BALTIMORE – Before he took over as Villanova's head football coach last season, Mark Ferrante had spent 30 years there as an assistant to Andy Talley.

In those three decades, Ferrante said he had seen only one other team decimated by injuries the way the 2017 Wildcats were.

"In 1995, we had close to the same number of injuries," Ferrante said on Tuesday during the Colonial Athletic Association media day at M&T Bank Stadium. "We finished 3-8 that year.

"This past year was probably even worse as far as the number of injuries, but hey, it's part of the game. It is just one of the variables that you hope to avoid going into a season."

Starters lost a total of 40 games to injury last season, when Villanova finished 5-6.

In the fourth game against Albany, Nova lost 2017 preseason All-America safety Rob Rolle, running back Matt Gudzak and tight end Ryan Bell to season-ending knee injuries.

The following week against Towson, quarterback Zach Bednarczyk went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk throws the football against Temple on Saturday, September 9, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Yong Kim
Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk throws the football against Temple on Saturday, September 9, 2017 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

"It was demoralizing," said Bednarczyk, who had passed for 1,068 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions before getting hurt. "It really sucks the life out of you. We had to have a lot of young guys step into roles they may not have been ready for.

"You had guys who expected to get a couple of reps a game who were suddenly full-time."

The positive outlook is that those younger players got lots of experience and now the 'Cats add those veterans returning from injury.

"A lot of guys who missed a lot of time last season are itching to get back on the field," said Rolle, who returns as a fifth-year senior graduate student. "We're wiping away expectations. We're wiping away what people say. We have the same goals as every year: have a winning season, win the conference, make the playoffs and win a national championship."

Counting players coming back from injury, Villanova returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense, but thoughts on the Wildcats are scattered.

Athlon has Villanova ranked 11th in the FCS Preseason Top 25 while College Football America ranks the Wildcats 25th.

Nova was picked to finish sixth in the 12-team CAA by the league's coaches and media relations directors.

James Madison, the runner-up in last season's FCS National Championship game, is favored to win its fourth straight CAA title. Delaware was picked to finish third.

Rolle and Villanova offensive lineman Ethan Greenidge were selected preseason all-CAA.