In 2011, Villanova chewed through three starters at quarterback before seemingly settling on the freshman Chris Polony late in the season. Polony entered the 2012 season as the favorite to win the job and was handed the start in the final installment of the Mayor's Cup to open the season. It didn't take long for the short leash to be pulled and for head coach Andy Talley to make a switch to redshirt freshman John Robertson. The Wildcats never looked back, as they pushed ahead to what would be a tremendous bounce-back season.
"Obviously, his [John Robertson's] growth through the season was sensational," the head coach said. "You know, he went from just trying to manage the team to actually being able to determine the flow of a team offensively, and at times was able to take the team on his back, which is what you really want your quarterback to be able to do.
"You really wouldn't expect that from a first year player, but in his case, he matured very quickly, he played within himself, he never really tried to do things he couldn't, especially in the passing game."
Robertson will be entering his second year as the starting quarterback for Villanova, and while he made an impression with his legs as a Freshman — winning the Jerry Rice Award for best freshman player in FCS football — he will have to expand his game in the Fall.
Now he's the man, charged with leading the Villanova offensive unit, and according to Talley, he is getting treated that way by teammates. His Freshman success leaves him established as the leader and his coach has repeatedly described him as one of the best in the country at his position.
"The offense as a group was very good on the field in the Spring, and his passing has improved - much sharper, and that's mostly because he knows where he's going with the ball most of the time."
The growth of the offense may be even more notable in 2013 than it was last fall. The offensive line was still a work in progress last season, and the loss of center Dan Shirey to an off-season injury didn't help thing along. Shirey redshirted in 2012, and returns to the team for a fifth season this fall, and because of that, the Wildcats look deeper than they have been in the past.
"What you have in Dan [Shirey] is an all-conference center returning," Talley boasted. "So what we have for the first time in a long time, is six or seven offensive linemen who can play. We've normally played with five guys and a spare, but now we have some true depth in the offensive line.
"And with Dan back, that gives you the chance to move him to guard if you want to, which we've experimented with, and let Ross Hall stay at center. We've also moved Ross to guard and played Dan at center. I think right now, we're deeper at the offensive line than we've been in a long, long time."
It isn't just depth, either, thanks to the offseason program, Talley expects his starters and rotation guys on the line to all check in around 290-to-300 pounds. Shirey has apparently gained some weight in his redshirt season, while fellow 5th-year senior Josh Bucci has been listed at 330-pounds by the team. The two fifth year players can anchor the unit for the 'Cats.
One thing that the offense won't have this season, however, is Norman White. Going into the 2012 season, Villanova intended to design its scheme around the talented fifth-year wide receiver. They will spread the offensive touches around without him in the fall. The 'Cats aren't without talent, but there is nobody so head-and-shoulders above the rest that they would take precedence in the coaches' minds.
"Now, when you look at our team there really not one go-to guy, there's really an assortment of really quality weapons," Talley stated. "First of all, you've got a 1000-yard rusher in Kevin Monangai, you have a thousand-yard rusher in John Robertson, a real good receiver in Joe Price, and as you look through the offense, you have guys who are very comparable. You know, Poppy Livers, Aaron Wells, Earnest Pettway at tight end is going to be a factor."
While the loss of White will take away one big-play option in the passing game, the Wildcats' other receivers have proven to be effective, and Jamal Abdur-Rahman returns from a season-long suspension.
"Jamal was sensational his freshman year," Talley recalled, adding that the slot receiver had a good Spring, though slowed by a knee injury. "He's an explosive player, if you remember two years ago as a freshman, he lit up Delaware and had a great game against UMass, back-to-back. Once he got the offense under his belt."
Robertson will be a key player for the offense this fall, but Kevin Monangai and Austin Medley are expected to help considerably in the ground game. Joe Price will be a key target, and the veteran receiver has the hands, size and physicality to be an asset to Robertson in the passing game. Abdur-Rahman will be the other key receiver, and may get some opportunities to run the ball or return kicks and punts as well this fall.
After that, expect Poppy Livers, Earnest Pettway and a number of complementary players to fill a role. There is plenty of depth at the skill positions, with more than enough players to rotate at receiver and a deep bench at running back as well. After Monangai an Medley, Rahman could see some carries, and rising sophomores Javon White and Gary Underwood also impressed with an increased workload this Spring.
Ransford Quarrie is entering his final season on the Main Line, and made significant strides in practice as well, and the coaching staff may look to increase his role in the fall. He's a big, fullback type runner who may not be a fit on every-down, but perhaps he can offer help in short-yardage and goal line situations.
Rising sophomore Mike Burke had a strong Spring as well and should see time in the wide receiver rotation, while 6-6 receiver Clay Horne made a push for serious playing time, winning the "Most Improved" award on offense.
Coach Talley believes his offense will be the stronger unit on his team this fall.
"I would have to say, we're probably going to be a bit better on offense than we are on defense. I think offensively, there's just enough guys . . . I mean, first of all, you've got a veteran offensive line, which is just huge, second of all, you've got a veteran quarterback, who is among some of the very best out there, and then if you take a look at the two running backs, those two are as good as anyone's running backs in the country.
"Our receiver corps is good, not great, but good. I think the tight ends are going to be real good, and we have depth in the O-line. The only guy you really lose is Norm White, and you have Jamal coming back — a potential big-time explosion guy."
In the end, the Villanova offense should be as good enough to gain yardage and put up points against anyone in the FCS ranks. The combination of an explosive running game with a quarterback who will be throwing to a veteran receiving corps bodes well for the unit.
The veteran offensive line gives the 'Cats a chance to create a lot of opportunities for skill-position players to make things happen on the field as well. It should be a fun team to watch.