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Know Your 2011 Opponents: Colgate

Colgate head football coach Dick Biddle, now entering his 15th year as head coach of the Raiders, has been to a few Patriot League Media Day rodeos before.

Looking as uncomfortable as ever in a rumpled shirt and tie - he never has been a "suit" type of guy - he did something at Media Day that was extraordinary.

He heaped praise on one of his players.

"He may be the best player I've coached as a football coach," Biddle said of his senior Payton Award candidate, senior RB Nate Eachus.  For him to say that, a guy who has coached not only a Payton Award winner (RB Jamaal Branch) but the leading rusher in Patriot League history (RB Jordan Scott), that's saying something. (more)

"If he continues the way he is," Biddle said in his media day interview, "he may be the best player I've coached.  Because he does it all.  I don't think people realize that while we've had a lot of great players at Colgate, they were surrounded by a lot of other great players. I think Nate's just taken the bull by the horns.  I think he's outstanding, he's easy to coach, and he's a great leader."

That the 5'10, 212 lb tailback is a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron is not in doubt.  Leading the No. 2 ranked rushing offense in all of FCS, the Hazleton, PA native ground out 1,871 yards rushing last year for the Raiders, scoring 22 TDs and garnering plenty of national attention.  He's a rare combination of power, and toughness that has that second gear as well, which makes him an all-too-worthy Payton candidate.

"I try not to look at the stats or things like that," he said in his own media day interview.  "Looking at stats or games down the road, you start to get ahead and forget about the game in front of you.  That's when you start losing games."

As in years past, Colgate will be a team that runs the ball a lot, and with a veteran line returning all five starters, including 300 lb senior OL Vittorio Otanelli, there's every reason to believe that this will be another successful year of running the ball - either with Eachus, or 5'8 change-of-pace back senior RB Noah Jackson (358 yards, 2 TDs).

"I try not to let myself feel the pressure," he told WKTV in Hamilton, "just want to take each game at a time, just feeling no pressure. Teams are going to be circling us on their schedule, we were picked second in the league. But that's just more motivation, to win the league."

Crucial to Colgate's hopes of winning another Patriot League title, however - since 1997, the Raiders have never gone three years in a row without winning it all - will be the development of the replacement for the recently-graduated QB Greg Sullivan.

Sophomore QB Gavin McCarney, who was "taking the reps with the one's", according to assisant head coach Dan Hunt, seems to be the frontrunner for the spot, with junior QB Josh Hassenberg not too far behind him. Both are tall QBs with some speed, and seem certain to be mobile, rangey quarterbacks that can take off and run with the ball.

Another less discussed part of the offense that needs replacing is WR Doug Rosnick, who was by far their best receiver last year. Sophomore WR Dan Cason (185 yards receiving) is the most experienced receiver left on the team, with junior WR Jonathan Mputu (77 yards) behind him. They'll need to step up to the plate if Colgate is to get the title this year. Senior TE BaRack Little has primarily been a blocking tight end in his time in maroon.

*****

On defense, Biddle talked about am athletic secondary and a deep defensive line. But he didn't mention senior LB Chris DiMassa, who returned for his fifth year of eligibility and will be a key part of Colgate's hopes this year as well.

"I'm a bit hungrier than I was in past years," the 6'1, 239 lb linebacker told Colgate interviewer Eric Malanoski after a particularly physical practice this week. "It's my last go-round, and it's not just me, it's the whole team. 7-4 last year just wasn't good enough for us. Patriot League or bust, that's the mindset from everyone."

DiMassa, who led the team with 92 tackles last year, is rejoined by senior LB Adam Lock (31 tackles, 2 sacks) and junior LB Pat Friel (73 tackles, 2 passes defended) in the Raiders' multiple 4-3 defense, making a formidable, experienced unit.

Up front, 292 lb junior DT Tyler Danielsen and 289 lb senior DT Greg Kafaf form an experienced interior of the line - but the Raiders also need to replace their two defensive ends DE Lamont Sonds and DE Zach Smith, who accounted for 26 tackles for loss combined on the defense.  They'll be difficult to replace.

Add to this mix junior CB Demetri Diamond (43 tackles, 4 passes defended) and senior CB Kenny McKenzie (22 tackles, 3 passes defended) on defense, and the picture is clear: Colgate is a team that has the talent and the horses to win the whole thing - if some key pieces fall into place.

And don't worry about coach Biddle getting soft on them, either, during the season.

"We're just a team right now that, if we bring our 'A' game, we have a chance to win," he said in a local TV interview. "But if we don't bring out 'A' game, it's going to be a long season. We don't have much margin for error."

Never underestimate the power of a bunch of extremely hungry guys in Maroon.

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