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College Preseason Power Rankings (Men’s Division): #10 – #1

The top 10 teams heading into 2016!

The Ultiworld Power Rankings.

See the rest of the Top 25 in our first installment.

We are excited to present the second installment of this year’s preseason College Power Rankings in the Men’s Division! These rankings are based holistically on a number of factors: last year’s performance, roster changes, conversations with coaches, the “eye test”, and assorted other factors.

10. Georgia Jojah (2015: T-9th at Nationals, 3rd in Southeast)

2015 was a resurgent year for Georgia as they clinched a bid to Nationals in the tough Southeast region and won a pair of games at the show. Looking back over their season, it’s hard not to be impressed — many of their regular season losses came to Pitt, UMass, and UNC Wilmington, the three teams that stand at the top of these preseason rankings.

Although Elliott Erickson departs, the team has good continuity, returning Sam Little, Parker Bray (the team’s leading scorer at Nationals), Riley Erickson, and a crop of excellent young players (Nathan Haskell and Sebbi Di Francesco, notably). The older Erickson’s plus cutting abilities will need to be replaced, but few teams have the wealth of young talent that Georgia does. Haskell even matched Erickson in assists at Nationals.

Where does Georgia fit into the Southeast echelon?

9. Oregon Ego (2015: 2nd at Nationals, 2nd in Northwest)

It would be a bit disingenuous to say we know what to expect from Oregon this season. So many questions surround this team after the departure of All-America stalwart Dylan Freechild. A year ago, the team was small and leaned heavily on Freechild (and his backfield partner Trevor Smith) for offensive disc movement and production, especially against top opponents. Freechild had 37 assists for Oregon at Nationals. The next closest player had 13. Can anyone fill his shoes?

2015 College Breakout Player of the Year Adam Rees is back and is the strongest candidate to be that guy for Oregon (it’s worth noting he was the player with 13 assists). Connor Matthews (22 goals at Nationals) is a year wiser and remains one of the elite cutters in college. Chris Strub and Colton Clark will also be big contributors.

Still, expect an adjustment period as the team learns to play without the electric talent of Freechild on the field.

8. Washington Sundodgers (2015: 3rd in Northwest)

Washington was one of the big stories of the 2015 regular season, but they came up short at Regionals after looking like the clear #2 team behind Oregon.

Yet there is hope for them: 2016 could be even better. Khalif El-Salaam of Seattle Mixtape fame returns in his senior season, Dongyang Chen is back after a season with Seattle Sockeye, and the team faces only modest turnover; Jonny Stacey is the big loss.

Sophomore Steven Benaloh will look to build on an outstanding rookie season and maintain a steady presence in the backfield for the Sundodgers.

The fact is that El-Salaam has the tools to be one of the best in the country this season and will be on the early Player of the Year watchlist. If he can dial in some of the turnovers and tighten up decision making, he could lead Washington to new heights.

7. Wisconsin Hodags (2015: T-13th at Nationals, 2nd in North Central)

Legacy program? Check. Returning lots of talent? Check. History of winning? Double check.

Wisconsin is in a peak year, folks, and they’re going to be good. The team has at least 10 seniors and 5th years, including standouts Craig Cox (2nd Team All Region ’15), Avery Johnson, and Ross Barker (the team’s leading scorer at Nationals). The continuity could reap dividends in an area they struggled in mightily a year ago: offense.

The team’s defense has long been its calling card and they did not disappoint last season, sporting one of the Division’s best defensive units. But the team’s offense really couldn’t keep up and bled breaks against good teams. If they can find a sharper offense in 2016, they will be a sleeper semis pick.

6. Colorado Mamabird (2015: T-5th at Nationals, 2nd in South Central)

Chew on this: Colorado has such a deep program that they routinely put most (if not all, in some cases) of their incoming freshmen class on the B-team. Expect the same this year as veteran heavy team takes the field.

At the moment, it sounds like Stanley Peterson will not return to the Bird in 2016, certainly a blow. But lots of strong players do return, including Pawel Janas, Oak Nelson, Wes Chow, and Jeremy Harker. Mark Rauls also returns to the team after a year away; he will add instant spark to the backfield.

Colorado’s biggest concern may be the lack of a true takeover player. They are one of the deepest teams in the country, though — they get to call up sophomores who spent a year in AAA, to steal a phrase from coach Brent Zionic. We’ll see what they can do this year.

