I-AA College Football News
Extra Point: Preseason Rankings - A Mountain to Climb
By Matt Dougherty Jul 8, 2006, 0:51 GMT
Extra Point: Preseason Rankings - A Mountain to Climb***
By Matt Dougherty, I-AA Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA - As I searched for a worthy team to name as a potential successor to Appalachian States reign as the national champion, I began to realize something about this years Mountaineers.
More than any team in half a decade, they have what it takes to repeat as I-AA champion.
With 17 starters returning and a large group of valuable juniors, the Mountaineers were probably a year ahead of schedule in 2006. Defensive end Marques Murrell, offensive tackle Matt Isenhour and safeties Corey Lynch and Jeremy Wiggins all earned All-America recognition in 2005 and rate among the best in I-AA at their respective positions. Tight end Daniel Bettis, offensive guard Kerry Brown and running back Kevin Richardson could all hold their own with any of their I-AA colleagues. At two other positions, the Mountaineers bring out great depth in place of big names. A group of solid wide receivers and linebackers provide strong units on both sides of the ball, and should mesh well with one of I-AAs best groups at offensive line and secondary.
The Mountaineers have intangibles on their side as well. The Southern Conference is always strong, but Georgia Southern could go through some growing pains with a new system and Western Carolina, Chattanooga and Wofford are probably a step behind the Mountaineers. Only Furman appears to be right there with the Mountaineers, and the Paladins have to come to Boone. The Mountaineers will host six games after playing only four during the regular season a year ago. If Appalachian State can use that edge to finish with around a 9-2 record, it could be in position to host until the championship game in a stadium where it has an 18-game regular and postseason winning streak.
Naturally, the Mountaineers have their share of question marks as well. Richie Williams was a fixture in the offense at quarterback and Jason Hunter used his freakish athleticism to torment the opposition on defense. Hunters departure leaves a hole at the defensive end spot opposite of Murrell, and the jury is still out on highly touted Trey Elder at quarterback.
The Mountaineers are going to have their share of roadblocks, too. Though the schedule is easier than last year, a slate that features James Madison and Furman and tricky road trips to Georgia Southern, Western Carolina and Chattanooga offers plenty of potential pitfalls. You never know when a team is going to come up and bite you (just look at James Madisons loss at Coastal Carolina last year). And of course they have to deal with the overwhelming task of repeating as champion. Georgia Southern last repeated as I-AA champion in 2000, but youll have to strain your eyes to find more than a handful of Division I teams in major sports that have repeated over the past decade of parity.
The competition, as always, will be fierce. Montana, Cal Poly and Furman could all make a run at the title, and multiple teams in the Atlantic 10 and Gateway Conference have the ingredients for a national championship season. When you consider that the last three national champions each had only six wins in the previous season, pretty much any playoff-eligible team in the top 50 could receive consideration as a potential sleeper.
The odds are always against any individual team winning the championship. If you gave me the Mountaineers at anything lower than 5-to-1 odds, I wouldnt take the bet. Im not sure if the Mountaineers can conquer the tough task of repeating, but they look like the best team in I-AA right now and have the most pieces in place for a championship run.
Below I offer my take on preseason power rankings, with a rating on all 122 I- AA teams. The 101 schools that play at a scholarship or quasi- level are separated from the 21 that play at a true non-scholarship or limited- scholarship level. Last years record is in parentheses. The official Sports Network I-AA Top 25 and I-AA-Mid-Major preseason polls, which are voted on by a panel of sports information directors and media throughout the country, will be released in August
1. Appalachian State (12-3) - As noted above, the loss of Richie Williams and Jason Hunter will be easier to absorb with the return of 17 starters and depth and talent at almost every position will make the Mountaineers a strong candidate to be the first team since 2000 to defend their crown.
2. Montana (8-4) - The Grizzly defense is as deep as any in the country, and the addition of transfer talent at quarterback and wide receiver should inject more life in the Lex Hilliard-led offense and help vault the Grizzlies to a record that would keep them at home throughout the postseason.
