(In predicted order of finish, based on preseason poll.)
COLGATE — The defending league champion returns its most valuable asset: quarterback Gavin McCarney. The senior already holds 18 Colgate records, and led the nation in scoring last season with 23 touchdowns. There’s room to improve on defense: The Raiders allowed nearly 32 points per game last season. They return seven defensive starters.
LEHIGH — The 10-1 Mountain Hawks felt slighted last season because they didn’t receive an at-large berth to the FCS playoffs. Lehigh graduated nine of its 11 all-league performers and returns just eight starters (including just three on defense). The schedule is back-loaded; the final three games are against Holy Cross, Colgate, and Lafayette.
HOLY CROSS — Hampered by injuries, the Crusaders stumbled to a 2-9 mark in 2012 — ending a run of seven straight winning seasons. Ryan Laughlin and Steven Elder split time at quarterback, but coach Tom Gilmore hopes to name a starter for 2013. The team also returns nine starters on defense and, if healthy, should contend for a league championship.
LAFAYETTE — The Leopards have posted three straight losing seasons but return a ton of offensive talent, including wide receiver Mark Ross (75 receptions, 1,030 yards and 10 touchdowns) and all-purpose back Ross Scheuerman (701 yards, 5 touchdowns). Lafayette also returns all five starters on the offensive line, a big boost for junior quarterback Zach Zweizig’s development.
GEORGETOWN — The Hoyas used five quarterbacks in 2012. They hope the return of Isaiah Kempf — who missed all of last season with injury — solidifies the position. Kempf is one of 24 seniors on the roster — coach Kevin Kelly’s largest senior class in eight years. The Hoyas remain the only Patriot program without football scholarships, a factor moving forward.
BUCKNELL — The Bison finished last season 3-8 and were winless in conference play. But four of the losses were by 7 points or fewer, and Bucknell should be much improved in 2013. The Bison feature four preseason All-Patriot League selections on defense, and return senior quarterback Brandon Wesley, a former Patriot League Rookie of the Year.
FORDHAM — This is the fourth and final season the Rams are ineligible for the league championship (they strayed from league policy in 2010 to offer football scholarships). Fordham must replace quarterback Ryan Higgins (2,940 yards last season). The trio of running back Carlton Koonce, wide receiver Brian Wetzel, and tight end Dan Light — all first-team All-Patriot selections last season — should help ease the transition.