5. Central Florida Dogs Of War (2015: T-3rd at Nationals, 2nd in Southeast)

Let’s not forget: UCF has made it to at least the semifinals of College Nationals in two of the last three years. While they may not be a team you think of when someone says ‘dynasty,’ they have a chance to become one of the best teams of the last five years with another strong season in 2016.

UCF rode their physicality and bombastic attitude through Pittsburgh and onto semis at Nationals this past year; will that same style define them this year?

Reports are that Jeremy Langdon is coming back for a fifth year. Fellow 1st Team All Region player Michael Fairley is definitely back. So is breakout player of the year runner-up Stuart Little and a host of other strong role players. The biggest question mark? The loss of their top handler talent Alex Bullock and Brawley Adams.

Expect a different looking offense this season, but the same hard-nosed UCF.

4. UNC Darkside (2015: 1st at Nationals, 1st in Atlantic Coast)

Many teams would be gutted by the loss of a player like Jon Nethercutt. “Nutt,” Ultiworld’s Offensive College Player of the Year and the 2015 Callahan winner, will surely be missed and the entire offense may need to be retooled in his absence. But UNC has such an embarrassment of riches that it shouldn’t knock them down too far at all.

Aaron Warshauer and JD Hastings highlight this year’s senior class. Warshauer is a tall, strong cutter who could well be the centerpiece of their offense. Hastings, in contrast, is a quick, short handler cover nicknamed, appropriately, the ‘muscle hamster.’

Where this year’s UNC team will rise and fall is with their sophomore and junior classes, though. Norman Archer, Nick Macleod (yea, this guy!), Matt Gouchoe-Hanas, Nathan Kwon…the list of rising stars goes on and on.

Could this team even get back to the finals?

3. UNC Wilmington Seamen (2015: T-9th at Nationals, 2nd in Atlantic Coast)

A blistering regular season fizzled out at Nationals as UNCW came up short against Pittsburgh in the prequarters in an epic rematch. UNCW will be back, though, and perhaps even better than they were a year ago.

Jack Williams and Xavier Maxstadt both return for the Seamen. Charlie Lian is back. Quality starters like Erik Esposto, Austin McGrayne, and Matt Mason fill in around them. This team is going to be tough to beat.

They do lose the hard throwing Luke Hancock, but may gain some quickness in the backfield. They also lose breakout 2015 star Cale Ward, who is not attending UNCW this year. The team will also look to alleviate some of their overuse issues from last season (seen by some on the team as a reason for their Nationals meltdown) by playing in two fewer tournaments this spring.

With two POTY candidates in Williams and Maxstadt, the ceiling for UNCW is the highest its been in years.

2. UMass Zoodisc (2015: T-5th at Nationals, 1st in New England)

My goodness this UMass team is going to be scary this year. Almost everybody is coming back after a year in which the team went to the quarterfinals at Nationals. POTY shortlister Jeff Babbitt leads the way, but he’s surrounded by top talent like Ben Sadok, Ben Tseytlin, 2015 Rookie of the Year Brett Gramann, and the red-hot Conor Kline.

Kline gets his own paragraph. He came somewhat out of nowhere to lead Club Nationals (yes, Club) in goals scored with Sub Zero. He has been on an absolute tear this fall. Could he eclipse other elite deep cutters like Connor Matthews this season? He seems poised to blow up.

UMass also picks up one of the country’s best rookies in Tannor Johnson, who played for Ironside this past season.

UMass’ biggest shortcoming still appears to be depth. But they are a bit deeper than they were last year, and that might be just enough to vault them towards a possible Championship run.

1. Pittsburgh En Sabah Nur (2015: T-5th at Nationals, 1st in Ohio Valley)

Should Pittsburgh keep landing the number one spot in the preseason rankings each year, despite coming up quite short at Nationals now two years in a row? It’s a reasonable question, but it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be here.

Last year, we talked about the big four: Max Thorne, Marcus Ranii-Dropcho, Pat Earles, and Trent Dillon. If you can believe it, three of the four are coming back. Only Ranii-Dropcho departs.

In fact, Pitt is hardly losing anyone: the other big loss is Tyler Kunsa, a key offensive handler.

But with three unbelievable players in Thorne, Earles, and Dillon — all who have a realistic shot at making POTY lists later this year — Pitt is again the team to beat. Role players like Christian Pitts, Carl Morgenstern, and Jonah Wisch only add to the team’s depth.

Pitt struggled to develop much of a defensive identity last season and, when Nationals rolled around, their vaunted offense wasn’t sharp enough to carry them through the gauntlet like it had most of the season. If they can solidify a defensive rotation and find a way to punch in one or two more breaks a game, Pitt could be a juggernaut.

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