The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

August 1, 2012

College football: Crusaders expect to contend in Centennial

LANCASTER — Coaches and players always tell you preseason polls mean little, that they’re something for fans and media to boast about until the real games start.

Well in the Centennial Conference, the preseason football poll sure looks like it matters. On Wednesday, three-time conference champion Johns Hopkins was tabbed as the preseason favorite, grabbing 14 of 18 first-place votes from coaches and sports information directors. In each of the previous three seasons Hopkins was tabbed as the preseason favorite, it went on to win the league title. In fact, 12 of the last 14 teams favored in the preseason went into the win the regular-season crown.

The Blue Jays, 10-0, a year ago and winners of 23 of their last 26 conference games, return just 11 starters (including both kickers) but they easily outdistanced Ursinus as the favorite. The Bears earned four first-place votes with third-place Muhlenberg grabbing one. Gettysburg and its explosive offense was fourth, followed by Susquehanna, Franklin & Marshall, Dickinson, McDaniel, Moravian and Juniata.

All of the coaches at Wednesday’s multimedia event talked about how competitive the Centennial Conference is on a weekly basis and, despite Hopkins’ run of success in recent years, all of them expect to contend.

“I’ve been in this conference as long as it’s been in existence and no one is safe,” said Gettysburg coach Barry Streeter. “Every game is a battle and that’s what makes it special.”

For Susquehanna coach Steve Briggs, his team has found a home in the Centennial Conference after going from the MAC to the Liberty League before landing in the Centennial two years ago. “The Liberty League had the top third of the conference; however the Centennial Conference is strong from top to bottom. Any team can win on any given day.”

Briggs would certainly know after his Crusaders dropped last year’s finale, the Goal Post Trophy Game, at Juniata as the Eagles ended a 21-game losing streak with a stunning 17-16 win. After finishing 2-8 in their first year in the Centennial, SU went 6-4 and in fifth place last fall.

That loss has been a driving force in the offseason, however, Briggs said. In fact, for the first time in Briggs’ tenure, the Crusaders will have four fifth-year seniors, including former Selinsgrove standout Mike Ritter, who returns after breaking his foot early in the 2011 season.

“We had a chance to be a 7-3 football team, but it’s coulda, woulda, shoulda, and coaches don’t like to deal in that,” he said. “Maybe it’s the reason those four guys came back.”

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