It's the spring, and what that means is that the weather (hopefully) is getting better, the flowers are blooming, and - most importantly - we're in the middle of spring football season.
Soon I am planning on posting an update on what has gone on in FCS football since the end of last season (spoiler alert: it is a lot!), but first I wanted to take an initial look at Lehigh's fall 2022 football schedule, and what sort of fun we can expect.
But before I do that, I wanted to highlight something that my Twitter pal Omar Rashon-Borja wrote about his beloved Holy Cross Crusaders.
In this piece, he talks about a special game Holy Cross played last year at Polar Park, the minor league home of the Worcester Red Sox (or the "WooSox" as they are commonly known up there). The game was branded the EBW Classic, featured an important Holy Cross vs. Colgate league matchup, and attracted 9.508 fans to attend (which was about 2,000 more than their average at Fitton Field).
It does beg the question - might it be a good idea to do something similar in the Bethlehem area with the wildly successful minor league franchise the Lehigh Valley IronPigs?
The IronPigs are one of minor league baseball's wildest success stories. In 2016, the IronPigs were considered the fourth most valuable minor league franchise in the country, with a value of $43 million on annual revenue of $15 million and annual operating income of $4 million, according to Forbes.com.
The IronPigs are also marketing leaders in the Valley - not only do folks get to see future and rehabbing Phillies play AAA ball on their way to the Majors, they also are a part of a huge number of original promotions - most of which, as you might imagine, involve food or bacon.
One interesting promotion they are doing this May, for example, is something called "Food Truck Fest" this May 21st. The event feature food trucks, craft beer
selections, mixed drinks, live music, and other fun activities around
Coca-Cola Park. I mean, that sounds great! (And right up my alley.)
This season, Lehigh is scheduled to host two important conference games before traveling to Easton to play in The Rivalry: Bucknell (October 22nd) and Colgate (November 12th). Would it be possible to set up a "Bacon Classic" game at Coca-Cola Park on either of those days? In a lot of ways, it seems like a natural, involving the whole Bethlehem community.
It's easy to picture the IronPigs entering an agreement to host a game there every year after the AAA season is over --perhaps hosting a Lehigh game when Lafayette hosts The Rivalry, and host a Lafayette game when Lehigh does it. It seems like such a lay-up in terms of a great community event that gives both the Mountain Hawks and Leopards some great exposure - and the IronPigs would get an event that would be reliably on the schedule every year. It feels like an enormous win for everyone.
(An added benefit is it also would allow me to make a bacon-themed tailgate recipe and bacon-themed martini for the "Drink of the Week"!)
The 2022 Schedule:
Week 1: at Villanova (Friday, September 2nd)
Lehigh starts the season, tentatively on a Friday evening at one of the CAA's best teams, Villanova. As always, beating the Wildcats will be a huge challenge. In last year's meeting, Villanova stomped all over Lehigh 47-3 as the offense had trouble getting anything going.
Yearly for Lehigh, this has been the Mountain Hawks' "step-up" game as Lehigh has gone 1-10 against Villanova since 2004 (though there were some fairly close games in there). Overall Lehigh has five program wins against the Wildcats, four of which came prior to 1925.
I love the fact the game is on a Friday night - it allows me to enjoy more FCS football on Saturday I ordinarily wouldn't be able to follow!
Week 2: at Georgetown* (Saturday, September 10th)
I'm not a huge fan of early conference games, but out of necessity Lehigh will travel to Georgetown to take on the Hoyas early in what will certainly be a huge game in terms of the Mountain Hawks' season prospects. Last year's game, played in November, was in doubt until the fourth quarter when the Mountain Hawks finally pulled away for a 23-9 win.
Week 3: RICHMOND (Saturday, September 17th)
After last year's 31-3 defeat at Richmond, the Spiders return the favor and come to Bethlehem to be Lehigh's home opener. Like the Villanova game, Richmond will be a huge challenge and a "test game" for the Mountain Hawks against a team that will likely be one of the contenders for the CAA title.
