Alfred enters 2014 at number 4 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 8-3 (5-2) Empire 8
When compared to the rest of D3 statistically, Alfred wasn’t super impressive in 2013. They gained 372.8 ypg (119th in D3), scored 29.7 ppg (86th), allowed 333.4 ypg (75th), and allowed opposing teams to score 23.7 ppg (100th). Exceedingly average. But the only stat that really matters is win-percentage, and the Saxons did just fine in that regard.
They opened their season with an out of conference “gimme” at home against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that wasn’t as easy as expected – the Saxons gave up a six-point halftime lead and lost 24-21 in what would be their only home-loss of the season. The next week, freshman quarterback Tyler Johnson threw his first pass of the season (a four-yard completion). He took a majority of snaps in the Saxons’ week three win at Brockport and didn’t look back. Johnson led the Saxons to a 7-2 record the rest of the way, including a perfect 5-0 home record, with wins over Montclair State (33-10), Buffalo State (39-33 2OT), Hartwick (49-28), Salisbury (31-21), and Utica (48-31), completing 139 of 236 passes (59.1%) for 1,718 yards, 12 TDs, and 8 INTs in the nine games he started, while picking up an additional 418 yards and 5 TDs on the ground. His 4.9 yards per carry on 86 rushes was the best of the five Alfred players who carried the ball 50 or more times. Not even a year removed from his senior prom, Johnson earned the Empire 8 Newcomer of the Year award at the end of the 2013 season.
– Ryan DiFlavio OT – First team All-Conference
– Austin Dwyer RB – Second team All-Conference, 138 carries, 612 yards, 11 TDs, 11 receptions, 107 yards, 1 TD
– Jonathan Ruffin WR – 32 receptions, 583 yards, 3 TDs
– Josh Phillips WR – Honorable mention All-Conference, 54 receptions, 815 yards, 7 TDs
– Justin Collen DL – 42 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 FFs
– DJ Welch LB – 60 tackles, 1 TFL, .5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR
– Michael Perkins DB – First team All-Conference, 41 tackles, 1 TFL, 5 INTs, 1 FF
What to Watch For
Not So New Kid – A four-year starter is a rare thing in college football. It’s especially rare at the most difficult position in the sport, but if all goes according to plan we’re about to enter year two of the Tyler Johnson Era (or the TJE) in Alfred. Young quarterbacks typically struggle on the road, which is exactly what we saw of Johnson last season. Take a look at his home/away averages from last season:
Away: 13/26.25 (49.5%), 155.25 yards, 1 TD, 1.25 INTs
Home: 17.6/26.4 (66.6%), 220.2 yards, 1.6 TDs, .6 INTs
It’s not close. He threw more accurately, for more yards, more touchdowns, with fewer mistakes at home, where he led the Saxons to a perfect 5-0 record as the starter (2-2 on the road). On the ground, he was actually slightly better on the road – he gained just over half of his rushing yards in his four road games, but this is heavily skewed by his one monster rushing game at Brockport when he carried the ball 15 times for 134 yards and 2 TDs. It was his first game at the helm and he felt more comfortable taking off and running than throwing the ball, which is a habit coaches tried to cure him of as the season progressed. This season, he should be more composed on the road, knowing his receivers and the scheme all the better as the entrenched starter. It’s all about experience.
The Saxons team that will take the field September 6 against Husson won’t look like the team that stepped off the field after the win in the North Central Bowl to end last season. Eight offensive starters are gone, and so is the man who coached them. Dave Murray resigned this offseason after 16 years as Alfred head coach to take the top job at Hamilton University. New head coach Bob Rankl has Tyler Johnson (Empire 8 Newcomer of the Year from 2013) to throw passes and Maleke Fuentes (Empire 8 Newcomer of the Year from 2012) to catch them.
It’s hard to know what to expect from a team with so much turnover, but since the sub-head of this paragraph is “Expectations” I suppose I have to give some. I expect Johnson to improve; I expect the Saxons to go undefeated at home again (or come very close); I expect the defense to come together more easily than the offense, and the inexperience of the offense to cost the Saxons at least one early-season game; but I do not expect Alfred to win the Empire 8. Too many strong teams, too many questions, and not yet enough experience. I expect every Empire 8 fan and coach to watch this team very closely this season though, as they might be looking at a playoff contender one year from now.