusaders have been desperate for.

Preseason So Far: For Holy Cross watchers, it's pretty much unfolded as expected. Randolph has looked good as have McDermott and Brock, while senior TE Ryan McGuire's return for a 5th season really helped boster this offense further. The question, as always, has been how the defense will hold up. With no reported injuries, and junior DL Don Metheney's successful return from a season-ending injury last year, the defense will be healthier. Whether it will be enough to hold off Fordham, Colgate, Lafayette and Lehigh is another matter.

Fan Base: Hard as it is to beleive today, Holy Cross used to be a football and basketball town. In 1987, Holy Cross was a national conversation - and it wasn't about John Havilcek, either. There was Gordie Lockbaum, the only two-way player in college football at that time. There was the rivalry with Boston College. In 1987, and continuing through 1991, they were a dominant force in college football and the newly-formed Patriot League.

Now - largely at the behest of their former president - it's really just a basketball town, as Holy Cross slowly abandoned scholarships in football and saw their once-proud football team go into the toilet. Bill Simmons - yes, that Bill Simmons, of ESPN fame - said of his alma mater that it was "a D1 school with a D3 mentality. Nobody takes it personally when we lose. The goal is to churn out decent teams with nice kids and high graduation rates. We try to win, but not really."

Since those dark days , Holy Cross football has seen a revival. They've come oh-so-close to winning the Patriot League title. Although there's still a "missing generation" of Crusader fans, there even is some whisper on campus about a football team that's pretty darned good. (They even - occasinally - stop their conversations about Holy Cross basketball.)

The fans reflect the closeness to the Patriot League title that the Crusader team has experienced the past two years: they are so close to the brass ring, yet they cannot grasp it. The old-timers that remember the days of Fennerty at Lockbaum see that day where they're a part of championships and a conversation about the Crusaders having a shot at a national title. For the "lost generation" it's a brand new world, a dormant program revived by Tom Gilmore - a figure to immortalize in butter sculptures - or maybe even a banner in the Hart Recreation Center (a place where Holy Cross students might actually attend a sporting event - Fitton field wouldn't be the best choice for that banner).

Both sets of fans can smell - taste - a championship. The question is: what will happen if once again these poor fans are denied? Another loss to a Jesuit school like Fordham (which appears to be becoming a budding rivalry), or those (somewhat, anyway) close by Raiders of Colgate (whith whom the Crusaders also have a sort-of rivalry)? What, indeed, might happen?

Overall Offseason: If there were ever a time to say "this is The Year" for Holy Cross, this is it. With a preseason player of the year on offense in Randolph, four seniors on the offensive line (five if you include their tight end), and two great WR targets returning, it's a feeling of now-or-never in Worcester. Yet the old, nagging questions remain: Can the defense emerge? Will the team fold in October in November? If the Crusaders answer those two questions, they'll be practicing on Thanksgiving. If not, perhaps the Holy Cross football fans will go to slumber once again.. for who knows how long.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jackson Nabs Another Preseason Accolade, And More Press

In other words, the College Sporting News (the news outlet I write for) has released a slew of information, including their preseason all-America team. Senior DL Brian Jackson made it on the second team.

For those that don't know, tonight is when the 2008 college football season kicks off, and I've written a CSN Way article about it - imploring Appalachian State fans to, well, not get hurt when LSU pounds them this Saturday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Included is also my predictions of the only game this week involving a Patriot League school, Colgate:

Colgate at Stony Brook. What seemed like just another opening-day matchup becomes much more interesting when Raider runningback Jordan Scott was suspended for this particular game for an offseason incident. The Seawolves, eager to show off their team now teeming with 63 scholarships, have the goal of an at-large playoff spot and will have a running threat of their own in runningback Conte Cuttino. Who takes this one? I think Colgate’s going to prove that they are not simply Jordan Scott and a cloud of dust. Colgate wins. “STEVE HANSEN and a cloud of dust?” 30, Southern-Fried Seawolves 27.


While I'm at it, let me point you to some of the other Lehigh-related press that's been coming out. Incidentally, how annoying is it that Lehigh and Penn State have QBs with the same last name? Every time I see an article with the name "Clark" on it from The Morning Call I keep thinking it's something special about Lehigh... and what a disappointment that it's about some school in the cow pastures of central Pennsylvania... and no, I don't mean Bucknell.

Morning Call: Mountain Hawks Name Clark Starting QB


''J.B. had the strongest arm and is the most athletic of the candidates. Those are tangible things, but there were other things about him that we liked. He just has a very good way about him. He's respected by his teammates. This is an opportunity to see where we can go with him.''


Morning Call: 5 Things to Watch for Lehigh Football
3. Can an offensive line, featuring three sophomores, jell and protect?

