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Know Your 2013 Opponents: Bucknell

If there's one word that describes Bucknell head coach Joe Susan, it's "stoic".

It's not that he doesn't have a sense of humor; he flashes it, at times, at media days and other interviews.  But when it comes to talk of his football team, a stoicism takes over, a reflection of how he wants his team to be, how he wants his players to approach the game.

Going into the 2012 season, many media members saw Bucknell as a team that still needed a lot of work to compete for the Patriot League title, though I did not; I saw some real potential in Susan's stoic leadership, a defense that was best in the league, a potential breakout year after a 6-5 season.

But the Bison struggled to a 3-8 record, reversing on offense, struggling to score despite their strong "D".  And while Susan has remained stoic, some of the frustration has started to peek through.

"I'm not in it to make them happy," coach Susan stoically told Steve Jones, a local radio host. "I'm here to win.  We were fortunate that our kids understood how important the summer was, that they came back as a team in very good shape.  They came back strong."

Like me, coach Susan probably thought his team was going to turn the corner last season.

Instead, though, the Bison, behind senior QB Brandon Wesley, seemed to regress, finishing 114th in the nation in scoring offense.  The Bison only made it past the 30 point barrier once, a 47-33 loss to Colgate.

Special teams was another problem for Bucknell, which was the story of last year's Lehigh game, a 42-19 final that featured a blocked extra point be DE Anthony Verderame and two blocked kicks by sophomore DB Laquan Lambert, one which he scooped up for a 60 yard touchdown.

"I saw the opportunity, and went after it," Laquan said.  "I was fortunate enough to be in that situation.  We pride ourselves in playing hard on offense, defense, and special teams."

The box score was ugly for the Bison.  281 total yards of offense.  Eight Lehigh sacks.  5 returns by RB Marcus Dormevil for 30 yards, including some big ones that set up easy Mountain Hawk touchdowns.

Part of the problem, coach Susan said, was depth.

"I tell the kids every day, 'If you like where you are on the depth chart, do what it takes to stay there,'" he said.  "'And if you don't, change it.'  If someone's breathing down your neck you'd better be right about it."

Susan talked a lot this offseason about developing depth and getting positional groups together and rotations, but more than anything he's had to turn around the way things were done.

Certainly Susan has had a lot of losing culture to turn around in football over the last three years.  While Bucknell was winning NCAA tournament games and establishing themselves as a fearsome mid-major basketball school, the football team in the last ten years have only finished above the .500 mark twice.

But going into camp each season, there are signs that things are changing for the better in Lewisburg.

"When we first got here, the offensive line was built for a double-slot option, so there wasn't a great deal of size," Susan said.  "When we take the field on September 7th, we'll have only one true freshman on the offensive line - and you'll see why.  We have three juniors, one sophomore, and the one true freshman - those birthdays have helped.  They've played a lot of football here."

Experience on the offensive line will be critical to protect Wesley (1,781 yards passing, 211 yards rushing, 9 TDs), the four-year starter at quarterback, as the Bison offense starts and stops with his athleticism.  Senior FB Travis Friend (24 yards rushing, 136 yards receiving, 1 TD) also plays a critical role with additional protection for Wesley and whomever emerges as the starting running back.

"I like our coach, his principles and what he stands for," Friend said at Patriot League Media Day.  "I felt like he's done a really good job in getting us to buy into the bigger picture he's bringing to the team.  I feel like I can speak for the team when we say we respect him and what he brings to the table."

Senior WR Victor Walker and senior WR Josh Brake round out the receiving staff, the #1 and #2 receivers from last season who combined for about 900 yards and 1 TD.

"I keep telling my team that in each and every football game there's a turning point," Susan said at Patriot League Media Day, "and you've got to be ready when that turning point occurs.  You're not sure if it's the third play of the game or the last play of the game.  You just want to be prepared."

Susan said to expect more true freshman to play this fall for the Bison, not just on the offensive line.

But Bucknell also boasts a Patriot League championship-caliber defense that has most of its pieces returning from last season, too, that notched 13 takeaways and 33 sacks.

Four All-Patriot Leaguers are back, senior DE Sean Sellers (32 tackles for loss, 6 sacks), from Allen, Texas, senior DT Tracey Smith (45 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss, 1 blocked kick), junior LB Evan Byers (100 tackles, 13 1/2 tackles for loss) and junior S Matthew Steinbeck (44 tackles, 6 interceptions) all returning.

If Bucknell's offense can turn things around for Wesley's senior season - and he's got the talent, and the returning players - the Bison could go from 3-7 into the thick of the Patriot League title hunt.  As in years past, Susan seems to be getting things put in the right direction.  The question is, though, will they be able to get it together in time to compete for a title this season.

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