The past four days have featured a premature attempt at the preseason rankings for 2014. Wednesday's entry includes three teams that did not finish above .500 and missed the tournament this past season. But what they do have is intrigue in either the form of a significant amount of returning experience, a potentially explosive offense or a strong presence in the middle of the field. In alphabetical order, the teams flying under the radar are:
Air Force (2013 record: 7-7)
Outlook: The Falcons finished in sixth place in the Eastern College Athletic Conference standings, which kept them out of the league tournament. But they were still a tough out for conference foes. Of the team's five losses in the league, four were one-goal decisions against eventual conference tournament champion Ohio State, NCAA tournament semifinalist Denver, Bellarmine and Hobart. Next season's outlook for Air Force looks somewhat rosy considering that only one starter – goalkeeper Austin Fox (9.79 goals-against average and .530 save percentage) – graduated. Finding a successor will be priority No. 1 in the offseason, but that concern could be overshadowed by the return of an offense that boasts junior attackman Mike Crampton (34 goals and 19 assists), sophomore attackman Keith Draper (10 G, 26 A) and junior attackman Tommy McKee (29 G, 4 A). A loaded midfield led by junior Erik Smith (21 G, 8 A) should complement that attack and help the Falcons break in a new goalie and prepare for what will be the final season of the ECAC.
Outlook: Despite a subpar campaign that included an 11-10 overtime setback to Lafayette in the season opener on Feb. 16 and 14-6 blowout loss to Mount St. Mary's on March 12, the Hoyas still managed to finish fourth in the Big East and earn a spot in the conference tournament primarily on the strength of a 14-13 overtime upset of then-No. 6 St. John's on April 6. The offense is slated to return four of its top six scorers, including sophomore attackman Reilly O'Connor (26 G, 30 A), sophomore midfielder Charles McCormick (19 G, 8 A) and junior attackman Jeff Fountain (16 G, 8 A). The issue for Georgetown is fixing a defense that ranked 40th in Division I and bid farewell to three starting close defensemen in Brennan Bicknese (26 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers), Chris Nourse (27 GB, 15 CT) and Patrick Murray (24 GB, 10 CT). The good news is that as long as redshirt junior long-stick midfielder Tyler Knarr is winning faceoffs at a 62.2 percent clip (184-of-296) and scooping up 112 ground balls this past season, the Hoyas may be able to rely on their offense to cover their warts on defense.
Outlook: The Retrievers showed some fire en route to the America East tournament final – the program's first appearance there since 2009 – before falling, 19-10, to then-No. 10 Albany. The team got to that stage by scoring six goals in the final six minutes of regulation in a come-from-behind 15-13 victory over Hartford in a tournament semifinal. Graduation sapped the team of attackmen Scott Jones (35 G, 6 A) and Joe Lustgarten (12 G, 20 A), but with the conference's reigning Rookie of the Year in freshman midfielder Patrick Young (32 G, 7 A) and redshirt senior attackman Matt Gregoire (28-4), the prevailing thought is that UMBC might not have stretch itself to find components on offense. The troubles may exist on the opposing end of the field where the defense ranked 59th in average goals allowed and bid farewell to its best close defenseman in Ethan Murphy (52 GB, 16 CT). Still, settling on a starting goalkeeper in sophomore Wes DiRito (12.25 GAA, .451 save percentage) and having junior Phil Poe (99 GB, 218-of-371 for 58.8 percent) win faceoffs just might be the push UMBC needs to shock some opponents next season.