All-American center John Reese and all-league tackle Jimmy Kehs are gone, and sophomores Ricky Clerge, Will Rackley and Keith Schauder will have to grow up fast as starters. Whether the QB is Clark or Bokosky, the line will have a less mobile QB to protect this year.
Easton Express-Times: Q&A with Lehigh QB J.B. Clark

E-T: Do you feel at any disadvantage since opening day is less than two weeks away?

JB: I think that extra week (last week) pushed me and Chris to get better every day. Coach Coen had us on our toes and working hard every day. Summer and off-season is more physical. Now it's a lot more mental, especially for a quarterback.


Allentown Morning Call: Lehigh Counting On Diamond, Defense to Lead the Way


''The big thing is we have a lot of leadership throughout the whole team,'' Coen said. ''Some guys are vocal, some are quiet. It's a nice mix. We've got a lot of younger guys ready to step up and we'll try to get the best out of each other and try to put up a few more wins.''

Finally, Drake, Lehigh's opponent on opening day next week, overcame a sluggish start and struggled to put away D-II Upper Iowa 17-13 at home. Senior S Andy Green intercepted the ball at the goalline with 35 seconds left to preserve the win for the Bulldogs.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Patriot League Offseason 2008: Georgetown

Continuing the Patriot League offseason blog series, I introduce to you: *your* Georgetown Hoyas.

GEORGETOWN
Coaching Changes: Say this about Georgetown athletics: they are incredibly patient. Entering Year Three of head football coach Kevin Kelly's rebuilding project in our nation's capital and coming off a dismal 1-10 season, the main cogs of the entire Hoya coaching staff remains intact for the first time in coach Kelly's tenure. The only addition comes in the form of a new volunteer assistant Matt Shea, who also worked with the NFL's Washington Redskins as a video coordinator.

The Hardest Guy To Replace: Even though the Hoya offense ranked last in the Patriot League in 2007 in scoring (15.1 points per game, 11.7 points per game in league games), the player responsible for more than half of those points is graduating. Tough QB Matt Bassuener not only was the primary signalcaller all year (1,874 yards passing, 8 TDs), he was also the teams 2nd leading rusher (308 yards, 4 TDs). It's going to be a free-for-all to find out which QB will step into his shoes at QB.

Big Name in the Incoming Class: If you thought Lehigh was the only school that brought in a highly-regarded QB from the midwest, you'd better think again. WR David King out of northern Illinois, who was an option QB in high school, brings his talents to DC after the Hoyas out-recruited Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Harvard and Brown. Strangely, though, he's not in the mix at QB and instead on the depth chart as a WR.

Incoming Class Grade: B+. If this were getting scored on "filling needs", coach Kelly would certainly get an 'A' - of course with so many needs, it's impossible to fill everything, especially in one year. Seven (not a typo) players are listed as potential QBs, with four players exclusively listed at QB. Kelly also went for pure speed at RB, with three RBs at 5'10 or less (the "biggest" is RB Kyle Miller at a "beefy" 6'0, 185 lbs). It would have been nice to get a linchpin lineman, especially on the "O" line, which they didn't get. Still, it's clear that coach Kelly is going for an Appalachian State-like spread offense at Georgetown with this bunch.

Spring Game: Coach Kelly didn't score the game this time, but he appeared happy with the results of the drills that he put his team through. It seemed like the players, slowly, are starting to believe in the system that coach Kelly is bringing to DC offensively and defensively. Changing the culture in a program is a tough job - and Kelly seemed to make some headway. After the game, the coveted #35 jersey was awarded to junior DE Nicholas Umar as team captain.

Preseason So Far: For every football team, the preseason is always filled with talk of how this team is the best ever, and why. But the quotes showing up on Georgetown's web site concerning practice are truly worthy of mention. Senior DE Anthony DiTomasso: "There is no doubt that this team is giant steps ahead of the team it was a year ago at this point and with the leadership and work ethic of all those involved, that will hopefully be shown on the field this season." Senior QB Brian Newman: "We must continue to work to become the best conditioned and most disciplined team in the league. Our goals are lofty, but can be achieved through hard work and strong leadership." Frustratingly, there was no talk as to who is in the running for starting QB, but it seems like attitudes are changing at Georgetown.

Fan Base: To be a Georgetown fan is to experience pain. More accurately, Lucy-pulling-the-football-away-from-Charlie-Brown type of pain.

Going into the season, each year Hoya fans feel like every other football fan in America: this is the Year. This is the one that Georgetown will finally emerge from the shadow of the other Patriot League schools. That their new (pick one: new offense, new defense, new coaching staff, new recruit) will swoop into our Nation's capital and singlehandedly avenge the ghost of George Bahen and avenge what those bastards at the Columbia Athletic Club did to him and restore Georgetown's place in the universe.

