My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Thursday, August 04, 2005

#5 Bucknell

The next installment of my Patriot League preview brings us to:

#5 Bucknell

Recent History

The 2005 season will mark the 3rd campaign for head coach Tim Landis and one has to be impressed with how quickly he put the Bison on the right track. Coming into the fall, Landis boasts a 13-10 record and a 7-7 Patriot League conference record. Looking closer at the prior seasons will also reveal a one point loss in 2003 to undefeated Penn and a six point loss to A-10 foe Villanova in 2004. Excitement for the program appears to be building as well, with the last year's game against Penn registering the largest crowd at Christy Mathewson - Memorial Stadium since 1989: 10,602. Clearly, something is going right in Lewisburg.

While it's been a few years since the 10-1 1997 season that saw Bucknell on the verge of winning the Patriot League Championship, the Bison have never really been out of it. Averaging just over six wins a season in the past ten years, it seems that this team is always around to compete; they just haven't been able to take that last step towards a championship. The lone blemish in that span of time came in an interim year of 2002 that saw the squad coping with the death of a head coach. Given that history, one has to admire Landis's ability to provide strong leadership to the program.

Off Season Developments

In what seems to be a theme in the Patriot League this year, coaching changes dominate the headlines this off season. Former defensive coordinator Tripp Merritt was lured away to become the head coach at Davidson, forcing Landis to promote Jared Backus to the post. Perhaps even more interesting is the hiring of Jim Reid to the position of special teams coordinator and defensive line coach. Jim has been around I-AA football for some time, with head coaching stints at UMass and Richmond as well as I-A experience at Boston College and Syracuse. Bucknell also welcomes four other new coaches, two of them former players under Landis at Davidson and St. Mary's.

The Class of 2009 brings in 32 new faces, with the biggest story in this observer's opinion being that over half of that number came directly from Bucknell's own back yard. While Pennsylvania is definitely a rich state to recruit from, that high of a number causes my eyebrows to raise, especially when there are only two players from the football recruiting magnet state of Florida.

Some highlights in the class appear to be: Ben Bouffard at quarterback, who was a first team all-state quarterback and Player of the Year - with the one question mark being that the state is Vermont, which is not typically known as a football hotbed; Stephen Cooney on the offensive line, who was a second team all-state performer in Pennsylvania; all-New England defensive lineman Stephen Edwards; third team Pennsylvania all-state pick Devon Lutz at defensive back; another second team all-state Pennsylvania defensive lineman in Brian Peters and Todd Rinaldo at linebacker who received a first-team all state pick from New Jersey.

Sadly, this off season also marked the tragic loss of a freshman defensive lineman, Mark Oppong from a viral infection. One never likes to hear of news like this.

2005 Schedule

The 2005 schedule does not appear to be one that favors the Bison, especially towards the end of the season. Starting with a home opener against Georgetown under the lights, Bucknell then goes on the road to face NEC member Stony Brook and then heads upstate to Ithaca to play resurgent Cornell. A trip back to Lewisburg to play Marist is then followed by a road trip to always difficult Penn.

It is at this point that the schedule gets really tough. Villanova and Lehigh come to Christy Mathewson for back to back weekends, and then the Bison head on the road to Lafayette, Fordham and Colgate before settling back home to finish of the season vs. Holy Cross. With those two tough out of conference games followed by media preseason favorite Lehigh at home and then a make it or break it road trip through the gauntlet of recent Patriot League champions, one has to wonder how the Bison are going to hold up. Let's just say that if they make it through that stretch with success, they could very well be representing the league come Thanksgiving time.

Season Outlook

Besides a tough schedule, Bucknell will be dealing with the loss of the nation's top rushing quarterback, Daris Wilson. The loss of this one man, first team all Patriot League, show is compounded by the loss of two other first team Patriot League players on defense as well as two second team offensive lineman. It is these kinds of losses that have clouded up the crystal ball of many prognosticators, myself included.

Quarterback is without a doubt the biggest question mark for this spread option team and it will be a battle between sophomores Terrance "No Relation to Daris" Wilson and Ryan Ahern. Spring practices have most likely given the nod to Wilson so opposing teams could be looking at another three years of trying to stop someone named Wilson. There is some good news in the running back position as Blamah Sarnor returns from injury (although has been saddled up this spring with a hamstring problem) as well as his replacement last year, Josh DeStafano who ended up averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The wide receivers will be unknowns trying to replace Bison standout Nisan Trotter. The final piece of the puzzle will be the offensive line. The line needs to replace some big shoes to graduation and spring injuries to two starters Stefan Niemczk and Joel Hoffer hasn't helped.

