NCF Nation: Ali Villanueva
Not only do both teams have a lot at stake, but some words exchanged have fueled what has been a relatively docile fire for more than a decade.
“It’s going to be a real big dogfight because they’re playing for a little bit more this year, but so are we,” Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs said. “And the fact that they’ve been saying stuff in the media, that’s just affirming just how much is on the line.”
What Navy perceives as trash talking is actually a rare showing of confidence from an Army team that has five wins, more wins than it has had since 1996. The Black Knights are a win away from a trip to the EagleBank Bowl, the team’s first bowl since 1996.
Army senior receiver Ali Villanueva guaranteed a win on GoBlackKnights.com. Senior defensive tackle Victor Ugenyi said the senior class is looking to turning the program around after it beats Navy and wins its bowl game. First-year head coach Rich Ellerson said his team expected to win the game.
It’s easy to see why Army’s statements seem a little bold. The Black Knights haven’t beaten Navy since 2001 and have scored more than 20 points just once during the seven-game losing streak. Navy has only scored fewer than 30 once in that time. Navy has defeated Army by an average of 29 points, and last year’s 34-0 shellacking marked the first shutout in the series since 1978.
Navy hasn’t lost to either Army or Air Force since 2002 and has won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy outright for the past six seasons.
“Winning the Commander-in-Chief Trophy is kind of becoming a tradition here and we want to keep the thing rolling,” Dobbs said. “It’s just exciting to have our name as one of the classes to have the most wins against service academies. That’s definitely an honor and something that a lot of guys will want to keep.”
Navy is coming off a difficult loss to Hawaii two weeks ago, but still has its goals intact. Coach Ken Niumatalolo has said many times that Navy strives to win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and go to a bowl game. The Midshipmen are one win away from their seventh outright Commander-in-Chief Trophy and will face Missouri in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 31.
If the Midshipmen win out, they would have 10 wins, matching their winningest season since 2004.
“We took [the Hawaii loss] to heart and we tried to downplay how bad it hurt,” Dobbs said. “[Niumatalolo] wanted us to just get over it and you know, focus on Army. But in the back of our minds it was just a devastating loss. We’re just thinking about the opportunities that we could have had… We want to get that taste out of our mouths.”
Army senior wide receiver Ali Villanueva is 6-foot-10, the tallest receiver in college football and two inches taller than Philadelphia Eagles star Harold Carmichael, the NFL's tallest receiver ever.
|Stephen Mally/Icon SMI|
|Ali Villanueva has made the transition to wide receiver after starting out as an offensive lineman.|
Villanueva maintains he should have been a basketball player, but didn’t love it as much as football. So, he bulked himself up and played offensive line.
But when new Army head coach Rich Ellerson took over this spring, he saw something in Villanueva that suggested he could be a good receiver and Villanueva, the Black Knights leading receiver with 16 catches for 253 yards and four touchdowns, has embraced the move. He admits that he wishes he had had more time to learn the position, but learning on the fly has given him a sense of urgency that has paid off for his team.
Villanueva took a few minutes away from preparing for this week’s big game against Air Force to talk about his first and only season as a collegiate receiver.
What was your reaction when the coaches came up to you and said they were going to make you a wide receiver?
Ali Villanueva: I thought they were playing around. I was the biggest guy on the team and it sounded crazy to me. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to do at the college level. Coach gave me a reason why it was going to help the team and as a captain I couldn’t show that selfishness and say that that’s not what I want. I had to try my best at wide receiver.
OK, you’re eight games in and you’ve had a chance to reflect about your position change, was it a good move?
AV: I think it would have been a good move for me if I would have done it my sophomore year or even last year so I could have had two seasons. I’m always going to wonder what would have happened if I had played two seasons of wide receiver. The coaches are pretty happy. I feel like I have so much to improve on all the time. Every single game I see something different that I’ve never seen before.
Did you ever want to be a wide receiver like throughout the course of your career or high school or anything like that?
AV: No, no, no. I was always bigger than everybody else. I always wanted to be on the line or maybe a tight end. I never considered playing wide receiver. It’s one of those things that never crossed my mind, especially since I always played with teams that had really fast wide receivers and they were really finesse and had high verticals and stuff. I never even considered playing wide receiver. I liked playing tight end a lot in high school, but wide receiver was definitely something beyond my expectations in football.
So, are you saying that you’re slow?
AV: I’m actually deceivingly fast. That’s what my coach always says. Corners see me moving slow, but I actually cover a lot of ground. Coach is always surprised at how I’m always coming out of nowhere and making a block or when I’m running a route I’ll sometimes surprise guys with my deceivingly fast speed.
