Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Northeast Conference 2016 Preview

One thing is for certain once again in 2016, picking this league is tough, and whichever pre-season polls you look at, they all vary wildly from one to another. Duquesne and St. Francis duked it out last season until the final game, with Duquesne pulling out the win and the auto bid to the playoffs. These two teams, plus Sacred Heart make up a trio of teams this season at the top, and any one of them could take the title.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Duquesne
2. St. Francis
3. Sacred Heart
4. Bryant
5. Central Connecticut State
6. Robert Morris
7. Wagner

Duquesne Dukes
The Dukes made their first ever playoff trip last second, and came up just short of upsetting William & Mary to make it into the second round in a 52-49 loss. Look for a veteran team to make another push this time around.
Dillon Buechel returns at QB after passing for 24 TDs last fall, and he leads a veteran offense that includes RB Rafiq Douglas, who just missed 1000 yards last fall. The line is loaded with talent, including all-conference pick Ben Huss. The Dukes do lose their top two receiving threats, so someone will have to step up from a group that includes three seniors vying for playing time in Reggie McKnight, Kevin Enright, and Bobby Gustine. Sophomore Nehari Crawford may be the best of the group.
Defensively, the Dukes return six starters, with the best of the lot being senior LB Christian Kuntz. Nathan Stone should make plays when Kuntz is getting targeted from his LB spot.
Projected Win Total: 8

St. Francis Red Flash
A 10 point loss to Duquesne is all that seperated this team from a playoff birth last fall. They should get down to that game once again this season for a shot at winning the NEC title.
The Flash was a surprise in 2015, as they picked up their first winning season in 23 years. The core of the team returns, including Zack Drayer at QB. Drayer will need to put up better TD/INT ratio numbers this fall, as 15/9 was not quite strong enough. Khari Dickson is gone at RB, so look for Marcus Bagley to take over there after rushing for 626 yards last season as the backup.
Where the Red Flash falls on offense is at WR, as the top four receivers have moved on. The good news is that the line returns intact.
The defense returns eight starters, led by DB Lorenzo Jerome, a 1st team all conference pick.
Projected Win Total: 7

Sacred Heart Pioneers
It all starts with RJ Noel back at QB this fall for the Pioneers. He passed for 19 TDs last fall, and if he can drop that INT number from 9, the Pioneers may be able to pass St. Francis in the standings to battle Duquesne for the NEC title.
The two headed rushing attack of Ose Imeokparia and Nate Chavious returns as well to give a balanced attack on offense. The top three receivers are gone, including Tyler Dube, so look for the group of Andrew O'Neill, Byron Barney, Brandon Robertson, and Cole Duncan to try to compensate. That group is lacking experience, so this will be an important positional focus in fall camp.
The good news is that the line brings back four starters.
The defense is fairly stacked this fall, led by DE Ryan Cottrell, who was a second team conference pick last fall.
Projected Win Total: 7

Bryant Bulldogs
Bryant knocked off both Duquesne and St. Francis last season, but they need to amp up their overall production if they are to make a turn on the corner this fall.
Dalton Easton could be the best QB in the conference, but he needs to cut down on his 13 picks from last fall. He did, however, toss 22 TDs. You just cannot afford to turn the ball over more than once per game as he did last fall.
The top two rushers are gone from last season, so look for senior Ryan Black to step up and compete for the top job in fall camp. There isn't much for experience behind him.
Chad Ward is gone at WR, as is number three receiver John Lavin. Taylor Barthelette will likely step into the top WR spot this fall. Jose DePadua, Matt Sewall, and Hunter Taute will all be looking to make a mark in camp.
Patrick Kenney (LB) and Charles Wingate (DB) both return this season on defense, but the Bulldogs need to find eight new starters in all.
Projected Win Total: 6

Central Connecticut State Blue Devils
Expectations for the Devils are all over the place from middle of the pack to dead last, depending on who you talk to in 2016.
The problem here is that the Devils are expected to stick with their two QB rotation again this fall, and that is never a workable thing long term. Jacob Dolegala and Tavion Pauldo are both back, and both are still just Sophomores.
Cameron Nash is back at RB after rushing for 676 yards, but he will need to produce more yards in this system if the Devils have a chance to finish as high as 5th.
Not one receiver caught more than 22 passes last season, but the top five pass catchers all return, so look for some development there.
There is talent on defense, where DT Chris Tinkham, LB Asia Bolling, and CB Jevon Elmore were all-league picks last season.
Projected Win Total: 3

Robert Morris Colonials
RMU was once the toast of this league, but lately, they have been just toast. Look for development at QB for Mathew Barr, because he can't be nearly as bad as he was last season where he tossed just 5 TDs to 13 picks. He is the guy again, because there is nobody else.
Cole Blake and Rameses Owens are both back at RB, but they will have to rush for more than a combined 6 TDs to help out Barr in the Red Zone.
Kyle Buss is back at WR, and he is a true star in the making after racking up 742 yards receiving. He would like to see more than 2 TD catches in 2016, I am sure.
The defense is solid, and all four members of the secondary return.Marcelis Branch and Andy Smigiera lead the way there.
Projected Win Total: 3

Wagner Seahawks
The Hawks were cannon fodder last season, playing big paycheck games against FBS opponents on a more than regular basis than they were prepared for. AJ Long, a Syracuse transfer, is expected to step in at QB, but Chris Andrews will battle for the job in camp. Look for Alex Thompson to get into the competition as well.
Andre Yevchinecz is back at WR, while Washington State transfer Randall May looks to get the start as well.
Otis Wright is gone at RB, so look for Matthias McKinnon, a sophomore, to get first crack at the starting job.
The back seven looks to be improved for the Seahawks in 2016. Najee Hill and Randall May are decent at LB, while the secondary returns three starters as well.
Projected Win Total: 2

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