My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

2006 Patriot League Preview: #6 Holy Cross

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#6 Holy Cross

Recent History

In a similar theme as Bucknell's preview, what a difference a year makes for the College of the Holy Cross. Last year's 6-5 record marked head coach Tom Gilmore's first winning season (his second overall), Holy Cross's first winning season since 2000's 7-4 effort and just their second winning record since the end of the glory years in 1992. Plain and simple, that is good news for the Crusaders. Throw in a win against at the time nationally ranked conference mate Lehigh and it's great news! The boys from Worcester might be heading in a new direction with this program.

Given the lack of consistent winning over the past 15 years, there will be a lot riding on this season. Another winning record and it might be safe to say that Holy Cross has turned a corner under Gilmore. Back to a losing record and maybe not a lot has changed. Only time will tell.

Off-Season Developments

For the third season in a row, the Holy Cross players will have some new coaches to get used to, starting close to the top. Both coordinators are gone for the Crusaders as former offensive coordinator Bob Griffin retired and former defensive coordinator David Kotulski has gone on to coach for his third Patriot League school, this time as the defensive coordinator at Lehigh.

Gilmore must be happy with the crew that he had last year though, because both positions have been filled with internal promotions. Chris Pincince takes over the reigns as offensive coordinator from his wide receivers coach position and Richard Rodgers gets the promotion to defensive coordinator from secondary coach. Finally, three new coaches round out the ranks taking over the duties for tight ends, running backs and defensive ends. The consistency within the program helps at the coordinator positions, but Holy Cross fans might want to take note of all of the turnover that seems to be happening each year. Lack of stability here could be a problem down the road.

Gilmore added 31 new players to the 2006 roster, apparently focusing on gaining some defensive depth, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. In addition to the usual Catholic school flavor to the recruits, Holy Cross appears to have made some solid gains in Ohio Valley/Mid-West area by evidence of 11 players coming from Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. Some highlights: Mike Argillander, an all-state quarterback from Michigan who looks to be 6'3" and 225 lbs. and threw for 4,800 yards and 55 touchdowns in his career; Anthony Campbell, an All-Ohio linebacker; Aaron Jones, a beefy 6'4" 305 lbs. lineman with honors out of Ohio; and Randy Wright, a do-everything linebacker who did a post-graduate year at Hotchkiss.

If some of those boys from Ohio and Michigan pan out, this could be a very respectable class for Holy Cross - full of some 'grunt-type' talent.

2006 Schedule

Holy Cross's schedule this year is a fairly balanced one that has a nice New England flavor to its out of conference section certainly good news for traveling fans and for home attendance. The Crusaders kick off Patriot League play right away down in D.C. against the Hoyas of Georgetown. This game could have large implications down the stretch in determining which of the 'second-tier' teams in the Patriot rise to the top. A win here is fairly important to the Saders.

Next weekend sees Fitton Field spring to life with some neighbors down in Boston, Northeastern of the A-10, making the guest appearance. This could be a winnable Patriot/A-10 contest for Holy Cross. Then, keeping the out of conference matchups in state, a trip to Cambridge and the Crimson of Harvard is in order. This is perhaps a more difficult Patriot/Ivy contest for the Crusaders. The bus will then be packed for one more road trip down to Marist for a night game and hopefully the continued Patriot League dominance over this MAAC program.

A short homestand ensues the follow weekend against league foe Fordham and then defending Ivy League champ Brown. One more Ivy team is left on the schedule with next week's trip to Dartmouth.

At this point the remaining bulk of the Patriot League schedule comes into play, as Holy Cross tries to knock off Lafayette in Easton having lost four straight to the Leopards. Then, the Crusaders will welcome a Lehigh club looking to get back on top after last season's upset loss in Bethlehem. This game is followed by senior day at Fitton when the Bucknell Bison roll into town.

Much to dismay of the Holy Cross faithful, the season ends most likely on a cold, blustery mid-November day in central New York where the boys in purple will try to break a five game losing streak to Colgate.

Season Outlook

By now I'm sure some Holy Cross fans are looking for an explanation of why I'm picking the Crusaders to finish in the same position as last year, sixth, when such important strides were made last season. Well, it comes down to two important factors that cannot be overlooked when trying to assess preseason potential:

1 - there was a huge vacuum created with the graduation of last year's seniors on offense
2 - the returning defense that Holy Cross does enjoy ranked dead last in more than one category, particularly in total defense

On offense, the vacuum that exists is two-fold. First, in sheer numbers eight of eleven starters graduate. There will be plenty of new faces trying to score points for the Crusaders. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, in raw talent alone Holy Cross will have to try to find a way to put up points without the benefit of Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Steve Silva. Silva, who averaged 91 yards per game rushing, scored 15 touchdowns, caught a little over five passes a game and averaged over 213 all purpose yards per game was the legs that Holy Cross won games on. You just don't recover from that easily.

