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Sunday's Word: Devlin

(Photo Credit: William Bretzger/The Wilmington News-Journal)

Before the season started, I was hugely skeptical about Delaware QB Pat Devlin.

I didn't even have him listed as a top three quarterback in my preseason FCS all-America team.

I felt that he had some good statistics last year - playing on a losing football team - but I thought there were better quarterbacks around FCS. Say, Appalachian State QB DeAndre Presley, who is the current signalcaller for the Mountaineers' spread-option attack, or Stephen F. Austin QB Jeremy Moses, who ran the Lumberjacks' pinball, pass-happy offense.

But I became quite the believer in the frigid Delaware press box this Saturday.

"Devlin" is an appropriate season-ending "Word" for Lehigh for two reasons - reasons that you'll have to see below the flip. (more)


To some degree, football, and especially FCS-level football, is a sport that these days is heavily driven by quarterback play. Take junior QB Chris Lum away from the Lehigh football team and put, say, me back there, and you'd certainly have an 0-11 team, no matter if future NFLer senior OL Will "Got Your Back" Rackley is blocking for me or not. Put a talented kid back there like Lum - and some budding superstars catching the ball - and you get ten wins and a season to write home about.

Delaware has some impressive athletes on their team, no doubt. I was especially impressed by their overall strength, especially from the receiving corps.  CB Anthony Walters is also a heck on an athlete - his first interception at the end of the first half was a tricker one than you might think - and he might play on Sundays, too.  Like the rest of the team, his strength was very impressive.

But overall team strength aside, no athlete means more to this Delaware team than their quarterback.

"Devlin" is clearly the reason why this team is still alive in the FCS playoffs, and the Hens will have a home-field advantage - if they can keep winning, of course - all the way to Frisco.

Lehigh's defense was by far the best in the Patriot League this year. They bottled up Northern Iowa QB Tirrell Rennie in a way that not many other teams had been able to do this year. They shut down a whole lot of very, very good offensive players over the course of the season, including the No. 1 rusher in the land in RB Nate Eachus of Colgate. They harassed a lot of quarterbacks and rushers this year, and held them way below their averages.

But "Devlin" came out of the tunnel this last Saturday and played a whale of a game. Sure, some of his passes sailed over receivers' heads, but most of them - helpfully replayed on Tubby Raymond field's Diamondvision - were of the variety that seemed to look better and better upon further review.

I was really impressed by "Devlin"'s ability to sidestep blitzes and stand tall in the pocket. The touchdown he threw to WR Mark Schenauer, he was a cool as the weather as he sidestepped LB Mike Groome and delivered a frozen arrow in a place where only his receiver could catch the ball.

Lehigh's many blitzes are not easy for many quarterbacks to pick up and recognize. "Devlin" did so and made it look like anyone could do it.  Twenty yards, in the perfect place. Off balance.

"Devlin" delivered passes in a way no other QB this year had done against Lehigh - not Villanova QB Chris Whitney, not New Hampshrie QB R.J. Toman, nobody.

Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, who called "Devlin" "the best quarterback in the country" in the post-game press conference, had no hesitation going for it three times on fourth down with "Devlin" under center. Three times, he delivered first downs - and three times, Delaware would score touchdowns as a result of their conversion.

"Devlin" had zero turnovers on Saturday - and he's only had two interceptions all season.

He completed 73% of his passes - about par for the course for him all year.

I found myself saying what many Penn State fans were saying when Joe Paterno allowed the senior from Downingtown, PA to transfer after his sophomore year when it was clear that he wouldn't get the starting nod over QB Darryl Clark in the 2009 Rose Bowl. "What was he thinking?"

Delaware was known this year for having a fantastic defense, and other columnists chose to focus on their play this Saturday. You could also say that Delaware's offense really took off this year once an effective running complement to "Devlin"'s passing appeared, in the form of RB Andrew Pierce.

But to me you can't escape the the biggest reason why the Blue Hens are where they are today: Paterno's mistake.

Going into this game, Lehigh in effect told Delaware, "You're going to have to make some big, NFL-caliber plays to beat us."

And Delaware was up to the challenge, thanks to the awesome, pinpoint, cool passing of the player under center.

That's a large reason why Lehigh players and fans felt no disrespect in losing to this team, in this way, on this field. They knew, at some level, that "Devlin" and this offense made the big plays to beat them. Lehigh didn't beat themselves. They lost to a high-round NFL draft pick.

I'm convinced that had "Devlin" not suited up for the Blue Hens this weekend, this would have been a very, very close game.

I don't agree with coach Keeler on a lot of things, but I do agree with him that he has the best QB in the country playing for him.

*****

So now, the Patriot League football season is officially over - and the issue on that fans will now be talking about is the issuing of football scholarships.

This week, the Patriot League presidents will be meeting to discuss the possibility of repealing their more than twenty year-old ban on athletic scholarships for football. While many football players in the Patriot League still get financial aid to go to school, going through the financial aid office to determine the amount of need for financial aid has created a sort of "donut hole" for football players - where the most needy get the equivalent of a "full scholarship", and the not needy end up paying their way for a quality education, and everyone else falling in the "donut hole" and going somewhere else.

On a competitive level, fans (and coaches) are licking their chops about the possibility of scholarships. The pool of potential players that Patriot League schools can realistically recruit will increase, certainly. The donut hole will not exist anymore - a kid whose parents make, say, $100,000 combined a year will not have to choose between paying part of the way at Lehigh and, say, a full scholarship at Robert Morris.

But scholarships are not going to change the world overnight for the Patriot League.

Take "Devlin". Would he have thought about going to Lehigh instead of Delaware if head coach Andy Coen been able to dangle a scholarship in front of him? Probably not.