So it’s not really your height that makes you such an asset, it’s your speed?
AV: Ha! Yeah, I guess it could be that way. Actually, I had to lose a lot of weight to at least be able to compete out there. I am 100 pounds and a foot over a cornerback, though.
How much weight did you have to lose?
AV: I’m still losing weight. Every week I’m losing weight because as the season goes on, you get more tired and you don’t eat as much. Here at West Point, with the weather, you sort of stop taking care of yourself and it gets in the gloomy period. When I was playing guard this last football camp, I bumped up to 318, 320 and right now I’m about 278, 280 pounds.
Was it contentious on your part to get on a diet and get into the gym more to lose weight?
AV: Oh no. I never changed my diet, I never changed anything. Maybe I don’t eat as much because maybe I was forcing myself to eat a little bit more than normal when I was playing offensive line, but I haven’t changed anything. I do what the team does, I eat the same thing as the team does. I just happen to lose more weight because I’m not used to running so much, I guess.
Do you ever surprise yourself with how well you’ve caught a ball or a route you’ve run?
AV: I guess I do surprise myself a lot by making the transition from offensive line, which has completely different footwork than a wide receiver. And me making catches against a corner who’s played four years of corner and gone against really good wide receivers. I’m still able to make a catch on him. I think that’s pretty cool.
You guys have four chances to get three wins for bowl eligibility. Are you happy with the position this team is in?
AV: We expected more out of this team, but it’s a lesson learned, I guess. Coach Ellerson has come in and changed this whole program around. I think we definitely could have won every single game we played this year and I’m not saying that as a team captain or just trying to be positive. I honestly believe that we had a chance in every single game. We haven’t been surprised by any team. We beat ourselves in a lot of games and we just didn’t perform as well as we could in the games that we lost and that was our fault as players. It took a few losses for us to realize what we can do. It’s too late to do something about those games that we lost, so now we’ve got to focus on the future.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here’s a spectator’s guide for this weekend’s games. A ranking of four stars indicates must-see football. Three-star games are definitely worth an extensive investment in time. Two-star games bear a quick glimpse or two for occasional score updates, but little more. And one-star games mean you might be better off watching your kids’ soccer games or taking care of some yardwork than hunkering down in front of the television.
Check out this list and plan your Saturday schedules accordingly. All times are for Saturday games unless otherwise noted.
Texas Tech at Houston (ESPN2, 9:15 p.m. ET): Stay up late for this offensive battle between underrated Case Keenum of Houston and Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts, who showed much moxie last week in his national coming-out party against Texas. The Cougars lead the nation in scoring and rank fourth in passing. Texas Tech leads the nation in passing.
Southern Mississippi at Kansas (noon): The streaking Jayhawks will be tested against Southern Mississippi, whose eight-game winning streak is tied with Mississippi behind only Florida’s 13-game streak. The Golden Eagles bring a lot of firepower with Damion Fletcher (11th nationally in rushing) and 6-foot-6 wide receiver DeAndre Brown, who Kansas coach Mark Mangino says will be the toughest receiver his team will face this season. Kansas will hope to continue building with a balanced offense that is the only team nationally to rank among the top 16 in rushing, scoring, passing offense and total offense.
Missouri at Nevada (ESPN, 9 p.m. Friday): The Tigers will face their first road challenge of the season against the 0-2 Wolf Pack, who have been an early disappointment after losing at Notre Dame and Colorado State. Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert leads the Big 12 in passing efficiency, but will be challenged to match multitalented Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nevada will try to dictate tempo with Vai Taua, who is tied for 21st nationally in rushing.
UTEP at Texas (3:30 p.m.): Emerging Longhorns should receive a break this week against the Miners, who lost twice at home before winning last week at New Mexico State. Texas should dictate the game against a UTEP offense that ranks 97th or worst in scoring offense, total offense and rushing and tied for 101st in sacks allowed. The Longhorns have won all three previous games in the series by a combined 92-13 margin.
Army at Iowa State (7 p.m.): Iowa State’s confidence will be tested by Army’s option-based ground attack which ranks seventh nationally with an average of 257.7 rushing yards per game. Iowa State will counter with Alexander Robinson, who ranks 15th nationally and has rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games. One item to watch will be Iowa State’s short defensive backs against 6-foot-10, 285-pound Army wide receiver Ali Villanueva, who is tied for his team's lead in receiving.
