Patriot League spring football primer

Mar 4, 2016 - 4:48 PM (STATS) - Despite having so much success in Patriot League football, Colgate has only had one team repeat as the league champion.

It was a pretty good one, too - the 2003 Raiders team that reached the FCS championship game.

Eight Colgate teams have captured league titles since 1997, including last year's squad that won an outright version for the fifth time.

A lot of factors point to the Raiders going back-to-back this year, but 2015 Patriot League Coach of the Year Dan Hunt says his team must handle success.

"We're not going to sneak up on people," he said. "Teams are going to expect a certain level out of us because of what we did last year. Can we handle that level of expectation? Obviously, with 18 starters returning, the expectations are high. But how do we handle that? Can we not get complacent? When we asked each kid what the key is to be successful next year, most of them said some version of 'keep striving to get better and don't be complacent.'

"They realized how hard we worked last season and what it got us, and that it has to be the bar for where we start to take the next step to where we want to go."

The Patriot League returns experienced teams to challenge Colgate this year. While the Raiders won twice on the road in the FCS playoffs before falling at Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals, a lot of their league games were close. This year, the Raiders face a difficult road schedule, including Lehigh, Bucknell and Fordham in league play.

Following is a look across the Patriot League with spring practices getting underway in college football:


2015 Records: 4-7 overall, 1-5 Patriot (6th)

Spring Practices: March 29-April 29

Storyline: Eight offensive starters return, all hoping to get the Bison back on track after they averaged 11 fewer points per game in 2015 than a year earlier - with many of the same players. Quarterback R.J. Nitti enters his third season as the starter and seeks a finishing touch as a senior, while top running back C.J. William wants to remain healthy first and foremost. The defense surrendered the fewest points and yards in the league and could be even better with the return of 10 starters. However, the one loss is a big one, safety Clayton Ewell, the league's defensive player of the year. Coach Joe Susan has raised the program considerably during his six seasons, so the Bison hope last season was simply a hiccup.


2015 Records: 9-5 overall, 6-0 Patriot (1st)

Spring Practices: March 22-April 23

Storyline: Colgate has backed off its 2016 schedule to only 10 games in the regular season, but the Raiders want to add some more in the FCS playoffs, as they did this past year by reaching the national quarterfinals. It seems possible with the return of nine starters on each side of the ball as well as two 2014 starters, defensive tackle Victor Steffen and cornerback Adam Bridgeforth, who were injured for much of last season and remain out for spring practices. The Raiders want to become more consistent on offense behind veteran quarterback Jake Melville while also evaluating the depth throughout their lineup. Wide receiver Alex Greenawalt is on the verge of becoming a dominant player, as defensive end Pat Afriyie did last year.


2015 Records: 9-3 overall, 5-1 Patriot (2nd)

Spring Practices: March 30-April 30

Storyline: Andrew Breiner, at 31 one of the youngest head coaches in Division I, succeeds the highly successful Joe Moorhead, who left to become Penn State's offensive coordinator. Breiner, who was Moorhead's offensive coordinator, gets back all but one offensive starter - left guard Garrick Mayweather - with the focus being on the line (which allowed 43 sacks) solidifying for quarterback Kevin Anderson as well as for All-America running back Chase Edmonds. Last year's freshman wide receivers, led by Corey Caddle and Austin Longi, will continue their development, so the offense will remain potent. On defense, the Rams return eight starters, but improvement is needed after they ranked fifth in league in both scoring defense and total defense. The big loss is linebacker Stephen Hodge.


2015 Records: 4-7 overall, 2-4 Patriot (5th)

Spring Practices: March 15-April 22

Storyline: Aside from a season-ending 45-7 loss at Holy Cross, the Hoyas were competitive in their league games, with each of their first three losses by seven points or less. But now the bad news: In addition to being the only Patriot team that doesn't award scholarships, the Hoyas have the fewest returning starters in the league with 12. Their graduation losses are glaring on offense because four of them - quarterback Kyle Nolan, running back Jo'el Kimpela, wide receiver Jake DeCicco and right tackle Kevin Liddy - were at least three-year starters. Senior Tim Barnes has waited for his turn behind Nolan and seeks to take command of the offense in the spring. The defense must retool as well, so coach Rob Sgarlata has a lot of work on his hands. The Hoyas' freshman class, including defensive tackle Brennen Sawicki and safety Jethro Francois, was excellent last season - a good sign this spring.


2015 Records: 6-5, 3-3 Patriot (4th)

Spring Practices: March 19-April 16

Storyline: Veteran coach Tom Gilmore must believe his program is back on track after it ended a three-year streak of losing seasons. The Crusaders feature two of the more underrated players in the FCS in dual-threat quarterback Peter Pujals and wide receiver Brendan Flaherty. With only one starter gone from their offense, the Crusaders will be explosive again. Conversely, the defense played well last season, but it has lost five starters. Three came in the secondary, although cornerbacks Alim Muhammad and Steven Martinez, who both missed the majority of last season due to injuries, will be back. Linebacker Nick McBeath also was lost at midseason after getting off to a great start. When healthy, the defense figures to overcome some of its graduation losses. The Crusaders will play only four times at home because the regular season leads up to a Nov. 12 finale at Yankee Stadium against Fordham.


2015 Records: 1-10 overall, 0-6 Patriot (7th)

Spring Practices: March 29-April 28

Storyline: The Leopards have characterized their spring practices as "skill and drill," with the focus on being a more fundamental team. Injuries played a part in their first one-win season since 1963, so with 17 returning starters (10 on offense and seven on defense), coach Frank Tavani's team has reason to envision considerable improvement in the win-loss column. The offensive line was undermanned because of youth and injuries last season and it reflected in the team's dismal 13.6-point average. Quick improvement up front will bode well for senior quarterback Drew Reed as he enters his third season as the starter. Linebacker Brandon Bryant is among the best in the league, but the 4-2-5 defense was battered around last season.


2015 Records: 6-5 overall, 4-2 Patriot (3rd)

Spring Practices: March 25-April 23

Storyline: Lehigh joined Lafayette at the bottom of the Patriot League defensive rankings, but unlike its archrival, the offense often bailed out the Mountain Hawks. The defense will have some new starters and that may not be a bad thing as they seek the right mix this spring. Their foundation is built around all-league linebacker Colton Caslow. The offense will continue to do a lot of the heavy lifting with the return of eight starters, including the outstanding trio of quarterback Nick Shafinsky, running back Dominick Bragalone (the league's 2015 rookie of the year) and all-league wide receiver Troy Pelletier. The Mountain Hawks only lost in the league to Colgate and Fordham last season, and this season they get both at home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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