CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - So what chance does Villanova have to repeat as the Football Championship Subdivision champion next season?
A great one, according to Wildcats safety Ross Ventrone.
"I don't see any team in the future being better than this team," the fifth-year senior said following Friday's 23-21 FCS championship win over Montana at Finley Stadium.
Backing up Ventrone's contention is this: National-champ Villanova, which finished 14-1, returns 14 starters, including all-American offensive tackle Ben Ijalana and two all-Colonial Athletic Association selections, quarterback Chris Whitney and linebacker Terence Thomas.
All-American kick returner/wideout Matt Szczur - the FCS title game's most outstanding player - could become the 15th returning starter. A versatile offensive weapon who occasionally lines up in the backfield, Szczur had 270 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns Friday.
But Szczur is also a two-sport star and is expected to be selected in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. If that happens, he may have to report to an instructional league next fall.
"After baseball season, I'll probably end up entering the draft, but I love these guys," said Szczur, a catcher and outfielder on the Wildcats' baseball team. "Whitney, Thomas, all the guys are my best friends. We started out as freshmen, and wanted to accomplish something.
"We accomplished it, so I don't want to leave these guys."
If Szczur returns, Villanova probably will be ranked No. 1 in various preseason polls.
The 2009 Wildcats will be recalled for second-half comebacks in the FCS semifinal against William & Mary and again in the championship game.
Villanova outscored William and Mary and Montana by a combined 28-10 after intermission in close victories.
The Wildcats trailed the Tribe, 10-0, at halftime on Dec. 11. Villanova ended up winning, 14-13.
The decisive points came with 10 minutes, 57 seconds remaining. Whitney scored on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line and Nick Yako kicked the extra point.
On Friday, Montana had 293 yards of total offense in the first half. Grizzlies all-American wide receiver Marc Mariani produced nine catches for 178 of those yards and a score before intermission.
As a result, Montana led by 14-3 with 6:48 left in the second quarter and seemed to have control of the game.
But Szczur scored from 5 yards out on the ensuing possession to close the gap to five points at intermission.
Then, Villanova's second-half adjustments turned Mariani and the Grizzlies' offense into spectators.
Successfully keeping the ball away from Montana, the Wildcats ran on 30 of their 36 second-half plays.
Running the option to perfection, Villanova scored on their first two second-half possessions. Szczur capped the second drive by scoring on fourth and 1 from the 3-yard line to give the Wildcats a 23-14 advantage with 11:04 remaining.
Villanova held Mariani without a second-half reception by switching from zone to man coverage and double-teaming him. As a result, the Grizzlies were held to 132 yards after halftime, with 53 coming on Andrew Selle's late touchdown pass to Jabin Sambrano.
The title game was the third time that Villanova rallied for a win despite trailing by 10 or more points in the first half. The Wildcats spotted Temple a 10-0 halftime cushion before winning, 27-24, in the season opener for both teams.
"We have talent," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "You can really do a lot with talent. Matt Szczur, Chris Whitney, Terence Thomas, at halftime in the locker room, they give you confidence, because they are confident. Competitive athletes that don't feel like 10 or 15 points is insurmountable."