By Harry Allison
College football season is just three weeks away, so here’s our take on:
VILLANOVA (5-6 IN 2018)
CAA (‘NOVA WAS T 10TH IN 2018)
COACH: Mark Ferrante – At School: 3rd year (10-12 record) Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2016 (second round)
2018 OFFENSE: 25.0 ppg. (82nd in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 23.4 ppg. (31st in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 21 at Towson: So why do we have this game penciled in here? Because we think Villanova will come in 3-0 after feasting on Patriot League teams, but the real test of this defensive-minded program will come when they have to travel to Towson and take on Tom Flacco and this stellar Tigers’ offense. Is ‘Nova back? This game will tell us a lot.
The last two seasons haven’t cut the Wildcats any breaks. And this summer, ‘Nova was picked No. 10 in the CAA preseason poll. We’re about to make an argument though on why that’s way too low. First of all, before the Injury Fates cast their judgment upon the ‘Nova football program early last season, this ‘Nova team beat FBS Temple — a bowl-bound team that knocked off a Big Ten team (Maryland) two weeks after falling to Villanova. That’s what a healthy Villanova team could have done all year, not to mention knocking off an FCS playoff team in Delaware in the regular season finale. Regardless of injuries, ‘Nova had one of the top defenses in the FCS.
So when it comes to 2019, we’re going to start off by talking about that very defense. This is a stellar unit returning and it will — mark my words — be one of the top statistical defenses in the entire FCS, not just CAA. The depth and talent is here to pin opponents down to below 20 points per game, and that’s why we think the 10th place preseason pick is way off. Even with the struggles of last year, this unit was No. 16 in the nation in total defense. This program has won 75 games and one national title (2009) in the past 10 seasons, and defense is a major reason for it.
Offensively, this is where we think Villanova’s stellar FCS No. 2 rated recruiting class in February may pay immediate dividends — though you can never completely bank on true freshmen being immediate contributors, obviously. The offense needs to find a quarterback, and Qadir Ismail did start a game last year. Campbell transfer Daniel Smith is also on campus and was a 1,000-1,000 pass-rush man for the Camels when they still played in the non-scholarship Pioneer League. He is also a guy to keep an eye on, as is true freshman Connor Watkins, who held 2 FBS offers and 21 total and was a Top 100 FCS Signee in the HERO Sports 2019 Recruiting Rankings. Whoever emerges at the skill positions, they should have a pretty stout line to work with, and there is more FBS coveted O-line talent coming in the freshman class.
Villanova and Stony Brook remind us of each other in terms of how they both will feature stellar defenses, but want to find some answers on offense. Both programs are those black-and-blue, no frills teams you find in the Northeast in the CAA, and these programs generally win with that style of play. First of all, we think that No. 10 ranking here in the CAA is beyond ludicrous … unless the Injury Fates (did it again) have decided to stick around Villanova, Pa. for a third year in a row. If the new skill players on offense are above average or better? This could be the bounceback story of the CAA and one of them in the FCS. Here’s our prediction: If multiple injuries don’t hit, this is a 7-win program with the potential for 8, maybe 9, and it’ll be battling in the top half of the CAA for a playoff spot. It is a proud program and a consistent winner, whether it’s under Ferrante or his mentor, long-time Villanova coach Andy Talley.
TOP RETURNEE: Soph./DB Christian Benford (HERO Sports Freshman All American – 5 INTs, 49 tackles)
THE FOUNDATION: Jr./DL Malik Fisher (HERO Sports Sophomore All American – 9.5 TFLs, 5 sacks); Jr./DB Jaquan Amos(57 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs, 2 FFs); Jr./LB Amin Black (48 tackles, 8.5 TFLs); Sr./LB Drew Wiley (22 career starts, Last year: 55 tackles, 9.5 TFLs); Jr./OL Paul Grattan (21 career starts up front with two years left to go); Sr./LB Keeling Hunter (43 tackles); Sr./DB Julian Williams (39 tackles); Sr./WR Changa Hodge (344 yards receiving, 22 receptions); Sr./TE Simon Bingelis (Preseason All CAA).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./DL Jack Stanton (Top 300 FCS signee in 2019 HERO Sports Recruiting rankings – 9 FBS offers, 30 total)
THE QUOTE: “We’re always pretty good health-wise this time of year. Guys have been off for May and June, and then they’re all back working with our strength staff for the month of July. We’ve always been pretty healthy. We were healthy for the last two years, but unfortunately the injury bug hit us a little bit. I don’t know the answer to preventing injuries. If anyone here has insight to that, I’d love to have them share that with us.” — coach Mark Ferrante told FloFootball.com