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College Football Preview: Villanova University Wildcats

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The 2017 football season will be a bit different for the Villanova University Wildcats.

It will be different because for the first time since the football program was brought back the mid-eighties, someone other than Andy Talley will be in charge.

However, things won't be that different because the new head coach has spent the last three decades as a top assistant for Talley, who retired following the 2016 season.

That new head coach is Mark Ferrante and he is enjoying his first preseason in charge of the Wildcats.

"The enthusiasm, the energy of the team has been good," Ferrante tells KYW Newsradio. "We've stayed relatively healthy on both sides of the ball with our top guys. We had a couple injuries to some young guys that will miss some time, but other than that, I think we're going in a good direction."

Ferrante, who spent the last 18 years under Talley as Assistant Head Coach, talks about the adjustment to life as the head man.

"It's been great," he says. "The biggest difference is when we're on the field where I'm not running a positional group and I don't have a pre-practice-positional meeting. The days go faster because there's a lot more stuff coming across my desk than there used to be as the [offensive] line coach, but the practices kind of go a little slower because I'm not as involved with period to period coaching responsibility. But it's been good."

Villanova has a lot of talent back from a team that went 9-4 and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs last year. That includes starting quarterback Zach Bednarczyk. A junior, Bednarczyk threw for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while rushing for 539 yards and two more scores. Ferrante says his signal caller has had a really good camp.

"He's putting the ball where it needs to be," he says. "He's getting good reads down the field. He's doing a great job having a good command of the offense. And he's a real good leader for us over there as well."

Villanova held opponents to 15 points a game last season on defense. While much of that unit is returning, Ferrante says they do have some big holes to fill along the defensive line.

"Tanoh [Kpassagnon] out there with the Chiefs [drafted in the] second round and then Bryan Osei was the other defensive end," Ferrante says. "So that's where we were hit hardest with graduation. But the linebacker corps looks solid and deep with the return of [junior Jeff] Steeb and [senior Ed] Shockley. [Austin] Calitro is the only one that graduated from the linebacker corps and he's out there with the 49ers right now, hoping he can stick with them. Then the back end is super experienced. We have four seniors out of the five defensive backs. [Senior Rob] Rolle is kind of the leader of the group back there, playing safety, kind of the quarterback of the defensive secondary, if you will, making the calls and getting those guys lined up. With [seniors] Malik [Reaves], Trey [Johnson] and Rasaan [Stewart], all those guys having the experience that they have, we should be pretty solid - if we can hold up up front."

The Wildcats will open the 2017 season on Saturday when they visit Lehigh out of the Patriot League.

"It should be a really good test," Ferrante says.

That game at Lehigh gets underway at 12:30pm.

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