FCS: The Villanova-Colgate season opener is going to be historic

The FCS doesn't get as much attention as the bowl subdivision, but it houses some exciting talent in its own right. Villanova and Colgate will boast some of that talent in their season debut.

Congratulations folks, you made it!! The offseason is over, and we can finally get back to our reason for existence: football. While there are only two FBS games during Week 0, the first Division I game played in 2019 will be from the Football Championship Subdivision. The FCS is a league that has a real tournament that decides who is the undisputed champion of the college football world.

If you are unfamiliar with FCS football, I would suggest hopping on the train while you can. A lot of top coaches in the FBS and the NFL had their start with FCS teams. You could also be watching the next NFL star in the FCS and not even know it (David Johnson, Carson Wentz, Tarik Cohen). Let’s see what the Villanova Wildcats and the No. 13-ranked Colgate Raiders have in store for us in their season debut.

Raider Defense

The Colgate Raiders are coming off of a historic season in 2018. Their defense finished first in the FCS with 9.3 points allowed per game. If you don’t think that’s impressive, their opponents scored less than 10 points in 8 of Colgate’s ten regular season matches. And they also gave opposing teams goose eggs in five games last year. Them boys good. They did what they could against North Dakota State last season, but ultimately lost to the national champs in the quarterfinal 35-0.

Their 3-4 defense is led by returning senior two-time First-Team All-Patriot League defensive end Nick Wheeler. At 6-2, 255 pounds, Wheeler holds his ground in the run game and brings explosion, length and bend off the edge for the Raiders. Wheeler’s 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks had quarterbacks fearful of the Raider rush. Wheeler needs 5.5 more sacks to become the career sack leader in Colgate history. But Wheeler’s rush wasn’t the only thing opposing offenses were afraid of either.

Cornerback Abu Daramy-Swaray (uh-BOO da-ROM-ee swah-RAY) led the Raider secondary to an 83.88 pass efficiency defense: best in the country. The Raiders play man and two high safety looks and Daramy-Swaray sticks to his receivers like glue. ADS is also a two-time First-Team All-Patriot League selection and was named to two All-American teams last season. ADS had two pass breakups and three interceptions last season along with one touchdown as a punt returner.

It will be hard for the Raiders to match their great 2018 season, but they have the leadership in place to take a stab at it.

Wildcat Pride

Villanova is known as a basketball school, but their football program has quietly been a consistent FCS program. Seventy-five wins in this decade is nothing to sneeze at. The Wildcats were ranked in the top 10 early last season with a 19-17 win over Temple in their season opener. But injuries ravaged their team, which happens quite a bit (ask an FCS/Villanova fan) and the Wildcats finished with a modest 5-6 record. Because of this, the Wildcats were picked to finish 10th in the 2019 CAA preseason poll, despite fielding one of the best defenses in the FCS in 2018.

The defense has a solid foundation of experience with Freshman All-American DB Christian Benford and junior DB Jaquan Amos leading the secondary; defensive lineman Sophomore All-American Malik Fisher leads the front seven. Villanova also brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the FCS this offseason. There’s no telling how good this defense could be if they stay healthy.

Quarterback Play

They say defense wins championships, but with these stout defenses, the edge may come on offense. The Raiders have the advantage with Grant Breneman taking snaps. The Preseason Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year is a true dual-threat quarterback that leads the Raiders’ spread run-oriented offense. The junior quarterback passed for 3,199 yards and 24 touchdowns while running for 708 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. What may help Breneman the most this season is four starters returning on the offensive line in front of him. Being a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy this summer also doesn’t look bad on his football resume.

Villanova’s quarterback position is filled with uncertainty. Zach Bednarczyk was the starter for the Wildcats, but he was hampered by injuries while playing eight games. Qadir Ismail made one start last year, but head coach Mark Ferrante brought in Campbell grad transfer Daniel Smith, who set numerous program records for the Camels, Howard grad transfer J.P. Patricia, and freshmen Connor Watkins and Matt O’Connor. That quarterback room is full, and it looks like it won’t be decided until near game time. The good news is, whoever takes the helm has returning contributors in wide receiver Changa Hodge (22 catches, 344 yards in 2018) and preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association selection tight end Simon Bingelis.

Prediction

It’s CAA vs. Patriot League, nearing the 150th anniversary of the first college football game, and it may be a doozy. Expect a defensive battle between two consistent programs. A lot of history will be discussed on the CBS Sports Network broadcast to go along with the late August carnage that is set to kick off this season. One of these teams may jump out to an early lead, but I see the Raiders running away with this game and shutting down the Wildcats.

Villanova 13, Colgate 24

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