Even for a coach who's been as successful as Villanova's Andy Talley, uncertainty is no easy sell when it comes to recruiting.

Yet, that's what Talley is up against as he awaits the decision on whether or not the Wildcats will move up to Division 1-A as a member of the Big East Conference.

"It's the first question every recruit asks," Talley said Monday as his team readied for practice with his 27th season as Nova's head coach approaching. "I simply tell them that we as a university have studied it very well. We made a commitment to do it. The Big East is in a holding pattern right now. I'm not totally sure what's going to happen, but we're pretty excited about the opportunity.

"In terms of affecting our recruiting, it has been difficult because a lot of players want to know if you're going to be in the Big East," he added. "That would determine whether or not they come to Villanova or go to another Big East school. It's made our recruiting extremely competitive."

Meantime, Talley has a more immediate issue to deal with, and that's maintaining the high standard the Wildcats have established as a national contender in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division 1-AA.

The core of the teams that went 33-9 the past three seasons, won the FCS national championship in 2009, and made the semifinals last season, is gone. Among the 12 starters Talley must replace, 10 were All-Colonial Athletic Association picks, two were first-team All Americans, and one (defensive lineman Ben Ijalana) was a second-round selection in the NFL draft.

Along with Ijalana, quarterback Chris Whitney, a four-year starter, and Matt Szczur, who was widely considered the country's top all-purpose back, must be replaced. He is now an outfielder in the Chicago Cubs organization.

Villanova is picked to finish seventh in the CAA, the top conference in the FCS. In the Sports Network preseason top 25 released Monday, the Wildcats are No. 14, below CAA opponents William and Mary (No. 3) and Delaware (No. 5). The disparity in their rankings indicates how difficult it is to predict the kind of season they'll have.

"We're only going to start three seniors, so that tells you we are a young team and a rebuilding team," said Talley, "We have a lot of talent but not a lot of experience. I think winning seven games would be a successful number – that would get you into the playoffs because of our league. If we can stay alive and have a chance to be a playoff team by the end of the year, that youth will be older and well-served and may be ready to be heard from again."

A key to Villanova's success has been the spread offense, and the burden of running the imaginative schemes will fall on quarterback Dustin Thomas, a redshirt freshman who became one of the most prolific passers in South Jersey high school history while at St. Augustine Prep.

Talley said Thomas is much faster than Whitney with a good arm and plenty of savvy.

"I think he has a chance to be successful early and if so we can be better than people think we'll be," Talley said. "He just needs the opportunity to play."

Thomas made it clear he won't be taking on linebackers the way the bruising, 235-pound Whitney did. Nodding toward Norman White, the 6-3 senior wide receiver from St. Joseph's Hammonton, Thomas smiled and said, "I'll let him take the hits because he's bigger than me."

"I like being the underdog, where people don't know what they're going to get," he added. "I think we're going to be just fine."

White said he and Thomas had plenty of time to get used to one another over the summer because they didn't have to go far to get together.

"We're both from South Jersey, so we've been at home throwing a lot," White said. "I've got a lot of faith in Dustin. I think he's going to be a really good quarterback."

The Wildcats open the season Sept. 1 against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. Talley expects to learn much about Thomas from the game against the Owls.

"One thing about playing a Division 1 team early is they expose all of your flaws, so I'm sure when you play a bigger, faster team like Temple we'll find out if he's ready to play," he said." I think he is."