3. Cal Poly (9-4) - With a dominating defense that seems to reload every year and the return of seven sophomore starters on offense, the Mustangs should be set up for playoff and even national championship contention for at least the next couple of years.
4. New Hampshire (11-2) - Everyone expects the explosive Wildcat offense to light up the scoreboard again with Ricky Santos and David Ball, but the 2006 campaign could be more of a grind with a tougher schedule and the departure of seven starters from a defense that led the nation in takeaways
5. Illinois State (7-4) - A pair of heartbreaking close losses kept a playoff- caliber team home for Thanksgiving a year ago, but the return of Laurent Robinson, Cameron Siskowic, Luke Drone and 13 other starters should put the Redbirds over that hump in 2006.
6. Furman (11-3) - Though the biggest star departs on offense and defense and the Paladins have some holes to fill on the offensive line, a defense that improved throughout the 2005 season should be a very strong complement to the potent running attack.
7. Northern Iowa (11-4) - Even though they lose 12 starters from last years runner-up team, the Panthers always reload to keep themselves in playoff contention and its hard to bet against Eric Sanders in the fourth quarter.
8. Massachusetts (7-4) - With experienced talent at all the skill positions on offense and six starters back from a defense that was one of the best in I-AA for most of the season, the Minutemen are in position to make the postseason for the first time since 2003.
9. Youngstown State (8-3) - The Penguins just missed out on the postseason despite an 8-3 record and a share of the Gateway title, but they have a great shot to remove the doubt this year with a good running game and defense and 25 seniors returning.
10. James Madison (7-4) - Quarterback Justin Rascati, a deep backfield and a strong group on the offensive line and at wide receiver should keep the offense in good shape, but the defense needs to replace six starters, including three up front.
11. UC Davis (6-5) - With what should be an improved offense featuring Jon Grant and Tony Kays and a dominating defense that brings back most of its top players, I-AA foes will be happy that the Aggies are not playoff eligible until 2007.
12. Eastern Kentucky (7-4) - The Ohio Valley Conference has not fielded an elite team in some time and has not scored a playoff victory since 2000, but a Colonels team that features an explosive offense and a solid defense could put an end to those trends.
13. Delaware (6-5) - The Blue Hens bring in a few impact transfers to go with 14 starters that gained experience a year ago, and seem to be in good position to make a run at a playoff berth before fielding a championship contender in 2007.
14. North Dakota State (7-4) - The road schedule is brutal and the Bison lose six starters on defense, but they return a very capable player at each of the skill positions and have a balanced team that can win games with offense or defense.
15. Richmond (9-4) - The Spiders have a crucial question to answer with Stacey Tutt gone at quarterback, but a quarterfinal team that returns 16 starters overall and all five on the offensive line cant be overlooked.
16. Eastern Illinois (9-3) - The Panthers made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 last year, and have a great shot at a return trip with nine starters back on offense and seven, including Clint Sellers and Tristan Burge, on defense.
17. McNeese State (5-4) - The Cowboys are still young and might be in even better position to make a national title run in 2007, but they return almost the entire starting defense and could make a big rise this season if one of the young quarterbacks can step forward.
18. Montana State (7-4) - Travis Lulay will be dearly missed after a spectacular career under center, but the running game led by Evin Groves and a strong and deep defense give the Bobcats hope to be as good or better in the first season without Lulay.
19. Hampton (11-1) - The Pirates boast a few NFL prospects on defense and running back Alonzo Coleman rates among the best in I-AA, but its hard to believe in them as a top five or top 10 team until they prove it against the best teams in I-AA.
20. Georgia Southern (8-4) - The sudden death of Teddy Craft will make it difficult to focus on football right away, and that tragedy combined with all the changes in philosophy under head coach Brian VanGorder leave the Eagles with more questions than usual.
21. Grambling State (11-1) - Henry Tolbert and Clyde Edwards lead a dynamic group at wide receiver on a potent offense, and the defense should be strong enough to lead the Tigers to another SWAC championship even without Bruce Eugene and Jason Hatcher.
