Colgate at #21 Cal Poly – August 26th 7 PM ET, Alex G. Spanos Stadium San Louis Obispo, CA
The Colgate Raiders open the 2017 season on national TV against #21 Cal Poly in an intriguing non-conference battle. This will be the second time (St. Mary’s 1999) in program history Colgate heads to California for a football game. Not surprisingly this is the first ever matchup between the two strong academic institutions. Colgate is coming off a glass half full/half empty 5-5 season while Cal Poly went 7-5 last year (5-3 in the Big Sky) and earned an at large bid to the FCS playoffs. The Mustangs surprisingly lost in the 1st round of the FCS playoffs to non-scholarship San Diego. A team Cal Poly beat by 22 points earlier in the year.
On paper, this game will come down running the ball and stopping the run. Cal Poly runs a variance of the traditional triple option offense while Colgate prefers the read option. The Raiders ranked first in FCS last year against the run (69.4 ypg) while Cal Poly was second in rushing offense (343.5 ypg). Both teams did suffer rather significant graduation losses in the trenches. However, there is not a lack of talent for either team. Colgate will rely on All-American DE Pat Afriyie to lead the way along the front 7. Cal Poly’s O-line will be led by 1st team BSC offensive lineman Harry Whitson and returning starter Joey Kuperman.
The Mustangs most dangerous weapon on offense is easily Joe Protheroe (1,334 yards 13 TDs in ’16). The senior fullback is a strong candidate for this year’s Payton Award. With junior Khaleel Jenkins taking over for 2nd team All-Big Sky QB Dano Graves, Protheroe figures to be even more of a focal point early in the year. Colgate has not faced a rushing attack like Cal Poly’s since the 2015 opener against Navy.
Colgate will also try to establish the run on offense. The return of RB James Hollond (732 yards 16 TDs in ’15) is a huge boost for the Raider offense. The talented RB missed the majority of last year after suffering a leg injury against Richmond. Like Cal Poly, the Raiders will be breaking in a new signal caller so having a proven commodity in the backfield is a great crutch. The Raiders possess an excellent offensive line so if Colgate can have some success passing, thus forcing Cal Poly to loosen up on D, Hollond should find some daylight. Neutralizing NT Augustino Elisaia (’16 2nd Team All-BSC) will be key for the Raider’s OL. The issue for both defenses last year was stopping the pass. Colgate is the more likely team to exploit, or at least try to exploit, the weakness despite Attwood’s and Scarfone’s inexperience.
This is the first of two regular season games between the Patriot League and Big Sky (EWU @ Fordham 9/9) this year. Because the conferences reside on opposite sides of the country rarely have they butted heads. Having two strong programs from the Big Sky and Patriot League face-off against each other is great for FCS. It would awesome if there were more of these intersectional battles!
Cal Poly is the slight favorite at home. As great as Colgate was against the run, and they were clearly awesome, Cal Poly is a different animal on offense with Protheroe leading the way. If the Mustangs can avoid mistakes they’ll sneak by the Raiders at home. However, if the Colgate QB settles in allowing the Raiders to have balance on offense and the defense proves they’re once again elite run stoppers the Raiders will be heading back to Hamilton a happy bunch.
Prediction: Cal Poly 27 Colgate 24