Despite ending its previous two seasons in a winning fashion, Bates football has struggled to reach its peak level early in the year. According to senior wide receiver Mark Riley, the Bobcats have the ability to steer around (and bulldoze over) those prior early-season issues. “Our goal is to go 8-0,” Riley told me in Commons before a Sunday practice. “We have the pieces to do it, and we know we can. We want to focus on finishing close games. The coaches have been emphasizing that we need to focus on the little things to make that happen.”

In our conversation, Riley and junior linebacker Mark Upton never sounded arrogant—merely aware of what it takes to win, and confident in their team’s capacity to do it. Upton, who impressively finished second in the NESCAC in tackles with 10.5 per game, clearly believes that adopting a collective mindset and a unified team spirit is the best way to accomplish the squad’s goals, starting many of his statements with the words “we” and “us.” “We get to play against some of the best teams early,” Upton remarked. “It’s great to test ourselves and see what we can do. We’re looking to start off hot this season.”

First up for the Bobcats, on September 26, is a home contest against Tufts, who went undefeated in 2015. Senior running back Shaun Carroll feels that they’ll be ready. “I believe that the returning players have developed an astounding understanding of our program, and we will use this to our advantage,” Carroll said. Riley agrees with his teammate, stating that, “We have a lot of experience, which is helping us move faster during the fall than in the past.”

Riley and Carroll will both be integral players for the Bates offense. Profiting from a more pass-heavy offense last year, Riley’s 71.5 receiving yards per game led the NESCAC. What remains a mystery is just who will be targeting Riley in the air this season (starters won’t be named until coaches see how players perform during scrimmages), but senior Patrick Dugan, a backup to Matt Cannone last season, is the favorite. Expect Carroll, who ran for 281 yards and three touchdowns his junior year, to continue heading the ground attack in his final campaign at Bates.

Upton will be at the heart of the Bates defense, teaching a new corps of linebackers the team’s system while hustling all over the field to shut down the opposition. “We lost a lot of starters on defense, but a lot of kids have been waiting,” Upton said. “Everyone works for their opportunity to play, so those losses are not an issue.” Out of Bates’ top five tacklers last season, Upton is the only player returning, which means that guys like junior cornerbacks Trevor Lyons and Brandon Williams and junior linebacker Ben Coulibaly will need to be as prepared and able to replace those graduating players as Upton claims. Regarding the defense’s primary objectives, Upton said, “We want to increase turnovers, hold the opposition’s passing yards down, and limit scoring opportunities. We also want to set our offense up in good positions.” I’m sure the Bates offense wouldn’t mind starting a few drives deep in their opponent’s territory thanks to turnovers created by the defense.

So, is 8-0 actually attainable? I highly doubt it, but I’d love for the team to prove me wrong.