As the faces of the Colonial Athletic Association gathered for the conference's football media day, third-year Towson coach Rob Ambrose said he's about halfway done with the "construction project" of his program.
That incomplete status doesn't affect Ambrose's players, who were brimming with confidence Wednesday at M&T Bank Stadium.
When asked how many games the Tigers could win this year, junior defensive end Frank Beltre balked at the question.
"That question should be rethought," Beltre said. "It should be more focus on which games we could lose."
"I have the most excited bunch of one-win football players," Ambrose said.
Despite the Tigers' confidence, coaches and media relations personnel predicted Towson will finish last in the CAA. That can largely be attributed to the Tigers' 3-19 record the past two seasons (1-10 last year). But the team does have nine returning starters on defense and eight on offense.
While admitting records are what get coaches hired and fired, Ambrose said the numbers can be misleading.
"While in the end, numbers are important, to get to the numbers you want, you have to go through a certain amount of stuff," Ambrose said. "It's like cleaning your closet. Once you get the closet cleaned out, you're not upset about it. You're thrilled."
Ambrose added that the Tigers are on pace with the schedule he set when he was hired in 2009.
"When I took the job, I said Year 3 we need to start winning football games," Ambrose said. "I said I hope they have a good furniture budget, because if we're not winning, I'm going to start breaking stuff."
This season, Ambrose will have to break in a new quarterback. Gone are Chris Hart and Bart Blanchard, and the most experienced returner at the position is junior Brian Potts, who will compete with sophomore Peter Athens for the starting job.
Athens is battling back from a knee injury that kept him sidelined last season.
"It's taken Pete a long time to get back," Ambrose said. "I give credit to Brian for pushing Peter to the point where he didn't get the nod at the end of the spring."
Another muddled, but promising, situation lies in the backfield. Towson's top two backs — juniors Tremayne Dameron and Dominique Booker — return, and Boston College transfer Sterlin Phifer also boots the depth chart at that position.
The Tigers are also excited about linebacker Denzel White, who missed last season with a back injury. Ambrose, Beltre and junior defensive tackle Marcus Valentine all said White should have a breakout year.
"A hungry person, when they finally get a hold of food, tends to devour everything in their sight," Ambrose said. "This man has missed football for well over a year, and I expect him to devour everything."
What the Tigers won't be able to devour so easily is the conference, which is widely considered the best in the Football Championship Subdivision. Last season, Towson played five ranked teams, four of which were in the top 10 (including No. 1 Villanova).
"Through the hottest fire comes the strongest steel," Ambrose said. "And our conference is on fire every week."
Despite their struggles, Ambrose and his players insist progress was made last season. They emphasized how games were closer, and that their progress could be seen more in mentality and persistence than in the win-loss column.
Towson's average margin of defeat was 18.9 points per game, down from 25.3 in Ambrose's first year.
"If you look at the Ws and Ls, sure, we lost," Ambrose said. "And I hope everybody in this room that we play doesn't look at what happened during the game, they look at the W and the L."
Opposing coaches did take notice, though.
"They had a lot of close games last year," said James Madison coach Mickey Matthews, whose team defeated the Tigers 17-13 last season. "It's difficult situation to turn something around, because the league is so good."
"Towson's got an attitude — and it's Rob's attitude — to play until the end," Richmond coach Latrell Scott added.
That attitude will have to remain if Ambrose wants to keep his construction site intact.
2011 CAA preseason football poll
(voted on by coaches and media relations personnel)
1. William and Mary (12 first-place votes)
2. James Madison (4)
3. Delaware (2)
4. New Hampshire (2)
5. Massachusetts (1)
8. Rhode Island (1)
10. Old Dominion