The very good news for the Bison is the return of Sean Conover on the defensive line. This 6-5, 270 pound beast was the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and returns as the 2005 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and adds a 2005 Preseason All-American to his trophy case as well. The even better news is that he won't be alone as cornerback and special teams threat Dante Ross joins Conover on defense.

The good news continues as Conover is joined on the line by fellow classmates Andrew Decker, Brandon Bailey and Jacob Burney. That foursome will spell a lot of trouble for opposing offenses. Right behind the line will be the anchor for the linebackers, Dorian Petersen, however a spring injury has put the burden on sophomores Peter Salvatore and Ryan Slater to play inside. The outside linebacker spot is a big question mark. Besides Ross at corner, the defensive backfield will be young and inexperienced, so if there is an Achilles Heel to this defense, it's deep and away from Ross.

Special teams should be a strength with Ross as the return man again and Ryan Korn looking to start his third season as the Bison placekicker.

Predicted Finish

Fifth. Defense is where Bucknell will win games this year so there is definitely plenty to look forward to for Bison fans. However, games can't end in ties anymore so someone has to be found that can replace the electric Daris Wilson as well as running backs Sarnor and DeStafano need to stay healthy in order for this team to survive what could be one of the toughest schedule in the Patriot League. While I suspect there is offensive talent there, it will most likely be young and putting youth on the road like that and against some top I-AA programs out of conference is a daunting task to say the least.

Bucknell's hope truly lies in two confidence building wins to start the year, a tougher road win at Cornell followed by a hopeful blowout of Marist at home to start the season. If the Bison find themselves 4-0 heading into Penn, they might have the swagger they need to take it to the Quakers before two very trying contests at home. If, and it's a big if, they find themselves playing good, winning football after the Mountain Hawks leave Lewisburg, then maybe they will have what it takes to run those three road games that will mean so much to their league standing.

They just may be able to do it - no one should be taking them lightly. At this point though, I just can't see a sophomore quarterback, behind a mostly untested offensive line, leading the spread option to victory with this kind of situation before them. The defense will keep the games close, but I still don't see it. However, if they do make a run, watch out NCAAs. This team will be for real.


  • Overly optimistic on the offensive side. Considering the type of offense BU runs--high risk option, with such youth, usually leads to turnovers. That will be the key for this crew. If they can move the ball without losing it, then a few wins will be there. But I don't see them beating 'nova, Lehigh, Colgate or Fordham, and Penn and Cornell I'd call toss-ups.
    They will be 'in' many of their games because of the D, but I can't see them pulling out too many wins against the above six. No reliable long distance scoring threat. It's really tough to always go 70-80 yards to score.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:08 PM  

  • Ngineer, you see them beating Lafayette? I don't. Bison come off Nova and LU, on the road at LC who has a bye week to work on defending the gimmick offense. Tough task. So true, your point on turnovers.

    Is it easier for an athletic, high school option QB like Terrence Wilson to successfully take over a college option offense than a pro-style QB taking over a pro-set offense? I lean toward yes, but as 13 points out, with linemen and receivers to replace, might be too tall an order.

    Lots of good info, 13, particularly on personnel and injuries. Well done.

    By Anonymous Andy, at 2:45 PM  

  • Andy,

    You know Ngineer and 13 will never give us any credit over Colgate & Lehigh. It's like we've never had a winning season before!!

    13.....well done again. I dont have the inside info like you and the above guys but I thought FU would be behind BU. I hope that wasnt to make Rambacker happy. I was hoping you would give him something else to cry about!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:55 PM  

  • 29, you mean you don't believe The Backer's argument that if only Fordham could join the A-10 they would soar to the heavens on the wings of all that exposure and publicity? lol I don't know about you guys, but my perception of where the A-10 members stand in the quality spectrum-the great, the good, and the less so--hasn't changed much since I got out of high school 30 something yrs ago. I think the astute PaRam had it right when he zeroed in on the ego factor.

    By Anonymous Andy, at 4:16 PM  

  • Ah, Rambacker. Life just wouldn't be as interesting without him.

    By Blogger colgate13, at 8:50 PM  

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