22. Western Kentucky (6-5) - Losses in the final four contests and a tough schedule have some observers down on the Hilltoppers chances, but leaders like Lerron Moore and Justin Haddix and the return of 13 starters overall should keep the program in good shape.
23. Idaho State (5-6) - The Bengals figure to put points on the board with a strong running tandem and Michigan transfer Matt Gutierrez to revive the passing game, and they have a chance at a postseason run if new starters on the defensive line can play well.
24. Texas State (11-3) - Some decline is inevitable after losing quarterback Barrick Nealy and 28 total lettermen, but a solid returning defense and a favorable non-conference schedule will keep the Bobcats in the playoff mix.
25. Colgate (8-4) - The Raiders have holes to fill on the front seven and would like to get more consistent play from quarterback Mike Saraceno, but the running of Jordan Scott and a strong secondary gives Colgate a slight edge as the preseason Patriot League favorite.
26. Coastal Carolina (9-2) - Unimpressive showings against a soft schedule late in the season make it hard to completely believe in the Chanticleers just yet, but the return of 16 starters and challenging but winnable games in the non- conference slate make the playoffs a definite possibility.
27. Lafayette (8-4) - After consecutive Patriot League titles and playoff appearances, the staying power of Frank Tavanis rising program will be tested with 11 starters to replace, including a talented trio of linebackers.
28. William & Mary (5-6) - The Tribe dropped their final four games in the 2005 campaign and have some questions to answer on defense, but the return of eight offensive starters provides hope for success in the competitive Atlantic 10 South.
29. South Carolina State (9-2) - The ability of Cleveland McCoy and DeShawn Baker and home dates with Hampton and Bethune-Cookman give the Bulldogs a shot at the MEAC title, but they also need to replace seven starters on defense.
30. Lehigh (8-3) - A new coach and a more balanced offensive attack present some question marks, but the return of quarterback Sedale Threatt and a playoff-friendly schedule should help maintain Lehighs status as a postseason contender.
31. Harvard (7-3) - The Crimson showed how potent they can be with a healthy Clifton Dawson by winning the final four games last year, and go into Dawsons final campaign as the favorite to claim the Ivy League crown.
32. Southern Illinois (9-4) - Unless Arkee Whitlock runs wild behind a strong offensive line, the Salukis three-year run of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy with a new quarterback and an entire starting front seven to replace on defense.
33. Southeastern Louisiana (4-6) - A pair of I-A transfers in the backfield and an improving defense will help get the Lions past the 'Air Raid' days and become a contender in the Southland.
34. Western Carolina (5-4) - The Catamounts notched a significant win against Furman and almost toppled Cincinnati, but the progress will be tough to maintain with the departure of four starting offensive linemen and five of last years top six tacklers.
35. Jacksonville State (6-5) - The run of OVC titles and playoff berths ended at two, but the Gamecocks will be in the mix for the conference crown again with an offense led by Clay Green and the return of Lamarcus Rowell to the defense.
36. Nicholls State (6-4) - The Colonels provided a great story by winning the Southland Conference despite the chaos from hurricane season, but they could slip back a bit with six starters, including quarterback Yale Vannoy, departed on offense and eight to replace on defense.
37. Hofstra (7-4) - The Pride were only a few plays away from a 10-1 mark last season, but might have missed out on their best shot at a playoff berth after the loss of a pair of standout wide receivers and four players in all that signed NFL contracts.
38. Bethune-Cookman (7-4) - The Wildcats have been rather ordinary by the standards of the Alvin Wyatt era in the past two seasons, but a young team led by quarterback Jimmie Russell gained experience last year and should be a factor in the MEAC in 2006.
39. Maine (5-6) - The Black Bears won three of their final four games in 2005, and could be this years surprise team in the Atlantic 10 with seven defensive starters returning and an easier conference schedule.
40. Northwestern State (5-5) - The Demons were a disappointment with a 5-5 record in 2005, and the mark might get worse before it gets better with 13 starters departed and a schedule that includes three I-A opponents.
