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Sunday's Word: Expectations

This morning, I got up, in as foul a mood as I was yesterday evening after watching Lehigh's awful offensive day against Central Connecticut State. As is often the case, I started breakfast and searched for the right Sunday "Word". It didn't take me long to find it.

The first full weekend of the Division I football season is always chock-full of "expectations". Before a single uniform gets dirty, every college football fan has higher hopes for their teams - sometimes just to be a little bit better than last year. Others hope to win a league title, and (in FCS, anyway) even compete for a true national championship.

We Lehigh fans in particular had extremely high "expectations" for our team after an unusually optimistic offseason. Despite ending last year with a 5-6 record, the Mountain Hawks won the game that counted - the one against "that school in Easton". Somewhere along the line, the good feelings about the win started to moprh into something not seen among Lehigh fans as long as I can remember: optimism. We have the QB. We have the defense. I mean, is our team really that far away from Colgate and Holy Cross?

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Meanwhile, something else was happening around the Patriot League as well - other teams were undergoing a sudden surge of optimism of their own. Everyone knows about Fordham starting to offer scholarhips starting in the next recruiting class, but probably most of Fordham was also surprised to know that senior QB John Skelton, at the helm of last year's 5-6 Ram team, was a bona-fide NFL prospect. Scholarships, plus Skelton, equals optimism on Rose Hill.

Similarly, at Holy Cross senior QB Dominic Randolph chose to return for a fifth year to (most likely) break all the remaining Patriot League passing records he doesn't have already - and almost every all-American team on the planet had him on their preseason all-American list. Cumulating with Holy Cross' first Top 25 Network ranking since 2002, all of a sudden optimism of a Patriot League championship - and a resurgence of the Crusader program - came to be in Worcester.

Somewhere along the way, this optimism became "expectations" for the entire league. While everyone "expected" Georgetown to roll over against Holy Cross, a Patriot League sweep over their opening-day opponents didn't seem so outlandish.

CCSU? The third-placed team in the NEC? Lehigh will crush them - don't you remember, they beat "that school in Easton"? After all Lehigh is a Patriot League title contender... that was 5-6 last year... and they were picked.... oh, tied for third in the Patriot League. But didn't Lehigh beat them 58-10 the last time they played? They can't be that much better than that team in.... 2001... could they?

Rhode Island? Don't you know - Fordham is offering scholarships (next year, but hey,) and they have an NFL prospect for a quarterback. Rhode Island has another new head coach - don't mind they play in the same league that brought you Richmond (last year's FCS National Champions, don't you know) and Villanova (oh yeah, who beat FBS Temple this Thursday). Did I mention that the New York Post wrote up that Skelton is an NFL prospect? Fordham will take them... won't they?

Duquesne? Bucknell may be picked to finish sixth, and their best player, junior WR Shaun Pasternak, has his foot in a cast - but hey, they've always beaten Duquesne, right? Never mind that the Dukes have more football scholarships than they've ever had, including a transfer quarterback from Michigan State. The Bison will still find a way to win that game... right?

By the time the games of the Patriot League kicked off at 12:30 PM on Saturday, optimism - and, by extension, "expectations" - couldn't have been higher.

Capping it all off, it was the height of irony: all offseason, Patriot League fans were whining that the League needed football scholarships because they could no longer compete with the other big dogs of FCS. These same fans - of course, this includes me - now had "expectations" that the Patriot League would do some damage against these same teams we had suddenly fallen behind.

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And one by one each "expectation" was crushed. And the reality of what really exists in the Patriot League right here, right now stares fans squarely in the face.

Lehigh fans' vision of a Patriot League title-caliber defense and a powerful offense were laid in tatters by the end of the afternoon, the victims of a 28-21 butt-whoopin' by CCSU. While Lehigh defense was on the field 44 minutes, they still gave up over 400 yards to CCSU, and the "powerful" Mountain Hawk offense had a whopping seven pass completions on the day.

Holy Cross and Dom Randolph, offensive juggernaut and anointed savior of the Crusader football program, trailed Georgetown 7-6 going into the 4th quarter before finally scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns for an underwhelming 20-7 victory. The Patriot League's member of the Top 25 trailed for three quarters to a team who has exactly one Patriot League win in the last three years.

Fordham and their NFL prospect quarterback trailed 41-7 to Rhode Island after the first play of the second half - before scoring three times thereafter on the second-team defense to cut the final bloodshed to 41-28. (In a related story, Richmond upended FBS Duke 24-16 and William & Mary slammed FBS Virginia 26-14, making the CAA the only FCS conference in America to have wins over FBS programs this year.)

And the final insult would be that Duquesne would never trail against Bucknell, finally outlasting the Bison 24-19 after recovering an onside kick to seal the victory. It would be their first win against Bucknell since 2002.

