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Conference Preview

Trinity Bantams
Projected record: 8-0
2012 record: 8-0

bunkerMaybe our perception is colored by the 42-7 beating Trinity gave Middlebury last season but we think the NESCAC crown is going right back to Hartford in 2013. Trinity went 8-0 last season and had more talent in some positional groups than many teams did on their whole roster. Behind eight First-Team All-NESCAC selections, the best running offense and the deepest defense in the league, Trinity rolled through opponents at an otherworldly rate, winning by an average score of 35-14 (good for first in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense). Thus, it is not surprising that they lose more talent than any other team in the conference — Rae Haynes, Julian Brown, Ryan Burgess, Lyle Baker, Stephen Goniprow, Mike Valenti, and Drew Grombala , to start — but when you are the class of the league, losing talent is a given.

What we care about is the talent coming back, and it starts with the best backfield in the conference, and possibly one of the best in conference history. Rising senior Evan Bunker averaged 159 yards per game on the ground last season, an astonishing 64 more yards per game than any other rusher. He also scored 11 touchdowns, while sharing backfield duties with the NESCAC’s most overqualified backup, Ben Crick. Crick, also returning for his senior year, averaged 68 yards per game last season to go along with 6 touchdowns and a conference-leading 6.4 yards per carry (Bunker had 6.2; the next best rusher had 5.2). They are joined in the backfield by Mike Budness, a do-everything fullback who is a great blocker and receiver. At wide receiver is A.J. Jones, the ultimate field stretching weapon who blows by defensive backs with Division I speed. Over the last two seasons, Jones has averaged 24 yards per catch and has scored on 11 of his 33 total receptions. The question marks on offense are at quarterback and offensive line, where graduation has left the Bantams with uncertainty. Henry Foye has upside as a sophomore signal-caller, and the depth and coaching bodes well for the offensive line. Regardless, the rest of this offense can afford to be adequate when Bunker and Crick are steamrolling through opposing front sevens. On defense, Trinity is headlined by its linebacking corps, which returns three stars in Tom Szymanski, Brett Cde Baca, and Rob Gau. Combined, that trio had 18.5 tackles for a loss last season. Safety Mike Mancini is the top returner in the secondary, a unit that will dearly miss Haynes and Brown, but head coach Jeff Devanney is a defensive back specialist and is likely to work up a new crop of excellent defensive backs. We expect Trinity to carry their 47-game home winning streak through at least one more season and ride Bunker and Crick to another league title.

Lippetufts1Amherst Lord Jeffs
Projected record: 6-2 (losses vs. Middlebury, Trinity)
2012 record: 6-2

Again, the team that lost a lot  retains a lot. Amherst is coming off a disappointing season and loses  six of its top defensive players, all-NESCAC center John Ceccio, and top rusher Ryan Silva, but they remain well-stocked at every unit. Former star cornerback Landrus Lewis returns from a torn ACL and will help rejuvenate a defense that is due for some good health after a tumultuous 2012. Danny Chun is the other top returning defender. The starting strong-side outside linebacker recorded 42 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and two interceptions last season. On offense, Max Lippe returns at quarterback after scoring an impressive 13 touchdowns (7 passing, 6 rushing) last season. Lippe struggles to move the ball downfield consistently (131 ypg) but should continue to grow as Amherst’s dual-threat weapon. He is supported by what is probably the best wide receiver duo in the NESCAC, Jake O’Malley and Wade McNamara, who combined for 667 yards last season.

The running back depth is there, and either Sean Wilson or Kenny Adinkra could compete for the starting spot that had been Silva’s, though Tyler Jacobs has the most experience. Amherst will remain one of the elite rushing teams in the conference.

Kukesh_022-600x400Bates Bobcats
Projected record: 6-2 (losses vs. Trinity, Wesleyan)
2012 record: 5-3

The Bobcats are quietly putting together quite the program, and we strongly considered picking them as our NESCAC champions because of their high ceiling. Cooler heads prevailed, but do not discount Bates’ sleeper potential in 2013. They are led by safety Andrew Kukesh, a D3Football.com preseason All-American. In front of Kukesh is star junior linebacker John Durkin, who was second on the team in tackles (57) and second in the league in tackles for a loss (12). Bates’ defense posted 19 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries and four touchdowns last season, all good for tops in the league. On offense, they will miss quarterback Trevor Smith and running back Patrick George, but have strong players in contention to man the Bobcats’ option offense. Ryan Curit and Shawn Doherty are capable and experienced runners likely to step into bigger roles this season. At quarterback, the most intriguing name on the roster is Nick LaSpada, a freshman with stellar numbers in high school who had Division I plans before being slowed by injuries. If he wins the job, he could be a star.

