BALTIMORE --—Them again.
Despite being picked to finish first in the nation by one preseason publication, William and Mary couldn't get past what is becoming an all-too-familiar obstacle: the Villanova Wildcats.
"They're good. It's no fluke with them," said William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock, whose team was ranked No. 1 in college football guru Phil Steele's 2010 preview. "We had good games with them, and we had our chances. That game we had up there, that was kind of like a national championship game. If we had had that one in Williamsburg, or this or that had happened differently, it could have been a whole different outcome, but it didn't. They got it, and they deserved it. We'll see."
New Hampshire was picked third in the CAA poll, while James Madison and Delaware rounded out the top five.
The Tribe, then ranked No. 5 in the nation, also fell 28-17 at No. 2 Villanova last Oct. 3 in what players widely regard as their worst game of the season.
"We lost to them twice, and they ended up winning the national championship, so we lost to the best team in the country," said Tribe junior linebacker Jake Trantin, a preseason all-conference selection after leading William and Mary with 90 tackles in 2009. "They've got a good team and they've got good players coming back. It should make for a good game this year."
Despite the strides made by William and Mary in the last two years – 2008's 7-4 record, followed by last season's 11-3 mark - the Tribe has lost its last six games to the Wildcats, a streak dating back to Nov. 6, 2004.
The Wildcats return 15 starters – eight on offense, including quarterback Chris Whitney and reigning CAA offensive and special teams player of the year Matt Szczur, and seven on defense – from last year's 14-1 team and are ranked No. 1 in the other five FCS preseason polls - The Sporting News, USA Today, Lindy's College Football, Athlon Sports and AnyGivenSaturday.com. The Tribe, which received zero first-place votes to Villanova's 17 (New Hampshire got two and Delaware 1) returns six starters on each side of the ball, but must replace quarterback R.J. Archer, who threw for 2,778 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior.
The two teams meet again on Oct. 2 at Zable Stadium, a 600-mile round trip Villanova coach Andy Talley always dreads. He's planning to fly his team to Williamsburg this year for the first time.
"William and Mary and Villanova are two really good academic schools who've played each other for a long time," Talley said. "Jimmye and I are the two oldest coaches in the league. It's just kind of a natural deal (for a rivalry)."
Though that rivalry hasn't resulted in a Tribe victory in recent memory, the days of Villanova's lopsided 63-24 victory in 2007 are likely long gone.
"They, like us, got better on defense," Talley said. "Jimmye's always had a high-powered offense. We've always had a pretty high-powered offense. The way to get a great team is to get that balance on offense and defense, and he has enough athletes now on both sides of the ball."
Laycock said he won't be disappointed if his team doesn't find itself fighting for a national title again this year - "I don' t know how good we can be" – but Tribe junior running back Jonathan Grimes, also a preseason all-CAA pick after rushing for 1,294 yards last year, sees things a little differently.
"We're trying to get to the championship every single year, so why not shoot for the highest goal you can possibly get?" Grimes said.
Chances are, that goal will go through Villanova. Again.