St. John Fisher enters 2014 at number 1 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: 10-3 (5-2) Empire 8
No team finished their Empire 8 season without a loss in 2013 – St. John Fisher football had two. The first was in week six at Salisbury, a 42-35 loss with a silver-lining: Kevin Francis set the St. John Fisher record for single-game receiving touchdowns with four. The next week brought loss number two for the Cardinals, their last of the regular season – a failed comeback attempt at Ithaca 25-22. St. John Fisher won their three remaining games and finished the regular season 8-2, in second place in the Empire 8, and at the mercy of the NCAA D3 playoff selection committee.
No team wants to leave their playoff destiny in the hands of a committee, but the Cardinals had plenty of compelling arguments for inclusion. They boasted the best scoring offense in the Empire 8 as well as the third-best scoring defense. On top of that, the best rusher and the best passer in the division were both Cardinals. The committee awarded them an at-large bid and they ran with it, making it all the way to the D3 National Quarterfinals (further than E8 Champions Ithaca) before a 45-23 loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor ended their season.
– James Thomas OL – First team All-Conference
– Tyler Fenti QB – First team All-Conference, 259/402 (64.4%), 3,215 yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs, 126 carries, 432 yards, 5 TDs
– Cody Miller RB – First team All-Conference, 254 carries, 1,081 yards, 18 TDs
– Kevin Francis WR – Second team All-Conference, 73 receptions, 1,092 yards, 9 TDs
– Mason Judd DL – First team All-Conference, 57 tackles, 13 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR
– Mike Donitzen LB – Second team All-Conference, 72 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 8 PDs, 2 FRs, 2 FFs
– Ryan Seymour DB – Second team All-Conference, 74 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INTs, 16 PDs, 2 FRs, 1 FF, 1 BK
– Mike Guinta DB – Honorable mention All-Conference, 70 tackles, 3 TFL, 8 INTs, 11 PDs
What to Watch For
New Team – St. John Fisher lost 14 starters from a team that finished second in the Empire 8 a year ago. That number includes starting QB Tyler Fenti, No. 1 RB Cody Miller, top WR Kevin Francis, two all-conference linemen, and seven defensive starters. Of the nine Cardinal players named first and second team all-conference performers, only linebacker Sean Preish will be back.
Now seems as good a time as any to remind you, the reader, our preseason rankings are based on historical performance and conference strength. As you parse through our rankings, you’ll see we’re pretty high on the Empire 8 – half of our top ten is from the conference. Although they didn’t win it last season, the Cardinals made it to the D3 playoffs by way of an at-large bid and beat Ohio Athletic Conference runner-up John Carroll and Liberty League Champions Hobart before finally falling in the D3 National Quarterfinals to American Southwest Conference Champs Mary Hardin-Baylor. They made the deepest playoff-run of any team in their conference, the toughest in D3. That’s why they’re our number one team to start the season.
That being said, we don’t factor roster moves (additions and losses) into our rankings; we’re purely data-driven. So, as I look over the extensive list of graduated Cardinal seniors, it’s pretty tough to imagine a repeat playoff-performance this season or even a repeat second-place finish in the E8.
Our algorithm is predictive though, we didn’t just draw names out of a hat. The Cardinals will start with a relatively easy game week one against Otterbein that should give them a chance to iron out new positional responsibilities wade into the season rather than dive in head-first. The next week it’s game on – week two at Brockport. The Cardinals will need to gel fast if they want to retain their top ranking past week one, and I’m not sure I see that happening.