It’s hard not to consider Holy Cross the biggest favorite going into any FCS conference race this season.

The Crusaders are seeking a record fifth consecutive Patriot League title just one year after matching the 1998-2001 Lehigh squads for the most in a row with four.

Even with having two close calls in the PL schedule last season, coach Bob Chesney’s dynasty has defeated its last 17 league opponents by 24.9 points on average (the PL winning streak is considered 16 because the league doesn’t include its championship game in the pandemic-delayed 2020 season).  

Fordham joined Holy Cross as an FCS playoff qualifier last season. Once again, the Rams figure to be the most likely spoiler standing in the way of another Crusaders’ title.


Here’s a preview of the upcoming Patriot League season:

Predicted Order of Finish

*-FCS Playoff Qualifier (With 2022 Record)

1. *Holy Cross (12-1, 6-0; preseason No. 5 ranking) – The 11 returning starters are fewer than recent seasons, but they’re the right ones, including five selections on the Stats Perform FCS Preseason All-America Team: quarterback Matthew Sluka, wide receiver Jalen Coker, left tackle Luke Newman, linebacker Jacob Dobbs and cornerback Devin Haskins. The Crusaders appear equipped to replace 1,000-yard rusher Peter Oliver because Jordan Fuller ran for 536 yards a year ago and has 22 touchdowns over the last two seasons. The road schedule is quite challenging, including Boston College, Yale, Fordham and Army.

2. Fordham (9-3, 5-1) – After the Rams averaged 49.5 points per game last season – sixth-highest in FCS history – they are tasked with replacing QB Tim DeMorat, the three-time PL offensive player of the year. New Mexico transfer C.J. Montes, who made two starts as a redshirt freshman, figures to be the season-opening starter, with the top-returning wide receivers MJ Wright (120 receptions, 1,917 yards, 14 TDs in career) and Mekai Felton (37-525-6 last season). Julius Loughridge averaged 7.2 yards while rushing for 940 yards and eight TDs. Linebacker James Conway (FCS-high 257 tackles over the last two seasons) and hybrid linebacker Stephen Williams III (60 tackles, three interceptions, 14 pass breakups) are highly productive. Even with Holy Cross’ 12-1 record, Fordham opponents went 43-80 a year ago.


3. Colgate (3-8, 2-4) – The Raiders could dedicate the season to former championship-winning coach Dick Biddle, who passed away recently. Quarterback Michael Brescia (2,407 yards of total offense, 20 total TDs last season) and linebacker Tyler Flick (93 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss) epitomize the old-school Colgate way, and hope to get the Raiders back to the level of third-year coach Stan Dakosty’s first season (5-1 PL in 2021). Behind O-lineman Bardhyl Gashi’s work up front, the offense should remain balanced – the Raiders averaged 157.6 rushing yards and 157.7 passing yards last season. The defense struggled to get off the field in allowing opponents to convert 45.2 percent of third down attempts.

4. Lafayette (4-7, 3-3) – Recently a middle-of-the-pack team in the PL standings, the Leopards seek to get more offensive after averaging 12.6 points per game (only Robert Morris was lower among 130 FCS teams). They utilized three different signal callers, with Ah-Shaun Davis starting the final five games, and this year’s starter will rely on leading rusher Jamar Curtis and leading receiver Elijah Steward, who are sophomores. The league’s top-ranked rushing defense brings back leading tacklers Marco Olivas (92), a linebacker, and Saiku White (84), a free safety.

5. Lehigh (2-9, 2-4) – Although the Mountain Hawks have the most titles in PL history (12, most recently in 2018), they have fallen into a five-year slump (12-35 overall, 10-17 PL). They’ll seek to get on track under new coach Kevin Cahill, who spent the last 10 seasons on Yale’s coaching staff. Quarterback Dante Perri had a big finish to the 2022 season and will target wide receiver Geoffrey Jamiel, the 2022 PL rookie of the year who caught 53 passes. Linebacker Mike DeNucci racked up 93 tackles, 16.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. Center George Padezanin enters his senior season with 22 straight starts.

(A look back to Patriot League football media day: Lehigh seeks to be ahead of schedule)

6. Bucknell (3-8, 2-4) – The offense averaged only 12.8 points, but should be much better, its returnees including running backs Rushawn Baker (646 yards, seven TDs) and Coleman Bennett and top wideout Damian Harris. There’s been a quarterback competition, including senior Nick Semptimphelter (17 career games with seven starts) and Oklahoma transfer Ralph Rucker. Linebacker Blake Leake tied for second on the team with 83 tackles. Another in a long line of strong Bison defensive lineman, Tyler Alston is coming off a 42-tackle, six-sack campaign.

7. Georgetown (2-9, 1-5) – Consistent winning in the PL remains elusive to the Hoyas, who have posted three straight 1-5 seasons. This year’s team had three defensive players make the league’s preseason team: defensive linemen Ibri Harrell and Mateen Ibirogba and defensive back Wedner Cadet (PL-high five interceptions as a freshman). The offense has a lot of new players in key roles, but running back Joshua Stakely is highly experienced with 1,162 rushing yards, 35 receptions and 13 TDs in his career.

How the League Predicted the Race

Five Players to Watch

Michael Brescia, QB, Colgate – Run, run, run. While starting six wins in the last two seasons, Brescia’s split is 14 TD runs versus two scoring passes.

James Conway, LB, Fordham – With 257 tackles over his first two seasons, Conway is on pace to shatter the PL’s all-time record of 425 (Lehigh’s Lee Picariello from 1988-91 and Holy Cross’ David Streeter from 1993-96).

Jacob Dobbs, LB, Holy Cross (Buck Buchanan Award preseason nominee) – Limited to four games by injury last season, Dobbs seeks to return to his 2021 level as PL defensive player of the year (137 tackles, 17.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks).

Marco Olivas, LB, Lafayette – Has finished first or second on the team in tackles four different times, totaling 310 stops in 37 career games.

Matthew Sluka, QB, Holy Cross (Walter Payton Award preseason nominee) – Posted the 15th FCS season of a player surpassing 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.

Five Must-See Matchups

1. Holy Cross at Fordham (Oct. 28) – Holy Cross’ 53-52 overtime win over Fordham was surely the best game of the 2022 FCS regular season. The Crusaders ran a version of the Philly Special for a two-point conversion and a walk-off victory.  

Lafayette at Lehigh (Nov. 18)

Colgate at Holy Cross (Sept. 23)

Fordham at Colgate (Nov. 18)

Holy Cross at Lehigh (Nov. 4)

FBS Matchups

Holy Cross will have two opportunities to claim an FBS win for the third straight season, previously defeating UConn in 2021 and Buffalo last season.

This season’s six Patriot League matchups against FBS programs:

Bucknell: James Madison (Sept. 2); Colgate: Syracuse (Sept. 2); Fordham: Buffalo (Sept. 9); Holy Cross: Boston College (Sept. 9) and Army (Nov. 11); Lafayette: Duke (Sept. 9

Fast Fact

Lafayette vs. Lehigh – “The Rivalry” – is college football’s most-played series. Lafayette has an 81-72-5 all-time lead through 158 meetings, or 14 more games than the No. 2 series of Princeton vs. Yale in the Ivy League.