My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Thursday, August 11, 2005

#3 Colgate

(disclaimer: The homer in me is doing his best job to stay home for this column. It is tough, so I'll apologize now for any overly pro-Colgate slant that arises.)

We're heading towards the home stretch now. Players have reported to camp (recent pictures) and the start of the season is a little more than three weeks away! So up next is...

#3 Colgate

Recent History

Two words: Dick Biddle.

When talking Colgate football in the past decade, it can basically be summed up in those two words. Under Coach Biddle's tutelage, the Colgate "Formerly Red" Raiders have become one of the pillars of the Patriot League by virtue of nine straight winning seasons, four league championships and a 76-31 overall record (45-10 in the Patriot League). The highlight of this amazing run was arguably a 15-1 season and a trip to Chattanooga in 2003.

All this success is even more impressive considering he inherited an 0-11 1995 team that hadn't seen a winning record since 1990. Given that record and the fact that current and former players are said to radiate praise for Biddle, this could be as close to a Cult of
that Colgate football will ever experience.

Most recently, the 2004 campaign, which saw the return of several top offensive stars including 2003 Walter Payton winner Jamaal Branch, could be viewed to be a slight disappointment for the Raider faithful, as the team "settled" for a 7-4 season and third place Patriot League finish. The once lowly standards have been raised in Hamilton, and the test is now on to see how the program responds to what is by most standards a rebuilding year.

Off Season Developments

In what has become a hallmark of Biddle's tenure, this past off season saw very little coaching turnover. Besides losing Jon Genson to VMI (and gaining former Colgate All-American center Kevin Bolis to the staff in the process), every other member of this winning combination has stayed put. To put some perspective on the stability that Colgate has enjoyed: offensive coordinator Mike Foley has been at Colgate for 21 seasons (5 of them as head coach); defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham has been with Biddle from the beginning (10 seasons); linebacker coach Bob Fraser is going into his 8th season and quarterback coach Dan Hunt is going into his 11th year, having stayed on with Biddle from the previous staff when he was made head coach. It is no coincidence that the consistency in coaching at Colgate has yielded substantial dividends on the field.

When it comes to the Class of 2009, on paper one could deduce it was an outstanding recruiting season. Colgate brought in what looks like as balanced a class that one could hope for - and may include some kids who will see time this season. Some highlights: Eric Tupta, linebacker from Ohio, is perhaps the best of the defensive class. He's 6-2, 235 pounds, ran a 4.7 40 time, 335 pound bench and had a 500 pound squat; Rich Rosabella, a 6-0, 280 pound offensive lineman, whose high school coach was former Red Raider running back Bill Sparacio, chose Colgate over Georgia Southern; J.J. Bennett and Jordan Scott have great potential in the backfield along with Mike Beatty at fullback; Brent Dillingham, a 6-5 240 pound tight end, joins five other offensive lineman coming in at 275 pounds or more - not counting Rosabella; and Anthony Fucillo (MA) and Dan Pitcher (NY) both shined at QB in their respective state all-star games.

2005 Schedule

If history offers any insight into future performance, the cards are aligned pretty well for Colgate. The slate starts off in Hamilton against NEC foe Central Connecticut. This first game is key for the Raiders, as Colgate's 2-7 record in opening games under Biddle reveals perhaps the biggest Achilles Heel of the program. Next up the welcome mat is rolled out, sans snow we hope, for the second year of four games in a row with preseason ranked A-10 foe UMass.

The traditional Ivy schedule follows, with a trip to Dartmouth, Cornell at Andy Kerr for Homecoming, and then back on the road to face the Tigers of Princeton. With all of the out of conference games out of the way, Biddle's squad settles in for six straight Patriot League contests. It starts with Fordham at home, Holy Cross in Worcester, Lehigh at home for Family Weekend and traditionally the biggest crowd of the season, Lafayette in Easton, Bucknell back in the Chenango Valley and then finally a trip to D.C. and Georgetown in their brand new stadium.

With three of the top Patriot League programs heading to the friendly confines pictured above, the Raiders might have one of the more favorable schedules in the league.

Season Outlook

The largest task for this team will be replacing the trio of quarterback Chris Brown, running back Jamaal Branch and wide receiver Luke Graham. It will be no small feat, as Brown was 25-5 as a starter, Branch was an All-American Walter Payton Award winner and Graham ended his career at the top of many Raider records, including all time receptions. Colgate's recruiting efforts over the past few years will be put to the test right from the start.