Louisiana-Lafayette at Nebraska (7 p.m.): This will be a celebration of all things Nebraska football as the Cornhuskers’ program celebrates its 300th consecutive sellout in a streak that dates to 1962. The Cornhuskers will wear throwback uniforms as they hope to rebound from last week’s disappointing loss at Virginia Tech. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be gunning for their second victory over a Big 12 school in three weeks with an offense that has not allowed a sack this season.
UAB at Texas A&M (7 p.m.): The Aggies should have another breather after easy victories over New Mexico and Utah State. Aggie linebacker Von Miller leads the nation in sacks and Jerrod Johnson is third in total offense. The Aggies shouldn’t be challenged by a Blazers team that has lost two straight and ranks 110th in total defense and 118th in pass defense.
Tennessee Tech at Kansas State (1 p.m.): Kansas State hopes to stem a two-game losing streak against the Golden Eagles, coached by Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. Tennessee Tech created three turnovers and blocked a kick last week against Eastern Kentucky. But they’ll be challenged by the Wildcats, who will be facing their second FCS challenge after beating Massachusetts in the opener. Kansas State ranks among the bottom five teams nationally in sacks (118th) and tackles for losses (116th).
Northwestern State at Baylor (7 p.m.): Coach Art Briles’ team was shaken after the upset home loss against Connecticut last week. Robert Griffin is coming off his worst college game after producing a career-low 139 total yards against Connecticut. Northwestern State has lost its first three games, including a home loss to North Dakota last week. The Demons have struggled defensively, allowing 40 points per game. And Quentin Castille, formerly of Nebraska, is averaging 51.3 yards rushing per game.
Grambling State at Oklahoma State (7 p.m.): Oklahoma State hopes for more continuity in its final nonconference game. Their struggling pass defense (108th nationally) will be challenged by Grambling State quarterback Greg Dillon. Grambling has won two straight games but will be facing its only FBS challenge of the season in this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 teams should be seldom tested before conference play begins as most teams again are opting to compete with a pillow-soft slate of opponents.
Here's the toughest and weakest of the Big 12 nonconference schedules:
1. Oklahoma: BYU (at Arlington, Texas), Idaho State, Tulsa, at Miami
The Sooners deserve props for adding the BYU game late. The nationally televised game should showcase Oklahoma's defense as it thwarts Max Hall and Harvey Unga for the Cougars. Idaho State is a bad Division I-AA team that went 1-11 last season. Tulsa and Miami both went to bowl games last season. The Golden Hurricane will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new coordinator -- not a good recipe for success for a road team at Owen Field. And although the game against Miami brings back memories of Jimmy Johnson vs. Barry Switzer, the fact is that the Hurricanes could be worn out by the time Oklahoma visits. Miami starts the season with a meat-grinder schedule of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before the Sooners visit.
2. Colorado: Colorado State, at Toledo, Wyoming, at West Virginia
Coach Dan Hawkins has this team pegged for good things in the conference. The Buffaloes will be tested by four FBS opponents, including two on the road. The rivalry game against Colorado State should be decided in the trenches and the Buffaloes' offensive line will be a load for the Rams. The Toledo game might be trickier than expected considering the Buffaloes will be playing this one only five days after the Colorado State game. But Colorado still should have the talent to prevail. Something tells me that Hawkins will remember that new Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's offense hung 113 points against his defense the last two seasons when he was at Missouri. And the West Virginia trip will be a challenge, although new Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown is largely untested.
3. Missouri: Illinois (at St. Louis), Bowling Green, Furman, at Nevada
The Tigers' inexperienced defense will get a huge challenge in the opener against Illinois' pass-and-catch tandem of Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. They'll be facing another experienced quarterback in three-year Bowling Green starter Tyler Sheehan, but the Falcons' defense will be breaking in two new cornerbacks. Furman has a talented quarterback in Jordan Sorrells, but the Paladin's defense shouldn't be able to match Missouri. The trip to Nevada might be a hornet's nest. The Wolf Pack have made four straight bowl trips, multi-purpose quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Western Athletic Conference's last two leading rushers. And, oh, yeah, the Wolf Pack probably still remember that 69-17 beatdown to the Tigers last season in Columbia.
4. Nebraska: Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State, at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette
No truth to the rumor that the Cornhuskers are gunning for the September version of the Sun Belt championship. Their road game at Virginia Tech is the toughest game that any Big 12 team will play this season. But Bo Pelini will have two games to get his defense ready for Tyrod Taylor and Co. Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger made his career name by beating the Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl while at Miami. He won't be nearly as successful this time around. Arkansas State stunned Texas A&M last season, but the Red Wolves will be utilizing a new offensive line this season. And Louisiana-Lafayette's offense is very young and the Cornhuskers will be catching them the week after they have met up with LSU.
