I make my picks in alphabetical order, so the first team I profile is *your* Bucknell Bison.
Coaching Changes: Another year, another offensive coordinator. After the former Rhode Island OC Harold Nicholls left to become head coach at Presbyterian, head coach Tim Landis promoted from within as Brent Thompson goes from offensive line coach to running the offensive show. He gives the Bison desperately needed consistency on coaching offense: he will be their fourth offensive coordinator in the last five years. Other new faces in Lewisburg include Fordham grad Ed Lynett (Safeties, former defensive coordinator at Iona), Lafayette grad Mike O'Connor (Defensive Line, Rutgers assistant) and - here's a name Lehigh folks will recognize - former all-League CB Sam Perryman (Running Backs, Penn State assistant).
The Hardest Guy To Replace: With a very young team last year, most of the "hard to replace" guys, well, don't need replacing. But one guy is LB Todd Manjuck who had 67 tackles and led the Bison's defense as captain.
The Key to the Season: Senior LB Sam Nana-Sinkam has been a great talent on defense - when he's healthy. Senior QB Marcelo Trigg has been a force on offense - when he's healthy. Junior WR Shaun Pasternak is good enough to be all-Patriot League - if he's healthy. If Bucknell is going to make a run at the title, they'll need to keep injuries to a minimum, especially when league play rolls around - and the oft-injured Trigg and Sinkam will need to be a part of that. If they're 100% all year, watch out.
Big Name in the Incoming Class: If there's a guy that could step in right away and contribute, it's freshman RB Jeremiah Young (Steelton-Highspire HS, PA). Called the coup of the recuiting season by the Sunbury Daily Item, Young ended his high school career as the all-time PA leader in rushing yards (9,027) and 9th all-time. this 5-10, 200 lb running back could end up being the marquee back that Bucknell has been searching for. It probably won't be this year, though: after hurting his knee on the East-West All-Star game this summer, he's injured too, and likely to be out an extended period of time.
Incoming Class Grade: B. Coach Landis did get more beef in the "O" and "D" lines - he nabbed a true defensive tackle in DT Devin Gordon-Hamm - and he got some awesome talent at RB. It's at the "speed" positions at WR and DB where I have questions - especially only getting 1 WR, leaving only 8 on the entire roster. While would could say that DB is a strength, with junior DB Akhiel White leading that unit - you need depth, and I wonder if he got that.
Despite the fact that the Bison's men's basketball team hasn't duplicated that success recently, most fans think of Bucknell as some sort of mid-major basketball power instead of the mediocre basketball team they have since reverted to.
As a result, Bucknell's football program sometimes doesn't get the attention it deserves - certainly not on the world-wide-interwebs, where the message boards post with baited breath about the preseason basketball rosters while football's opener is mere weeks away. While you could argue that the Bison haven't won a Patriot League football championship since 1997 (which was, in a cruel twist of fate for Bison fans, the last year before the Patriot League got an automatic invite to the FCS playoffs), I have great faith should the Bison make a run at this thing, you'll see a stadium filled with "die-hard" Bison fans - die-hard since, oh, this October.
Preseason So Far: For fans hoping the Bison would stay injury-free over the summer, think again. Junior WR Shaun Pasternak - by far the Bison's best receiver - had his leg in a cast over preseason practice and won't be ready for the opener, while senior QB Marcelo Trigg still isn't 100% back from last year's leg injury either. No wonder Landis in his last practices didn't have full contact and hitting.
2009 Expectations: Many non-Bucknell folks may already have written off the Bison - pointing at their 5-6 record last year - but Bison fans look at the talent there and say, "why not us"? And it certainly could play out that way - they have the players, if they can keep the injuries away. If they do stay realtively injury-free, and they make a go at the title, expect the "diehard" fans to show up and cheer them on. If not, well, there's always preseason basketball.