Curiously, the one exception to this game of Patriot League "expectations" was Colgate. In retrospect, coach Biddle seems like a genius for ramping down any optimism for his team: mentioning in the Utica Observer-Dispatch that his "O" line had not yet gelled, that first team all-Patriot League CB Wayne Moten had left the team. Most Patriot League fans felt that Colgate was vulnerable to an early season "upset" by Monmouth - based on historically being slow starters, despite the presence of much of their offensive output from last year: senior WR Pat Simonds, junior QB Greg Sullivan, and sophomore RB Nate Eachus. They would never trail in a 35-23 win at home under the lights in Hamilton. (When the town of Hamilton wasn't made dark by a power outage, that is.)

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It wasn't a clean sweep, but it took all of one week for Patriot League fans to wonder about "expectations" for the league going forward. If Rhode Island could do that to Fordham, and CCSU could do that to Lehigh, what could fans possibly expect for this year? Could the Patriot League be the weakest playoff conference in FCS? And can we even expect for Holy Cross to be a dominant force in the league?

It's still to early to say if the NEC has bypassed the Patriot League competitively - too much relies on the weeks to come - but it's quite possible that folks will look back at this weekend and see this as the week the Patriot League fell behind the NEC due to fact that they started offering scholarships. As for the CAA, unless Holy Cross beats Northeastern later in the year it's looking like a mortal lock that the Patriot League will go 0-fer against them - more evidence that the Patriot League is falling even further behind the big dogs of FCS. (Which will help not one bit any "expectations" that the Patriot League will expand any time soon.)

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More locally, Lehigh fan's "expectations" went, in the span of three hours, from a Patriot League title contender to wondering if the Mountain Hawks can get a first down against Villanova. And even looking ahead, even the rest of Lehigh's out-of- conference schedule - Princeton, Harvard, and Yale - don't seem like easy wins at all. As a matter of fact, the last time Lehigh played all three of these schools they lost.

Yes, Virginia - Lehigh fans have gone from thinking about winning the Patriot League title to wondering if they'll win any of the out-of-conference games on the schedule. (Such is the life of a Lehigh fan.)

There is a silver lining, though. Lehigh enters the Villanova game with about the same "expectations" that George W. Bush had in any international summit - any positive gain could almost be seen as a moral victory. Maybe after the probable 0-2 start to the year we'll then be in the seat Colgate occupied before the start of the season.

Comments

ngineer said…
So true, LFN. First time in years people were 'anticipating' starting a season with a bang and making a statement that "Lehigh football is back!" Still a ways to go. How they comeback against Villanova will say alot. Back in 2006 we lost in what many thought was an 'upset' to Albany (who went on to beat Delaware) to bounceback nicely against the Wildcats in their den. Hopefully, we'll see the same kind of effort this Saturday to say there is still a light at the end of the tunnel (and it's not an old Lehigh Valley engine coming at us!)
Anonymous said…
Its fairly amusing that what i have stated all along is the way you view a Lehigh football successful season when you proclaim that the 08 team won the game that counted against that school in Easton. I have long said that thge emphasis from the time a player gets on campus to beat Lafayette overshadows the universal thought processes of every other football program in the country that is to win games and win championships. I have heard many alum state that they can go 1-11 or 1-10 as long as they beat Lafayette. That in itself is very hard to fathom, but even you state it with regularity.
Anonymous said…
Regardless of how Lehigh does in the league this program is a shadow of its former self. HC wins a close game against Georgetown isn't about GT getting better, will they beat Howard? it's about the Patriot now getting to their level. Lehigh problem is not about scholarships it's about recruiting. Lehigh has money, (lembo did ok). Recruiting is salesmenship and a very important part of coaching. If you can't sell LU over Albany,CCSU, Monmouth,
etc. your not very good. Why does Villanova get better talent then Temple who had 20# more scholarships? Lehigh fans will be happy next week. Villanova will win but only by 2 scores. If your Andy Talley you want to keep LU on your schedule.
Anonymous said…
And meanwhile Elon whips their opening season opponent 56-0 and climbs to #10 in the country. Yeah, Lembo sucked didn't he?
Anonymous said…
These guys have no idea when they have "A Good Thing" versus a disaster!

Lembo wasn't a real X's and O's kind of coach, but he got it done by having the right people around him along with his ability to recruit.

This guy........ I'm truly struggling to try to find a positve thing to say, does anyone have anything that comes to mind?
Anonymous said…
From an optimistic point of view, the fact that this was a one score game until the end is truly amazing.

Regarding Andy - Sad to say, but there has been an unfortunate consistency on the hill since he took over. His teams cannot win close, winnable games. His teams have lost their ability to dominate at Goodman. His teams continue to make stupid mistakes. Player awareness is at an all-time low. Example: I have lost count how many times LU players on kick coverage don't seem to know enough to watch the ball so as not to have it touch them, causing a fumble. How many more times must we watch LU secondary players interfere on pass plays because the NEVER look back at the ball? How about QB's who throw interceptions in the end zone? How about an illegal block, some twenty yards behind a play when the Lehigh player seems headed for a certain TD? How about "too many men on the field"?

Unless this guy runs the table and finishes with a PL championship, I say throw him out and bring a real coach in, someone with actual head coaching experience.

I think that every bad thing we can say about this team the last four years comes down to lousy preparation, lousy teaching...lousy coaching.

Something is wrong.

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