But more than other schools, Georgetown football fans are teased like Lucy teases Charlie Brown. They're teased with brand new stadiums: and then it's yanked away - an unnamed Multi-Sport Field, eagerly awaiting more stands, in suspended animation since 2005. They're teased with highly-rated recruting classes (how many years have we heard that this recruiting squad is the one that will rescue the Hoyas?) only to see the Hoyas, again, dead last in offense. They're teased with hopes of a winning record and Patriot League wins - and then Lehigh steps in the breach - in an off year, mind you - and pastes the Hoyas 45-0.

Add to that an enduring disrespect from the DC media, who breathlessly covers Maryland football as if it were even important (or has done anything remotely important in college football history in the past twenty years except win one lousy ACC title and get pasted by Florida in the Orange Bowl that year), but barely even recognizes local teams Howard or Georgetown in football. Adding insult to injury is the preseason accolades and non-stop talk of Hoya basketball around mid-October, where fans are constantly reminded of a Hoya team that has national acclaim and has the rapt attention of the local area.

This year, like all others, Georgetown football fans are once again hopeful, especially the younger ones who haven't endured the same disappointment since the Hoyas have joined the Patriot League. Yet the older, wiser fans - like Clinton-istas looking over at Obama-niacs - have seen it before. They're hopeful that this year will be different - that maybe a DC paper might publish something about Georgetown football in late October, competing for the Patriot League title - but secretly aren't counting on it.

Overall Offseason: Last year, I said that "it should be very interesting to see how these young pups start to come together this year." I could cut-and-paste that analysis to this year's group - oh, wait, I just did.

Coach Kelly should have all the time he needs to build the Georgetown program into one that can compete for Patriot League titles in the long run, and that involves changing the culture around the program. He appears to be making headway in that department, as well as bringing a 21st century offense to the Hoyas as well when all is said and done. It's slow work, though as Georgetown fans eagerly await word to see which freshmen will be working their way into the starting lineup. Hope, as always, springs eternal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

J.B. Clark Will Start Against Drake

In the online poll on Lehigh Football Nation, readers were absolutely right. Breaking news from Keith Groller at the Morning Call:

Sophomore QB J.B. Clark, a 6-4, 215-pound Jupiter, Fla., product, has been named the starting quarterback by Lehigh University football coach Andy Coen.

Clark beat out junior QB Chris Bokosky and fellow sophomore QB Trace Cisneros for the job, even though Bokosky had played in seven games and made three starts after the benching of Sedale Threatt in 2007.

"It was a very hard decision," Coen said. "The kids really brought the best out of each other. I wanted to give each of them all of the reps and the most opportunities before making my decision.

"J.B. had the strongest arm and is the most athletic of the candidates. Those are tangible things, but there were other things about him that we liked. He just has a very good way about him. He's respected by his teammates. This is an opportunity to see where we can go with him."
The drama is over. In what appears to have been a very difficult decision, coach Coen went with the athleticism at potential of Clark over the slow, steady production from Bokosky in the spring and the preseason.

LFN's take: This seems like a decision as to where the season could end up rather than where it is now. Bokosky is probably further along in understanding and executing the offense, but as Clark gets playing time as the starter the hope is when the games start to count in Patriot League play, Clark will be as comfortable in the offense as Bokosky is now.

That's not to say Bokosky is now unimportant. Ask anyone who remembers the win over Hofstra in the playoffs of 2001, when QB Luke Cianello came off the bench for an injured QB Brant Hall to enter Lehigh lore forever. Having Bokosky as an experienced, involved backup could be a great boon going into the year - for both Lehigh and J.B. Clark.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Patriot League Offseason 2008: Fordham

Continuing my "Patriot League Offseason" series, next up under the microscope is last year's Patriot League champions: *your* Fordham Rams.

FORDHAM

Coaching Changes: Masella's housecleaning in the 2006 offseason in the coaching department paid the ultimate dividends: a win over Columbia in the "Liberty Cup", a winning record, and practice on Thanksgiving (another way of saying they won the division and were slated to play in the playoffs). Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the same key coaches (offensive coordinator Ed Argast, defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci) are still here, along with all the main coaches from last year. The one new name is a familiar one to Patriot League fans: Shawn Johnson, who nearly transferred to Fordham in 2003 when he graduated from Duke but still had a year of eligibility. Unfortunately for Colgate, the folks at Fordham steered him to Delaware where Johnson helped the Blue Hens trounce the Raiders in the I-AA Championship game 40-0.

