2013 Preview: Villanova poised for nat'l title run

2013 Preview: Villanova poised for nat'l title run
August 30, 2013, 6:00 pm
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Returning WR Joe Price led the Wildcats last season with 616 yards receiving. (AP)

For the first time since 2008, the Villanova football team won’t play Temple in the Mayor’s Cup.

But that doesn’t mean the Wildcats have escaped former Temple head coach Steve Addazio, who will match up his Boston College team against visiting Villanova in Saturday’s season opener (noon, ESPNNews).

And for the Wildcats, who are ranked No. 9 in the Football Championship Subdivision Coaches’ Poll, it will once again be a big-time test against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

“Some of the real good Temple teams and Boston College are fairly comparable,” Villanova head coach Andy Talley said. “With Steve, the emphasis will be on the running game. They’re real big up front. They’re going to mash us. What we hope for is to keep the game close, try to get it into the fourth quarter and hang around.”

For the Villanova players, however, keeping it close isn’t good enough. Despite the inherent differences between FCS and FBS teams, the Wildcats are ready to start the 2013 season on the big stage -- and hopefully walk away with a big upset.

“I’m really excited about that,” Villanova quarterback John Robertson said. “We’re playing on ESPNNews. It will be good to show everyone our skills. We feel like we have a bunch of good players and that we deserve to be out there.”

Can the Wildcats topple Boston College? How is the team shaping up for the rest of the season in what will be a very competitive Colonial Athletic Association? To get you ready for the season, here’s a look at the 2013 Wildcats.

Coaching
The winningest coach in school history, Andy Talley enters his 29th season at the helm of Villanova. His record in that span: a very impressive 198-120-1.

Last year, Talley won his sixth CAA championship, guided the Wildcats to the program’s 10th NCAA playoff berth and was named the conference’s coach of the year.

With 17 starters back, he’ll look for similar success this season.

Strengths
The Wildcats will likely go as far as star quarterback John Robertson will take them. The 2012 Jerry Rice Award recipient for the top freshman in FCS football, Robertson passed for 1,965 yards and rushed for 1,021 yards.

And the Wildcats’ running game will be further bolstered by a veteran offensive line, a returning 1,000-yard rusher in Kevin Monangai and a great change-of-pace back in Austin Medley.

Last season, Robertson, Monangai and Medley helped ’Nova average a league-best 252.8 yards per game rushing.

“The running game is what we have been able to hang our hat on,” Talley said. “We have running backs who have to perform. We are not going to come out and fling the ball. That’s not the way we’re built right now. If we are going to have trouble running the ball, we’re going to have trouble scoring points.”

Weaknesses
Talley loves how the Wildcats stack up at virtually every position, but there is one area where he admitted his team doesn’t have much depth.

“Where we’re thin and can’t take much injury is in the secondary,” he said.

Senior cornerback Craig James is poised to start for a third straight season at cornerback and safety Joe Sarnese returns after leading the team in tackles last season, but the Wildcats will have to find a way to replace All-CAA cornerback Eric Loper.

Considering the Wildcats finished third in the CAA in passing defense last season, however, it’s hard to call the secondary position too much of a weakness -- as long as everyone can stay healthy.

Dynamic duo
With seniors Antoine Lewis and Rakim Cox, the Wildcats have perhaps the two best defensive lineman in the CAA.

Lewis finished the 2012 season with 58 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery, while Cox had 5.5 sacks, seven tackles for a loss, four pass break-ups and a blocked kick.

Both were named first-team All-CAA.

“Rakim Cox is going to be a great player for us,” Lewis said. “And he’s a great guy. He’s always pushing me and I’m always pushing him.”

X-Factor
Watch out for receiver Jamar Abdur-Rahman, whom Talley called “a [Brian] Westbrook kind of guy” because he can run, receive and return kicks very well.

The Philly native and former La Salle High School star had to redshirt last season because of an off-field incident after showing off some his big-play potential as a freshman in 2011.

Games to watch
The Wildcats’ first conference game will be an interesting one as they welcome Stony Brook to Villanova Stadium on Sept. 21. Not only is Stony Brook new to the CAA this year, but the Seawolves also knocked Villanova out of the playoffs in the first round last season.

The last game of the regular season should also be an important one with Villanova taking on rival Delaware at PPL Park on Nov. 23 in a showdown that's sure to have playoff implications.

Expectations
There’s no way around it. Villanova is loaded and has the potential to be one of the best teams in the FCS. Winning the CAA and making the playoffs are the most immediate goals, but the Wildcats may also be able to challenge for their first national championship since 2009.

And with the season set to begin, it's something that's certainly on their minds.

“We know we have to go out every day with that mentality,” Robertson said. “We have to practice like national champions.”

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