Friday, August 12, 2011

Villanova Football Preview

Any reference to Old Dominion University and Villanova University begins and ends with two words:  PETEY SESSOMS!!!

Kerry Kittles and Villanova lost to Petey Sessoms and Old Dominion University in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.  This was the highlight of the Jeff Capel era, which is sad since it was his first year as head coach.

Football History
Villanova University was founded in 1842 and their football program began in 1892.  A member of D1-AA/FCS football since 1987, the Wildcats have accumulated a record of 573-447-39 during the 120 years-ish of existence.  There was a period of 1981-1984 where the administration cancelled the program, but it was brought back for the 1985 season.  The head coach of that season, Andy Talley, has remained at the helm ever since.

Since joining D1-AA Villanova has had at least a share in five conference championships.  They won the FCS national title in 2009 and made the semifinals last year, losing to eventual champion Eastern Washington.  A full-time member of the Big East, the CAA Football member plays its home games in the aptly-named Villanova Stadium.  There have been nine Wildcats to make the NFL since Villanova was part of the Yankee Conference, including Brian Westbrook and more recently, Ben Ijalana.

2010 Highlights
The Wildcats had a bit of a bumpy 2010 regular season.  They entered the season finale 6-4, needing a win at #1 Delaware to make the FCS playoffs.  With that mission accomplished in OT, their talent was too much for Stephen F. Austin and Appalachian State on the road.  All-Everything RB/WR/QB/Chicago Cub Matt Szczur missed a significant portion of the season with injuries, but kicked it into high gear against SFA and Appy State.  The team's third consecutive road playoff game was too much, and the team fell at Eastern Washington 41-31.

There were three Wildcats on the 2010 All-CAA First Team offensive and two on the defensive team.  Quarterback Chris Whitney was one of three players on the Second Team.  All four regular season losses were by seven points or less, including losses to FBS' Temple and FCS-ranked William & Mary and New Hampshire.  You've got to think that had Matt Szczur played a full season like he had the previous two seasons, the Wildcats wouldn't won more games and may have had at least one home playoff game.

Had Matt Szczur played in more than five regular season games, Villanova may have had an even better record.

History with Old Dominion
The October 22 contest in Philadelphia will be the first football meeting between Villanova and Old Dominion.

2011 Outlook
At this point I have insufficient data to establish expectations on what the Wildcats' 2011 record will be.  They lose a four-year starting QB to graduation; his expected replacement is either a redshirt freshman or one of two true freshmen.  The top four rushing leaders are all lost to graduation.  The offensive line loses NFL prospect Ben Ijalana and two-time All-CAA Brant Clouser.  2011 preseason All-CAA Norman White returns to lead a stable wide receiver corps.

The Wildcats have employed a 3-3-5 defense in the past; whether they continue with that in 2011 is to be determined.  The defensive line should be in good shape behind sophomore Antoine Lewis, but the team must replace all three starting linebackers from 2010's squad.  The defense also returns both starting CB's from last year.

What does it all mean?  We know from the above two paragraphs that the returning team is young at several positions, most notably QB and linebackers.  But we also know that the team has picked up its recruiting in recent years, so although the talent may be inexperienced, it does indeed exist.  There have been open communications between Villanova and the Big East to get the team to join the football conference. 

Recently the overall vote has been delayed, but the interest is there on both sides.  The major hangup seems to be the stadium issue, as Villanova Stadium seats only 12K with minimal expansion options.  The Wildcats will play their final home game at PPL Park, a larger venue that still has not impressed other Big East football members.  This is a topic for full discussion in another post, but the key is that Villanova has probably sold its recruits on eventually playing in a BCS conference before they graduate. 

Villanova loses much on both offense and defense, but the experienced players they do return should be able to guide the younger talent to win its share of games.  I expect a 6-5 overall record.  The 2012 team will be a team that challenges for a national title, but I think there will be too many growing pains in 2011 to get them back to the playoffs.  The team is two years removed from a national title, so winning is part of their pedigree.  It's too soon to determine how many wins that pedigree attains in 2011.

Coach Andy Talley has accomplished much in 26 years as HC at Villanova.

In Coach Talley's 26 seasons as its head coach, Villanova has had a winning record in 20 of them.  This is not an accident - the man recruits talent and coaches them up to national-title abilities.  But with only nine starters returning in 2011, will this be the 21st winning season?  It's hard to discount that trend of success so they should win at least six games.  It says here that they are going to take a step back this season, followed by three steps forward in 2012.  Will this translate into a team Old Dominion can defeat in 2011?  It's too soon to tell, but the opportunity is there.  And the 1995 Wildcats know what happened when Old Dominion is given an opportunity in to win its share of games.

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