5 things to watch in FCS: Duquesne ready to turn page
An 18-yard field goal attempt with 5 seconds left stood between Duquesne and a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs last season.
It missed, and the Dukes lost 28-27 to Central Connecticut State in a game Duquesne led by 13 midway through the fourth quarter. The victory gave the Blue Devils the Northeast Conference title and automatic postseason berth.
Duquesne dropped its next game, too, ending the season with three straight losses and finishing 7-4.
The Dukes can begin putting those memories behind them starting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when they visit UMass. Here are five storylines to watch this season in FCS:
1. Step up in schedule
Duquesne and UMass, a Football Bowl Subdivision team, will be the first teams to kick off the college season. A second FBS team awaits Sept. 22, when the Dukes travel to Hawaii.
“We know it’s a big challenge — the biggest we’ve ever had — where we’re playing two FBS teams in the same season,” Duquesne coach Jerry Schmitt said.
Schmitt hopes the benefits extend beyond the field.
“There’s a lot of variables to recruiting, but that’s one thing that helps out is playing a competitive schedule,” he said. “Obviously, having the opportunity to play in Hawaii is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our kids and for me. It’s great for our university to play on a national level. ”
2. Dukes look to replace Stuart
Quarterback Tommy Stuart became the the first player in school history to earn NEC Offensive Player of the Year last season, throwing for 27 touchdowns (eighth in FCS) and recording a school-record 66.7 completion percentage.
Two juniors are competing for the job: South Fayette product Brett Brumbaugh, last season’s backup, and Florida Atlantic transfer Daniel Parr, who began 2017 as the Owls starter.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Brumbaugh is the state’s all-time leading passer with 11,084 yards and the WPIAL career passing touchdown leader with 127.
“Brett is one of the smartest quarterbacks we’ve had here,” Schmitt said. “He understands our system, is able to get us into the right plays and make the right checks. He’s a big kid with a big arm.
“Daniel is learning the system and getting better each and every day. He brings more mobility to the position.”
Schmitt had yet to name a starter as of Thursday afternoon.
3. Duquesne’s 1-2 punch
Whoever wins the QB job will have two preseason All-Americans to work with: junior running back A.J. Hines and senior receiver Nehari Crawford.
Hines, the Jerry Rice Award winner as the top freshman in FCS in 2016, had 1,038 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season despite battling a shoulder injury.
“He’s a big, strong running back that runs with power but also has extremely quick feet to make the cuts and make guys miss,” Schmitt said of the 5-11, 225-pound Hines.
Crawford led the NEC with 65 receptions, 1,026 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. His touchdown total ranked third in the nation.
“Nehari is just getting quicker and quicker and faster and faster each and every day,” Schmitt said. “He had a great offseason and developed some strength that he didn’t have before.”
4. New Robert Morris coach takes over
Bernard Clark Jr. replaces John Banaszak, a former Steelers defensive end who resigned after going 9-35 in four seasons. In steps another former NFL player. Clark, an ex-linebacker, earned Orange Bowl MVP honors with Miami in 1988 and was a third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1990.
Clark has been an assistant at eight schools, including Pitt, where he was linebackers coach in 2010. Fourteen starters return to a Colonials team that finished 2-9 last season and ended the year on an eight-game losing skid.
5. Can Dukes continue RMU dominance?
Duquesne will look to make it six straight wins in the series when they meet at 7 p.m. Oct. 13. Last season’s 51-14 rout was the largest margin of victory in series history.
The Dukes were predicted to finish second in the conference, so they likely need another win against the Colonials if they have championship aspirations.
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.
Jeff Vella is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Jeff by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .