2014 Football preview: Duquesne & Robert Morris

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Season opener: Saturday at Buffalo, 3:30 p.m., University at Buffalo Stadium.

Last season: 7-4 overall, 4-2 Northeast Conference. Tied for first place with Sacred Heart. Won six of its final eight games after a 1-2 start.

Preseason poll: Picked second, receiving the lone first-place vote that did not go to favorite Sacred Heart.

Player to watch: LB Christian Kuntz, who led the team with 74 tackles in 2013 en route to being named first-team all-NEC as a sophomore.

Biggest losses: WR Gianni Carter, who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2013; LB Dorian Bell, a second team all-NEC performer.

Outlook: Coming off a successful 2013 season, things decidedly are looking up for the Dukes heading into the fall. Led by Kuntz, a Chartiers Valley graduate, the team’s four leading tacklers are back on a defense that featured three players on the NEC preseason first team. On the offensive end comes the hope and promise that followed a solid debut season from quarterback Dillon Buechel. This Montour product was an all-NEC second team honoree and was on the watch list of the Rice Award, given annually to the top first-year player in Division I-AA. Buechel, a redshirt sophomore, will have weapons around him, as four of the team’s top five receivers from 2013 return. That group is led by junior Dave Thomas, who had 49 receptions and 592 yards. The Dukes are working to earn the program’s first berth to the Division I-AA playoffs.

Robert Morris

Season opener: Today vs. Eastern Kentucky, 7 p.m., Joe Walton Stadium

Last season: 5-6 overall, 3-3 Northeast Conference. Tied for third place with Saint Francis and Bryant.

Preseason poll: Picked third, earning no first-place votes.

Player to watch: WR Duane Mitchell, who led the team in receptions (52), receiving yards (867) and touchdowns (seven) in 2013, more than double the numbers of the next-closest teammate in each category.

Biggest losses: LB Mike Cook, who led the team with 117 tackles in 2013, a program single-season record; OL A.J. Dalton; QB Paul Jones, who was declared academically ineligible.

Outlook: Any of the changes on the field for the Colonials this season will inevitably be outweighed by the one taking place on the sideline. Longtime assistant John Banaszak takes over as head coach for Joe Walton, the lone coach in program history who retired after 20 seasons on the job. Banaszak has promised an up-tempo offense, but the critical question will be who will be at the helm. Though Jones was far from spectacular in 2013, his absence will force Robert Morris to turn to the inexperienced likes of either Derik Abbott, Joe Carroll, Luke Brumbaugh or Marcus Prather, all of whom have combined for 61 career passes (59 of which come from Prather). Whoever wins the job will have the luxury of throwing the ball to Mitchell, arguably the best receiver in the conference. The defense will feature two preseason all-NEC players in linebacker Forrest Mason and defensive back Antwan Eddie, the latter of whom averaged 15 yards per punt return in 2013.

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