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Villanova Football Preview 2015: John Robertson leads talented but unproven backfield

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Who will step up at running back?

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In the days leading up to the season opener at Connecticut, we will be previewing all the position groups for this year's Villanova football team. The full schedule can be found at the bottom of this post.

Villanova is ranked as high as #3 in the preseason and John Robertson is back. All is good on the Main Line, right? It would sure seem that way. But as Wildcats fans found out the hard way last season, all it takes is one injury to the main man to derail things. Add in the fact that the running back unit is undergoing major turnover and you get left with more questions than answers.

That's not to say fans should worry though. The talent behind Robertson may be young, but it's extremely talented. That should make the next few years very fun as those kids mature, but whether that talent translates in to production in 2015 may determine whether Villanova's offense can repeat last year's top-ranked attack.

Quarterbacks

The first name on every opposing head coach's game plan this season will be quarterback John Robertson. The reigning Walter Payton Award winner (the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy) has won just about everything he possibly could in three years as the Wildcats' starting quarterback - everything except a National Championship that is. After seeing his 2014 season cut short by a concussion in the playoffs, he'll look to lead the Wildcats to the promised land in 2015 and leave the Main Line as the most decorated player to ever don the blue and white.

Robertson is already the all-time leader in total offense (10,273 yards), but is still chasing Brian Westbrook in both rushing yards (he's 994 yards away entering this season) and scoring (he's not going to catch him there). He's also unlikely to catch Chris Boden in passing yards (3,378 yards behind).

One big thing to keep an eye on this season - Andy Talley has also carefully measured how much to run John Robertson at the risk of injury - but with a new crop of running backs (not to mention wide receivers) he may feel the need to put him in harm's way more often to generate offense.

As for the depth chart, long-time reserve Chris Polony is gone, so expect (RS) freshman Zach Bednarczyk to take lead as the primary backup. Like Robertson, Bednarczyk is a dual-threat quarterback and hopefully fans will get a glimpse of what he can do this season when the game has been decided. Beyond him, freshmen Adeyemi Da Silva and Jackson Bradley (a preferred walk-on) will provide additional cover. Those two will match up with Bednarczyk (and verbal commitment Jack Schetelich) in what should be a fun QB competition next spring and summer to replace Robertson.

Running Backs

Gone is longtime running backs coach Darrius Smith, who took an offer from Massachusetts after a very successful spell on the Main Line. Ola Adams, hired away from Columbia, will take over the unit going forward.

Also gone are Kevin Monangai and Austin Medley, two mainstays in the Villanova backfield for the past four years. The good news is that Gary Underwood is back from injury and appears to have the starting position locked down heading in to the new season. Underwood was one of the breakout stars of last season, joining Monangai and Medley to create a three-headed monster in the backfield that was punishing to opponents. A serious knee injury cut his season short - keep an eye on how he looks early this year.

After Underwood, things get a bit more dicey. Matt Gudzak showed both the good (long touchdown run) and the bad (fumbles) last season as a deep reserve, but Gudzak did win Most Improved Player during spring practice so he'll likely be in the mix for carries. Javon White is blessed with great speed and should be an asset in replacing Medley as the change-of-pace back.

The most exciting, but also the most unproven, will be a three-man freshmen class. Local friends Jarrett McClenton and D'Andre Pollard join Aaron Forbes (who spurned Vanderbilt for 'Nova on signing day) in what looks like a group that is way too talented to keep off the field. What McClenton lacks in size he more than makes up for in home-run ability. He'll be a weapon out of the backfield and the slot, similar to how Jamal Abdur-Rahman was used. Forbes has the look of a true between-the-tackles runner, so expect him to be taking handoffs from Robertson.

Andy Talley is typically conservative in his expectations for freshmen, but he hasn't been shy about how excited he is for this group.

2015 Villanova Football Preview Schedule
  • Thursday August 20: Quarterbacks & Running Backs
  • Friday August 21: Offensive Line
  • Monday August 24: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
  • Tuesday August 25: Defensive Line
  • Wednesday August 26: Linebackers
  • Thursday August 27: Defensive Backs
  • Friday August 28: Special Teams