Throughout training camp, nothing has changed Talley's outlook. His team is coming off an 8-4 season in which it earned a share of the Colonial Athletic Association title and earned its fourth playoff appearance in five years.
One can see why the expectations are so high.
The Wildcats return 16 starters, but also welcome back two players who redshirted last year, senior center-guard Dan Shirey of Neshaminy and sophomore wide receiver Jamal Abdur-Rahman.
Shirey is the only player left who started in the 2009 national championship game. He is coming back from an Achilles injury that he suffered in 2012 spring practice.
Abdur-Rahman, who Talley says gives the Wildcats the type of versatility once provided by Brian Westbrook, missed last season due to a school-related suspension. He will return kicks and occasionally carry the ball.
Was Talley really comparing him to Westbrook, the Villanova all-American and former Eagles great?
"It's hard to get a back who can do all those things - run, catch, special teams," Talley said of Abdur-Rahman. "Not quite in Brian Westbrook's mold, but Westbrook-ish."
Much of the optimism is fueled by the return of redshirt sophomore quarterback John Robertson, who earned the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in FCS football. Robertson accounted for nearly 3,000 yards total offense and threw for 14 TDs and ran for another 14.
Villanova is ranked in the Top 10 in several FCS polls, including a No. 5 rating according to the Sports Network.
"We know where we want to go," Robertson said.
Yet the players aren't as bold in predictions as their coach.
Shirey, a person who can compare this team with the 2009 national champions, took a pass.
"Let's play some games and see how it plays out," Shirey said. "We do have a talented team."
The strength could be the offensive line, which returns all five starters, not counting Shirey.
Senior Josh Bucci (6-6, 350) is a preseason first-team all-CAA choice.
Senior Joe Price of Malvern Prep, who averaged 20.5 yards on 30 receptions, leads the receiving corps. Junior tight end Earnest Pettaway is somebody Talley feels could have a breakout year.
The defense is led by two senior linemen, Rakim Cox (6-4, 265) and first-team all-CAA nose guard Antoine Lewis (6-2, 290). Lewis, who hails from South Jersey's Mainland High, has been named a preseason all-American by the Sports Network.
Cox is described by Talley as a pro prospect.
"What has helped us is going up against our own offensive line," Cox said. "We have some battles."
Another South Jersey product, junior safety Joe Sarnese of Holy Spirit, is also an integral defensive leader. Last season he had 81 tackles (55 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, and four interceptions in earning third-team all-CAA honors.
The key for Villanova is not to dwell too much on all the preseason attention. The Wildcats open with Saturday's noon contest at Boston College, one game in which they won't be favored. Other than that, anything is possible.
"Expectations are high," Price said. "We like that pressure because we expect a lot."
A Look at the Wildcats
Coach: Andy Talley (28th season at Villanova, 198-120-1; overall 226-138-2).
Conference: Colonial Athletic Conference.
Last season: 8-4, 6-2 CAA (tied for first in conference, lost to Stony Brook, 20-10, in a first-round NCAA game).
Top returning players: John Robertson, So. QB (2,986 yards total offense, 14 TDs rushing, 14 passing); Kevin Monangai, Jr. RB (1,210 yards rushing, 11 TDs); Joe Price, Sr. WR (30 rec., 616 yards, 3 TDs); Joe Sarnese, Jr. S (81 tackles, 4 int.); Antoine Lewis, Sr. NG (9 tackles for loss); Rakim Cox, Sr. DE (5.5 sacks).
Key newcomers: Trey Johnson, Fr. DB; Jason Ceneus, Fr. DB; Tanoh Kpassagnon, RFr. DE; C.J. Logan, RFr. CB.
Outlook: With 16 starters returning, the Wildcats have been picked as the preseason choice to win the CAA. Their Sept. 21 home game against CAA newcomer Stony Brook will give an early indication of the Wildcats' strength. Besides battling for the CAA, Villanova is a team with legitimate national championship aspirations. The key will be Robertson's continued development. He came out of nowhere last year, beginning the season as the backup, but now teams will be prepared. He and his teammates will have to keep elevating their game in order to fulfill the high preseason expectations.
- Marc Narducci
Contact Marc Narducci at email@example.com. Follow @sjnard on Twitter.