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Know Your 2011 Opponents: Fordham

If disrespect were money, Fordham fans would be millionaires right now, thanks to a nation of UConn fans.

Admittedly, the Rams, under head coach Tom Masella, could have in 2011 their toughest pigskin schedule since Vince Lombardi suited up for the boys of Rose Hill back in the 1930s.

And Fordham won't be playing only one team this year that has the potential to qualify for a BCS bowl.  Thanks to the fact that the Rams carry 63 scholarships - a combination of the need-based variety that Patriot League schools may offer, plus merit-based scholarships that more resemble the ones in the rest of FCS - they'll be playing both UConn to open the season and Army later in the year.

In Patriot League circles, the question remains: will football scholarships make Fordham into a football program that is unrecognizable to other members of the Patriot League?  But in FBS circles, the Rams evoke more ridicule than respect. (more)


When Fordham opens against UConn on September 1st, there will be no shortage of bulletin board material, thanks to a legion of uninformed UConn bloggers:

The Huskies are going to win this game, and that won't tell us much of anything. Sure, the 60 minutes against a live opponent will be useful for the team as they adjust to life under Paul Pasqualoni (I hope you love the option!) and he tries to pick which one of his four quarterbacks will lead the team this year.

Other than that though, there shouldn't be much to watch here. As Meacham noted back in February, this is "a game for those who thought Texas Southern was too terrible to justify actually playing in a regular-season game, but thought Hofstra wasn't terrible enough." If UConn looks good, it means nothing, because they're playing Fordham. You won't be able to get excited about players looking good solely because of the level of competition. Even if someone looks bad -- normally a cause for serious concern -- you won't be able to read into it too much because of all the changes on the team.

There has been a lot of ink spilled about Fordham in Patriot League circles, and their decision to offer merit-based aid in football - and that decision seems to have divided the fans of the League.

But every one of those fans can get behind the Rams in this game to give dopes like this joker some humility. Apparently, losing millions of dollars chasing a BCS bowl creates hubris and a sense of unjustified regional superiority. (I see a bunch of UMass fans, out there, nodding their heads.)

Do the Rams have a shot - in this game, and, more importantly, against Lehigh later in the year?

Fordham's offseason, aside from signing their second straight class with the same type of scholarships that the rest of FCS offers, has been different in one key sense: they've kept the same offensive coordinator, Patrick Moore, and defensive coordinator, Matt Dawson, for the first time since Masella became head coach. It's a continuity that has not been the hallmark of Fordham in recent years, and you'd think it would help the Rams immensely in 2011.

The Rams have lost a lot of playmakers from the 2010 squad - including TE Stephen Skelton and DB Isa Abdul Al-Quddus, two guys who went to NFL training camps this summer - but seem to have a lot to build on from last year.

Junior WR Blake Wayne, last year's opening day starter under center, was been switched to wideout this spring.  But don't let that fool anybody into thinking there is uncertainty under center for coach Masella's team.

While Wayne did spend start the year under center, by the end of the season he was displaced by junior QB Ryan Higgins (665 yards passing, 4 TDs). And while the Rams website says that Higgins is in a battle, with sophomore QB Griffin Murphy, it seems safe to say that the Rams will be just fine at QB.

Griffin is a highly-touted prospect from Southborough, Mass that was also supposed to compete for the starting job last year when an injury ended is bid to be the starter. That he's in a race for the starting nod is interesting. If Murphy is healthy, and if Murphy is anywhere near the player he was in high school, I'd think he would be the frontrunner for the starting job, though Higgins did win three of the Rams' last four games in 2010.

In addition, freshman QB Peter Maetzold, according to coach Masella, is also very much in the mix to become the starting QB. In their latest scrimmage, the Texan went 12-for-18 for 142 yards and two TDs.

Whomever the starting QB is, the triggerman for the Fordham spread offense needs to be both a solid runner and a solid passer to make the whole thing work. Murphy seems like he would fit the bill - but the question is, can he wrestle the position away from Higgins? And could Maetzold outperform both of them in camp and be the starter at Rentschler Field September 1st?

Durable senior RB Daryl Whiting (771 yards rushing, 8 TDs) and speedy junior RB Carlton Koonce (148 yards, 2 TDs) lead a stable of backs that has been a trademark of Masella-coached teams. That experience in the backfield will be important for the Rams' chances to not only beat UConn and Army but to qualify for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. (Fordham is ineligible for the Patriot League title since they offer merit-based scholarships to football players, and cannot qualify for the League's autobid either.)

It's likely that many backs will have an opportunity to get carries for the Rams, so seeing junior WR Blake Wayne, senior RB Jamir Livingston, or even freshman RB Jeramie Brown get significant carries in 2011 would not be a surprise.

But the loss of Skelton, WR David Moore and WR Jason Caldwell mean that the Rams will be losing their top three receiving targets last year - and will need to find those crucial X and Z receivers to make the offense go.

6'3, 235 lb junior WR Nick Talbert (175 yards) is the top returning receiver, who would seem to be the frontrunner for a starting nod, while Wayne looks like one of his former teammates from Diablo Valley Junior College, 6'0 junior WR Greg Wilson. Oddly enough, if Talbert, Wayne and Wilson all line up on the same unit, all three were transfers from other schools - Talbert started his football career at Hofstra before they discontinued their program.

It won't be easy for the Rams to replace TE Stephen Skelton, who joins his brother  QB John Skelton on the NFL's Cardinals, but senior Brad TE Pierre (42 yards receiving) will like be the one who gets the call on opening day.

Even the offensive line returns a lot more experience than you might think, with the 300 lb, three-year starter senior C Jonathan Sheridan anchoring a ginormous line that averages more than 300 lbs across.

Make no mistake - this Fordham offense is starting to look a lot more like Texas State's rather than Texas Southern's.

*****

Lest one think Fordham is one-dimensional, they have some football players on defense, too.

Last year, the Rams played a mixture of a 3-4 or 3-3-5 stack defense, and had one of the league's best nose guards, 285 lb sophomore NG Justin Yancey, anchoring the "D" Line. This monster had 41 tackles, including 10 1/2 tackles for loss, and is a very effective run-stuffer in the middle of the line. 6'5, 17 senior DT Patrick McGee also returns, making this a "D" line that's not easy to push around.

But it's the linebacking unit and secondary where the Rams need to find some playmakers.

Senior LB Nick Womack (24 tackles, 3 passes defended) and junior LB Michael Martin (69 tackles, 3 passes defended) will be the returning talent in the all-important linebacking unit in the 3-4 defense. But there's a good chance that a sophomore or even a freshman could crack the starting lineup.

And while the secondary boasts the return of junior FS Brendan Melenophy (74 tackles, 2 interceptions), there are a host of players looking to replace the three seniors that graduated last year. In the mix are six freshmen.

If the game is close, the Rams boast one of the Patriot League's best kickers in junior P/K Patrick Murray, who was 12-for-21 in FG tries last year, including a 48 yarder, and an average of 39.3 yards per punt.

In short, the Rams are a team that will almost certainly be in a good place offensively - but they're likely to be in some shootouts, especially early, as they try to find their way on defense.  If they do, however, they will certainly be a tough team to beat.

Here's one guy who hopes that they do so on September 1st.

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