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Sunday's Word: Train

When my family and I left Villanova on Saturday, I left with more questions than answers. While I still overall feel sophomore QB J.B. Clark will grow into his job as Lehigh's quarterback and overall I am still bullish on Lehigh's chances in the Patriot League this year, I still sometimes look at that glass and see it as half empty rather than half full. But the reason I feel that way is not specific to Lehigh football in general. It's something else.

Every Sunday night I go through my tasks and work on ranking my Top 25 for the upcoming polls. As a national writer, I am a voter in multiple polls and I try to do the work to truly represent the FCS landscape as I see it.

What I generally do is I rank the Top 20 more or less how I feel they actually are nationally and then use 21-25 to put some of my "stretch picks" - the Albany's, the Stony Brook's, the Liberty's - that I'm keeping an eye on for the future and deserve some recognition.

I also generally put a Patriot League team in there if there are isn't one currently in the Top 25 mostly because I feel that the best Patriot League team(s) is/are genuinely good enough and talented enough to be in the Top 20. After all, the Patriot League has had a history of having teams that are good enough to win playoff games and even make it to the championship game.

For the first time in recent memory, I couldn't bring myself to vote for a single Patriot League team.

I mean, really, exactly who was I going to pick this week? Fordham, who lost due to (of all things) a blocked extra point getting brough back the other way for 2 points? The Rams, for the second straight year, lost 23-20 to non-scholarship Dayton - the 3-point swing from the extra point try being the margin of victory in the game.

Lafayette, who failed to inspire offensively two straight weeks with a 28-6 victory over non-scholarship Marist and a 24-6 win over perenial Patriot League struggler Georgetown?

Coglate, who got slammed 42-21 by a Furman team that is picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the SoCon? And who got dominated 42-26 earlier in the year by a Stony Brook team that historically has been dominated by Patriot League teams?

Bucknell, who squeaked by two middle-of-the-road (at best) NEC opponents in Robert Morris (17-14) and Duquesne (48-42)?

Maybe Holy Cross, who put up a game effort against #3 ranked UMass but lost 45-42, should have been my token choice. But that's exactly what it would have been: a token choice.

(Fittingly, the team I picked to replace my token Patriot League team in my Top 25? Villanova.)

The Patriot League out-of-conference is currently 7-5. But look closer and the picture continues to look worrisome for Patriot League fans.

The best win for the league was without question Fordham's 16-0 shutout versus 1-2 Rhode Island of the CAA in a game delayed by the remnants of Hurricane Hanna. But Rhode Island looks like they are going to be a terrible team in the CAA as they transition from a triple-option offense to a pass-happy one - and they have to do it without their best player, senior FB Joe Casey.

Colgate also won a game against Coastal Carolina, who has appeared in the playoffs before and play in the Big South which hopes to become playoff eligible in 2010. But they needed the miracle of all miracles to do it - not to mention some horrible officiating - after escaping South Carolina with a 23-19 victory. Their game-winning a touchdown came on a muffed field goal after the officials stopped the clock with 8 seconds after a Colgate fumble.

Georgetown's 12-7 win over Howard in the inaugural DC Cup sounds impressive on the surface - after all, Howard plays in the MEAC and they also get an autobid. That is, until you consider that they've only had three winning seasons in the past ten years and have won exactly one MEAC championship in the past twenty years.

The remaining wins are two against non-scholarship teams (Lehigh beating Drake, and Lafayette beating Marist), one against a team transitioning from non-scholarship to scholarship (Duquesne) and another that is picked to be a middle-of-the-road team in the NEC (Robert Morris). Not a single one of these wins were a call to the rest of the league to look out for them.

In 2003 - which is looking more and more like a high water mark in recent Patriot League history with Colgate's run to the championship - the league as a whole went 24-16 versus the rest of I-AA. But included in those wins were some impressive scalps: Colgate demolished I-A Buffalo 38-15 and made mincemeat of teams in the playoffs, including UMass and a Florida Atlantic team that was filled with I-A caliber talent.

Somehow, I don't think Bucknell's 48-42 win over Duquesne is going to occupy the same place in the Patriot League pantheon - especially considering that the Bison almost blew a 41 point lead before recovering an onside kick to win.

In week one, I said that I had hoped that Colgate's loss to Stony Brook wasn't a "canary" in the coal mine signifying a year that the Patriot League would struggle in out-of-conference play.

With a week two with good effort by Holy Cross against UMass, and a bunch of wins against out-of-league teams, I thought I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, after this week's pathetic 0-4 out-of-conference record against some good teams with playoff potential? I'm trying my best to withhold judgement, but it's not easy. We'll know a lot more, I keep telling myself, after the first round of games versus the Ivy League, who choose to not play in the FCS playoffs, this week.

Unfortunately, I'm wondering if that light might be - you guessed it - an incoming "train".


Anonymous said…
You are right on and until the Patriot presidents add scholarships we will continue south.I wonder if the goal of the league is to be satisfied being a second class Ivy. Sad if action is not taken.
Anonymous said…
Unfortunately there is no hope for the patriot league any longer. The administrations have nary a concern like we do. When Holy Cross leaves the league and offers football scholarships, which is happening, that should shake everyone up enough to either drop to D3, the likely route, or to finally offer scholarships to keep them in.
Anonymous said…
Let's face it. The Patriot League is not of high caliber. The talent is at a high D-3 level. The games are difficult to watch. Lehigh pays it coaching staff at a D-2 level and the recruting budget is a joke. I would rather drop football than continue this charade/
ngineer said…
Colgate's losses to Stony Brook and Furman, but considerable margins, and Lehigh's loss at Villanova have revealed the talent gap that has grown between PL teams and the 'elite' conferences. I agree the the Presidents of the PL must wake up NOW, if we are ever to become truly competitive with the better teams of FCS. The issue isn't more money. It's how the money is used without restrictions on 'need'. If Stanford, USC, Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and other FBS schools can give scholarships and still maintain excellent academic reputations, I think we can too and become competitive FCS teams.
Anonymous said…
To the idiot that evaluated the talent level as high D3. Put away the crack pipe.
Anonymous said…
I have to agree with the last post...One rough Saturday and we're all selling out? No doubt last weeks game was a disappointment however,this team has talent and grit, they will respond.
. said…
clark is great face the face that he should not be playing for this crappy D1AA league...he should be in D1

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