Nov. 22, 2009
VILLANOVA, Pa. - One day after winning its first conference title since 2001, the Villanova football team has received the No. 2 overall seed to the Division I Football Championship. The Wildcats are the second seed in the 16-team field which was announced this afternoon on ESPN News. Villanova is now set to host Holy Cross next Saturday in a first round game. Kickoff time will be announced later Sunday or on Monday morning.
Villanova is 10-1 overall this season and went 7-1 in regular season play in the Colonial Athletic Association for the second straight year. The Wildcats received the league's automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs by virtue of a 21-20 win over Richmond earlier this month. Villanova finished tied for first place with the Spiders in the CAA South Division.
The No. 2 seed is a reward for the Wildcats success this season against the fourth most difficult schedule in the nation, including eight games played in arguably the top conference in FCS football. Four teams from the CAA are part of the 16-team playoff field and all four are ranked in the top-10 in the nation in this week's Sports Network Top 25 poll. Joining Villanova in the field are Richmond (No. 4 overall seed), William & Mary and New Hampshire.
"I am very pleased with the seeding," Villanova head coach Andy Talley said. "I think the committee did a really good job. I knew that being undefeated, Montana would be the No. 1 seed. We certainly wanted to be No. 2 and that puts us on the side of some really good football teams. Obviously we have played New Hampshire and William & Mary, and it is exciting to have Holy Cross, another Catholic institution that we have played in the past, coming in here to play us in the first round."
So far this season, the Wildcats have posted a win against an FBS opponent, Temple, which has since won nine straight games and clinched at least a share of the Mid-American Conference East Division title. Villanova also posted a victory over local rival Penn, which yesterday won the outright Ivy League championship. Overall, the 11 opponents the Wildcats have faced are a collective 67-53 (.558) this season, with the top eight teams from that group an even more impressive 61-26 (.701).
This season marks the eighth appearance in the FCS playoffs for Villanova, which returns to the championship for the second time in as many years. Last season, the Wildcats reached the quarterfinal round before falling in the closing minutes to league rival and No. 1 seed James Madison.
The opponent Villanova faces in its opening playoff game is a Holy Cross team which won its sixth outright Patriot League title this season. The Crusaders are 9-2 entering the playoffs and went 5-1 in league play this season. The two losses on the year for Holy Cross have been road losses to Brown and Bucknell. The Crusaders are ranked No. 17 in this week's Sports Network Top 25 poll. The Wildcats are 12-9 all-time against Holy Cross, although the teams have not met since 1989.
"The Patriot League champion, in the past, has given some of the teams in our league some awfully good games," Talley said. "I can recall Colgate, the year they went to the [championship game], upset our champion, Massachusetts in the first round. The year that we went to the semifinals , we beat Fordham in the second round but they upset our champion, Northeastern, before that. The Patriot League has traditionally stepped up big in the first round and we are very aware of that and of Holy Cross."
The winner of next Saturday's first round game will play a quarterfinal matchup on Saturday, December 5 against the winner of a first round contest between McNeese State and New Hampshire. That game is being played at McNeese State. The other top seeds in the championship are Montana (No. 1) and Southern Illinois (No. 3).
The Division I Football Championship includes automatic bids from eight different conferences as well as eight at-large selections. The first three rounds of the championship are all played at campus sites, while the championship game will be played on Friday, December 18 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The Wildcats have made seven previous playoff appearances under head coach Andy Talley. The program earned playoff bids in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997, 2002 and 2009. Villanova is 4-7 in the Division I Championship over the years, with all four victories coming in the last three appearances. The Wildcats reached the second round of the 1997 tournament after an undefeated regular season and advanced to the semifinals in 2002.
Villanova is led this season by an offense that averages 222.2 rushing yards per game. The Wildcats have scored 31.8 points per contest and own a +18.9 scoring margin over their competition. Individually, Villanova has three players with over 450 rushing yards this season. The trio of junior quarterback Chris Whitney (Warminster, Pa.), junior running back Aaron Ball (Los Angeles, Calif.) and junior wide receiver Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) have combined for 13 of the team's 23 rushing touchdowns.
Whitney is the team's top rusher with 728 yards and three touchdowns on 146 carries (5.0 yards per carry). He also has the top passer efficiency rating in the CAA with a mark of 155.94. Whitney is 123-of-185 (66.5%) through the air this season for 1,413 yards with 16 touchdowns and a mere three interceptions. Senior wide receiver Brandyn Harvey (Spring Valley, Calif.) has been Whitney's favorite target, as his 47 receptions for 604 yards and five scores are all team highs.
The Wildcats are also a dangerous defensive team with a number of playmakers. Villanova is forcing more than two turnovers per game by the opposition and has gained 23 turnovers for the year, including 17 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. Sophomore defensive back James Pitts (Montclair, N.J.) leads the team with four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and eight pass breakups. Junior linebacker Terence Thomas (Lawrenceville, N.J.) leads the team with 88 total tackles, among them 8.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 quarterback sacks.
This year marks the fourth time in the last six years that the CAA has had at least four teams chosen to the championship field. The league features the defending national champion in Richmond and has sent one of its teams to the national championship game in five of the last six seasons. Prior to the Spiders winning last year's title, Delaware captured the championship in 2003 and James Madison followed in 2004.
2009 Division I Football Championship - FIRST ROUND MATCHUPS
All games are being played on Saturday, November 28
Holy Cross at (2) Villanova
South Dakota State at (1) Montana
Eastern Illinois at (3) Southern Illinois
Elon at (4) Richmond
Eastern Washington at Stephen F. Austin
New Hampshire at McNeese State
Weber State at William & Mary
South Carolina State at Appalachian State