DEFENDING CHAMP CCSU TOPS PRESEASON COACHES' POLL, PLACES LEAGUE-HIGH SEVEN ON ALL-NEC TEAM
East Rutherford, NJ - Central Connecticut captured the Northeast Conference football crown last fall and the league’s head coaches foresee the possibility of a repeat in 2018. The defending NEC champion Blue Devils earned five first-place votes to finish atop the annual preseason coaches’ poll. CCSU, which went 6-0 against conference foes in 2017, finds itself as the conference’s preseason favorite for the first time since 2011. Duquesne, which suffered an one-point defeat to Central Connecticut in a de facto NEC title game last November, pulled in one top nod and took second place in the predicted order-of-finish. The Dukes have not owned a preseason ranking lower than second since 2010. Bryant, which ended the 2017 campaign on a four-game win streak, garnered the lone remaining first-place vote and climbed to third in the coaches’ poll. Saint Francis was slotted fourth, one spot ahead of Wagner. Sacred Heart (sixth) and Robert Morris (seventh) rounded out the preseason rankings. The NEC unveiled the preseason poll results, along with a 27-member Preseason All-Conference Team, on July 24 at MetLife Stadium as part of the fourth annual #NECFB Social Media Day. Although it has proven to have value over the years, the preseason poll hasn’t exactly been the best predictor of the NEC’s automatic FCS playoffs qualifier. Only once (Sacred Heart in 2014) has the preseason favorite gone on to capture the league’s automatic bid to the national championship tournament. In 2017, CCSU went on to win the outright NEC title after being pegged for a fourth-place finish in the preseason poll. The Blue Devils return 13 of 22 starters from the team that was responsible for the NEC’s first undefeated run in nearly a decade. Preseason all-NEC quarterback Jacob Dolegala will take snaps behind an offensive line that features two all-league selections – junior J’Von Brown and reigning NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year Connor Mignone. The CCSU defense lost six starters to graduation, but there are still all-NEC honorees at each level of the unit. Lineman Chris Tinkham, linebacker Kenny Keen and defensive back Tajik Bagley all earned preseason all-conference status. EXTRA POINTS • Each of the past two seasons, Duquesne has finished one win shy of capturing NEC’s automatic FCS playoffs bid. Last November, CCSU posted a 28-27 victory over the Dukes in a Week 11 winner-take-all matchup. In 2016, Saint Francis’ 14-10 triumph over Duquesne proved to be the difference in the race for the postseason berth. • Central Connecticut placed a league-high seven athletes on the 27-member Preseason All-NEC Team. Bryant was second with six selections. • Matching the largest on-air package in league history, ESPN3 will be the exclusive carrier of eight selected NEC games. • With NFL training camps set to open, five NEC alumni have professional contracts - Wagner’s Julian Stanford (Bills), Wagner’s Matt Diaz (Titans), Robert Morris’ Marcelis Branch (Falcons), Duquesne’s Larson Graham (Steelers) and Wagner’s Greg Senat (Ravens).