41. Brown (9-1) - Zak DeOssie should continue to make plays all over the field as one of the best linebackers in I-AA, and a solid returning nucleus on both sides figures to keep the Bears from falling too far without Payton Award finalist Nick Hartigan.
42. Weber State (6-5) - With Brady Fosmark, Shane Barkdull, Paul McQuistan and Pat McQuistan all moving on, both Wildcat lines suffer major losses and the team will be hard-pressed to improve again in Ron McBrides second season.
43. Towson (6-5) - The Tigers have key pieces in place with quarterback Sean Schaefer and a talented tandem at wide receiver among 17 returning starters, but the defense has to improve by leaps and bounds to compete against the contenders in the Atlantic 10.
44. Western Illinois (5-6) - Emerging in a very deep Gateway Conference will be difficult, but the Leathernecks were making strides on defense at the end of the 2005 campaign and should be able to put up points with Steve LaFalce leading the offense.
45. Sam Houston State (3-7) - Todd Whittens first year as head coach did not go as planned, but eight returning starters on each side of the ball and solid depth at quarterback and wide receiver could help the Bearkats surprise in the wide-open Southland Conference.
46. Missouri State (4-6) - Terry Allen has a track record as a successful I-AA head coach and 10 starters return on defense, but a potential rise for the program could take time after last years team allowed 423 yards and more than 31 points per contest.
47. Eastern Washington (7-5) - The Eagles return a strong offensive line and emerging running back Ryan Cole, but any team that plays average defense and loses the Walter Payton Award winner and one of the best receivers in I-AA history is due for a fall.
48. Chattanooga (6-5) - Impact transfers, like running back Eldra Buckley, and solid recruiting classes give the Mocs hope, but improving on last years 6-5 mark will be difficult with seven road games and a tough non-conference schedule to go with the Southern slate.
49. South Dakota State (6-5) - The Jackrabbits performed admirably against a tough schedule and feature a solid running tandem with Cory Koenig and Anthony Watson, but they could have a tough time making the next step with another brutal schedule.
50. Portland State (6-5) - With three I-A games and key starters to replace on both sides of the ball, the Vikings will need quick contributions from a host of transfers if they are going to make a run at a winning record.
51. Penn (5-5) - The Quakers understandably stumbled on the field after dealing with tragedy last season and have to overcome the departure of 13 starters, but they are almost always a factor in the Ivy League race.
52. Alabama A & M (9-3) - After being humbled by Grambling State in the SWAC Championship game last year, the Bulldogs have a shot for redemption with 17 returning starters, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball.
53. Wofford (6-5) - The Terriers took a step back last year, and stiff competition in the Southern Conference coupled with the departure of key cogs like Katon Bethay and Kevin Hodapp will make a return to the top of the standings a daunting task.
54. Yale (4-6) - The Bulldogs need to find a replacement for Jeff Mroz at quarterback, but once again they should have the talent to compete in the Ivy League with nine starters back on offense and seven returning on defense.
55. Samford (5-6) - If youre searching for a sleeper in the OVC, look no further than the Bulldogs, which has a very capable starter at quarterback and nine starters back on each side of the ball.
56. Stephen F. Austin (5-6) - The Southland Conference looks very balanced, but the Lumberjacks might be a step behind the rest of the league with nine losses in the last 11 conference games and a defense that allowed nearly 35 ppg last year.
57. Sacramento State (2-9) - With major personnel losses for many of their conference foes, a Hornet team with Ryan Mole at running back and a few strong players on defense has a chance to at least climb out of the basement and inch closer to .500.
58. Cornell (6-4) - The Big Red moved from the Ivy League basement to their first winning mark since 1999 in head coach Jim Knowles first two seasons, but another step up the conference ladder will be tough with the loss of quarterback Ryan Kuhn and All-America offensive lineman Kevin Boothe.
59. Villanova (4-7) - The Wildcats rarely have two sub-.500 seasons in a row and the talented Marvin Burroughs returns at quarterback, but on paper they dont seem to match up with the best teams in the Atlantic 10.
