My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Friday, June 09, 2006

2006 Patriot League Preview: #7 Bucknell

First on the chopping block for 2006 is:

#7 Bucknell

Recent History

What a difference a year makes. The beginning of 2005 felt like the Bison might be on the verge of challenging for the Patriot League title and maybe even making their first trip to the NCAAs. However instead of looking for ways to scratch their way to the very top in 2006, Bucknell now finds itself trying to turn around what ended up being a horrific 1-10 campaign.

Decimated by injuries and limited by their depth at quarterback in an spread option offense that relies heavily on that position, last season was one that couldn't end quick enough.

The 2006 season is head coach Tim Landis' fourth and because of the poor season his overall record at the helm of the Bison has sunk to 14-20. Before 2005 there were plenty of games that showed glimmers of potential for Bucknell teams with some close losses to quality programs. But to illustrate just how far down the Bison fell last year, they averaged only 14 points per game and gave up 32. I believe you could only categorize four games as being close last season, and from my personal experience in one of them against Colgate, the outcome wasn't really in doubt for long.

So while in last year's preseason Bucknell appeared to be just one step away from being able to make a championship run, this year they have to be seen as the doormat. How long they will stay there is up for debate. Landis is a good coach who may just have run into some bad luck but we may be witnessing the beginning of a long slide in Lewisburg.

Off Season Developments

The biggest change for Bucknell is the departure of Tim Camp as offensive coordinator. Ashley Ingram comes from Rhode Island, another option school, to hopefully bring some pointmaking ability back to Lewisburg. He does have experience winning some games though, having spent his playing days winning three national championships at the Division II level at North Alabama. That background helps immensely in this writer's opinion. Rounding out the staff changes is Pat Kingman coaching the defensive line (Jim Reid's tenure at Bucknell was a short one) and Steve Vashel tutoring the safeties.

The Class of 2010 brings in 33 eager young bucks to don the Orange and Blue, and if for some crazy reason the coaching staff was actually reading this blog, they appear to have reacted to my comment last year about the number of local players on their incoming roster. This year sees a significant drop in the number of Pennsylvania recruits coming in and appears much more national in nature. Players from Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina join kids from expected states like New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. It will be interesting to see how some of these players pan out in the future to see if old 13 was on to something or not with my hunch!

Some standouts for me include: Andrew Bottone, a highly decorated offensive lineman out of New Jersey; Rashod Bumpers, a running back who put up some pretty impressive numbers down in Alabama; Brigham Farrand, a solid defensive back also from New Jersey; and quarterback transfer from Navy Andrew Lair of Louisiana, whose father and brother played for LSU.

2006 Schedule

Bucknell continues to have a fairly respectable schedule that mimics last year's in many ways but does give the Bison one advantage that may come in handy: they start off with three game homestand. By game three, I do believe we'll have a good idea of what to expect in Lewisburg.

The homestand starts with perennial Patriot League non-conference opponent Duquesne. The Dukes are no mid-major pushover and probably even deserve to be the favorite in this one. Then comes along two time defending Patriot League champs Lafayette to town. The Pards have plenty of talent but will be doing some adjusting of their own, so if there was ever a time for Bucknell to play them, it could be now. They end the homestand with the Big Red of Cornell, who should be able to contend for the Ivy title this year. Folks, this stretch will not be easy, but it helps that it is in Lewisburg.

It doesn't get any easier when Bucknell hits the road either, as they take a trip down south to visit the Spiders of Richmond. Ouch. They then head on over to a surprising away game at Marist - the sole win of their season last year. Maybe then the Bison will be able to take a breather. They will need it to once they get home as they will welcome an always tough Penn squad to town for Homecoming.

At this point it is time to get the rest of the league schedule done and Bucknell starts against the team where it probably all started to go wrong last year: Georgetown. Depending on how the Bison have fared, an unwelcome trip to Lehigh follows. The Bison haven't beat Lehigh since 1997, and for the past four years the games haven't been close.

