(BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)
The Seawolves look to improve on last season’s performance. During that season, the team fell lower than .500 in overall record. (BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)

After last year’s debut season in the I-AA powerhouse CAA, Stony Brook is back and looking to improve on its inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association. That year, the team produced a 3-5 conference record, which was the first time the Seawolves fell lower than .500 in conference play since 2004. It was also the first time since 2008 that Stony Brook finished below .500 in overall record.

The first conference team the Seawolves face this season is the William & Mary Tribe. The Tribe finished 4-4 in conference play in the 2013 season. Their schedule included a 24-17 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown, where the Tribe had a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter and then fell apart.

The most crucial aspect of Stony Brook’s first conference game this year is how fast the Seawolves start, as the Tribe started very quickly last season. The Tribe outscored their opponents in yards last year 158-82 in the first half, while then only outscoring them 94-86 in the second half. The Tribe will start the season ranked No. 22 in the FCS Coaches Poll.

The next two games will be a test to see where the Seawolves will stand in the CAA. The first of the two will be contested in Towson, Maryland, where the Tigers will play host to Stony Brook. The Seawolves had a 21-10 halftime lead a year ago against Towson, a team who finished as runner-up to Maine last year in the CAA after going 6-2. The Tigers then ripped off 25 unanswered points to run away with a 35-21 victory at LaValle Stadium. Towson will begin this year ranking No. 7 in the FCS Coaches Poll after reaching the FCS National Championship game a year ago.

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The second tough test in a row for the Seawolves is against the reigning CAA champion Maine Black Bears at LaValle Stadium. They are ranked No. 20 in the preseason FCS Coaches Poll and return three All-CAA selections from a year ago, as well as 15 starters. Their place kicker Sean Decloux is a preseason All-American pick. In last season’s matchup, the Seawolves rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit to take a 14-13 lead, but were unable to hold on as Maine won the game 19-14 in Orono.

The next matchup is against a CAA newcomer, as Elon comes over from the Southern Conference. They return one All-SoCon selection from a year ago in running back Kierre Brown. They also return 14 starters from last year’s team that finished 2-10 and finished the year on a six-game losing streak.

Stony Brook’s next conference matchup is against the highest ranked team in the FCS Coaches Poll this preseason, the New Hampshire Wildcats. They are ranked No. 4 in the poll, and are looking to build on their second place finish, tying the Towson Tigers at 6-2 in the CAA. The weapons are back for New Hampshire, as quarterback Sean Goldrich returns, leading with the starting running back and two of the three receivers returning from last season. The problems will lie up front, where only one starter from last season returns.

After a bye week, Stony Brook will face the easier part of their schedule. They will face three of the bottom four teams in the CAA last season, the fourth of those teams being the Seawolves. The first is James Madison. The Dukes finished tied with the Seawolves with a 3-5 conference record. The Dukes return two All-CAA selections, S/PR Dean Marlowe and LB Gage Steele. Marlowe was also an All-American last season. The Dukes return 13 starters from last year as well.

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The final home regular season game will be against the Rhode Island Rams, the team the Seawolves opened their CAA play with last year with a 24-0 victory in Kingston. They return two All-CAA selections from last season, with PR Robbie Jackson and LB Andrew Rose garnering spots. The Rams, who return 12 starters from last season, were picked to finish 11th in the conference.

The annual Empire Clash will happen up at Albany this season, when the Seawolves take on the Great Danes. After last season’s 24-3 demolition, Stony Brook will look to make two wins in as many seasons against their New York State rivals. Albany returns 15 starters from last season, including one All-CAA selection in RB Omar Osbourne. They were predicted to finish 10th in the CAA this season.

Three teams that the Seawolves will not face in the CAA this year are the Delaware Blue Hens, Villanova Wildcats and Richmond Spiders.

Delaware finished last season 4-4 in conference play but had trouble playing any defense in conference. They allowed a league-high 263 points in eight conference games last year, six more than Albany, and the Great Danes finished 0-8 in the CAA. Delaware’s offense picked up the slack, most of the time. They finished fourth in the league in scoring with 244 points.

Villanova did put a beatdown on the Seawolves in 2013, defeating them 35-6. The Wildcats had the fourth-best scoring defense in the conference last season, allowing 188 points. They also had the second best scoring offense in the CAA, scoring 264 points, 16 behind the Tigers.

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The Richmond Spiders were almost even in their point differential last season, with only a +7 in a year that they finished 4-4 in conference. They will look to continue their success at home in Virginia a season ago, when they went 4-2.

CAA Preseason Coaches Rankings: 1-New Hampshire  2-Villanova  3-Richmond  4-William & Mary  5-Towson  6-Delaware  7-Maine  8-James Madison  9-Stony Brook  10-Albany  11-Rhode Island  12-Elon

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