BALTIMORE – The Colonial Athletic Association ranked Villanova third behind James Madison and Richmond in the preseason poll to begin Mark Ferrante's first year as head coach of the Wildcats.
Villanova finished 9-4 and lost in the second round of the FCS playoffs last year in coach Andy Talley's 32nd and final season. The Wildcats placed three players on the preseason all-CAA team, announced Tuesday at the conference's media day at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Two of those play on a Villanova defense that allowed the fewest points and yards per game in the FCS last season. Senior safety Rob Rolle, a Delsea High graduate, is the conference's preseason defensive player of the year. Senior linebacker Ed Shockley (Millville) joins him on the all-conference team, as does senior punter John Hinchen.
Villanova finished just one point behind Richmond for second in the voting, but both are looking up at James Madison. The Dukes upset five-time defending national champion North Dakota State in the semifinals last year and went on to win the national championship. They return senior quarterback Bryan Schor, the CAA preseason offensive player of the year, among four starters on offense.
Chasing James Madison: Villanova played James Madison as close as anyone in the FCS last year. In a game at Villanova Stadium that ended up deciding the CAA title, the Wildcats held the Dukes to their lowest point total of the season but lost, 20-7.
The game was tied at seven at halftime, at which point Schor had left with a shoulder injury. But Villanova ended up turning the ball over four times and faltering in the second half.
"That one hurt to lose, and we're not looking past anyone, but I think everyone's looking forward to [the rematch this season]," fifth-year senior center Matt Donoghue said. "We're going to be ready to play."
Staunch defense regroups: Villanova lost five starters from that top-ranked defense. The key to continuing the success, Rolle said, is balance. Rolle had seven interceptions last season, and six other players had at least one. Each starting linebacker finished with 86 tackles, and two, Ed Shockley and Jeff Steeb, return this season.
"To lead in a couple different categories and be ranked the No. 1 defense in the country last year, obviously that would be hard to repeat," new Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. "We were hit with graduation more on defense than we were on offense. But as far as the expectations, we're still pretty high there."