Fordham comes to Lewisburg for Parents' Weekend before it's off to Holy Cross and then back to Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium to host the Raiders of Colgate. Depending on how the season has gone up until now, these games could be very important to the outcome of the league, or they could be footnotes to another long season.

Season Outlook

Well, the one good thing about a season like 2005 is a lot of players get a lot of playing time. First and foremost, for any Bison success to occur on the gridiron this fall, they must find themselves a quarterback. Running the spread option like they do, without a quarterback to lead the offense it will be dead in the water. The job is still in many ways up for grabs. Bucknell's QB troubles began when Terrance "That's Right,Not Daris" Wilson went down in the opener. Consequently, we never got a chance to see just what this Wilson was capable of. So while he's still in the mix, you can also add newcomer Andrew Lair to the recipe. Lair is a transfer from Navy (remember - they run this offense too) and supposedly has impressed during spring camp. Rounding out the QB competition is Ryan Ahern and Ben Bouffard, but one has to imagine this is a two horse race between Wilson and Lair. If either are any good, Bucknell just might be in business again.

The main threat after whatever quarterback emerges will be returning fullback Josh DeStefano. DeStefano was third on the team in rushing last year with 297 yards. Apparently a former linebacker named Kevin Mullen is challenging DeStefano for playing time at the fullback position, but I have to believe this position is DeStefano's to lose. The slotback positions will be held by a pair of support players last year, Kadero Watson and Peter Kaufman. Watson was a freshman last year and ended up gaining 299 yards for the season. He could be the biggest unknown of this group so watch for him.

For a team that runs the option like Bucknell does, wide receivers are often just glorified down field blockers, and the Bison are no exception. Case in point: Bucknell does return its leading receiver in Daniel Zvara, however he led the team with 15 catches and 292 yards for the entire season! That's 2-3 games for some of the Patriot League's best! Needless to say, the Bison will not be winning any games in the air next year.

On a bright note though, a good portion of the offensive line does return for the Bison, along with backups who have seen time. The trio of Chad Glasser, Stefan Niemczyk and Jonathan Grainger will have to take the lead in turning the offensive production around. Joel Hoffer, who also started a few games last year, is back as well. Michael Anthony looks to be the final piece to the puzzle. This line does have potential so all is not lost here.

On the other side of the ball, the orange and blue faithful can also say goodbye to one of the league's better defensive lines. Four very influential seniors are lost to graduation and they will not be easy to replace. Junior Ryan Walsh looks to be the only player with significant playing time last year. After that, it's a laundry list of who might emerge where: Brandon Friday (who saw some time last year), Stephen Edwards, Kurt Schneider, Craig Kostelic and Michael Hardman could all end up seeing time on the field this fall. If some of those players can keep the defensive line play at the level of the past two years, again, Bucknell could be in business.

The linebacking corps does boast a pretty good player in Dorian Petersen to lead this defense in 2006. Petersen is an athletic talent that could take a step up to the next level in the Patriot League and become a force. He's fast, with good hands and good instincts, evidenced by virtue of ranking second on the team in tackles, grabbing three interceptions and having a very good day
against eventual league champ Colgate. It will be up to his support staff of Matt Palermo and probably Julius Hopson to help him raise his game.

In somewhat good news, both corners due return for another season, but one can't overlook that 32 points per game that the Bison gave up. As an example, this secondary gave up 240 yards in the air to Marist - and 358 to Lafayette! They return a safety was well in Stephen Collage, but I'm not too high on this group of returnees in general. I think teams might be able to put up points in large chunks against this secondary, especially with an inexperienced defensive line being asked to provide the rush.

Special teams seems to be pretty solid on the kicking side of things, but Bucknell will surely have its hands full trying to find someone to replace Mr. Everything Dante Ross at the return position. While Ross went on to eventually be the signal caller for the Bison, he first made his name in the league as a huge return threat. It will be up to two players who've seen time, Zvara and Nolan Applegate, to provide the spark that will surely be needed in this dimension of the game.