At quarterback, the first shot at the reigns will most likely be given to Mike Saraceno, although sophomore Lee Sloan and incoming freshman Fucillo and Pitcher could all makes cases for themselves in fall camp. At running back, there is good news in that Ray LaMonica returns to the starting role he had as a sophomore in 2002 as well as transfer J.J. Bennett could see time as well. Finally, the wider receiver question remains somewhat unanswered, as potential sixth year senior DeWayne Long awaits word from the NCAA on eligibility for the fall and Kenny Parker makes the move from third string running back last year to starting wide receiver this year. If Long's appeal does not work out, look for local product (Cazenovia) Craig Perkins, also making a move from linebacker to wide receiver, to get the starting nod.

With all that turnover to contend with, perhaps the best news for the Colgate offense is the return of three offensive lineman in Jake Sulovski, Matt Mushel and Todd Mulligan - along with two seniors who saw significant time last year, Jeremy Wurst and Ryan Hall, looking to fill the last two spots. For a offense that loves to run, that could be the winning combination that Colgate needs. With LaMonica back in 2002 form and Long returning for another season, it could prove down right outstanding.

On the opposite side of the ball, the defense looks to continue its steady ways this year, as it brings back leading tacklers Jared Nepa at linebacker and Geoff Bean at strong safety, along with fellow starters Chris Petrone and Josh Wurst on the line and two other members of the secondary. The linebackers and line are also bolstered by Zach Dollar, Jeff Galletly and Brent Smith who all return with significant experience. With this crew coming back, Colgate could very well improve on its defense that last year ranked 12th in all I-AA giving up just 299 yards per game and only 150 yards rushing.

Special teams will have a tall order in replacing four year starting placekicker Lane Schwarzberg, whose leg won more than one game for the Raiders.

Predicted Finish

Third... What, you expected first?

In all seriousness, this is a Colgate squad that could win ten games or lose six games; it will all depend on how the unknowns play out. That said, six losses would prove to be quite a shock for a school that has come to expect to be in the race for the title each year. The fact that Fordham, Lehigh and Bucknell all have to come up to Andy Kerr beginning in mid October plays into the Raiders hands. With some fresh faces and lower expectations on the team from the outside, I expect to see some excitement in this program that was somewhat lacking last year.

The gelling of the offense will be the key to just how far Colgate can go towards winning the championship. The safe bet for now is that Biddle's steady hand will lead this Raider squad to its tenth straight winning season. Just how much winning, we'll have to wait and see.


  • Consecutive 3rd place finishes would have fans some day pointing to this period as the dark days of Gate football. lol In true Biddle-esque fashion you understate the class as "balanced." Very funny, how about "freakin' tremendous." The best o-line, RB and QB class in the league, IMO... should have the rest of the league chasing you for quite a while. Watch out for Rupert.

    This year, big senior dominated O-line and good backs grinding it out combined with good-D will result in lots of low scoring games. I could see Gate anywhere in the top 3. We all will be following your QB situation, of course. UMASS, a tall order.

    Pretty understated write-up overall, nice job Mr. Ambassador.

    By Anonymous Andy, at 12:29 PM  

  • Thanks Andy. I'm pretty excited for the freshman class but until they produce on the field, it's all hype.

    Colgate fans have a good feeling about this team, and from a few of the players I've talked to, they're VERY excited about this season and don't anticipate such an offensive skill drop off that some pundits have stated.

    UMass will be an amazing first test. Win that, and I think I-AA will take notice.

    By Blogger colgate13, at 1:26 PM  

  • I disagree with the "hype" and "on paper" arguments that people put out to quell enthusiasm for recruiting classes. Colleges tout the credentials of their incoming students every year, citing their SAT scores and HS achievements. I never see a caveat at the end of the release "remember it's only on paper, their success is not guaranteed." Of course it's not, but indicators point that way. I think the recruiting process is similar. Coaches, recruiters, evaluators look at HS performance, physical characteristics, test results, etc. and form opinions on success at the next levels and rank the players. Offers, the level of offers or lack of same vindicate the ranking. The evaluators seem to be doing a good job as not many four star recruits go 1-AA nor 1 star kids the other way. If Maine beat Nebraska with regularity, I guess we'd have to say that these recruiting services are worthless hype. What guys like us do is just look at the fruits of our recruiters efforts and see how many of the desirable kids we brought in. Sure, it's more subject to error at our level, but I think we can do a reasonable job of recoginzing a good collection of players. We could all sit back and wait till their careers are over, wait till seasons are over instead of making predictions, but that's no fun.

    By Anonymous Andy, at 5:14 PM  

  • Any word on how the team looks in
    preseason practice ?

    Any pleasant surprises or any frosh
    looking good?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:23 AM  

  • You know, I tried to take a look at the team this Saturday, but I wasn't able to get the times for the scrimmage right.

    If they have another one I will try and get there. There's been no word that anything has gone bad (knock on wood) but Biddle & staff are usually tight lipped about these things. I think the pictures on the website took some arm twisting!

    By Blogger colgate13, at 8:28 AM  

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