You win a national championship and return 17 starters, you figure you are going to be ranked No. 1.
That is exactly the case with the St. Xavier University football team which is the defending NAIA national champion and is the preseason No. 1 team. The Cougars take their No. 1 ranking to Olivet Nazarene for a Saturday contest.
After two years of making it to the semifinals, the Cougars brought Chicago a national title last fall when they beat Carroll (Mont.) College for the championship 24-20 in Rome, Ga.
While St. Xavier coach Mike Feminis is happy with the accolades, he knows that guarantees nothing and has taken the same approach he has in each of his 14 seasons as head coach.
"That's nice, but it is based on last year and we earned the No. 1 spot," Feminis said. "We know we have to put in the work and we did in spring ball and over the summer.
"I told our players that every team is going to play their best game against us. We do have that 'X' on our backs, but you go out and play hard every play, every game.
"My biggest job is to make sure we are prepared to play our best and that our kids do not get complacent."
The Marian Catholic grad won't let that happen and the kids he has won't let themselves get too full of themselves. Nevertheless, this is a top program and the kids remember losing to Marian University in the final regular season game. The Cougars avenged that in the NAIA semifinal.
"That costs us a couple of home games in the playoffs and we remember that," Feminis said. "We could have had three home games instead of one."
What Feminis has done is win with local kids from Illinois and Northwest Indiana. He said tuition is $38,000 at St. Xavier, but most of his kids get academic help. He said the average football scholarship is about $7,000 per student-athlete.
"I am as proud of our academics, our high ACT, high GPAs," Feminis said. "Most of our kids are on academic scholarships as well.
"You don't know how that makes my job a little easier. I don't have to worry a lot about academic problems."
Feminis and his staff have done it the right way. In fact, St. Xavier is a model for the right mix of academics and athletics as the school is successful in various sports.
This could be another exciting season on West 103rd Street. While nothing is given, the Cougars won't rest on their laurels. They will be out to repeat.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.