'Cats are Back: Football Season Preview

After playing just four games last year, going 2-2 and missing the FCS playoffs, the Wildcats are slated for a full 11-game season in 2021 and were picked to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) preseason rankings.

The No. 16 ranked ‘Cats open up their season on Sept. 4 at Lehigh and then take on Bucknell in their home opener the following weekend before getting into their first CAA matchup on Sept. 18 against Richmond. 

The Wildcats’ next two games are huge, the first coming Sept. 25 on the road against FBS program No. 19 Penn State, who the ‘Cats haven’t played since 1949, and the second coming on Oct. 9 at James Madison, which is the No. 2 FCS team and the preseason pick to win the CAA. The Cats are looking for their first win against the conference rival Dukes since 2014. 

‘Nova wraps up its three-game road trip against Albany and then plays Rhode Island and William & Mary at home, followed by a trip to Elon and two final home games to close out the season against Stony Brook and rivals Delaware — the second-place finisher in the CAA preseason poll.

The Wildcats offense is led by graduate student quarterback Daniel Smith, who led the FCS in points responsible for in 2019 with his 35 passing touchdowns, 12 rushing TDs and one receiving score. Smith’s per-game stats took a dip in 2020, averaging just one passing touchdown per game and .25 rushing TDs, but the 2019 CAA Third Team member and 2021 CAA preseason honorable mention looks to bounce back and have a big season for the ‘Cats. 

Graduate student running back Justin Covington headlines the ‘Cats run game, as the 2020 Second Team CAA member and 2020 CAA preseason honorable mention rushed for 77.3 yards per game last season, finding the endzone six times. Senior Jalen Jackson, who averaged 55.5 yards per game last season and scored three touchdowns, will also play a pivotal role in the Wildcats backfield. 

Junior wide receiver Rayjoun Pringle is WR1 for Mark Ferrante’s squad, putting up 14.4 yards per catch back in 2020, when he was named to the CAA Second Team. Michael Corbi, a senior center who was first team CAA last year, is the lone Villanova offensive player selected to the conference's preseason team.

On the defensive side, the Cats had three members selected to the CAA preseason team; senior defensive lineman Malik Fisher, senior linebacker Forrest Rhyne and junior cornerback Christian Benford, all of whom were CAA first team members a year ago. Last season, Fisher had a team-high four tackles for loss and three sacks and a team-high-tying one interception and one forced fumble. Rhyne finished his 2020 campaign third on the team in tackles with 22, tied for third in sacks with one, and tied for fourth with 1.5 tackles for loss. 

Benford’s four pass breakups led the Wildcats, and he finished second on the team in solo tackles with 16 and tied for first in interceptions with one. Sophomore linebacker Jalen Goodman led the Wildcats in tackles last season with 29, and Timmy Furgeson, a redshirt freshman linebacker, was second on the team in sacks with two and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles with one.

Expectations for the Cats are high this year, and they look to rebound from a rather underwhelming 2020 season and make it back to the FCS playoffs.