The return of 16 starters on offense and defense from a New Hampshire squad that made its first appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals in 2013 made it easy for the coaches and sports information directors in the Colonial Athletic Association to tab the Wildcats as the top team in the conference’s preseason poll.
It is the first time the program – which tied Towson for second in the CAA last season with a 6-2 league record – has been voted to the No. 1 spot. But for coach Sean McDonnell, the honor doesn’t carry much weight.
“To me, it’s based off the semifinal appearance and some good players coming back, but as I’ve told the players and our coaches, don’t even think about the hype and believing that stuff,” McDonnell said during the league’s media day at M&T Bank Stadium last week. “We’re going to know how good we are starting on Aug. 3 or 4 when we come back to camp and see what kind of shape we’re in. And then by Aug. 29, we’ll find out if we’re getting to be a good football team. And then there are 12 weeks or 13 weeks [in the regular season] to determine who we really are. Obviously, to be in this company is a great honor, but it doesn’t mean much.”
McDonnell said the most significant result of the unveiling of the poll is that it stirs the pot in the preseason and puts New Hampshire in the cross hairs of opponents like Villanova, Richmond and Towson.
“You have a target because people have picked you first. There’s a belief that you’re a pretty good team,” said McDonnell, whose Wildcats finished 10-5 overall last year. “My point to [the players] is, ‘Why do we deserve this? Because of what our previous team did? What are you going to do to earn it? How are you going to perform? How are you going to practice? How are you going to prepare so that you’re able to even come close to the expectations you have?’ We’ve got to be very focused on the how and now – how we’re going to get there and now where we’re at, not where we were before.”