Penn football lost its fair share of standouts to graduation, but cross-town rival Villanova has taken an even bigger hit while the world of professional sports — not just the NFL — just got a little more talented.
Former Villanova football players have taken their talents to the big leagues. Two-sport athlete and former ’Nova wide receiver Matt Szczur signed a minor-league contract with the Chicago Cubs while offensive linemen and two-time All-CAA recipient, Ben Ijalana was selected 49th overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2011 draft.
“They had some of the best players in the history of Villanova football around for 40 games,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “When those guys leave, they just don’t leave a talent void, they leave the leadership void, the experience void and everything else.”
After graduating a class with 40-13 four year record, marking the most wins for a Villanova football class, the Wildcats are off to a slow start. Last year’s seniors also made three-straight playoff appearances, a first in program history, while this year’s squad sits winless through three games.
“They graduated a lot of guys last year so they have a bunch of new faces offensively and defensively,” said Penn quarterback Billy Ragone, who picked up 184 all-purpose yards against the Wildcats in a 22-10 loss last year.
But this might be the chance for the Quakers (0-1, 0-0 Ivy) to notch their first win over the Wildcats in 100 years. Although the Red and Blue will technically be the away team tomorrow at Franklin Field, they are looking to redeem themselves after a 37-12 loss to Lafayette last week on their home turf.
“We’re trying to put this last week in the past and move on,” Ragone said. “We’ve had a great week of practice, and this game — it’s a cross-town rivalry and it’s been a game that we haven’t won in 100 years, so I think that’s in the back of everyone’s mind.”
Despite the series record, Penn and Villanova enter tomorrow’s matchup at the Frank in similar positions. The Wildcats, whose season extended to the FCS semifinals last season, are without a win. Villanova was ranked seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll but has suffered losses to Temple, Towson and Monmouth and has been outscored by a margin of 93-26.
“They’re hungry for a win, and I think we’re in a similar situation, trying to get our first win, trying to get our season going,” Ragone said.
There has also been an offensive void left by the loss of four-year starting quarterback and All-American election, Chris Whitney. In their last matchup against Monmouth, the Wildcats started freshman Chris Polony under center but brought in senior quarterback Chris Culicerto in the second quarter. No matter who is at the helm, Bagnoli knows what to expect from the Wildcat attack.
“They’re going to be running spread, they’re still going to deploy people all over the place,” he said. “They’re still based on an option attack, and they still want to go with a no huddle-shotgun approach 99 percent of the time.”
Though the offense may be familiar, the personnel won’t be, so Penn will have its work cut out with a 100-year-old losing streak on the line.
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