The Colonial Athletic Association released its annual preseason Coaches Poll at its annual Media Day on Monday, which ranked the Seawolves eighth in the twelve-team conference. Stony Brook is currently entering its third season in the CAA, and has posted a 7-9 conference record over their first two years.
Priore, who attended the conference with running back Stacey Bedell, said that the past two years have been an adjustment period for the program and that the team is finally acclimated to the nuances of the CAA.
“You have to be [comfortable] with the [conference’s] talent level so it takes time as a program,” Priore said. “We’ve now had a chance to play everybody so we know the travel part of it now. I think we’ve competed physically from the first day, we just haven’t finished the games. So that’s our big mantra going into next year.”
Villanova took home 14 of the 24 first-place votes in the preseason poll, and will go into the season as the favorites to win the conference. James Madison (five first-place votes), New Hampshire (five first-place votes), William & Mary and Richmond rounded out the top five. SUNY rival Albany placed tenth.
Holding onto leads late in the fourth quarter and winning close games were difficult tasks for the Seawolves in 2014. The team lost several fourth-quarter leads and was winless in five games decided by a single possession, three of which were against conference opponents.
“You’ve got to be able to win those games,” Priore said. “That’s the true mark of a real good football team, so if you’re not a real good football team, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”
Another pressing issue for the Seawolves last year was a lack of production from the quarterback position. Stony Brook recorded the second-fewest passing touchdowns of all CAA teams last year and underwent a quarterback change mid-season. After senior John Kinder was pulled after Stony Brook’s fourth game of the season because of underperforming, junior quarterback Conor Bednarski came in and started the remainder of the team’s schedule, including all of the Seawolves’ conference games.
“[The offense] has been a work in progress,” Bedell said. “We’re picking up on the passing game, and we’re going to be a lot better offensively to help the defense out.”
If Stony Brook wants to contend for a playoff spot this season, the team will once again lean on the defense that ranked third in the entire FCS in yards allowed last season. Despite losing two key departing seniors in safety–Christian Ricard and cornerback Davonte Anderson–the Seawolves will return eight starters to a unit that ranked sixth-best in the 125-team FCS. Two of those starters, senior defensive back Naim Cheeseboro and senior defensive lineman Victor Ochi, were named to the preseason All-Conference team.
“I’m excited about the defense,” Priore said. “We lose two good players, but have a tremendous amount of depth. I don’t know if we can be that good again, but I think we have the potential to be there.”
Bednarski appears to be the favorite to start again this year, according to his head coach. Priore added that Bednarski’s experience as a starter last season will be valuable to his development this year.
“We have an established quarterback back which last year we went into the season without,” Priore said. “Bednarski had some success, and with a year under his belt, I think it will be a lot easier going into this season.”
Priore also acknowleged that Bedell looks to be the focal point of the offense. The junior running back was fourth in the CAA last year with 97.3 rushing yards per game, and was Stony Brook’s most electrifying player on offense.
“He had over 1,000 yards in eight-and-a-half games, so he’s a guy we got to focus in on and get a supporting cast around,” Priore said.