Week 4: at Princeton (Saturday, September 24th)
Lehigh's road doesn't get any easier as they travel to Princeton to take on the Tigers, co-champions of the Ivy League and owners of a 17-3 record since 2019 (with no out-of-conference losses). It will be as much or more of a challenge to beat Princeton as Villanova or Richmond - I would call the challenge level equal in difficulty. Last year at Murray Goodman, Princeton shut out Lehigh 32-0 in a master class of precision.
Week 5: MONMOUTH (Saturday, October 1st)
If this were last year, this would have been a home matchup against a FCS Playoff team from the Big South. But this year, for reasons we'll explore later, the Hawks are going to be competing as a brand new member of the CAA... making this game against Monmouth Lehigh's third CAA game of the year.
Even though Lehigh doesn't face off against an FBS squad, one can make an excellent case that Lehigh's out-of-conference schedule might be one of the most challenging in the nation. They will face three teams that have made FCS Playoff appearances during the last two years (Monmouth, Holy Cross, Villanova), an defending Ivy League Champion that has gone 17-3 over the last two seasons, and a team that has spent time in the STATS FCS Top 25 and come maybe within a loss of making the playoffs as well (Richmond).
Week 6: FORDHAM* (Saturday, October 8th)
After this gauntlet of games will come a critical game against Fordham, who lately has been a huge thorn in the side of the Mountain Hawks, winning 6 of the last 8 meetings between the two schools. Since Tom Gilmore took over, Fordham and Lehigh have had two thrillers - one a 30-27 overtime win in the Bronx in 2019, and the other a 42-35 loss last year that frankly could have gone either way.
Week 7: at Cornell (Saturday, October 15th)
At the midway point of the season we find Cornell, a team that Lehigh last faced in 2014 in Ithaca for a 31-14 win. In program history, Lehigh has gone 9-15-2 against the Big Red, with six of those wins coming since 1988.
Personally, I remember attending the Lehigh/Cornell game in 2008 where Cornell QB Nathan Ford completed a pass to WR Jesse Baker on the final play of the game to give the Big Red a 25-24 win. No, not memorable at all, and certainly not memorable fourteen years later as I can break down the play and see in my mind Baker's feet landing in the back of the end zone!
Week 8: BUCKNELL* (Saturday, October 22nd)
If Lehigh's season is going to plan, the Mountain Hawks will be 2-0 in league play when they host Dave Cecchini's Bucknell Bison in the thick of league play. Tom Gilmore will look to make it two straight against the Bison and keep Lehigh in the thick of things.
Week 9: BYE (Halloween weekend)
Strange note: I can't remember the last time Lehigh had a bye week on Halloween weekend. However in this case, it's going to be ideal timing - based on who next week's opponent will be.
Week 10: at Holy Cross* (Saturday, November 5th)
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the game against two-time defending Patriot League Champions is going to be a huge one on the schedule - and with some luck, will have some Championship implications. Last year's affair was a testy one, and actually closer than the 31-12 final score might have indicated. This game is likely to be a big one no matter what.
Week 11: COLGATE (Saturday, November 11th)
You could make a strong case that the month of November isn't just "Rivalry Week" but "Rivalry Month" for Lehigh as they'll not only face off against the two-time defending champs and Lafayette, but also the other Patriot League team that generally gets circled on the Mountain Hawk calendar, Colgate. Something to contemplate on how evenly matched they are: since 2004, no team has won four straight games against the other, meaning every four-year class has both experienced wins and losses against the other.
Week 12: 158th Meeting of The Rivalry at Lafayette* (Saturday, November 19th)
What more really needs to be said? The penultimate Rivalry will take place on November 19th, College Football's most-played and most intense Rivalry on the planet. Easton will be rocking with Brown and White and Maroon, and it will be a huge party, and it's a game where we'll probably be able to ignore the records and the achievements of both teams. It needs to be experienced.