Loyal followers of New England college football might find that the landscape looks a bit different this season.
The Northeast-10 Conference retains its official name, but it will field only nine teams after the departures of LIU Post and Merrimack, which are beginning the transition to Division 1. Filling one of the empty slots will be Franklin Pierce, in its inaugural season after six years as a sprint football team.
Merrimack floats easily into the Northeast Conference, joining Sacred Heart and Bryant.
It’s easy to rally behind a big-name Division 1 program such as Boston College, Massachusetts, and Harvard, but don’t write off the lower divisions. New Haven reached the second round of the Division 2 NCAA Tournament last year, and MIT, Western New England, Husson, and Framingham State represented the region in the first round of the Division 3 bracket.
With 58 college football teams across the six New England states, there’s no shortage of entertainment for fall Saturdays.
Here is what to expect from every college football team in New England in 2019:
American International: Four returning NE-10 all-conference selections could help the Yellow Jackets rebound from a 1-8 season (though they had five in 2017, after a 2-8 year).
Amherst: All-NESCAC first-teamer Avery Saffold anchors a defense that will try to stay tight after the graduation of All-American Andrew Yamin.
Anna Maria: As sophomore quarterback Alex Cohen settles in, the Amcats might win more than one game for the first time since 2013.
Assumption: A high-speed offense that led the NE-10 in points per game (37.2), yards per game (415.9), and touchdowns (51) last season will attempt to forge a winning record for the seventh straight season.
Becker: The kids are all grown up: The roster boasted just 12 seniors across two one-win seasons, but the experience could pay off in 2019.
Bentley: There are 75 returnees on the 100-man roster, including Xaverian graduate and Norwell native Pete Thorbahn, a senior cornerback who has earned All-Conference nods every season.
Bridgewater State: Filling the void of 12 graduates (including MASCAC Offensive Player of the Year Jack Lavanchy), are five 2018 All-MASCAC selections: Steven Silvia, Nick Santavicca, Mark Wilson, Austin White, and Michael Rosa — for a team coming off an 8-3 year and New England Bowl win.
Curry: Senior captain Nick Villanueva is a lock to produce at wide receiver after a career-high 50 catches for 655 yards and 6 touchdowns as a Commonwealth Coast Conference second-team selection. But a three-way quarterback battle leaves a question mark.
Dean: All 13 of the Bulldogs’ all-conference players — led by Rookie of the Year quarterback Terrell Watts — are returning, setting the stage for Dean to improve on a 5-5 season.
Endicott: All-America kicker Nick DiCairano returns for his senior year after the Gulls’ first winning season since 2013.
Fitchburg State: MASCAC Defensive Rookie of the Year Samuel Kenny will be called upon after a strong debut as a defensive lineman: 44 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and a blocked kick.
Framingham State: Tight end Jacob Maher transferred to Framingham after three seasons at Worcester State. The D3football.com Preseason All-American, coupled with senior quarterback Adam Wojenski, will help fill holes left by 16 graduates from an NCAA tournament team.
Harvard: Just 10 starters return as the Crimson look to contend for their first Ivy League title since 2015. There are shoes to fill after the departures of quarterback Tom Stewart and top receivers Adam Scott, Henry Taylor, and Justice Shelton-Mosley.
Holy Cross: Captain Domenic Cozier should lead the offense after piling up 130 carries for 643 yards and 8 touchdowns as a junior. The Crusaders must scramble to find a replacement for graduated quarterback Geoff Wade.
UMass-Dartmouth: Junior defensive back Jacob Burkhead, who earned an All-MASCAC nod as a sophomore after being named Defensive Rookie of the Year, will captain the Corsairs after a 5-5 season.
Massachusetts Maritime: All-MASCAC first-team selections senior Kyle Johnston and sophomore Colin McCabe return on the defensive line for a Buccaneers squad that went 2-8 in 2018.
Merrimack: Ineligible for postseason competition until 2023, the Warriors will play their first slate of Division 1 games, including contests against future Northeast Conference opponents Central Connecticut, Bryant, Saint Francis, and Long Island.
MIT: Seven of 15 All-NEWMAC honorees return as the Engineers build off a 9-2 season that ended in an NCAA first-round finish.
Nichols: Hunter Ferreira, who finished 2018 as the top receiver for the 5-5 Bison (28 receptions, 516 yards, 8 touchdowns), returns for his sophomore season.
Springfield: Senior Nick Bainter has received national attention already, earning preseason recognition from D3football.com and College Football America.
Stonehill: After a 2-8 campaign, the Skyhawks return 12 starters, including three-time All-NE-10 selection and program record-holder in receptions Andrew Jamiel. Classmates Matt Haite and Brian Kearns Jr. could set program records of their own this year.
Tufts: The Jumbos have a big hole to fill at quarterback after the graduation of Ryan McDonald, who was the NESCAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year.
Western New England: Senior quarterback Alec Coleman returns after a breakout junior campaign (1,964 passing yards, 21 TD passes, in addition to 867 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns) in which the Golden Bears captured their fifth straight conference championship.
Westfield State: After a 5-5 season, the Owls return just one of three All-MASCAC honorees — Chris Saba, a senior offensive guard who helped Westfield run the league’s top rushing offense in 2018.
Williams: Five of Williams’s six All-NESCAC selections from 2018 are back to build off a 5-4 season, including Frank Stola, who led the conference in receptions with 53, and linebacker T.J. Rothmann (58 tackles).
Worcester State: After a 2-8 season, the Lancers have a hole to fill with the transfer of their top receiver, tight end Jacob Maher, to Framingham State.