In addition to the loss of Silva, three year starting quarterback John O'Neil, who threw for over 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, and his three top targets, wide receivers Bob Turkovich, Sean Gruber and tight end Luke Dugan, are all gone as well. In fact, Holy Cross only returns to the roster three rushing touchdowns at the hands of rising sophomores Terrance Gass and Mike Kielt and one receiving touchdown by a receiver, credited to Thomas Harrison. Those three players, along with Frank Herlihy at fullback and probably Brian McSharry at quarterback, are the talent that Crusader fans have to rest their hopes on.

While the offensive line does fair a bit better being able to be built around a pair of returning guards in Andrew Schoepfer and Eric Gendron and a returning left tackle Hall McMillan, there are some serious questions in Worcester about offensive production next season. Without some unknown talent there waiting to step up, it could be a long season for first year coordinator Pincince. Maybe he has better answers, but I just don't know who is going to score some points for the Saders.

On the other side of the ball, the opposite is true: eight starters return for Holy Cross, with the three losses occurring at each level of play. New coordinator Rodgers will be looking for a new defensive end, linebacker and cornerback to take the field on Saturdays this fall. Generally, this is good news for a program as last year when I wrote this preview the key questions for the Crusaders were on defense. Unfortunately though, the answers to those questions weren't so great. As a team, Holy Cross was horrible defending the rush, giving up over 200 yards on the ground per game. They were middle of the pack on passing defense, giving up almost 200 yards per game. Put them both together, and the Crusaders gave up just about a hundred more yards per game as league co-champs Colgate and Lafayette did. Without the offensive production of Silva and O'Neil last year, Holy Cross could have easily joined Fordham and Bucknell at the bottom of the league standings.

So for this campaign, if there is to be any success for the team it will be up to linebackers Dan Adams and Chris Nielsen, along with defensive end John Markus Pinard and cornerback Casey Gough to completely change the tone for the defense. This core of players has multiple years of experience and will have played together for many games. It is up to them to establish a defense that I'm sure Gilmore, a defensive guy at heart, is dying to get for himself. As mentioned earlier though, the constant change in defensive leadership doesn't help the situation.

The news is split on special teams, as the previously mentioned Silva was one of the biggest return threats in I-AA. His loss will be noticed. Maybe Casey Gough can pick up where Silva left off. The odds are not in favor though as not many people can. The good news is: all the kickers are back.

Predicted Finish

Sixth. Last year's fourth place finish was quite a surprise, but then again, the bottom of the Patriot League was nothing to write home about last season. In particular, last year's late season loss to Fordham was telling, as Silva and two other important starters were out of the game with injuries. Take away O'Neil at quarterback, and that game might not be a four point contest. Unfortunately for Holy Cross, the 2006 season basically repeats the Fordham game scenario. I don't know if the offensive replacements will be able to duplicate the efforts of those graduating seniors.

The opening Georgetown game will be important (for both squads, but more on Georgetown in a future week), as a win puts off for four weeks the next Patriot League contest against against a Fordham squad that struggled last year. If Holy cross has a win to open the season, followed by back to back losses to Northeastern and Harvard, and then a hopeful 'gimmie' against Marist - they stand at 2-2 and 1-0 in the league facing Fordham.

If they can pull that out they have two more games before they run the gauntlet of Lafayette, Lehigh and Colgate - with Bucknell thrown in the middle for fun. If they can get to Lafayette at 2-0 in the league, then my prediction of sixth will be wrong. Wrong or right, for Holy Cross to have any shot at these last four games there will be a need for at least several games of experience for this new offense.

Holy Cross fans lucked out a bit with the senior class that graduated last year, as without them they would have probably still been 'rebuilding' in a losing season under Gilmore. Next year's juniors are his first class and it still remains to be seen if the talent he has recruited is up to the task of continuing to restore the glory that once was. It is this writer's opinion that another winning season would be a huge step in that direction, because in the preseason, the tea leaves don't look so hot that they can repeat the success of 2005.


  • Well Mr. 13, I have now read the Holy Cross preview about six times. You're running late, my friend. Your public is anxiously awaiting #5--it's not like you have anything else to do...

    By Blogger LBPop, at 1:29 PM  

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