The Northeast Conference football coaches have spoken through their annual poll and three teams received at least one first-place vote.
On paper, the battle for the 2017 #NECFB crown looks as competitive as it has at any other instance during the conference’s 22-year history of football. There’s bound to be a surprise, or two, along the way as well.
Here’s a quick team-by-team primer listed in the order of the preseason coaches’ poll results…
- DUQUESNE – Pegged for a first-place finish for the second year in a row, the Dukes return six all-league players from a team that won eight games, including a 5-1 mark against conference foes, in 2016. Although Dillon Buechel, the NEC’s all-time leading passer, has graduated, AJ Hines is back to lead a running game that ranked second in the conference last fall.
- SAINT FRANCIS – Fresh off its first-ever NEC crown and subsequent FCS playoff appearance, the Red Flash earned the program’s highest-ever preseason ranking. All-American receiver Kamron Lewis may face his toughest competition in practice when he goes up against a battle-tested secondary that features Malik Duncan, Delondo Boyd and Jalen Wells.
- WAGNER – The Seahawks’ stock is on the rise following a strong finish in 2016. Senior quarterback Alex Thomson has a pair of big-play weapons in receiver John Williams (21.1 yards per catch) and running back Denzel Knight (6.5 yards per carry).
- CENTRAL CONNECTICUT – Entering his third season as the starter, quarterback Jacob Dolegala led the conference’s top-ranked pass offense last fall. Linebacker Randall Laguerre, the NEC’s leading tackler one year ago, and cornerback Jevon Elmore, a 2015 All-American, give the defense a solid foundation.
- SACRED HEART – For the first time since 2012, the Pioneers will have a new starting quarterback as they take aim at a fifth consecutive winning season. Edge rusher Dylan Ackerson and linebacker Kevin Barry anchor a defensive unit that ranked first amongst NEC leaders against the run.
- BRYANT – James Perry returns to the Ocean State for his first season as the Bulldogs’ head coach. The former Brown quarterback promises to bring a fast-paced playing style to Smithfield.
- ROBERT MORRIS — A coaching staff featuring three NFL alumni will attempt to spark a revolution in Moon Township. Although its offense was decimated by injury last fall, RMU saw flashes of brilliance from its defense with promising young linebacker Gee Stanley tallying 8.5 sacks.