The Hardest Guys to Replace: Nearly all the key parts to last year's championship team return for the Rams, but Fordham suffers two key losses in the linebacking corps: LBs Dominique Owens and Earl Hudnell. Owens was Fordham's second-leading tackler last year (82, including 7 tackles for loss), while Hudnell (59 tackles, 15 1/2 for loss) also wreaked havoc in opposing backfields in 2007. Hudnell also had three interceptions last year -- including one for a touchdown against Lehigh that sealed their win, 28-18.

Big Name in the Incoming Class: Usually FCS schools manage to luck out with talented local kids who slip through the recruiting cracks for whatever reason. This year, one such possibility is freshman RB Darryl Whiting. With unconventional size (6'4, 200 lbs) and speed to go with his fantastic senior season in Holy Cross in Queens, what scared him off from major colleges might work perfectly in Fordham's offensive system: as a RB, "X", "Y", or "W" back in Fordham's flexible spread-style offense, he could be a dual threat as a wideout or a rusher.

Incoming Class Grade: B. For the Rams, you could say (as Meat Loaf once did) "two out of three ain't bad". I want you.... Masella got some quality skill players they got (including two interesting QBs, including the son of the head coach of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger Cats, freshman QB Brian Taafe). I need you..... In one need area, coach Masella went far and wide to get the big bodies (and boy did they need "O" linemen: Masella nabbed *seven*). But there ain't no way, you'll ever get those DBs you need.... on a defense which desperately needed defensive backs, two DBs simply ain't hacking it. Still, Masella once again has a very impressive incoming class.

Spring Game: Not sure the final score of 44-40 was indicative of the nature of the scrimmage (which had a fair number of starters held out due to injury), but the first-team offense seemed to simply start up where they left off. Junior WR John Skelton left no doubt who the starter was at QB (12/14, 135 yards), but it's at receiver where the surprises started: a star DB last year, junior DB Isiejah Allen, switched to WR, and sophomore TE Stephen Skelton - John's brother - also made it look like he might be heard from on Rose Hill.

Preseason so far: Quietly, Masella the former New York firefighter appears not to be happy simply taking last year's champs and sticking to the same program: the firefighter, it seems, is also a tinkerer. Oddly for a returning conference champion, there seems to be an awful lot of movement in position on this team: junior TE Frank Curry (from LB), senior LB Mark Meehan (from WR), and sophomore DB Isa Abdul El-Quddus (from LB), just to name a few. (You might need to buy a program just to keep up.)

Fan Base: You'd think Fordham fans would be just like, say New York Yankee fans: filled with bravado, ready to heckle the opposition at a moment's notice, to yell out "Holy Cross Sucks" in the middle of a game for no apparent reason (even if the Rams are playing Georgetown). But it's simply not true: Ram fans have long become accustomed to being sixth banana in the biggest sports town in America (and seventh if the New York Red Bulls are in the MLS playoffs). That has kept Fordham fans humble over the years.

But being New Yorkers, they still see the Big Sports, and the experience the Big Myths about New York sports - like calling Bill Bradley an NBA star, that "Donnie Baseball" somehow was a great player - that somehow putting Eli in the same zip code as Peyton as a quarterback isn't heresy.

As a result, Fordham fans sudden surge from sixth in 2006 to first to 2007 leaves the common Ram unable to function. On some level Fordham fans have faint memories of their team in New York history: Lombardi, Granite, the rivalry with the NYU Violets, Bowl games. Somewhere, deep inside, Fordham fans have to keep secretly hoping that Nike will make commercials about how junior LB James Crockett (cast as David) slayed "Gilmore's Goliath" with a last-minute interception , cementing what is a great college football story - the resurrection of big-time college sports in New York. "Yet still Billy Crystal and the college football legend-makers stay away. Why? Why???"

Fordham fans, this year more than most, have these two forces pulling at them of humble followers of Fordham and this larger-than-life New York mythos of sports. Somewhere in all these fans, there are realists: they can't compete with the Yankees. Yet there's a restlessness there. It will be interesting if it will result in eventual riots at the New York Post for more Fordham football coverage if they get some early success in September - especially if the Post covers the "Days Until Girardi's Firing" over the Rams' success.

Overall Offseason: Last year, I questioned coach Masella for keeping offensive coordinator Ed Argast after they struggled so bad on offense. (Shows what I know.) This year, the staff is (rightfully) intact, and almost all of the key players return -which should translate to being prohibitive favorites for the Patriot League title in 2008. Yet the restlessness - the switching of players' positions, the tinkering on offense - persists, and lends to the perception that maybe, just maybe, last year was simply a fluke.

Two things can happen with the continued tinkering: risk and reward. The potential reward? Another winning team in 2008 that will keep the opposition guessing all year. The risk? That the tinkering will break the winning formula from 2007.
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