In the NEC race, you just never know
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - When coaches say any team in their conference can capture the title, it's embellishment, of course.
Unless it's Northeast Conference football. Those coaches are on to something.
The NEC has had seven different programs represent the conference through the first 10 seasons of the champion going to the FCS playoffs on an automatic bid.
Plus, that favorite's role defending champ Central Connecticut held in the NEC preseason coaches poll on Thursday? Well, in the last five seasons, the preseason pick did not go on to win the conference title.
Yeah, NEC, wacky and wide open.
"The competition every year is unbelievable. We do this preseason pick, but realistically anybody can win the conference because it's such a talented conference," said Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt, whose 2018 squad became the second NEC program with a playoff win, joining former NEC member Wagner in 2012.
"It's enjoyable for us because it's so challenging to be part of a conference that across the board is really competitive."
Central Connecticut State (11-2, 6-0) swept through the conference last year during the best season in program history, with its only loss to an FCS opponent being Albany in the playoff first round. The Blue Devils gained the most preseason all-conference selections with seven, including two returnees from the 2019 All-NEC first team, wide receiver Tyshaun James and linebacker Tre Jones. Two-time All-NEC offensive tackle J'Von Brown is back after missing last season with an injury, but two key starters, offensive lineman Connor Mignone and safety D.J. Exilhomme, departed as grad transfers.
"Nobody is going to hand us this thing this year because we won it in 2019," CCSU second-year coach Ryan McCarthy said. "It's not going to work like that. But that's the fun part of this whole thing - it's new pieces; how do they fit in?"
CCSU will have a new starting quarterback after it graduated NEC offensive player of the year Aaron Winchester. That will be one of the defining factors of the conference race: Only two of the eight teams return their No. 1 signal caller - Saint Francis with preseason all-conference pick Jason Brown and Bryant with Kory Curtis.
Merrimack won't be a part of the NEC standings until it plays a full conference schedule, perhaps in 2021. Robert Morris, which jumped from seventh place in 2018 to second last season, left the NEC on July 1 to join the Horizon League in most sports, although it will be headed to the Big South for football in 2021.
NEC PRESEASON POLL
Head Coaches Voting
1. Central Connecticut State (6 first-place votes)
3. Sacred Heart
4. Saint Francis
7. Long Island
Merrimack ineligible for title; not yet playing a full NEC schedule.
NEC PRESEASON TEAM
QB - Jason Brown, Saint Francis, Jr.
RB - Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart, Jr.
RB - Jordan Meachum, Sacred Heart, Sr.
WR - Joshua DeCambre, Wagner,, Sr.
WR - E.J. Jenkins, Saint Francis, Jr.
WR - Tyshaun James, Central Connecticut State, Sr.
TE/HB - Bill O'Malley, Duquesne, Sr.
OL - Mike Andrejco, Bryant, Sr.
OL - J'Von Brown, Central Connecticut State, Sr.
OL - J.J. Colimon, Central Connecticut State, Sr.
OL - J.D. DiRenzo, Sacred Heart, Sr.
OL - Josh Sokol, Sacred Heart, Sr.
DL - Cory Hagerman, Merrimack, Jr.
DL - Anthony Lavio, Long Island, Sr.
DL - Noah Washington, Central Connecticut State, So.
DL - James Watkins, Saint Francis, Jr.
LB - Tre Jones, Central Connecticut State, Sr.
LB - Foday Jalloh, Central Connecticut State, Jr.
LB - Titus Leo, Wagner, Jr.
LB - Martin Foray, Saint Francis, Sr.
DB - Spencer DeMedal, Duquesne, Sr.
DB - Dorian Jackson, Saint Francis, Jr.
DB - Dexter Lawson, Central Connecticut State, Jr.
DB - Ahmad Lyons, Wagner, Sr.
K - Luke Samperi, Bryant, Sr.
P - Eric Silvester, Wagner, Sr.
RS - Andre Brackett, Bryant, Sr.
Updated July 23, 2020