After a 2-9 season in 2011, the Wildcats are poised for another run at the top of the FCS rankings next season. The team rebounded from their worst season under Coach Andy Talley this fall to win a share of the CAA title and earn a trip to the playoffs.
Next season, the expectations will be much higher.
"We're going for a national championship," Talley told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We have (almost) everybody back and feel we will be a real factor next year nationally."
The coach isn't the only one who expects big things from Villanova, however. The Sports Network's recently released "Sneak Preview" of the 2013 season named a "sweet 16" of teams that are expected to top the polls next season -- Villanova was ranked fourth by Craig Haley's estimation.
4. Villanova - The Wildcats arrived early this season and are ready for the next step in 2013. Not only do they return 18 starters, including Jerry Rice Award winner John Robertson at quarterback, 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Monangai and defensive linemen Antoine Lewis and Rakim Cox, but center Dan Shirey and all-purpose back Jamal Abdur Rahman will return after missing this season.
It's early though, and a bad offseason could derail those high hopes, but it seems that the Wildcats have the skill players to compete with anyone in the game at the moment. The loss of Norman White in the passing game should be calmed by the emergence of Joe Price and freshman Mike Burke on the outside, and all-purpose star Jamal Abdur-Rahman will again return to the gridiron after serving a suspension in 2012 for an unspecified rules infraction.
Where the 'Cats will need to improve is getting stronger on the offensive and defensive lines. They return a substantial number of starters in the trenches and will likely have some new recruits coming in to help as well, but the defense struggled against big offensive lines and super-talented runningbacks last season (punctuated by the playoff loss to Stony Brook's two-headed attack). The linemen can only get better in the weight room this summer.
Also in the top-16 proposed by TSN's Craig Haley, there were four other CAA rivals named, including Richmond (15), James Madison (14), New Hampshire (11), and Towson (7).
White trying to make a big impression
Norman White will be putting in work this weekend on ESPN2, and Phil Steele writer Josh Buchanan believes he has a legitimate shot to play his way to the pro circuit. These post-season all-star games are vital for small-school prospects to show that they can play with anyone in their draft class, and Saturday's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is no different for White.
The 5th-year receiver from Villanova will line up at the event for the "National" team, coached by former Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil. He will be one of a number of small school players who will participate in the game alongside a roster packed with seniors out of FBS powers like Penn State. Stony Brook receiver Kevin Norrell will also play on the National roster.
White has the right size for the job of NFL receiver and the quality of his hands or ability to leap over defenders is not in question. The key is proving that he has the speed and skills to project as a valuable player at the next level. He is playing to impress some of the 72-plus NFL scouts that will be in attendance at the Home Depot Center, and hopefully for a chance to impress them again at the NFL Combine or in individual workouts.
Offensive tackle Ben Ijalana, a 2010 graduate, was the last Villanova football player invited to the combine.
Carson City, Calif.; ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET