What better day to release our 2011 Villanova Wildcats football season preview than the day when you can now buy Villanova single-game football tickets?! Oh, and remember to buy your tickets for the Delaware game at PPL Park now! We need to fill that place up!
You know how the Villanova Wildcats are actively trying to move up to FBS football as part of the Big East Expansion? That needs to happen. And not just because it'd be awesome and it'd bring the school to a whole new level athletically and financially.
Mainly, because you have no idea how hard it is to dig up information on an FCS program. Andy Talley seems to have spoken to the media at length once this offseason (at the recently completed CAA Media Day) and other than the awesome videos that VUPowerhouse has been posting, there hasn't been much coming out of camp.
Nonetheless, we push on. We're going to take a look at each area of the team, who we lost, and who the new faces are that are going to step up and take the lead this season. Keep in mind, most of this is a big guess - but I'm giving a big shout for resident 'Nova football guru Fact On Villanova Sports for some of the work he's done on the matter.
Coming off a 9-5 season and a national semi-final appearance, the Wildcats have a lot of replace - made quite clear by the coaches selecting them to finish 7th in the CAA conference this season. But is all hope lost? Absolutely not. In fact, sometimes when people don't know what to expect, you can surprise some people. As Andy Talley suggested, there's still a ton of talent, but not a lot of experience.
"We lost as good a class as we have ever had. There were similar questions about our team back when Brian Westbrook graduated and we made the semifinals the year after. Brian was only one player, though, and with last year's class there were so many outstanding players. The big thing with the players that graduated is that they all did the majority of the playing for the past three, four years. We have a lot of talented players on our team but they don't have a lot of experience."
Join me after The Jump for The Nova Blog's 2011 Villanova Wildcats football season preview.
Gone is 4-year starter Chris Whitney. While he was prone to the complete shitbomb of a game, Whitney quarterbacked the program to a National Championship and that alone makes him one of the best QB's in the program's history. It's never fun having to replace that.
The probable starter this year redshirt-freshman Dustin Thomas. The dual-threat QB from New Jersey is a perfect fit for Villanova's spread offense - but he's completely unproven. True freshman Chris Polony and John Robertson will be the primary backups should Thomas falter, although Chris Culicerto received some spring snaps.
Villanova boasted the nation's most feared rushing attack for the last few seasons. A lot of that had to do with Whitney. A lot had to do with Matt Szczur as well. But the unsung heroes were workhorses Aaron Ball and Angelo Babbaro. Those 4 players combined to run wild on the opposition. Unfortunately, all 4 left together. That means it's a fresh backfield.
Senior Lawrence Doss is the odds-on favorite to take over the starting duties and take the bulk of the carries that Babbaro and Ball left behind. Austin Medley is waiting in the wings behind him. Don't count out freshman Jamal Abdur-Rahman to see a ton of looks as well though, especially on option-reads where he can utilize his world-class speed. This is one position where after Doss, there isn't much experience, but there is a ton of talent. How quickly the stable of backs (there's no reason to think this is a 1 or 2 man rotation) will be vital to the Wildcats' success.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
As far as the offense goes, this is the one area where 'Nova fans can feel assured that they're putting out talent AND experience on the field. Norman White is an All-American candidate going into his senior season after a breakout junior year where he more than replaced now-Atlanta Falcons WR Brandyn Harvey.
He'll be joined by fellow senior Mikey Reynolds, another staple of the Wildcats high-powered offense the last few seasons. Reynolds can split out wide and he'll also get a few touches out of the backfield as well. Juniors Dorian Wells and Kenny Miles are also experienced and will be factors. The coaching staff also loves Joe Price, though he hasn't seen much game action yet.
In my opinion, this is by far the most seasoned group on the roster and they'll be relied on to get Dustin Thomas rolling early.
Not much in the way of tight ends in this offense, but Brennan Erbeznik would be your guy there.
Gone are NFL 2nd-round pick and LT mainstay Ben Ijalana (now with the Colts). Gone is Brant Clouser (now with the Giants). That's two all-conference performers and one two-time All-American in Ijalana. Chidozie Ekweozor would have most likely shifted over from RT to replace Ijalana at LT. Unfortunately, he tore an ACL in spring practice and is out for the year. Billy Vogel looks like the likely replacement. And if Fact On Villanova Sports is correct, Bucci will slide over from guard to RT. I'm not a huge fan of doing that though. If Bucci was a good guard, leave him there and find a tackle.
Dan Shirey is back to man the center (thank God), and honestly, we might not know who's starting at the guard spots until Temple (again, I'd hope Bucci sticks). Ross Hall is a good bet to take one of the spots. Vince Kowalski, a true freshman, has a shot.
Let's just say it's never good when there is this much uncertainty on the line. Or maybe there isn't. Maybe we're just not hearing anything.
As you can guess, the offensive season depends on the output of the QB. The line, while losing some fantastic players, should be okay. There are enough running backs to get us by, though we likely won't see the production of the last few years. The wideouts are some of the best in the country, but can we get them the ball?
Right now, I'm cautiously optimistic, but only because the offensive scheme has been so brilliant the last few years that it's almost hard to imagine a complete tailspin.
The heart of the line, Thomas Weaver, was just signed by the Washington Redskins a couple of days ago. Luckily, Antoine Lewis is coming off a spectacular rookie campaign and was named a preseason All-CAA 1st-teamer for 2011. He'll likely shift inside to replaced the departed Weaver.
Marlon Johnson is coming off a serious knee injury, but he's extremely talented and should be a beast off the edge for 'Nova as he returns this fall. Rakim Cox is your odds-on favorite to take the other end spot in Villlanova's 3-3-5 defense, but Villanova has always run a big rotation on the line so you'll likely see Tamai Young and Keelan Malone in there a ton too.
This is definitely a position of strength.
This is where it gets scary. 'Nova loses all 3 starters from last year's team, including all-everything MLB Terence Thomas, who was recently signed by the Eagles. It's quite the crapshoot here, and it's a position that will define the defense. Sink or swim time!
Joey Harmon is a big-time prospect (by 'Nova standards) who will arrive this fall and compete for a spot. Delano Ferguson is a good guess to win a starting job as he's got some experience, and you might see Emeka Ndichie out there as well as he's coming off a redshirt where he had the opportunity to immerse himself in the defensive scheme.
The good news is that both cornerbacks, Jimmy Pitts and Eric Loper, return, and they're one of the better pairings in the FCS. Pitts has had some enormous plays the past couple of seasons and is a true game-breaker. The situation gets a little more murky elsewhere as 'Nova tries to replace John Dempsey, who signed with the Rams recently.
Ronnie Atkins is a good bet to hold down one safety spot while Craig James has performed well on the special teams unit and may be ready for a move up. Matt McCann, a highly touted freshman, is a big-time wildcard here. He may not start right away, but the do-everything player could do a job for the 'Nova defense.
It's a bit better on the defensive side of things as there is some major talent and major experience along the line and in the backfield. The LB situation can't make anyone feel good, but it's probably going to be the defense that Villanova relies on to keep them in the game while the offense finds their rhythm early in the season.
Nick Yako was shit last year. There's no way around it. But he was nearly automatic during his rookie season when nobody expected much of him. So which one do we see this year? Another year older, another year wiser. I'd expect him to bounce back.
Dominic Scarnecchia had a phenomenal year punting last term, but he's not returning so the job will likely fall to junior Mark Hamilton.
As for punt and kick returners - well, we lost two of the best in the history of FCS football in Szczur and Babbaro. So don't expect to see too many long returns (or maybe, expect to?). Was it the players or the scheme that was getting it done? Probably a bit of both, and between guys like Mikey Reynolds, Dorian Wells and incoming sensation Jamal Abdur-Rahman, there should be enough speed/talent back there to make a few things happen.
As always, thoughts and discussions are welcome as we prep for the new football season!