The Villanova Wildcats won the national championship more than eight months ago. The rest of FCS has had to wait that long to put that memory out of their collective psyche. When you see a Wildcat coach, player, student, alumni, fan or family member, they all bear a smile, the smile of the victorious. That championship smile, that smile of a winner, that smile of being on top of the world, that satisfied smile.
As a result of being the nation's best, the Wildcats along with the Villanova women’s cross-country team (also national champions in 2009) will visit the White House Sept 13 to meet with President Obama. Along with other 2009 collegiate national champions, both Wildcat squads will assemble and SMILE when they take photographs with the president.
It is that smile that the rest of FCS wishes to remove and replace with one of their own in 2010. It's this quest that makes the Wildcats the hunted. It's this quest that makes the opening games Thursday so important. Each team knows that to beat the Wildcats, they must take care of the business that’s directly in front of them, and they must continually get better until the date when they have their time to extract revenge from the '09 season.
This season, more than any in recent memory, there is parity among the CAA. Villanova will draw the “A” game from the eight conference teams it plays, that’s a given. However, when the remaining CAA teams play one another, those games will be something akin to a WWF title match combined with Ultimate Fighting Championship. Entering 2010, there is no clear-cut team that is far superior to any other.
Every game is winnable by the team that wants it the most. Thus, every Saturday, you'll undoubtedly witness a blood fight where the victor is the last one standing. It would not surprise this writer if it was a different team each week.
It doesn't matter who the opponent is this weekend. Whether it’s FBS, FCS or DII, no quarter will be granted. Nothing starts the season off better than a victory.
All of the winter, spring and hot August training will be poured out onto the field of play. This weekend, coaches will see whether they were right in their offseason training regimen, whether the acquisitions will be able to help out this year and what changes, if any, need to be made.
As for Villanova, 2009 is behind it. The 2010 team is an entirely different team with 17 starters returning. The 2010 team has yet to win anything. However, it has tasted the national championship, and it thirsts for more. Its immediate mission is to repeat what it did in 2009. The Wildcats have only to go through the rest of FCS to obtain that goal.
Let the games begin.
In 2010, there will only be one division in the Colonial Athletic Association with 10 teams. This weekend all 10 teams see action with four playing FBS teams, two games against NEC playoff hopefuls and one contest featuring an in-conference matchup. After week No. 4, I will separate the teams into “playoff contenders,” “bubble teams,” and “contenders no more.”
No. 16/19 Delaware (0 – 0, 0 – 0) vs. West Chester (0 – 0) 7 p.m., Thursday
Radio: Blue Hen Radio Network/WVUD 91.3 FM
Series: Delaware leads 44-6-1
Delaware returns 17 starters and 40 letter winners from '09. The Blue Hens will be led by preseason All-American, Walter Payton Award candidate, co-captain, Sr. QB Pat Devlin. Along with Devlin returns an offensive line that has a full season under its belt and who look to pave the way for redshirt freshman Andrew Pierce. The Blue Hens have been hit by the injury bug during the summer and will be without the services of most of their starting defensive line. Fortunately, their tuneup against DII West Chester will not be too taxing, and it will give the younger players an opportunity to see playing time. Unfortunately for Delaware, a victory here will carry no weight toward a playoff appearance, and an injury could be critical as the Hens learned last year when they lost Josh Baker for the season against the Golden Rams.
Upset Meter [0---], Blue Hens 42, Golden Rams 13.
Maine (0 – 0, 0 – 0) vs. Albany (0 – 0, 0 – 0) 7 p.m., Thursday
TV: None. The game will be broadcast live on GoBlackBears.com
Radio: The game will be broadcast throughout the state of Maine on the Black Bear Sports Network. FOX SPORTS 980 (WOFX-AM)
Series: Albany leads 2 – 1
Maine returns 17 starters and 42 letter winners from last season’s team that went 5 – 6 and 4 – 4 in the CAA, finishing in second place in the former CAA North. The Black Bears are ranked No. 22 in the Athlon preseason poll and received votes in The Sports Network and coach’s Poll.
Maine is looking to avenge a 20 – 16 loss at Albany last season. Head Coach Jack Cosgrove announced that the team is healthy going into the game, and Andrew Smith will be the starting QB. Cosgrove believes his defense has returned to being the “Black Hole” defense of the past, and the offensive line is improved.
In 2009, Albany finished in second place in the NEC with a 7 – 4 record, 6 – 2 in the NEC. Albany had won the NEC the previous two years. Albany returns nine starters and 42 letter winners. Albany has four members of its starting offensive line returning and will be led by QB Smith. This year, the winner of the NEC gains entry into the playoffs, thus, Albany knows how meaningful a victory over a CAA team would be to its playoff aspirations.
