Not many outsiders gave the Blue Devils much of a chance when they made the trip to Johnny Unitas stadium to take on the No. 7 team in the nation, Towson.
Sure, they had RB Rob Holloman, an all-purpose everything back that would almost certainly be invited to an NFL camp (he was), but certainly that wasn't enough to run with the Tigers, right?
Behind a career game by QB Nick SanGiacomo, a transfer from Tulane, CCSU did indeed run with the Tigers, upsetting Towson 31-27 and seemingly announcing that the Blue Devils were going to be in stiff competition for the NEC title and a bid to the FCS playoffs.
Unfortunately, that's not how things turned out for the Blue Devils.
Out of the NEC, the Blue Devils (3-9, 1-5) finished 7th out of 7 teams in the conference last season. 1-10 Robert Morris, whose only win came against against Central Connecticut, also finished 1-5.
The NEC is considered a "limited-scholarship" conference, meaning its members, in theory, have to limit their teams to only allow 40 athletic scholarships for the entire team. The schools of the NEC can split them up into partial scholarships, however, and in reality the schools are allowed to add merit-based and need-based aid to the equation as well, meaning all the members competing on the football team could theoretically have their educations paid for.
Last season, 9-2 Sacred Heart were the champions of the NEC, clinching the championship on the final weekend of the season with a 35-27 win over the Blue Devils. They went on to the first round of the FCS playoffs and faced off against Fordham, the second consecutive year they were paired against the Rams, and for the second consecutive year they were outlasted by Fordham, 44-22.
In my estimation, Bryant (8-3, 4-2) will be the class of the NEC this year, who were picked No. 23 in my preseason Top 25 and return QB Dalton Easton and most of his supporting cast. Though you didn't ask for it, here's my prediction as to how the NEC might shake out this season:
3. Sacred Heart
5. St. Francis (PA)
6. Central Connecticut State
7. Robert Morris
Sacred Heart, last year's winners, I think will slip slightly back to the pack, same as Wagner. Robert Morris and CCSU I see as continuing their rebuilding efforts, while Duquesne and St. Francis (PA) will be trying to build on their success from last season, with the Red Flash dipping a bit and the Dukes making a move closer to the contenders.
Central Connecticut State and Lehigh are not strangers.
CCSU is 1-3 lifetime against the Mountain Hawks, with their only win coming in 2009 in a 28-21 CCSU victory in Murray Goodman's season opener. Tied at 21 on an extremely hot September afternoon, QB Hunter Wanket would find WR Josue Paul on a 40 yard screen pass to give Central Connecticut a 28-21 lead, and the Lehigh offense wasn't able to find the counterpunch necessary to come away with a chance to win.
This coming season, Lehigh won't need to worry about blazing-hot sun in their season-opening weekend.
Lehigh actually helped Central Connecticut State christen newly-renovated Arute field in 2013, defeating the Blue Devils 35-14 in a lopsided game in their first-ever game on the new field.
Then-junior RB Rob Holloman did everything he could to give his Blue Devils the win, racking up 111 rushing yards, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Last season, CCSU saw former head coach Jeff McInerney resign, causing athletic director Paul Schlickmann to hire a local name, Pete Rossomando, who resurrected Division II's New Haven Chargers and brought them back near the top of Division II.
Rossamondo was a former Boston University lineman who played on BU's I-AA playoff team. The offensive coordinator on that team was none other than Tony Sparano, former NFL head coach who is currently on Rex Ryan's coaching staff for the Buffalo Bills as tight ends coach.
“I think Central has the potential to win and win big,” he said when he was hired, and proceeded to get to that "big win" point way ahead of schedule after their shock win over Towson.
Year 2 of the Rossomando era seems bode well for the folks at Central Connecticut - and should be seen with some apprehension by the folks at Lehigh.
In 2015, there will be another Holloman facing off against the Mountain Hawks, too - senior WR Brandon Holloman, Rob's brother.
In fact, the Kansas transfer is the leading returning receiver for the Blue Devils, who won't only be looking to replace Brandon's older brother but also WR Tyrell Holmes, their leading receiver.
|CCSU QB Nick SanGiacomo|
About all that returns from CCSU's starting offense is their offensive line.
The Blue Devils ran a 3-3-5 defense in 2014 and boast eight returning starters, which look like they might be headlined by rising senior LB C.J. Morrison.
The Blue Devils return a lot of players, but the most important thing they are hoping to encounter next season is more consistency.
“It’s a weird team. I’ve tried every angle,” he said last season after a frustrating loss to Wagner last year. “I’ve tried hard, I’ve tried backing off and having fun. They’re responding, they try at times, they just don’t play four quarters.”
If they do manage to put it all together, they could certainly challenge for the NEC title, given what they have returning. Lehigh fans just hope they put it together after the Mountain Hawks come to town on the first Friday night in September.