2017 Record: 5-6 (2-4)
Head Coach: Joe Susan, 37-51 (18-29) through 8 seasons
Last League Title: 1996
Last FCS Playoff Appearance: Never
9/1 William & Mary
9/8 Sacred Heart
9/15 @ Penn
9/22 @ Villanova
9/29 @ Holy Cross
10/13 @ Monmouth
11/3 @ Lehigh
11/10 @ Georgetown
After posting back-2-back winning seasons in 2013 and 2014, the Bison head into the 2018 campaign on the heels of three straight losing records. The offense once again struggled to generate points (16.8 ppg, 5th in PL) in 2017. Inconsistent quarterback play and injuries at the running back position were the main reasons for the unit’s lackluster performance.
Perhaps even more concerning, and surprising, last season was the defense’s inconsistent play. The Bison “D” was able to keep lesser offenses firmly in check but when they faced better competition it was extremely leaky despite having Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Abdullah Anderson anchoring the front 7. Bucknell lost by a combined score of 82-24 to Patriot League co-champions Colgate and Lehigh. They yielded 40+ points in both contests.
Best Returning Player: RB Chad Freshnock
Freshman to Watch: QB Tarrin Earle
There’s no denying Bucknell’s struggles on offense the last few years. Even when they were posting winning season’s the offense was a step away from being at a league championship level. As the 2018 season begins the Bison must find a way to generate more explosive plays on “O”. The ability to do so starts and stops at the quarterback position. Junior John Chiarolanzio (109-200 6 TDs 6 INTs 118 ypg in ’17) is the only returning QB with any meaningful playing time. Chiarolanzio has shown some promise but must elevate his game if he wants to hold on to the starting position and elevate the Bison offense. Sophomore Logan Bitikofer seems like the most likely candidate to unseat Chiarolanzio at this time. The QB with the most upside on the roster is freshman Tarrin Earle. Don’t be surprised if Earle is seeing significant time if the more experienced quarterbacks on the roster aren’t getting the job done.
The “O” will look upon RB Chad Freshnock (525 yards 6 TDs in ’17) to carry much of the load now that his stablemate Joey DeFloria graduated. Junior Marques Carter will likely start the season as the #2 back but don’t be shocked if one of the freshmen get meaningful carries during the season. Former WR and current special teams ace Stefone Moore-Green could also be in line for a more impactful role at RB given his quickness in space.
WR Alan Butler (27 rec 237 yards 1 TD) and TE Marcus Ademilola (32 rec 233 yards 2 TDs) return as the Bison’s top two pass catchers. While it’s nice to have Butler and Ademilola back in the fold, their productivity must increase if the Bison offense is to improve. In addition to those two, the Bison will need at least one other WR to step up and have an impact in the passing game.
The strength of the Bison should be the offensive line. The only member from last year’s unit that is gone is Chase Watkins. Stephenson, Sanders, Finn, Barr, Peppers, Luckner and Krizack figure to be in the mix for the starting 5 in the trenches to start the season. Finn is the most talented of the group.
Best Returning Player: DE Simeon Page
Freshman to Watch: LB Max Bunzel
Generally speaking, the one constant under Coach Susan has been a stout defense. While the Bison led the league in yards allowed per game last year (294.6) they struggled to contain the better teams. Losing Anderson and the 1st Team All-PL linebacker duo of Pyles and Richard won’t be easy to overcome. Anderson leaves Lewisburg as one of the most decorated defensive players in Bucknell and Patriot League history.
The strength of defense this year will likely shift from the front 7 to the defensive backfield. There’s experience at safety with Drew Newcomb and Aaron Brown returning. Sophomore Brandon Benson returns to man the WHIP position. Senior Bryan Marine (2016 1st Team All-PL) is a proven commodity at the CB position. At this point, Fisayo Oluleye seems to have the inside track to other CB spot.
The most disruptive player on the Bison “D” heading into the year is sophomore DE Simeon Page. Page garnered 2nd Team All-PL honors as a freshman. The Utah native seems destined to be the next great Bucknell defender. Susan will need Page be a major factor early in the season as the rest of what will be a green defensive front 7 settles in. Matt Robins and Sam Chitty should be in line for the starting LB positions. John Hunt and Sean Naiman figure to join Page along the defensive front. Despite being a bit undersized, freshman LB Max Bunzel was a beast in high school. Given the lack of depth at LB Bunzel could find himself on the field early in the season.
Alex Pechin is not only the best punter in the Patriot League he’s arguably the best punter in all of FCS. The junior is the type of secret weapon that can win a team game or two during the course of the season. Bucknell does need to replace reliable place kicker Josh Burdick. Ethan Torres or Jack Chambers will it battle it out in camp for the starting gig. Stefone Moore-Green and Alan Butler will likely continue kickoff and punt return duties.
There’s some good pieces dotting the roster. The freshman class seems especially strong. Unfortunately, the 2-deep is filled with big questions at several key positions. Quarterback play must improve if Bucknell has any chance to challenge for a winning record and league title. With the defense being hit hard by graduation the offense will have to win a few games this year instead of their recent roll of “just don’t lose it”.
Given the numerous question marks on both sides of the ball and a tricky schedule, it’s hard to see Bucknell pulling themselves out of their recent rut. If recruiting continues on the uptick brighter days will be ahead. Until then, 2018 is shaping up to be Susan’s toughest since his first season in Lewisburg.
Prediction: 2-9 (1-5)