I know nothing of "Devlin" academically, but if his goal was to get playing time and a shot at the NFL, he had to have known that Delaware, with NFL draftee QB Joe Flacco just exiting school and fresh off a FCS National Championship appearance would be an extremely solid opportunity for him. He's clearly a kid with an NFL future, and I have to believe his collegiate decision was shaped by that more than the academics at Delaware.

I have to believe that even with a Lehigh offering football scholarships, "Devlin" would have chosen Delaware.

But that's OK. Getting the next "Devlin" is not the reason why the Patriot League should offer scholarships, anyway.

Football scholarships should simply happen because they're the right thing to do.

Colleges and universities are always in the marketplace for students. They want the best of everything, whether it is cello players, engineers or football players. They are competing against other colleges and universities - internationally, too - for the best students.

If you narrow the marketplace to "football players", it's really, really tough. There are about 340 Division I schools across the country that are looking for football players. And almost all of them offer some sort of free education to many of these players.

It's probably not right to say football players expect a free education, but if you're good enough to play, it's a really, really good possibility.

If you then reduce the number of football players to those that can play football and can also handle a Top Ten school-caliber class workload, the list dwindles to a tiny number of potential recruits.

Of this group, the best of the best go to FBS schools that offer full scholarships to a few stars and a lot of players that are very good, but might never see any playing time. In our world, those are the Stanford's, Vanderbilt's, Duke's, Army's, Navy's, Notre Dame's, Rutgers', Penn State's. If you are deemed good enough to handle the workloads at these schools and you are deemed worthy of their coaching staffs to attend their schools, you attend. Period. (I love Lehigh, but if you have a chance to star at Notre Dame, take it. It's not a contest.)

Also in this same group are the best of the best academically - kids who can possibly play or contribute at the FBS (or even NFL) level, but are superstars in the classroom and have very bright futures in fields other than football.  Lehigh competes directly for them, too - against the Harvard's, Yale's, Columbia's, and Dartmouth's.  Though much of the college football world appears to be not aware of this, Ivy League schools routinely attract academic and athletic talent that is the best in the country.

And it's here where it is crucial that the Patriot League implement scholarships.

Not for the "Devlin"s, but the OL Matt Birk's, or QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's of the world - two Harvard economics majors who happen to have NFL careers at the moment, but clearly will not be suffering for business opportunities once their football careers are over.

In a hypothetical recruiting battle, if Harvard and Lehigh offer 100% aid to go to their university, I have a hard time telling that kid not to take Harvard.

But if Lehigh offers the same type of conventional scholarships that, say, Delaware offers, the Patriot League will better be able to go head-to-head with the Ivy League in terms of recruiting. In this new recruiting world, if Harvard offers to pay only part of the way, and Lehigh will offer 100%... Lehigh will win more battles for the future Matt Birks.

The Patriot League will still operate under an Academic Index, or AI for short, to make sure that the kids being accepted are all representative of the rest of the class.  That seems like it will be a part of the league for now and the forseeable future.  That seems to be absolutely fine with the coaches I've talked to around the Patriot League, though.  They want to coach academic high-achievers.  They'd just like to get more of them.

*****

There are plenty of other reasons for the Patriot League to offer football scholarships.

It will open up opportunities for Patriot League schools to play Army, or Navy, as counters for bowl games, since the NCAA says that a win over a school offering at least 57 football scholarships counts for bowl eligibility. While it's possible to still count under the current need-based aid formula, it's a lot easier with football scholarships.

But scholarships will not make Lehigh or any Patriot League team into instant contenders - look at Fordham's 5-6 record this year, their first with conventional scholarships, for proof.

And it probably won't get the next "Devlin", either. They'll still continue to go to CAA teams like Delaware, at least for the short and medium term. The CAA has become a powerhouse of a conference who houses the three teams that beat Lehigh this year, all of whom are still playing postseason football.

Scholarships can help Patriot League teams compete a bit better with the CAA - over time - but again, that's not the reason why the Patriot League should do this.

It will help attract the best - and, most importantly, brightest - minds to Lehigh, and gives to them what other high-acedemic schools like Vanderbilt, Villanova, and Navy already offer: a scholarship to attend.

More smart kids will have an opportunity to get a Ivy League-class education as a result of football scholarships.

And that's the only reason that's really needed.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Devlin already has a Finance degree at Delaware and is pursuing an MBA.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for letting them know Mommy!
Anonymous said…
Lose any games lately?
ngineer said…
A key play that set the tone early and had a major impact was the great pass and catch on fourth down at the Lehigh 30 in the first quarter. With an incomplete, Lehigh holds, and goes down to take a 7-0 lead, rather than tying the game up 7-7. Momentum is a big intangible. Devlin put the pass exactly where it had to be and the receiver made a fingertip catch while the DB was right there.
Great year, Lehigh. A great foundation for next year returns, as well.
Anonymous said…
Why don't you go buy some more Penn State players.
Anonymous said…
How do you compare Rutgers [64] National U Ranking],Delaware
[75],UNH [104] or a Monmouth U [40 North East] with the likes of Stanford, Vanderbilt even W&M [31] or Lehigh [37]. Most selective schools will always be at a disadvantage, unless like Georgetown [BB ]and ND [FB]they make athletic exceptions.
The AI will always be a barrier at Lehigh keeping out kids who would succeed , but might not be the typical nerd who does not even attend Athletic Events, that LU now seems to seek.
Perhaps we shoud go back and make Freshmen attend a minimum of events and wear the old dink hat to encourage school spirit and University Pride.
Mark said…
I hear the Patriot League is evenly split on the scholarship matter - Lehigh, HC and Bucknell - Yes. Colgate, Lafayette, and Georgetown - No. Who knows what will happen but it may lead to more defections. I definitely favor it.
Anonymous said…
COLGATE is a YES

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