Stony Brook’s schedule was front-loaded with the toughest opponents first, but even though the Seawolves have played better than their 1-3 record indicates, they already are in jeopardy of missing the FCS playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
Although Northeast Conference contender Bryant (3-1) is a non-league opponent, it’s vital for Stony Brook to win its homecoming game against the Bulldogs Saturday night at LaValle Stadium to preserve its playoff hopes. It takes a minimum of seven wins against Division I schools to qualify for the FCS playoffs, which means the Seawolves must go 6-1 in their remaining seven games to have a chance of being selected for the 24-team postseason field.
That’s a tall order in the Colonial Athletic Association, which has six teams in the top 25 of the FCS coaches poll and nine teams receiving votes. It’s imperative for Stony Brook to defeat Bryant this week and Colgate next Saturday on the road in non-conference games to get to 3-3. SBU’s remaining five conference games include tough road contests at Maine and James Madison along with home games against New Hampshire, Richmond and Albany.
“I don’t think about the playoffs,” Seawolves coach Chuck Priore said. “We’ve got to win a football game. Certainly, you create goals at the beginning of the year. My personal goal for our team is to have fun playing football and to get better each week. We got better.”
Priore said he’s satisfied with the way his team has played with the exception of the first half of its 35-6 loss at Villanova. The Seawolves opened with a shutout win at rebuilding Rhode Island, then lost a heart-breaking five-overtime game at FBS Buffalo before the Villanova blowout. SBU grabbed a 21-10 halftime lead in its home opener against No. 3 Towson but let it slip away in the second half of a 35-21 loss.
“Whether they were the best teams on the schedule or the best teams are showing up later on, we’ve got to take care of Saturday [against Bryant],” Priore said. “If we don’t take care of Saturday, it doesn’t matter what we think about the end.”
The Seawolves got back to running the football better in the Towson game, but that was partly out of necessity. Quarterback Lyle Negron has been nursing a shoulder injury, which limited him in practice the past couple weeks. Negron will start against Bryant, but the Seawolves likely will lean heavily on the running of Jameel Poteat and James Kenner for the second week in a row.
“We’ve changed a little bit of what we’ve done this year,” Priore said of an increased emphasis on passing in the first three games, “but we’re going to try and be as balanced as we can. We’ve got some weapons outside.”
Bryant also has been effective with a running game averaging 224.5 yards per game. The Bulldogs feature running backs Paul Canevari (96.8 avg.) and Ricardo McCray (94.2). Quarterback Mike Westerhaus of Farmingville also is a threat to run but has completed only 44.2 percent of his passes.
After losing three straight, the mental challenge might be the greatest for the Seawolves against Bryant. “I hope not,” Priore said. “We had a good week of practice. I’d be nervous if we didn’t have a good week of practice, but we did. We’ll let the chips fall on Saturday.”