So many times we hear football pundits saying, “This team has everything but a quarterback.”
It’s kind of like saying a car has everything but an engine. Quarterbacks, especially in this day with such an increased reliability on the passing game, may not be everything, but they sure are close to that.
Yes, some teams can win without a bonafide superstar, i.e. Georgia last year with Stetson Bennett, but even he had a 29-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio and that will win a lot of games. Especially with a defense that destroyed anybody who had the ball.
Still, a proven quarterback usually leads to favorable results, and that is why junior Connor Watkins is so vital to Villanova’s success.
The Wildcats are the defending Colonial Athletic Association champion and the pick to repeat. Yes, recent FCS power James Madison has left the CAA to become an FBS program in the Sun Belt, so that should make Villanova’s job easier in theory. Yet, nobody should forget last Oct. 9 – Villanova 28, James Madison 27 in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
The point is, Villanova has been an FCS power for quite some time no matter who is in the conference. Since 2008, the Wildcats have been to the FCS playoffs eight times, including 2009 when they won it all. Last year, Villanova made it to the quarterfinals.
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Villanova has already been high in multiple preseason national rankings, including No. 6 in the Stats Perform Preseason Top 25 media poll
The Wildcats have a deep group of running backs along with some game-breaking receivers. The offensive line is strong, led by HERO Sports second-team preseason All-American Michael Corbi. There is every indication this offense can be strong as long as Watkins is efficient driving that proverbial engine.
Villanova has produced some quality quarterbacks. John Robertson was the 2014 Walter Payton Award winner as the FCS Player of the Year. Last year’s quarterback Daniel Smith, provided three solid seasons after transferring from Campbell, where he had a record-breaking career.
Watkins (6-3, 215) threw just 13 passes as Smith’s backup last season, and by all indications, has enjoyed a strong camp.
The new quarterback will have no shortage of playmakers. The Wildcats have six running backs, including their second and third leading returning rushers – Jalen Jackson (587 yards rushing, 6.1 avg., 7 Tds) and DeeWil Barlee (414 yards, 4.1 avg.). Villanova also has some serious threats returning at receiver. Senior Jaaron Hayek had 40 receptions for 671 yards (16.7 avg.) and nine touchdowns. Junior Rayjuon Pringle added 41 receptions for 843 yards (20.3 avg.) and nine scores.
Offensive coordinator Chris Boden, a former standout quarterback at Villanova, has shown the ability to devise offenses with great balance. Receivers will get open due to scheming and their sheer skill. All Watkins has to do is hit them.
Easy as that, right?
Nothing’s ever that simple.
Villanova has plenty of holes to fill on defense, including replacing consensus All-American linebacker Forrest Rhyne, who recorded 152 tackles last season. But the Wildcats should be solid on that side of the ball.
The only reason the offense is an unknown is due to having a new quarterback, but it says here that this move shouldn’t create any serious angst. Sure, there will be additional pressure on Watkins. Pressure is part of the job description of a quarterback.
At least Villanova should get a short period to get Watkins accustomed to his new role. The Wildcats open Friday at home against Lehigh. This year’s opener isn’t expected to be much more challenging than last year when Villanova won 47-3 at Lehigh. The second game is home against an LIU team that is coming off a 3-8 season and picked to finish sixth in the Northeast Conference preseason poll.
Villanova’s third game is at Army, and that is when the schedule begins to get serious. It says here that by then, the quarterback will begin looking like many of his successful predecessors at Villanova.