Look for the Black Bears to swallow their first victim into the “Black Hole” while discovering just how much improved their offensive line really is.
Upset Meter [0---], Black Bears 27, Great Danes 13.
Rhode Island (0 – 0, 0 – 0) @ Buffalo (0 – 0) 7 p.m., Thursday
TV: TWCS. The game also will be broadcast live on GORHODY.COM
Radio: WWBB 101.5 FM (B101)
Series: Buffalo leads 3 – 0.
Rhode Island returns 18 starters and 38 letter winners from a team that went 1 – 10 and 0 – 8 in the CAA in '09. Head Coach Joe Trainer, in his second season, believes his team is exponentially better than last season and both sides of the lines are on average 25 – 30 pounds heavier. Plus, the Rams had a successful offseason in recruiting. QB Chris Paul-Etienne sustained a knee injury in camp, thus Steve Probst (transfer from Hofstra) will start for the Rams. Ayo Isijola will start at runningback. Isijola was the second-leading rusher for the Rams last year with 365 yards. Rob Damon and Matt Hansen lead the Rams on defense.
Buffalo has a new head coach in Jeff Quinn, who served as the offensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati in '09. The Bulls return five starters on offense and eight starters on defense. Buffalo was picked to finish sixth in the East Division of the MAC.
If ever there was a time to strike a reeling FBS team, this would be it. A victory here would be a major stroke in the Rams' mind-set giving them the confidence of knowing they could win against the big boys. However, it’s this writer’s opinion that the Rams are at least one if not two years away from obtaining goals such as those.
Upset Meter [---4---], Bulls 24, Rams 10.
Towson (0 – 0, 0 – 0) @ Indiana (0 – 0) 7:30 p.m., Thursday
TV: Big Ten Network.
Radio: FOX Sports Radio 1370-AM
Series: First Meeting
Towson has 16 starters and a total of 51 letter winners returning from last year. Towson is undefeated on Thursday nights (4 – 0), however, the two times it has played FBS opponents, the Tigers are 0 – 2. The Tigers will start junior college transfer Chris Hart at QB. From what I saw in one practice, Hart is athletic, fast and has a quick release. Hart will need protection from the Tiger offensive line if he’s to experience much success. Head Coach Rob Ambrose is pleased with the overall growth of the team, but readily admits it's about two years away.
Indiana returns 14 starters (eight offense, four defense, two special teams) from a team that was 4 – 8 overall, and 1 – 7 in the Big Ten, finishing tied for 10th in the conference. IU’s theme in 2010 is to "finish" plays and games. The Hoosiers believe they were 12 plays away from being in a bowl game last year. In 2010, the Hoosiers look to complete that mission.
If the Tigers were playing this Hoosier team two years from now, it would be this writer’s opinion that Towson would be the favorite. But for now, the Tigers will have to endure growing pains until they reach where they want to be as a team.
Upset Meter [-2--], Hoosiers 20, Tigers 7.
No. 1/1 Villanova (0 – 0, 0 – 0) at Temple (0 – 0) 5 p.m., Friday
Radio: 950 AM, ESPN Radio, WHAT 1340 AM
Series: Villanova leads 16 – 12 – 2.
Before 2009, this rivalry could have best been described as lukewarm. However, after Nova’s come-from-behind victory in front of 27,759 at Lincoln Financial field, this rivalry has now reached a new level of intensity. Temple is first up to wipe the smile off of Villanova’s face. Temple has waited a year to return to where it all started. Villanova coach Andy Talley stated that Temple did not yet know how to finish games in the '09 opener. Since then, Temple went 9 – 3 (7 – 1 in the MAC), losing to UCLA in a bowl game.
Temple returns 16 starters and 56 letter winners from last season. Directing the Temple offense is redshirt junior Chester Stewart, who started four games last fall. Complementing Stewart, the Owls have a Heisman trophy candidate in runningback Bernard Pierce. Besides Pierce, the Owls have runningback Matt Brown, giving the Owls a deadly one-two punch in their running game. Temple has a massive offensive line, and it plays physical East Coast football. The strength of the Temple defense rests with its line. The defense allowed an average of 22.3 ppg, and an average of 334 ypg.