WPI: Seniors Sam Casey, Nick McGoff, and Nick Ostrowski anchor the defense as three of seven returning All-NEWMAC selections.
Dartmouth: Junior quarterback Derek Kyler was named to the watch list for the FCS National Performer of the Year after a 9-1 sophomore campaign that saw him set a school record for competition percentage (68.9, second in FCS).
Franklin Pierce: In the Ravens’ first year at the Division 2 level, 17 New Englanders have secured roster slots, including Dighton-Rehoboth defensive lineman Mason Cadorette.
New Hampshire: With coach Sean McDonnell taking an indefinite leave of absence, the program turns to UNH legend Ricky Santos for guidance through a four-man quarterback battle.
Plymouth State: Six returning All-MASCAC honorees should make up the difference this season for the Panthers, whose three league losses last year were by less than a touchdown.
Saint Anselm: While the Hawks are searching for a new quarterback, NE-10 All-Rookie running back Christian Matthews-Byrd (359 total yards, 90 rushing) will hold down the offense.
Castleton: Despite a 2-8 record last year, the Spartans were picked third in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference preseason poll, thanks to 13 returning starters, including sophomore quarterback Jacob McCarthy and junior defensive lineman Chris Rice.
Middlebury: Chances look good for the Panthers to complete an eighth consecutive winning season, with quarterback Will Jernigan, rushing leader Peter Scibilia, and receiving leader Frank Cosolito all returning.
Norwich: Nine returning All-NEWMAC honorees, highlighted by Co-Rookie of the Year wide receiver Lavontae Decius, should allow the Cadets to improve upon last season’s 3-7 finish.
Brown: There’s nowhere to go but up after a winless Ivy League slate in a 1-9 season, and with a new head coach — Andover native James Perry — and his nephew, BC transfer E.J. Perry, in the mix at quarterback, it might be possible.
Bryant: After their second straight 6-5 season, the Bulldogs return six starters on both sides of the ball but bring in a new head coach in Chris Merritt, who is getting his first stint in collegiate coaching.
Rhode Island: The Rams posted their first winning season since 2001 despite having their starting QB go down after five games. Backup Vito Priore and wide receiver Aaron Parker are back to try to make it happen again.
Salve Regina: Joey Mauriello, the Commonwealth Coast Conference Offensive Rookie of the Year, and seven other all-conference honorees return for what looks like a strong season.
Bates: Well, it can’t get any worse for the Bobcats, who finished 0-9 in 2018.
Bowdoin: The Polar Bears are under new leadership after a 1-8 season, and coach B.J. Hammer has a history of turning programs around. He took Allegheny (1-29 in three years) to 6-4 in 2018.
Colby: Sophomore quarterback Matt Hersch, who was NESCAC Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, leads the way as the White Mules find their footing under third-year coach Jack Cosgrove.
Husson: The Eagles have posted winning seasons every year since 2013, and with six All-Eastern Collegiate Football Conference selections returning, that shouldn’t change anytime soon.
Maine: After a program-best season that saw the Black Bears reach the national FCS semifinals, new coach Nick Charlton, the youngest coach in Division 1, has a lot to live up to.
Maine Maritime: If there’s any bright spot, it’s NEWMAC Co-Rookie of the Year Terrell Thomas, an outside linebacker who led the conference with 11.9 tackles per game.
University of New England: The future is bright for the Nor’Easters, who finished 2-7 in their inaugural season, with Commonwealth Coast Defensive Rookie of the Year Keegan Stanton-Meas returning alongside two all-conference selections.
Central Connecticut: First-year coach Ryan McCarthy is faced with questions in the passing game after the graduation of quarterback Jacob Dolegala and the top three receivers.
Coast Guard: The Bears (7-3) recorded their most wins since 2007 and return three All-NEWMAC selections, including junior Justin Moffatt, who set a school record with 71 receptions and led the conference in receptions and yards.
Connecticut: In its last year in the American Athletic Conference, Connecticut — coming off a one-win season — is looking for a new quarterback.
New Haven: The Chargers lost NE-10 MVP Ajee Patterson to graduation, but wide receiver Ju’An Williams, who led the league in yards per game and receiving touchdowns, returns to a team picked to finish first in the league after an NCAA second-round appearance.
Sacred Heart: A defense that was strong through a 7-4 season returns 10 starters, but the offense is thinned after the graduation of starting QB Kevin Duke and top receivers Andrew O’Neill and Jordan Meachum.
Southern Connecticut: The Owls have holes to fill with the graduation of Eli Parks, the NE-10 Offensive Player of the Year who paced the conference in all rushing categories, and five other all-conference honorees, but were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll.
Trinity: Ranked No. 30 among D3 programs by College Football America, the Bantams return the NESCAC Co-Rookie of the Year in sophomore quarterback Seamus Lambert and seven other conference honorees after an 8-1 season that saw them capture their third straight NESCAC title.
Wesleyan: Junior defensive tackle Taj Gooden, who was named a D3football.com Preseason All-American after a sophomore campaign that landed him on the All-NESCAC first team, returns to a Cardinals team that went 5-4.
Western Connecticut: The Colonials (8-2) have some rebuilding to do offensively after the loss of their quarterback, top four rushers, and top two receivers.
Yale: There is depth behind center, with senior Kurt Rawlings working back from a season-ending injury in a 2018 season that still earned him All-Ivy honorable mention, and Rookie of the Year Griffin O’Connor, who took over in his absence.