60. Princeton (7-3) - The Tigers completed their best season in a decade with seven victories in 2005, but matching that victory total will be difficult without defensive back Justin McCareins and maybe a little less karma after posting a 4-1 record in games decided by three points or less.
61. Rhode Island (4-7) - The Rams running game should flourish again with five returning starters on the offensive line, but a suspect defense and the departure of quarterback Jayson Davis will make it tough to escape the bottom half of the Atlantic 10.
62. Mississippi Valley State (6-5) - The pass-catch combo of Aries Nelson and Tyrone Timmons just keeps getting better, and the Delta Devils will have their best chance in years to win the SWAC East.
63. Delaware State (7-4) - Al Lavan has taken the program from the basement to mediocrity to a winning record in his first two seasons, but the Hornets figure to stop the progress there if they cant beat Hampton or South Carolina State.
64. The Citadel (4-7) - The non-conference schedule is brutal again and the Bulldogs wont compete for the top of the Southern Conference yet, but head coach Kevin Higgins could lead an improving team to one or two upset wins.
65. Florida A & M (6-5) - The Rattler program is on the right track to recover from massive problems due in part to a failed move to I-A, and could be in the mix in the MEAC after winning four of the final five to close the 05 season and returning defensive end Tyrone McGriff and wide receiver Roosevelt Kiser.
66. Gardner-Webb (5-6) - A talented wide receiving corps and improving quarterback Nick Roberts should continue to put points on the board, but a defense that allowed 433 yards and more than 30 points per contest has to make major strides.
67. Northeastern (2-9) - Wide receiver Cory Parks and offensive tackle Ryan Gibbons both depart, which is bad news for a Husky team that has a ton of ground to make up in the Atlantic 10 and a rough non-conference schedule.
68. Tennessee-Martin (6-5) - The Skyhawks lost their quarterback and head coach, but the running of emerging star Donald Chapman and improving play on both lines will keep the program headed in the right direction.
69. Central Arkansas (11-3, Division II) - The Bears advanced to the Division II quarterfinals and gave Tennessee-Martin all it could handle in a September game last season, so watch for an upset or two against a schedule that includes seven tough Division I opponents.
70. Northern Arizona (3-8) - After a promising freshman season, Jason Murrietta will need to display more consistency and a defense that gave up 30 ppg has to improve just to be competitive again in the Big Sky.
71. Northern Colorado (4-7) - Running back Andre Wilson gives Northern Colorado some explosiveness on offense, but the loss of first-team All-American Reed Doughty depletes a defense that surrendered 380 yards per game last year.
72. Elon (3-8) - Pete Lembo has a winning track record and Chad Nkang is among the top defensive players in the country, but it will take more than one season to turn around a team that finished 0-7 in the Southern Conference and struggles to score points.
73. Charleston Southern (7-4) - The Buccaneers carry a five-game winning streak into the 2006 campaign, and an explosive passing game directed by Colin Drafts coupled with a weak schedule should lead to another winning mark for an improving program.
74. Fordham (2-9) - Running back James Prydatko and linebacker Marcus Taylor give the Rams a bright spot on each side of the ball, but new head coach Tom Masella has his work cut out with a team that lost 41-0 to Albany to end the 2005 season.
75. Southern (4-5) - A young Jaguar team took some lumps in 2005, but they should provide the toughest competition to Grambling State in the SWAC West with quarterback Joseph Lewis back to lead an offense that averaged 28 ppg.
76. Georgetown (4-7) - The Hoyas won two Patriot League games for the first time since 2002 to build some momentum, but first-year head coach Kevin Kelly and his staff have to bring an offensive identity to a team that finished dead last in scoring.
77. Indiana State (0-11) - Its hard to find any silver lining in a winless season with losses by an average of 26 points per game, but at least it cant get any worse for the Sycamores and second-year head coach Lou West.
78. Tennessee Tech (4-7) - The Golden Eagles gave up almost 32 ppg a year ago, and some ugly losses against the top half of the OVC showed that they arent ready be competitive with the better teams in the league.
