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2015 College Lacrosse Preview: The Power to Surprise (and of Love)

Huey Lewis' mullet is our spirit guide.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing in this piece makes sense. None of it. What follows is stupid, aggressive, and based in a reality that exists only in hypotheticals. If you read this and call your bestest friend on the planet to tell him/her, "Well, Hoya Suxa thinks that [team noted in this piece] has a chance to [do something noted in this piece] . . ." you are reading and understanding this particular post on the Internet like a person that has had a hammer applied to their skull. This is not what I think. Rather, this is the most tenuous argument that I can make for a team to achieve something very few people think is possible without laughing uncontrollably and drowning my own head in the toilet. A "dark horse" is supposed to emerge from the dark shadows and earn prominence and glory; a "dark horse" inherently carries with it a notable degree of "reach." The washout rate of these picks is high, as reflected in the following table:

2013 AND 2014 "DARK HORSE" PICKS
CATEGORY 2013 PICK 2013 PICK STRENGTH 2014 PICK 2013 PICK STRENGTH
Final Four Dark Horse Ohio State 4/10 (Overseeded NCAA Three-Seed) Pennsylvania 5/10 (Bombed out of NCAA Tournament early)
Top 10 Dark Horse St. John's 2/10 (Failed to Make Big East Tournament) St. John's 2/10 (Lesson Learned)
Top 15 Dark Horse Navy 1/10 (Not Even a Top 40 Team) Air Force 6/10 (Not Horrible!)
Top 20 Dark Horse Georgetown 2/10 (A Full Tier Off) Colgate 4/10 (Average, Top 30-ish Team)(

Again: These are aggressive picks. They exist only on the platform of "Can I make this a thing without having my dignity eviscerated in a nuclear explosion?" You progress -- and agree or disagree -- at your own risk.

FINAL FOUR DARK HORSE
Pick: Virginia
Pick Aggressiveness: 5.5/10
Alternate Pick: Loyola (Too Safe)

Virginia loses 40 percent of its starts from the 2014 season -- Mark Cockerton, Scott McWilliams, and Greg Danseglio accounted for the entirety of the team's 48 lost starts from last spring -- and the returning players with at least one start from last season average a junior classification. Virginia has hauled in a top 10 recruiting class every season since 2011 and has averaged a class with a 4.25 ranking, the third highest average rating among programs that have appeared in ever iteration of Inside Lacrosse's recruiting rankings over the last four seasons.  This isn't completely insane, right? Look: After a 2013 season in which the Cavaliers finished the season ranked 17th in LaxPower's final ratings and 19th in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, the 'Hoos moved to 12th in both LaxPower's rankings and in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation in 2014. It would take a major leap for the Cavaliers to earn a trip to Championship Weekend, but it's not like there aren't assets in place for Starsia to work with in Charlottesville. If everything falls into place for the Cavs -- and a lot needs to occur for Virginia to dance in Philadelphia in May, including finding replacement for Scott McWilliams and Greg Danseglio as well as buttressing the team's goaltending situation -- Virginia may make an unexpected push toward greatness.

TOP 10 DARK HORSE
Pick: Fairfield
Pick Aggressiveness: 14/10
Alternate Pick: Lehigh? (That Doesn't Seem Aggressive)

This is beyond insane. You can talk yourself into this if you squint your eyes enough and believe in the seemingly impossible, but it's still beyond bonkers. None of the early prognostications -- be it Inside Lacrosse's Face-Off Yearbook or Lacrosse Magazine's preseason push -- found room for Any Copelan's team in their preseason top 20 lists, never mind shuttling the Stags into the top 10. Yet, you can make an argument -- no matter how ridiculous -- for Fairfield as a top 10 dark horse: About 57 percent of the team's starts from 2014 return for the coming spring, including seven of the team's eight double-digit point-generators from last year (importantly, Fairfield's offense in 2014 finished 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency and were fourth nationally in raw offensive shooting rate). Big, valuable assets like Jack Murphy, Toby Armour, and Greg Perraut have disappeared, but . . . why the hell not ? (Other famous last words: "This cyanide doesn't taste too bad!" and "I got Taylor Swift tickets!") Fairfield finished 2014 ranked 19th in LaxPower's ratings, 21st in the Massey Ratings, were 15th in adjusted Pythagorean win expectation, 22nd in KRACH, and were a fluky Air Force team away from shuffling into the NCAA Tournament last season. This is a pure flyer (not only because it progresses the Stags despite losses but also because it shoves a team into a really hard caste to breach), and it's probably the shakiest of all the dark horse picks.

TOP 15 DARK HORSE
Pick: Bucknell
Pick Aggressiveness: 7.5/10
Alternate Pick: Massachusetts (Not Straitjacket-worthy)

Bucknell didn't meet the external expectations put on the program last season -- the Bison entered the year as the 14th ranked team in the preseason media poll -- after meandering to a 7-8 record and  one win -- against Brown -- over a team that finished the year with a winning record. The Bison were decidedly average last spring, but Bucknell will return about 75 percent of its starts from last season -- the team's three big losses are are Todd Heritage, Peter Burke, and Jackson Place, all major contributors for the Bison -- and have a recent history of running in the tier they could repopulate:

BUCKNELL'S MATH RANKINGS: 2011-2014
MEASURE '11 VALUE RANK '12 VALUE RANK '13 VALUE RANK '14 VALUE RANK AVG. RANK
LaxPower Ratings 97.10 12 96.96 15 96.34 16 93.88 29 18
Adj. Pyth. Win Exp. 73.14% 10 68.25% 15 70.17% 14 51.96% 29 17
Massey Ratings 1.92 10 1.80 18 1.78 15 0.67 38 20
KRACH Ratings 1081.1 10 323.81 22 688.93 14 88.17 35 20

Moving into the top 15 wouldn't be a major move for the Bison based on the program's recent history; it would, rather, reflect an improvement for a program that has danced around the top 15 in the last four season with an exceptional season and an average season sandwiching consecutive top 15-type performances. There's talent in Lewisburg to make this happen in 2015, but there was also talent in Lewisburg last season to make this happen in 2014.

TOP 20 DARK HORSE
Pick: Rutgers
Pick Aggressiveness: 7/10
Alternate Pick: Towson (Tigers Have Early Heat)

The Scarlet Knights will only return about 40 percent of its starts from a team that improved as  notably as any team in the nation between 2013 and 2014, but a lot of pop will still attempt to eat souls in 2015: Joseph Nardella, the fifth best faceoff specialist in the nation last spring based on raw faceoff percentage, is still available to Brian Brecht to man the dot; three of the team's top six scorers still have a residence on the banks of the Raritan (those players accounting for over half of the team's points in 2014); both of the team's keepers from last year (including former all-league standout, Kris Alleyne) are back for 2015; and the team will replace two 16-game defensive starters with two players that earned seven starts at defense in 2014. The Scarlet Knights have been working with a tailwind in recent seasons, and Rutgers could harness its potential -- especially as the season progresses and the Knights start to define their roles and purposes -- in the coming spring and finally break through in Brecht's fourth season in New Jersey.