LaDariusWesleyan Cardinals
Projected record: 5-3 (losses vs. Amherst, Trinity, Williams)
2012 record: 5-3

The Cardinals are a hot pick heading into the season after an impressive 5-3 campaign in 2012, but its unclear how much better they will be in 2013. The junior class gives good reason for excitement, especially at the skill positions on offense. Jesse Warren threw for 11 TD passes last year, good for third best in the conference, while LaDarius Drew and Kyle Gibson are the best backfield duo in the conference outside of Hartford, combining for 170 yards per game last season. Top wide receiver Jay Fabien looks to build on last season’s 33-catch campaign. Kevin Hughes plays fullback and tight end and led the team in receiving yards last season. The offense is talented and exciting, and if Warren improves, it will be dangerous. Defensively, stars Jared Goldenberg and Zach Vinci have transferred, but a strong secondary returns. Jake Bussani and Donnie Cimino combined for 11 interceptions and 12 pass break-ups last season. Defensive lineman Nik Powers might be the most exciting defensive player on the squad, a 6’7” pass-rusher who managed seven sacks in situational work in 2012.

ephsolineWilliams Ephs
Projected record: 4-4 (losses vs. Amherst, Bates, Middlebury, Trinity)
2012 record: 5-3

The Ephs head into the new year with a lot of question marks and a lot of talent. The quarterback position remains a relative unknown, as Adam Marske took a big step back last year but still shows signs of promise. Running back Alex Scyocurka is very skilled (105 rush ypg last season) but often injured (five games played over the last two seasons). Richie Beaton and Greg Peyton project to be the two top receivers, but neither was a consistent threat last year. The offensive line should be a strong point, as Alex Felix is a force in the middle and both starting tackles return. Ernest Higginbotham (7 tackles for a loss) leads the defensive line, while Antonio Blanco will likely be the best player in the back seven. The program’s depth and talent development will be tested in the secondary, which allowed a league-worst 233 passing yards per game last year.

111112_6597_KMA_football001.JPGTufts Jumbos
Projected record: 2-6 (wins vs. Bowdoin, Colby)
2012 record: 0-8

The Jumbos are riding an embarrassing 23-game losing streak, but that should come to an end this year. We like this team as the best of the bottom four, thanks in large part to a few strong recruiting classes. The offense is pass heavy and will have two scary downfield options in 6’6” Nick Kenyon and 6’5” Jack Cooleen. Kenyon caught 27 passes for 289 yards last season, while Cooleen is a high-upside sophomore with less experience. Jack Doll should start at QB after losing the starting spot due to an injury last year. That passing attack will do enough to win against some of their lesser competition. Several talented freshmen also project to skill positions on offense. Defensively, this team could regress after losing most of their starters, but those starters were unsuccessful and a new crop of talent could help redefine the defense.

duncklee-edited-large-actionColby Mules
Projected record: 2-6 (wins vs. Bowdoin, Hamilton)
2012 record: 3-5

Justin Ciero commands the Colby offense but had an up-and-down 2012, throwing for 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The rising sophomore is a dual threat who averaged 125 passing yards and 62 rushing yards per game last year. His best weapon is Luke Duncklee, the do-everything wide receiver who is a star playmaker with the ball in his hands. The more ways they find for Duncklee to get involved, the better the offense will fare. Thomas Brewster should also get more touches, as he averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season. Their offense could be fun if they find more ways to integrate Jason Buco, who is a star defensive back (five picks in 2012) but also managed 11 catches, 207 yards, and 3 touchdowns in limited opportunities on the other side of the ball last year. Colby was 3rd best in the league in yards allowed per game, but 3rd worst in points allowed per game. Their defense will miss Ryan Veillette’s pass-rushing prowess, but linebacker Henry Nelson (77 tackles) is a monster in the middle and Daniel Maddox joins Buco to make for a solid secondary.

BFB_vs_Bates_2012_-_11230_web_thumbBowdoin Polar Bears
Projected record: 1-7 (win vs. Hamilton)
2012 record: 1-7

Griffin Cardew, Joe Cleary, and Brian Glazewski are three of the best linebackers in the league and are the best thing going for the Polar Bears. They combined for 195 tackles in 2012. The defensive line and secondary are not as strong. Offensively, running back Zach Donnarumma leads the way; he averaged 92 yards in the six games he played last year. Quarterback remains a question and an open competition, which suggests that nobody should inspire confidence, though a repeat of last year’s horrendous 3 touchdown, 19 interception passing game would be surprising. David Black is an elusive underneath receiver who is likely to lead the team in targets and receptions.

Hamilton Continentals
stanellProjected record: 0-8
2012 record: 1-7

The Continentals struggled in their transition under first year coach Andrew Cohen, but they had little time to adjust and should execute better with another year under their belts. Running back James Stanell totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage last season, and Joe Jensen is likely the second-fastest wide receiver in the conference behind A.J. Jones; he is increasingly skilled as well. Behind them, little is certain on either side of the ball. After allowing 38 points per game last year, they are likely taking a big picture rebuilding approach on defense and are unlikely to fill the ranks with significant talent for a few more years.

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