79. Jackson State (2-9) - Tiger fans finally have the new coach they desired with Rick Comegy, and a bunch of transfers and recruits could help bring a winning culture back to Jackson after a few dismal years.
80. Holy Cross (6-5) - Tom Gilmore seems to have the Holy Cross program headed in the right direction, but the Crusaders could take a step back in 2006 with offensive stars gone and a sub-par defense that surrendered 400 yards per game a year ago.
81. Tennessee State (2-9) - The Tigers have lost 16 of their last 19 games dating back to 2004, and need an offense that has 11 players with some starting experience to come together after finishing 118th nationally with 12.4 ppg a year ago.
82. Alcorn State (6-5) - With Martin Jackson on defense and Charlie Spiller and Jeremy McCoy on offense, the Braves have enough star power and overall depth on the roster to stay in the thick of the race in the SWAC East.
83. Murray State (2-9) - The Racers probably have a few years until they can really be competitive under Matt Griffin in the OVC, but improving on last years putrid -22 turnover ratio should help move them in the right direction in 2006.
84. Alabama State (5-5) - The Hornets were in good shape to win the SWAC East last year before dropping their final four games by five points or less, but recovering from the November slide will be difficult without Tarvaris Jackson, Keldrick Williams and 13 other departed starters.
85. Norfolk State (4-7) - The Spartans showed reason for optimism by winning three of the final four games a year ago, but there are still plenty of holes on a team that was outgained by nearly 100 yards per game and has limited experience at quarterback.
86. Dartmouth (2-8) - The Big Green have 10 starters back on offense and did shock Colgate and hold tough against Brown, but the overall progress was limited in Buddy Teevens first season back in Hanover.
87. Southern Utah (1-9) - The Thunderbirds couldnt recover from a mass exodus of senior starters from the 2004 team, and might be headed for another long year with a very challenging schedule.
88. Liberty (1-10) - Though the Flames finished 0-9 against I-AA opponents, first-year head coach Danny Rocco has reason for some hope inheriting a team that returns 15 starters after losing five games by seven points or less.
89. Southeast Missouri State (2-9) - First-year head coach Tony Samuel will try to establish momentum for a Redhawk program that only has two winning marks in 15 seasons and lost the top two defensive players on a unit that surrendered 34 ppg.
90. North Carolina A & T (3-8) - The Aggie offense failed to exceed 17 points per game for the second year in a row, and they don't have an experienced quarterback on the roster to help turn the tide after tossing only six passing touchdowns in 2005.
91. VMI (3-8) - The Keydets improved on an 0-11 season and came within two points of pulling a shocker against Lehigh, but continued progress will be difficult with the loss of eight defensive starters, including linebacker Justin Huggard.
92. Columbia (2-8) - A promising early start ended with eight consecutive losses in 2005, and the Lions have to hope a bunch of returning starters on offense can help a team that was outscored by 22 points per game.
93. Prairie View (5-6) - The Panthers recorded their most successful season since 1988, and a schedule with seven home dates could help them maintain momentum after winning three of the final four games in 2005.
94. Morgan State (2-9) - The Bears defense needs an overhaul after giving up more than 34 ppg for the second year in a row, and Byron Selby has to show more consistency if the offense has any chance to keep up on the scoreboard.
95. Arkansas Pine-Bluff (3-8) - The Golden Lions took a step back from a solid 2004 season with a 3-8 record that included a blowout loss to Prairie View, though running back Mickey Dean provided a bright spot with 11 touchdowns as a freshman.
96. Howard (4-7) - Antoine Betheas departure leaves a huge hole in the defense, and the Bison offense needs to come a long way after scoring only 15.7 ppg a season ago.
97. Bucknell (1-10) - The Bison finished 0-9 against scholarship-level competition a year ago, and will need to get back on track despite the loss of All-Patriot League defensive end Sean Conover and do-it-all quarterback Dante Ross.
