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2019 Patriot League spring outlook

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - The offenses look to strike back in the Patriot League this year.

With Colgate's record-setting defense setting the tone - including five shutouts to tie the FCS single-season mark - only two of the league's seven teams averaged at least 17 points per game last season.

That's generally not the way football is played these days, and not how Patriot offenses expect it to be in 2019.

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

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BUCKNELL

HEAD COACH: Dave Cecchini (first season; 17-38 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 1-10 overall, 1-5 Patriot (7th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 19-April 16 (spring game is April 12)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: The offense was quite young last season, especially with running backs Chad Freshnock and Marquis Carter lost to season-ending injuries, and figures to be improved this year. The secondary has to be rebuilt following graduation losses.

NOTABLE: Cecchini, the 2017 Pioneer Football League coach of the year at Valparaiso, has taken over for Joe Susan and seeks to lift the Bison, who are coming off their worst season since 2010. Remember, however, the Bison finished 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the league just two years ago.

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COLGATE

HEAD COACH: Dan Hunt (36-23, five seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 10-2 overall, 6-0 Patriot (1st)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 20-April 20

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (5 offense/3 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: Experienced players are returning with the likes of quarterback Grant Breneman and defensive end Nick Wheeler, but the defending champ has to replace a lot of standouts across the lineup. Linebacker T.J. Holl, the Patriot League defensive player of the year, is departing as a graduate transfer to Louisville. Wide receiver is a position of need.

NOTABLE: Veterans on an offensive line are usually vital, and it's a position of strength with the Raiders, including the return of Jovaun Woolford, a 2017 all-league first-teamer who was lost to a knee injury in the first game last season. The Raiders are the only Patriot team to finish with a winning record in either of the last two seasons.

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FORDHAM

HEAD COACH: Joe Conlin (2-9, one season)

2018 RECORDS: 2-9 overall, 2-4 Patriot (Tie/4th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 5-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Injuries in the offensive backfield (quarterback Austin King and running backs Zach Davis and D'Angelo Palladino) set Conlin's first season back as Fordham averaged an un-Rams-like 15.8 points and 251.5 yards per game. While the Rams will be stronger in the skills positions, they suffered key losses on the offensive line.

NOTABLE: An improved defense would start at linebacker, where Glenn Cunningham and Ryan Greenhagen combined for 36½ tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season. Seven of the first 10 games in the Rams' 12-game schedule are on the road.

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GEORGETOWN

HEAD COACH: Rob Sgarlata (16-39, five seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 4-2 (Tie/2nd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 13-April 12

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Third-year quarterback Gunther Johnson hopes to lead improvement on offense. The Hoyas' leading rusher (Herman Moultrie III) and receiver (Michael Dereus) are back.

NOTABLE: The Hoyas are motivated after they blew what would have been only their second winning season since 1999 by surrendering a 26-point second-half lead against Holy Cross in their final game. They'll feature a Patriot League defensive player of the year candidate in senior defensive end Kristian Tate, who led the league with 10 sacks.

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HOLY CROSS

HEAD COACH: Bob Chesney (5-6, one season; 72-31 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 4-2 Patriot (Tie/2nd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 12-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (7 offense/4 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: The Crusaders ended last season with four straight league wins, but they're replacing quarterback Geoff Wade and their top three wide receivers. While Emmett Clifford is the most experienced signal caller on the roster, Chesney enters his second spring with an open competition.

NOTABLE: Basically, the comeback kids, the Crusaders overcame double-digit deficits in four of their five wins, including the two largest comeback victories in program history (a 26-point deficit versus Georgetown and 21 points against Yale). Safeties Alex Johnson and Joe Lang seek to steady the defense, which lost five starters from the front seven.

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LAFAYETTE

HEAD COACH: John Garrett (6-16, two seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-4 (Tie/4th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 25-April 20

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: The struggling offense seeks playmakers after it accounted for only 19 plays of 20 or more yards from scrimmage last season. Although expected to be improved, quarterback Sean O'Malley has thrown for 27 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

NOTABLE: Sometimes set back by the offensive inefficiency, the defense was better than the statistics suggested last season. A healthier nose guard Ian Grayson rejoins the veteran defensive line, which includes Patriot League rookie of the year Malik Hamm.

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LEHIGH

HEAD COACH: Tom Gilmore (first season; 72-81, 14 seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-4 (Tie/4th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 20-April 15 (spring game is April 13)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: The Mountain Hawks are adjusting to Gilmore, who coached Holy Cross from 2004-17, but spent four seasons as Lehigh's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach from 2000-2003. It will be difficult to replace quarterback Brad Mayes and running back Dom Bragalone.

NOTABLE: Having been blown out regularly last season, the Mountain Hawks seek to come back with more toughness this year. An experienced offensive line will help the newcomers in the offensive backfield, and the defense should gain from fifth-year players. The Mountain Hawks open league play at Colgate on Oct. 5.

Updated March 1, 2019

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