An Unlikely National Championship Contender in 2016?

Facebooktwitterredditmail’s Pete Fiutak spotlighted an intriguing national championship contender Thursday. Wait until the conclusion of the video for a very quick but meaningful assessment.

Just how bold an evaluation is Fiutak’s of Fordham as national championship material? Consider the conference in which the Rams play, the Patriot League, only began awarding scholarships in 2013 — and just 15 scholarships at that. Only this year did the league’s incremental increase of athletic scholarships climb to 60, still short of the Football Championship Subdivision limit.

Perhaps the lofty praise for Fordham — which finished last season ranked No. 19 in the final STATS FCS Top 25 — is a manifestation of the Patriot League embracing high-level competition despite its limitations. Similarly constructed leagues like the Ivy avoids postseason play altogether. The partial scholarship Northeast Conference only gained FCS Playoffs access in 2010, after its expansion to 20 teams.

Previously, the NEC champion faced the non-scholarship Pioneer League’s winner in the College Cup.

The Patriot League, however, has participated in the Playoffs every year since 1997. But it’s been tough sledding. Colgate reached the former Div. I-AA championship game in 2003, a remarkable accomplishment somewhat soured by a 40-0 loss to national champion Delaware.

Such is the challenge for Patriot League teams with national championship aspirations. As good as some of the league’s better teams have been, matching the standard of the SoCon, the Colonial (most members of which previously played in the A-10) and the Missouri Valley has been an uphill climb.

Fordham’s 2016 lineup looks like the Patriot’s best since Lehigh in 2011, which featured record-setting quarterback Chris Lum and All-American wide receiver Ryan Spadola. The Mountain Hawks beat Towson in the Round of 16 in that year’s FCS Playoffs, but had eventual national champion North Dakota State on the same side of its bracket.

The Bison dispatched Lehigh, 24-0, on the way to the program’s first of five consecutive national championships.

Nevertheless, this Fordham squad is indeed loaded. Running back Chase Edmonds is an absolute dynamo you can expect to see playing on Sundays when his college career is finished. Edmonds won the Jerry Rice Award in 2014, given to the nation’s top freshman, after ripping off 1,838 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.

His ball-carrying total dipped slightly last season to 1,648 and 20, but he developed into a much more dangerous weapon as a pass-catcher with 383 yards off 31 receptions and five touchdowns.

Edmonds’ game is worthy of national attention, which he and the Rams get Week 1 against Navy. Fordham opens the season on CBS Sports Network, the same outlet that aired Edmonds’ 110-yard rushing, 140-yard receiving, three-touchdown thrashing of Army a season ago.

Though Navy faces considerable roster turnover from last year’s Top 20 squad, Ken Niumatalolo always fields competitive teams in the FBS. Fordham’s performance Week 1 should be telling for its national championship chances.

As for the Patriot League season, the Rams must contend with defending conference champion Colgate — the last Patriot League program to win a national championship.

The Raiders boast two of five titles among the Patriot’s football ranks. Lafayette claims the other three, though none since Colgate’s 1932 crown.

Back in those days, Colgate was chief rival to Syracuse. The two programs obviously followed much different trajectories in the eight decades since, but they renew their once-heated series Week 1 of 2016 when the Raiders visit the Carrier Dome. Spoiling Dino Babers’ debut would be quite a way for the Patriot League to usher in an historic season.