In most cases, you would concede the game to the FBS team. However, Nova did not flinch last year. Down 10 in the fourth quarter, Nova forced Temple to relinquish possession and rally for a 27 – 24 triumph as time ran out. That victory catapulted Nova on its way to winning the CAA and the FCS national championship. Nova returns seniors who have started or have played since they first set foot on Nova’s campus. This class is 32 – 8 (two FBS losses) in three seasons and 25 – 4 after their freshman ('07) year. This team does not know how to lose, and doesn't know that it should be intimidated by an FBS team. Chris Whitney, Aaron Ball, Angelo Babbaro, Matt Szczur, Chris Farmer, Ben Ijalana, Brant Clouser, Thomas Weaver, Terence Thomas, Marquis Kirkland, Anthony Johnson, Jacob Wade, Fred Maldonado, Martel Moody and John Dempsey will not be denied in 2010.
Jeff Sagarin has Nova favored by four points after giving Temple a three-point advantage for being the home team. But is Temple really the home team when both teams are from the Philadelphia area? Nova, the suburban school, vs. Temple, the inner-city school, where the difference between the two schools is about 10 miles. The game is at Lincoln Financial Field With Nova being considered the favorite.
Upset Meter [----9] Wildcats 28, Owls 27.
No. 4/4 William & Mary (0 – 0, 0 – 0) @ Massachusetts (0 – 0, 0 – 0) 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Radio: WRNX (100.9 FM), THE ZONE (1510 AM), WCRN (830 AM), WATD (95.9 FM), Tribe Football Radio Network.
Series: Massachusetts leads 7 – 4.
This game is arguably the biggest FCS vs. FCS game within the CAA this weekend. Both teams will look to stake a claim to be the conference leader.
Returning nine starters and 40 letter winners from the '09 team, Massachusetts has loaded up with several transfers and will look to play physical smash-mouth football. UMass has transfers from JUCO (2), Hofstra (2), Syracuse (3), Northeastern (3), Central Michigan (1), Buffalo (1), Villanova (1), Eastern Michigan (1), Holy Cross (1) and Va Tech (1); Seven from FBS and seven from FCS. The Minuteman want to return to their defensive form of old where they knocked the other team off the ball. QB Kyle Havens had a good spring and even better fall camp and is completely comfortable with the UMass offense. The Minuteman running game will be led by Northeastern transfer, John Griffin, while the passing game will be led by Hofstra transfer, Anthony Nelson. UMass head coach Kevin Morris will try to confuse the Tribe QB in every way possible.
William & Mary has 12 starters and 30 letter winners returning. The Tribe has given the keys to the offense to fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Callahan. Coach Laycock stated that Callahan is the most familiar with the Tribe offense, and it's this knowledge that put Callahan above the remaining Tribe QBs. While the Tribe will have new faces at safety and on the defensive line, the Tribe is sound at linebacker and on the corners. The expectation is that this Tribe will be almost as good if not better than last year's squad.
The Tribe expects to run the ball behind an offensive line led by senior Keith Hill. The Tribe's running game will be led by All-CAA runningback Jonathan Grimes. Former quarterback D.J. Mangus was moved to wide receiver to help the receivers. This game looks to be the first of those WWF vs UCF brawls I mentioned where the team that has the most desire and the most will to win, perseveres. I don’t expect a lot of scoring. This will be a game of field position played between the 20s. The team with the better kicking game will most likely be the victor.
Upset Meter [---5--] Tribe 16, Minuteman 13.
No. 10/9 New Hampshire (0 – 0, 0 – 0) vs. Central Connecticut State (0 – 0, 0 – 0) Noon, Saturday
Radio: WILDCAT SPORTS RADIO NETWORK
Series: New Hampshire leads 5 – 0.
The Wildcats have 14 starters and 45 letter winners returning from a team that went 10 – 3 overall and 6 – 2 in the CAA falling to Villanova in the FCS playoff quarterfinals. UNH was the only team to defeat Villanova in '09. Senior quarterback R.J. Toman returns to lead the Wildcat offense behind an experienced offensive line. Last year, Toman threw for 2,181 yards and 15 TD passes and completed 174 out of 320 attempts with 11 ints. One of Toman’s targets will be wide receiver Terrance Fox. Fox sat out the '09 season due to disciplinary reasons, but he has returned to stretch the field and give the Wildcats that dynamic playmaker in its receiving corp. The O-Line also helped produce 1,800 net yards for an average of 138.5 ypg. Leading the rushing attack will be senior runningback Sean Jellison. Jellison had 424 rushing yards and 7 TDs in 97 rush attempts last season.
The defense will be led by preseason All-CAA Dino Vasso and Brian McNally. Along with Vasso,Hugo Souza and Ryan McGuinness will patrol the secondary while McNally will lead the defensive line The Wildcats were undefeated at home in '09.
