The college football season is underway, and schools around New England will soon see how they stand in their respective conferences.
There is plenty of intrigue among the FCS ranks. New Hampshire transitions from the Sean McDonnell era and Division I newcomer Stonehill joins the race in the Northeast Conference. Maine and Rhode Island will all have to adjust to changes in the Colonial Athletic Association, which added new teams during the offseason. Harvard will look to replace a talented running back, and Holy Cross hopes to win another Patriot League title.
Here are the top storylines to look out for as New England programs kick off in 2022.
Can Harvard overcome the departure of Aaron Shampklin?
Season opener: Sept. 16 vs. Merrimack | Season schedule
The Crimson finished last season 8-2, their highest win total since their 9-1 2015 season in which they won the Ivy League Championship.
But they’ll be without running back and former All-Ivy First Team selection Aaron Shampklin, who had 835 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground last year.
Now, the Crimson hope junior running back Aidan Borguet can take a step forward after rushing for 602 yards and 8 touchdowns in the backup role in 2021.
The Crimson were first in the country in rush defense last year, allowing fewer than 65 yards per game, and ranked fifth overall in scoring defense, allowing just 14.9 points per game.
Harvard is projected to finish first in the Ivy League in 2022 according to the Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll.
Merrimack will travel to Cambridge on Sept. 16 for Harvard’s opener.
Will it be four in a row for Holy Cross?
Season opener: Friday at Merrimack | Season schedule
A year after going 6-0 in the Patriot League, Holy Cross looks to keep the good times rolling in the 2022 fall season.
Dual-threat quarterback Matthew Sluka returns for his junior season after throwing for 1,512 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well as amassing 868 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
In 2021, Holy Cross ranked second in the Patriot League with 31.4 points per game and will return top running back Peter Oliver and top wide receiver Jalen Coker.
Linebacker and team captain Jacob Dobbs is also returning after compiling 9.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his All-America First Team campaign.
The Crusaders are seeking their fourth straight Patriot League title, and the 2022 season begins on Friday when they visit Merrimack.
Can Jim Mora turn UConn around?
Next game: Saturday vs. Central Connecticut | Season schedule
The Huskies made a big splash last year in hiring Jim Mora to replace Randy Edsall as their head coach in 2021. Mora last coached in college in 2017, when he spent six years at UCLA and compiled a 46-30 record.
UConn finished last season 1-11. The Huskies averaged just over 15.5 points per game, compared to their opponents 38.5, and were outscored 462-187.
Expectations are dimmed for the Huskies, as Penn State transfer and starting quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson tore his ACL in a season-opening loss against Utah State.
UConn held its own against the heavily favored Aggies, keeping the score close until the fourth quarter before losing 31-20.
Sophomore Nathan Carter ran for 200 total yards for the Huskies.
Can Rhode Island compete in a new CAA?
Season opener: Thursday at Stony Brook | Season schedule
A year after finishing 7-4, one win shy of its first playoff berth since 1985, Rhode Island looks to cement itself at the top of a new-look Colonial Athletic Association.
Powerhouse James Madison University left the conference to compete in the Sun Belt, opening the door for programs like Rhode Island, Villanova, and Elon to compete for the top spot.
Returning for the Rams is starting junior quarterback Kasim Hill, who threw for 2,170 yards and 18 touchdowns to go along with 253 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground in 2021. Junior defensive back Jordan Jones and redshirt freshman linebacker Evan Stewart return to anchor the defense. Jones recorded 5 interceptions in 2021, and Stewart compiled 2 sacks and led the team with 88 tackles.
Will new coach Jordan Stevens get Maine over the hump?
Season opener: Saturday at New Mexico | Season schedule
After a disappointing 6-5 finish last season, the Black Bears hired Jordan Stevens to replace Nick Charlton as their head coach after Charlton joined Mora’s staff at UConn.
Stevens played for Maine from 2006-09 and was an assistant coach in the program for 4 years.
The Black Bears only had starting quarterback Joe Fagnano for four games in 2021 due to a severe high ankle sprain he suffered in September. Fagnano, now a senior, is back to full strength and looks to be the starter once again. Fagnano threw for 794 yards and six touchdowns before going down with the injury.
There is a gaping hole at wide receiver, as standouts Andre Miller and Devin Young left the team. Miller and Young combined for 93 catches, 1,269 yards, and 6 touchdowns last year.
In the CAA preseason poll, Maine was eighth among the 13 teams.
Who will replace EJ Perry at Brown?