98. Texas Southern (1-10) - The Tigers return eight starters on offense and nine on defense, and should make at least some progress after losing four games by seven points or less a year ago.
99. Winston-Salem State (6-4, Division II) - The Rams lost in games against Howard and South Carolina State a year ago, and might not be in position to contend against a schedule that includes seven MEAC games and Coastal Carolina.
100. Austin Peay (2-9) - The Governors feature running back Chris Fletcher and could improve in time now that they are back in scholarship football, but they are going to take some lumps with a team that struggled in the Pioneer Football League.
101. Savannah State (0-11) - A winless season is embarrassing enough, but Savannah State added to the misery by losing to Central State, a team playing its first season since 1996 and using walk-on players.
1. San Diego (11-1) - The Toreros are in position to defend their Sports Network Cup title with Josh Johnson and JT Rogan leading the offense and a capable defense.
2. Dayton (9-1) - An entire returning starting unit on defense and quarterback Kevin Hoyng will make the Flyers a worthy foe to San Diego for the PFL crown
3. Central Connecticut State (7-4) - The Blue Devils claimed a share of the last two NEC crowns, and should be in contention again with significant players back on both sides of the ball.
4. Drake (6-4) - The Bulldogs endured a few tough-luck losses in 2005, but will be in position to win games as long as Scott Phaydavong is racking up yards out of the backfield.
5. Duquesne (7-3) - The Dukes have only dropped one game to a Mid-Major level opponent over the past two seasons, but the dominating defense could slip a bit with key pieces gone.
6. Monmouth (6-4) - The Hawks lost three games by seven points or less late in the 2005 campaign, and the ability of quarterback Brian Boland should keep the offense going without Miles Austin.
7. Albany (5-6) - A strong defense led by Colin Disch and a quality running game will keep the Great Danes in the NEC race even if the overall record isnt great against a tough non-conference schedule.
8. Stony Brook (6-5) - The Seawolves came on strong late last season to claim a share of the NEC title, and will look to quarterback Josh Dudash for another quality season before becoming a I-AA Independent in 2007.
9. Marist (7-4) - Obozua Ehikioya is a potent running threat, and the Red Foxes showed they can play with anyone at the Mid-Major level by going 4-0 against NEC teams and taking San Diego down to the wire.
10. Morehead State (8-4) - The Eagles emerged as the class of the PFL South, but they could take some lumps as the conference moves to a one-division format.
11. St. Francis (PA) (3-8) - The return of 11 offensive starters, highlighted by wide receivers Michael Caputo and Luke Palko, has the Red Flash in line to compete in the NEC.
12. Wagner (6-5) - The departure of John Sciarra will be tough to overcome even with Chris Turner and Joe Kinard to lead the offensive attack.
13. Robert Morris (2-8) - The Colonials should rebound by at least a few games after losing six games by a touchdown or less in 2005.
14. Jacksonville (4-4) - The Dolphins did a respectable job against teams in their division, but the schedule gets beefed up with games against San Diego and Drake.
15. Sacred Heart (4-6) - Without dependable running back Ed Pricolo, the Pioneer offense will rely even more on the passing attack to compensate for an average defense.
16. Davidson (4-6) - The Wildcats are inching their way back to respectability after some down years, but they still have a lot of ground to make up to compete with the top teams in the PFL.
17. Valparaiso (3-8) - Running back Jeff Horton should grind out the yards, but a defense that allowed 38.5 ppg has a long way to go.
18. LaSalle (4-7) - The Explorers will win a few games, but once again its in part because they play a schedule with four non-Division I opponents.
19. Iona (3-7) - The Gaels only have five wins over the last two seasons despite playing a suspect schedule, and show no signs of moving in the right direction.
20. Butler (0-11) - The Bulldogs were outscored by more than 28 points per game in a winless 2005 campaign, and even a coaching change offers little hope for a team that has lost 17 in a row.
21. St. Peters (1-9) - The Peacocks suffered blowout losses to Western Connecticut and Salisbury last year, and wont compete for a winning record anytime soon.
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