College Crosse's Impossibly Early, Definitely Perfect (Sort of), Rock-Solid (Maybe) Fall Ball Top 20: Bucknell (11)

USA TODAY Sports

The Herd are quietly stalking the nation as a competitor.

The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.

Team: Bucknell

Rank: 11

Important People: David Dickson (M); Sean Doyle (A); Todd Heritage (A); Thomas Flibotte (M); Jackson Place (D); Ben Kellar (D)

Formerly Important People: Chase Bailey (A); Mike Huffner (D); Kyle Feeney (G); Ryan Gutowski (FOGO); Kyle O'Keefe (SSDM)

Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 15; Coaches: 15

2013 Record: 12-4 (5-1, Patriot)

2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!

* * * * *

Nightmare Fuel
Bucknell loses three key pieces to their success in 2013 -- Huffner, an all-league defensemen that was an anchor for the Bison's defensive strength; Feeney, a Major League Lacrosse draftee that put together a reliable tenure in Lewisburg; and Bailey, a valuable asset that could pick corners as well as any shooter in the nation -- but filling those voids isn't what keeps Herd partisans in a cold sweat in the rural reaches of Pennsyltucky. Rather, it's a combination of (1) Bucknell's youth revolution -- the Bison's roster features 25 underclassmen (out of 41 players) -- assuming a leadership position in 2014 and shouldering significant role responsibilities; and (2) That the Bison are a known quantity, no longer existing in an existential vacuum. While most development occurs through underclass seasons, the possibility of regression or stagnation exists; if Bucknell fails to generate consistent production from its crop of talented-yet-still-green youth, the Herd could be in a tough spot (especially against a Patriot League schedule that will feature Loyola and Lehigh). With respect to Bucknell coming to the fore in the national consciousness: The 10-man ride is the subject of review and analysis; opposing teams now have a book on Flibotte, Doyle, and Dickson; everyone knows that you can't leave Heritage unmarked unless you want your net stained with rubber smoke; and the Bison are building a legacy where you can't overlook them or you could get curbstomped. Bucknell is the subject of intrigue, but it's a more defined level of investigation and inquiry, which makes finding success difficult because the existence of unknowns is mitigated. The fear, then, is distilled to this: Things may not be exactly the same (in many ways).

A Thousand White Doves
Outside of the fact that Frank Fedorjaka is an evil genius with plans to destroy Earth with a satellite called "10-Man Laser," the Bison are loaded with potential. The focus of this potential is on the offensive end, the unit best positioned to drive the Bison toward success in 2014. While Bucknell isn't featuring offensive players that have their names splattered all over ESPN, the Herd's offensive unit is poised for some serious face-smashing this coming spring:

  • Of the team's double-digit point-generators in 2013, the Bison return all but one -- Bailey. All other players in that group return, and those returnees accounted for 73.53 percent of the team's goals last year, 81 percent of the team's assists, 76.30 percent of the team's total points, and 74.52 percent of the team's shots. Basically, the core of the Bison's offense is wearing the blue and orange again in 2014, and that core drove Bucknell strong ranking (16th) in adjusted offensive efficiency a season ago.
  • There is nice balance between classes among this core (and between the midfield and attack): Doyle, Flibotte, and Brock Ghelfi are sophomores, ripe with potential to make "The Leap"; Dickson is a savvy junior, arguably the Bison's most important player and a dark horse Tewaaraton candidate; and Heritage and Peter Burke are seniors, contributors that provide an experienced eye toward the game. This is exactly how consistent production is generated from year-to-year, the driving force behind the excitement around the Bison next spring.
  • Bucknell has all the pieces -- the distributor and power plant (Dickson), the noted goalie embarrasser with 20/20 vision (Heritage), the midfield savant (Flibotte), and the underclassman ready to step into the shoes of a graduated contributor (Doyle for Bailey). It's all there; the offense-o-meter is pointed toward "Destruction."

The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: Patriot League champions on a mission for the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals; Dickson is named a Tewaaraton finalist; bags a handful of big wins and manages to finish conference play with just one league loss; the hole left due to Feeney's graduation is quickly filled in a competent manner; Fedorjaka is turned into a verb.

The Moon: Bubble-in NCAA Tournament team; makes the Patriot League Tournament final; the Bison's offensive sophomores develop nicely and create further leverage for the Herd; Place asserts himself as a first team all-league player; Fedorjaka is turned into an adjective.

Six Feet Under: Opponents attack the 10-man ride and overexpose Bucknell's defense; the Bison's underclassmen are heavily relied on but fail to rise to the occasion; summiting Loyola and Lehigh in conference play proves impossible, and the team struggles against Colgate, Army, and Holy Cross; the Bison miss out on the NCAA Tournament again.

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