Predicted Finish

Seventh. While you might say there is no where to go but up for Bucknell, their hopes for any upward movement fully reside in finding a quarterback and establishing another good defensive line. I'm sure the off season work and spring ball have been intense for this group of players; many of whom will remember their freshman or sophomore years when they were a team with much more swagger than they had in 2006. The question is, is that enough? Did Bucknell really just get into a nosedive with injuries and bad luck or are there bigger issues at play?

As mentioned earlier, I don't think the schedule helps much. While the Bison open at home, Duquesne is always hungry to knock off a Patriot League opponent, and they've done it several times in the past. There will be a lot of pressure on whomever is taking those snaps to get Bucknell that first win. Without it, I don't believe there is much of a chance for them to knock of Lafayette next week and Cornell the week after. It really has to get to the middle of the schedule before one starts to think Bucknell has a good chance to win games, but they are also interspersed with potential blowouts from teams like Lehigh. I said it last year, but it will really take a good start to get this team headed in the right direction. They didn't get it last year, and it was all downhill from there. If Duquesne was on schedule last season instead of Marist, it could have been an Ed Sweeney-esque 0-11 year.

Ultimately, I think Bucknell will get on track next year - eventually. However I think it will be too little, too late. At best, I think fans in Lewisburg better prepare themselves for a true 'rebuilding' season. A season to get a quarterback some quality time; a season to find some defensive stars and a season to restore the confidence that may have been lost in 2005. Some wins here and there are not far fetched. At worst though, fans can prepare to have a lot of room to stretch out on those stadium stands.

Now, of course I could be wrong about the fate of the Bison as my #7 last year, Georgetown, didn't finish last when it was all said and done. But, they did finish tied for 6th. 2006 won't be easy, Bucknell. It won't be easy.

#6 coming sometime next week!

7 Comments:

  • Thanks "13" for that great revue of Bucknell football 2006. Looks like Bucknell will have a struggle this year, but you never know.

    Will be interested to follow your revues of the other teams.

    By Anonymous Lennie, at 9:51 PM  

  • Very thorough, 13. Perhaps you should syndicate or get your posts over to Street & Smiths and Lindy's..:-)

    By Blogger Ngineer, at 10:15 PM  

  • Just an excellent review. I doubt that anyone researches the PL like you do...no offense to LFN who runs a very close second place. My thanks to both of you.

    In my opinion, when you get past the acknowledged big three, it's a real crap shoot in the PL. As you mentioned a few times, at Bucknell it's all about the QB. If one of them blows up, that offense can be scary. Looking forward to #6.

    By Blogger LBPop, at 12:38 PM  

  • Great start to the season 13!! Looking forward to the rest. Question..... Bucknell's Oline seems a bit undersized compared to the rest of the league. Is that something that is consistent with the spread option offense??

    -29

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:03 PM  

  • Great job 13 - I don't know how you know so much about these teams - but it's wonderful. Keep it up!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:56 PM  

  • Interesting reference about the PL "big three" of Lehigh, Lafayette and Colgate. Just a short 3 years ago, this "big three" was Lehigh, Colgate and Fordham. We'll see how long Lafayette stays part of the group, but I always think of the PL as the Big Two. If LC doesn't pull out a remarkable last second victory at Lehigh last year, we wouldn't be mentioning them in the same breath.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:33 PM  

  • Consistency is another topic all together, but the fact remains that over the past two seasons the Patriot League has been squarely divided between Colgate, Lehigh and Lafayette and the rest of the leauge. To me, that's the "Big Three". Right now I don't place Fordham in that same category as they only one PL title in their stint of flirting at the top. Lafayette has now won a share of the title for two years in a row. Colgate last did that in '02 and '03. Lehigh hasn't done it in longer than that. You can't slight that accomplishment.

    By Blogger colgate13, at 6:30 PM  

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