FCS Review: 'Nova lurks in Talley finale
(STATS) - Andy Talley is coaching his 32nd and final season at Villanova and the Wildcats are off to a 4-1 start, yet somehow they're flying under the radar.
It surely reflects on how there are so many good teams in CAA Football.
In a good season for the conference, Richmond and James Madison are in the Top 10, Albany has enjoyed one of the bigger turnarounds in the FCS and New Hampshire may be putting together another of its patented runs to an FCS playoff bid. Even William & Mary is probably gaining more attention for having a subpar season.
And there, lurking, is a Villanova team that probably benefits from not quite having the spotlight.
The Wildcats, who won the 2009 national title, thought they had another championship contender last season, but that prospect ended when quarterback John Robertson was lost for the season in September. But his knee injury gave 'Nova an early start on 2016 with redshirt freshman Zack Bednarczyk taking control of the offense.
They're now seeing the payoff.
Bednarczyk has been steady this season, including three touchdown passes in Saturday's 42-7 win at Elon, which put the Wildcats atop the CAA standings at 2-0 alongside JMU and UNH.
In a CAA built on running the ball and being able to stop the run, Villanova is among the best in both departments. Running back Matt Gudzak returned at the right time against Elon with leading rusher Javon White sidelined by an ankle injury, and the Wildcats churned out a program-record 35 first downs.
Since a season-opening 28-7 loss at Pittsburgh, the defense has been surrendering fewer points to opponents on a weekly basis. It has a star in NFL-bound defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, who has 11 tackles for loss and five sacks this season.
Villanova next hosts Rhode Island, the conference's worst team. Afterward, the schedule will give the Wildcats a chance to prove themselves in the title race and, they hope, get the beloved 73-year-old Talley to the playoffs in his final season.
SECOND AND 10=
Ten more observations from the FCS weekend:
1.) There were a number of terrific crowds across the FCS this weekend, led by the 53,182 who watched Grambling State top Prairie View A&M 36-16 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin drew 27,411 to NRG Stadium in Houston, while Montana (26,092) and James Madison (25,236) led the way on campus. New Hampshire saw the rewards of having a new stadium as a home-record 21,943 packed UNH Stadium.
2.) The Island of Misfit Toys. Revenge of the Nerds. The FCS underdogs? Some strange things are going on with teams that were downtrodden a year ago. At 4-0, CAA hopeful Albany has surpassed last year's win total and is nationally ranked. Missouri State didn't even beat an FCS team last year and was 1-10, but it's 3-1 after a Top 25 win at Indiana State. Cornell just topped Patriot League champ Colgate and is 3-0 after going 1-9 last season and 5-25 in coach David Archer's first three. Wagner (3-1), a solid program that went 1-10 last season, is back in a big way after handing Northeast Conference rival Sacred Heart its first loss.
3.) The team of the week is Charleston Southern for the way it continues to beat its rivals. Saturday's 59-58, double-overtime triumph over Coastal Carolina in a Top 25 matchup was arguably the wildest in fourth-year coach Jamey Chadwell's tenure. Solomon Brown's block of an extra point in the second OT preserved the win. Under Chadwell, the Buccaneers are 3-1 against Coastal and 4-0 in town against The Citadel.
4.) It was meltdown Saturday for Patriot League powers as defending champ Colgate and fellow 2015 playoff qualifier Fordham blew second-half leads. Colgate (1-3) surrendered a 19-point halftime cushion and lost to Cornell 39-38. Fordham (2-2) was up 14 at halftime at Monmouth and lost 42-41 in overtime on a two-point conversion by Reggie White Jr., son of the late NFL legend. At least Lehigh stayed hot with backup quarterback Brad Mayes firing for six touchdowns and a program-record 524 yards in a 63-35 rout of Yale. It barely matters who's quarterbacking the Mountain Hawks (3-2), who have averaged 51.3 points during a three-game winning streak.
5.) North Dakota's season nearly seemed shot when it was 0-2 and on the verge of losing to South Dakota. But the Fighting Hawks rallied to win in double-OT against the Coyotes and have opened their Big Sky schedule with quality wins over Montana State and Cal Poly. Quarterback Keaton Studsrud has matured into the starting role, there are two big-play running backs in John Santiago and Brady Oliveira, and the defense is still a physical staple. Just as big, coach Bubba Schweigert's squad doesn't have Eastern Washington, Montana and Portland State on its conference schedule. The recent roll may continue all month long.
6.) The 91st "Battle of the Piney Woods" was all Sam Houston State, which opened a 35-0 lead in its 63-28 rout of Stephen F. Austin. The game set a seventh straight record crowd at NRG Stadium, but the most impressive seven was Bearkats quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe's school-record number of touchdown passes.
7.) The most disappointing team in the FCS is Bethune-Cookman at 0-4. The Wildcats had designs on winning a sixth MEAC title in seven seasons, but that appears gone with back-to-back conference losses to Savannah State and North Carolina Central. Coach Terry Sims' squad, which was 9-2 last season, had the most all-MEAC preseason selections with 15.
8.) Jacksonville State sat idle and watched as the teams picked to challenge the Gamecocks' perfection in the Ohio Valley Conference all lost Saturday - Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Illinois and UT Martin. The Gamecocks are prohibitive favorites after going 8-0 each of the last two seasons. They won't face Tennessee State because the unbeaten Tigers are in a season in which they play an extra non-conference game.
9.) On a Saturday of incredible offensive performance, including seven passers who went over 400 yards, there were six field goals of at least 50 yards. Did Lois Lane and Clark Kent have a super-human son that we didn't know about? Tennessee State junior Lane Clark led the way with a school-record 54-yard field goal that he proceeded to top with a 57-yarder. Wagner's James Cooper (52), Chattanooga's Henrique Ribeiro (52), Texas Southern's Eric Medina (51, game-winner) and Liberty's Alex Probert (51) also connected on career-long shots.
10.) Top-ranked North Dakota State's 31-10 win over Illinois State wasn't even that close. Coach Chris Klieman's squad made a statement in the rematch of the 2014 FCS championship game. Even if the Bison (4-0) lose one game, they surely will have home-field advantage in the FCS playoffs again.
A LOOK AHEAD=
North Carolina A&T gets the action started again Thursday night by hosting Norfolk State in the MEAC.
The national schedule is one of the weaker ones in recent seasons. The key games on Saturday include: Big Sky, Northern Colorado at Eastern Washington; CAA, Richmond at Albany and William & Mary at James Madison; Ivy, Cornell at Harvard (a battle of unbeatens); Missouri Valley, Youngstown State at Illinois State and Indiana State at Western Illinois; and Ohio Valley, Tennessee State at Eastern Illinois.
Also: Patriot, Colgate at Lehigh; Pioneer, Morehead State at Dayton; and Southern, Mercer at Chattanooga.