Central Connecticut State won its third NEC football title since 2004 last year and finished with a 9 – 3 record overall. The NEC coaches picked the Blue Devils to repeat in 2010. Also in 2010, the NEC champion will receive an automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. The Blue Devils are led by all-conference team selections: offensive lineman Mike Allison, wide receiver Josue Paul and defensive backs Dominque Rose and Alondre Rush. The Blue Devils averaged 25 points and 470 yards of total offense per game. Look for the Blue Devils to test the Wildcats early, but the Wildcats have the experience of winning in the CAA and will pull on lessons learned within the conference to bull themselves to victory.
Upset Meter [0---] Wildcats 35, Blue Devils 17.
#15/#15 James Madison (0 – 0, 0 – 0) vs. Morehead State(0 – 0, 0 – 0) 6 p.m., Saturday
TV: MADIZONE VIDEO
Radio: The WSVA-JMU/NTELOS SPORTS RADIO NETWORK.
Series: James Madison leads 4 – 2
JMU returns 15 starters and 43 letter winners from last year. Drew Dudzik returns to run the offense at quarterback and coach Mickey Matthews has sworn to protect Dudzik by changing up the offense and passing more. Dudzik had a slow start to fall camp, but hehas progressed to Matthews' satisfaction. JMU took two hits to its offensive line losing one player to academic issues and another to a broken leg. The runningback position will be by committee, but Scott Noble will be suspended for the first game. While visiting the Dukes on Aug 14, I noticed how fast the Dukes are. On defense, they swarm to the ball. Their kick return game will be something special to see. It's believed that Kirby Long and Lee Reynolds will make people forget about Scotty McGee.
Morehead State returns 19 starters and 34 letter winners from a squad that was 3 – 7 overall and 1 – 7 in the PFL. On offense, the Eagles will be led by sophomore quarterback Zach Lewis, who threw for 815 yards and four TDs in '09. The runningbacks will be junior Desmond Cox (305 rushing yards and one TD) and Ronnie McDermott, who led the team in receiving with 309 yards and one TD. The O-Line had been the Achilles heel of the Eagles as the entire group had been decimated by injuries on '09. The defense will be led by linemen Jerome Raymond and Mark Hall.
Look for the Dukes to establish superiority on the ground and then work on their passing game in preparation for Virginia Tech.
Upset Meter [0--] Dukes 45, Eagles 7.
No. 6/6 Richmond (0 – 0, 0 – 0) at Virginia (0 – 0, 0 – 0) 6 p.m., Saturday
Radio: ESPN 950 AM, and WOLF 93.1 FM
Series: Virginia leads 25 – 2 – 2
In Richmond, the Latrell Scott era begins. Along with a new head coach, the Spiders return seven starters and 45 letter winners. UR has seven preseason All-CAA picks, three Buck Buchanan Award nominees (Martin Parker, Eric McBride and Justin Rogers) and is 18 – 3 through the last three years against FCS opponents on the road (19 – 5 on the road overall in the same span).
Starting at quarterback for UR will be USC transfer Aaron Corp. UR will be challenged on the offensive lineto protect Corp and establish a running game. The Spiders have only team captain Drew Lachenmayer back to lead the team on the offensive line. It’s the Spiders defense that will carry the load, and it must keep opponents in the 13-to-14 points per game average to give its offense a shot. The defense and special teams also will be called on to give the Spiders the much-needed field position to score.
In Charlottesville, Va., the Mike London era begins. London was formerly head coach at UR, who left the Spiders to take on the same position at FBS Virginia. Scott had served as the wide receiver coach at UVA in 2009. Three UVA assistants were at UR in '09, and four UR assistants were at UVA in '09.
UVA has 16 starters returning (six offense, six defense and four on special teams). UVA will need playmakers to step up as the Cavaliers have lost its top four rushers from '09 as well as their quarterback who started 10 of 12 games. In addition, three of the top four wide receivers have graduated. With that group, UVA was ninth nationally in red zone conversions (27 of 29 opportunities). UVA has to wonder where its offense will come from in 2010.
London knows what he left behind at UR, and he knows its strengths and weaknesses. The question is whether he has the talent to exploit UR’s weaknesses. Likewise, Scott knows UVA's weaknesses, but he, too, is handcuffed without having much experience on the offensive side of the ball. It is this writer’s opinion that last year’s UR team would be two touchdown favorites over this year’s UVA team. However, as the teams appear to be close in talent, I have to lean toward the team that has more depth and coaching experience.
Upset Meter [---8-] Cavaliers 20, Spiders 10.
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