Villanova, the reigning FCS champions, return to the Linc.
Temple football enters the 2010 season coming off one of the best seasons in university history. In the season opener, the Owls get a chance to seek revenge against one of last year’s sour notes, the Villanova Wildcats.
The Owls lost last year’s game, 27-24, on a last-second field goal from sophomore placekicker Nick Yako.
Villanova took that momentum and had its best year in the 112-year history of the program. The Wildcats finished with a 14-1 record and won the Football Championship Series’ National Championship. They come into this year ranked No. 1 in the country in preseason polls.
Villanova’s biggest threat comes in the form of senior wide receiver Matt Szczur. Szczur tallied 51 receptions for 610 yards, 108 rushes for 813 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also returned 30 kickoffs for 816 yards and found the end zone once. Szczur can throw the ball, too, as he went 4-of-4 for 22 yards and two touchdowns.
Szczur, who is also an outfielder/catcher for Villanova’s baseball team, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft. The New Jersey native spent his summer playing for three different affiliates within the Chicago organization and compiled a .347 batting average.
Coach Al Golden didn’t hold back on praise for the multi-dimensional Szczur.
“Matt Szczur is as good as any player we will see all year,” Golden said.
Despite Szczur’s skill set, the Owls are not focusing on him as an individual.
“We don’t game plan around single players,” junior defensive end Adrian Robinson said.
In last year’s loss, the Owls held Szczur to only four catches for 31 yards.
The Wildcats return another versatile player in senior quarterback Chris Whitney. Whitney led the team in passing with 1,936 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also leading the team in rushing with 987 yards. For his efforts, Whitney was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association team.
All the talent that the Wildcats and coach Andy Talley can put out on the field has caught the eye – and the respect – of Golden.
“I have great respect for Talley,” Golden said. “It’s exciting to play in meaningful games at the beginning of the year, and Villanova is a meaningful game now.”
Led by redshirt senior Aaron Ball, who registered 794 yards and six touchdowns last season, the Wildcats possess a strong running back corp. The backup, redshit senior Angelo Babbaro, is a dual threat. Babbaro finished last year’s campaign with 442 rushing yards and 185 receiving yards. In the NCAA Quarterfinal win over New Hampshire, he recorded 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Lawrence Doss and senior Louis Adeyemi are also expected to contribute to the rushing attack.
On the offensive line, the Wildcats are led by senior left tackle Benjamin Ijalana, a player who Golden also expressed a lot of respect for.
“They have the whole team back, and the left tackle is as good as anybody,” Golden said.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats don’t return as many players as they do on offense, especially on the defensive line, where they lost two of three starters to graduation. Sophomore Marlon Johnson will get the nod at defensive end, where he started all 15 games last season. It will be a three-way battle among sophomore Tamai Young, senior Mario Johnson and redshirt freshman Rakim Cox for the other end spot.
At the linebacker position, the Wildcats return Second Team all-American senior Terence Thomas. Thomas, who started every game in his career, is the reigning conference defensive player of the year after he recorded 116 total tackles last season.
The Wildcats return four of five starters in the secondary, including both cornerbacks in junior James Pitts and sophomore Eric Loper. Senior safeties John Dempsey and Frederick Maldonado also return.
Villanova also returns both members of its kicking game. Yako returns after connecting 12-of-16 field goals, including last year’s game winner over the Owls. Junior rugby-style punter Dominic Scarnecchia returns after averaging 38 yards per punt last season.
The Owls and Wildcats kick off the second annual Mayor’s Cup at Lincoln Financial Field at 5 p.m. Friday.
Ryan Rosengrant can be reached at email@example.com