Season opener: Sept. 17 vs. Bryant | Season schedule
Brown has its sights on bouncing back from a tough 2021 on College Hill after the Bears finished with a 2-8 record and beat Cornell by only four to earn their only Ivy League win of the season.
Five All-Ivy League seniors return and could help right the ship.
After graduating starting quarterback EJ Perry, third-year head coach James Perry will have a decision to make regarding the primary quarterback. None of the candidates have played significant snaps. Junior Jake Willcox (Everett High/Milton Academy) threw one pass for an 11-yard touchdown against Dartmouth in the 2021 season finale.
It will be difficult to gain significant ground in the Ivy League. The Bears have not finished in the top half of the standings since 2016.
With longtime UNH coach gone, how will the Wildcats look?
Season opener: Thursday vs. Monmouth | Season schedule
The big question for New Hampshire is how they’ll fare without McDonnell, who retired after 23 years at the helm last December.
Former star QB Rick Santos, who served as an assistant coach / quarterbacks coach for the past three years — and directed the Wildcats to a 6-5 finish in 2019 while McDonnell took medical leave — has taken over. He’ll lead an offense that returns sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer.
Brosmer has not played since 2019, because of the COVID-shortened 2020 season and an injury he suffered prior to 2021.
UNH will have the help of FCS preseason All-Americans Josiah Silver, a defensive lineman who had 12.5 sacks in 2021, and Dylan Laube, a junior running back and kick returner.
Will Stonehill fly or falter in the FCS?
Season opener: Saturday at Bloomsburg | Season schedule
Although they won’t start off with a top-tier opponent, the Skyhawks are new to Division 1 and will play in the Northeast Conference for their inaugural season.
The Easton school went 8-2 last season (6-2 in Northeast-10) before making the leap from Division 2. Now head coach Eli Gardner will lead his team through uncharted waters.
Starting quarterback Anton Stoneking will return after throwing for more than 210 yards per game and 16 touchdowns in 2021. He’ll be joined by junior wideout Chris Domercant, who tied for the Northeast-10 lead in touchdowns last season with nine.
Defensively, the Skyhawks will have to fill the void left by defensive end Nate Bresson, who had 10 sacks last season and 20.5 throughout his four seasons.
Mediocre Merrimack, or can the Warriors produce something more?
Season opener: Friday vs. Holy Cross | Season schedule
Merrimack, another former NE-10 team, has been at the FCS level since 2019. But this is just the Warriors’ second season in the NEC.
The Warriors were picked to finish fifth in the preseason, and feature a roster that includes three All-NEC preseason players, most notably sophomore Jacari Carter.
Carter had 89 catches for 713 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
Who will be throwing to Carter? With second-team All-NEC quarterback Westin Elliott gone, ninth-year head coach Dan Curran has to pivot to one of his other options, all of whom have little-to-no experience at the collegiate level.
Division 2 and 3 storylines
Anna Maria: Anna Maria made the Division 3 playoffs for the first time last season. Quarterback Alex Cohen ranked 12th among D3 athletes with 3,087 passing yards, and is returning for his senior season.
Bentley: The Falcons finished 9-2 last season and made the Division 2 playoffs, but had to replace Bill Kavanaugh as head coach. Alvin Reynolds was promoted from defensive coordinator. Reynolds spent 19 years as a defensive coach in the NFL, most recently the defensive backs coach of the Falcons from 2008-2011.
Dean: The Bulldogs will be left with a hole at wide receiver this season, as wideout Errol Breaux has graduated. Breaux ranked ninth among Division 3 players in receiving yards last season with 1,218.
Endicott: The Gulls won their first Commonwealth Coast Football championship since 2013 after cruising to an 8-3 record. They were picked to finish first in their conference again.
Framingham State: The Rams put together an eight-game winning streak in the regular season that propelled them into the Division 3 tournament last year. Devaun Ford will return for his junior season after amassing 1,276 total yards and 14 touchdowns.
Massachusetts Maritime Academy: Despite an underwhelming 2021 season in which the Buccaneers finished 4-6, they recovered the second-most fumbles in the country at 15 and had 26 sacks on the season.
Springfield: Offensive tackle Lou Cocozza, a preseason All-America first-teamer, returns to a Pride roster that ranked third in college football last year with 354 rushing yards per game.
UMass Dartmouth: A 9-2 season was headlined by a shutdown defense. The Corsairs allowed 1,516 passing yards in 2021, the eighth lowest mark among D3 programs. Returning are defensive backs Trell Best and Logan Chappell, who each had five interceptions.
Khalin Kapoor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @khalinkapoor. Eamonn Ryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @eamonn_ryan41.