So much is on the line for Villanova.
The first playoff berth since 2016. A chance for a first-round bye in the playoffs.
But those aren’t the focus of the team this week. Arch-rival Delaware is the topic of conversation for the Wildcats.
“We feel a different energy in practice this week because it’s Delaware, and it’s a rivalry game,” coach Mark Ferrante said. “We look at that as a big deal, so our guys are juiced up for this one.”
None of the Wildcats players knows what it’s like to lose to the Blue Hens (5-6). Villanova has won seven straight in the series, the longest winning streak by either team in the 52-game history.
So how can they stay focused and not look ahead?
In the locker room, it hasn’t been hard. Ferrante believes the team is focused and has a renewed energy since its three-game losing streak. And even if they are aware of the potential ramifications of a win, it hasn’t been discussed. All of the attention has been placed on Delaware.
“It’s a rival game and it’s treated a little differently,” Ferrante said. “There’s just a different vibe in this game.”
Villanova is ranked No. 10 in the Stats FCS Poll. Through a selection committee, the top eight seeded teams will receive a bye. North Dakota State, James Madison, and Montana are essentially locks to get a bye.
Villanova is among a bevy of 8-3 teams that include: South Dakota State, Weber State, Sacramento State, Montana State, Illinois State, Eastern Washington, Southern Illinois, and Towson. Add in four-loss Northern Iowa, and that’s 10 teams fighting for five spots.
If each of these teams wins, Villanova likely won’t receive a bye, so the Wildcats will need a couple of those teams to fall Saturday.
With a loss, the Wildcats still remain in a strong position to make the playoffs, but they wouldn’t be placed in a favorable first-round matchup on Nov. 30. With a bye, the Wildcats would host a game on Dec. 7.
“We’re in that bubble area, and I think it might depend on what some other teams do in the league as well,” Ferrante said.
Villanova is about as healthy as a it could be at this point of the season. Quarterback Daniel Smith has led the second-best scoring offense in conference play, and the defense is also in the top five.
So there isn’t much the team can do to improve. The identity is there. Now it’s just about consistency.
To add to everything at stake, Saturday will also be senior day at Villanova Stadium.
“In the past couple of years, our [seniors] get pretty emotional, and they’ve shown up,” Ferrante said. “I’m hoping that’ll continue this year.”
Once the game ends, all attention will shift to the playoffs. The selections will be made at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.