Facing a week of uncertainty after Stony Brook’s regular season ended with a loss at Liberty, Seawolves athletic director Jim Fiore didn’t just sit back, cross his fingers and hope his football team received a bid to the FCS playoffs. He got his staff together to make Stony Brook’s case to the NCAA selection committee and backed it up with a bid to host a first-round game
That groundwork paid off when the Seawolves (9-2, 5-1 Big South), who moved up to No. 10 in the Sports Network FCS poll and No. 11 in the FCS Coaches poll Monday, were rewarded with a home game against Villanova (8-3, 6-2 Colonial Athletic Association, No. 14/No. 18) at 3 p.m. Saturday at LaValle Stadium. It marked the first time two bids went to the Big South, whose automatic bid went to Coastal Carolina as a result of a three-way tiebreaker.
“Our administration does a good job,” Seawolves football coach Chuck Priore said. “We’re pro-active, not reactive. I would believe Jim put his neck on the line and guaranteed a crowd. I think he’s got the backing of the university to get these things on our campus.”
When Stony Brook received its first FCS playoff bid last season, it also hosted a thrilling first-round win over Albany that went right down to the wire in front of a capacity crowd. The Seawolves then traveled to face then-No. 1 Sam Houston State and lost a heartbreaker, 34-27. No doubt, that strong first impression paved the way with the selection committee this year.
“At the end of the day, we got in because we beat Army, and we represented well last year at the No. 1 seed,” Priore said. “I don’t think they were scared to put us in the tournament. The win at Army helped, and the loss at Syracuse didn’t hurt us.”
The Seawolves’ first-ever win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent was their 23-3 win at Army, which was the biggest winning margin for any FCS team against an FBS opponent this season. SBU had a halftime lead at Syracuse before suffering a very respectable 28-17 loss to what turned out to be a bowl-eligible team that knocked off undefeated Louisville and Missouri of the SEC the past two weeks.
That was all part of the resume that Fiore presented to the committee. “My staff did a lot of work, put a lot of information together, used quotes from opposing coaches about our talent and toughness,” Fiore said. “The Big South Conference office put together a position statement on our behalf as well. On the committee, I think enough people saw us play this year to know we were pretty good.”
Besides its record against FBS teams this season, Stony Brook had wins over two conference champions in the tournament, Coastal Carolina and Colgate of the Patriot League. The Seawolves are 18-3 over their past 21 games, and they have FCS leading rusher Miguel Maysonet, who has a great shot to win the Walter Payton Award as the most outstanding player in FCS football.
The fact that Stony Brook is moving to the CAA in football only next season also likely helped the national perception of the Seawolves. But Fiore made a point of thanking the Big South and especially Liberty AD Jeff Barber, who is on the selection committee. Fiore admitted he didn’t sleep well before the FCS field was announced.
“My anxiety was for the players, not for Stony Brook,” Fiore said. “We’re going to be fine going forward. But this is a special senior group, and I wanted those kids to have one last shot to throw a punch for the national championship and they got it.”