5. Oklahoma State: Georgia, Houston, Rice, Grambling
Four home games make for an ideal schedule for the Cowboys to make some national noise. The Georgia game will be arguably the biggest home nonconference game in school history. But the Cowboys grab a break as the Bulldogs try to break in new quarterback Joe Cox. Houston will have Case Keenum and a high-powered offensive attack, but the Cowboys blistered the Cougars for 56 points last year and could score more this season. Rice won't be as good this season after losing most of its offensive firepower. And Grambling has a great football history and an even better band.
6. Baylor: at Wake Forest, Connecticut, Northwestern State, Kent State
The nonconference schedule could determine whether the Bears can snap that long bowl drought. And it won't be an easy one considering that Baylor is the only Big 12 team with two opponents from "Big Six" conferences. The Wake Forest opener will be a huge test, but Robert Griffin might be able to feast on a depleted Demon Deacon defense that lost four starters to the NFL draft. The Bears nearly beat Connecticut last season on the road and the Huskies lose their starting quarterback and top rusher from that team. New coach Bradley Dale Peveto will bring new ideas for Northwestern State, but the Bears have a big edge. And Kent State will be breaking in a new quarterback for a team that has won only 19 games in the last five seasons underDoug Martin.
7. Kansas: Northern Colorado, at UTEP, Duke, Southern Mississippi
The Jayhawks should be able to name their margin against Northern Colorado in the opener. The trip to the Sun Bowl against UTEP the following week might be a different matter. UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe could be a challenge, although the Jayhawks should have enough firepower to outscore them. A Kansas-Duke game would be a made-for-national television delight in basketball. Football, however, is a different story. And Southern Mississippi might be poised to challenge for the Conference USA title and might be a chore with leading conference rusher Damion Fletcher and all of its starting secondary back to challenge Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe.
8. Texas A&M: New Mexico, Utah State, UAB, Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
The Aggies desperately need to build confidence and collect a few victories before the South Division gauntlet begins. After last season's opening-game loss against Arkansas State, expect coach Mike Sherman to have the Aggies focused for all of the games. They catch new New Mexico coach Mike Locksley with an uncertain quarterback in the Lobos' opener. Utah State is universally picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference. UAB will be rebuilding its defense and likely won't pose many problems for Jerrod Johnson. But the game against Arkansas at
the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium will be a challenge for A&M's defense. The Razorbacks should be much improved in Bobby Petrino's second season. Fans are paying premium prices and expect big things from both teams. The Aggies may catch a break considering the Razorbacks will play SEC contenders Georgia and Alabama in their previous two weeks.
9. Texas Tech: North Dakota, Rice, at Houston, New Mexico
Mike Leach's nonconference schedule won't be as bad as last season's trip to the pastry wagon, but not by much. North Dakota is transitioning into FCS status this season after ranking 137th among the 148 Division II passing teams last season. Sounds like target practice for Taylor Potts, doesn't it? Rice won't be nearly as tough as last season without James Casey, Jarrett Dillard and Chase Clement gone. The trip to Houston will be Tech's biggest challenge and Case Keenum will test Tech's rebuilt secondary in the first battle between the old Southwest Conference rivals since 1995. And New Mexico will have had several weeks to work under Locksley's system, making them a tougher challenge for the Red Raiders in early October.
10. Texas: Louisiana-Monroe, at Wyoming, UTEP, Central Florida
The Longhorns had a couple of game against Utah and Arkansas fall through in their planning. But don't expect the Longhorns to get that much sympathy for a group of opponents that won't give them much BCS bounce. Louisiana-Monroe will be breaking in a retooled offense with a new quarterback. The road trip to Wyoming doesn't resonate like some the Longhorns have made to places like Ohio State and Arkansas in recent seasons. The Cowboys will be breaking in a new quarterback, too. UTEP could contend for the Conference USA West title, but the Miners are a different team on the road. And the Nov. 7 game against Central Florida will bring the nation's worst offensive team from last season into Austin.
11. Iowa State: North Dakota State, Iowa, at Kent State, Army
Paul Rhoads doesn't want any surprises early in his first season and his nonconference schedule. North Dakota State has posed problems to FBS teams like Minnesota in the past. Iowa doesn't have Shonn Greene back, but has almost everybody else back on a stout defense that will challenge the Cyclones. Mighty mite 5-foot-5, 170-pound tailback Eugene Jarvis will test ISU's defense and the trip to Kent State won't be a gimme. And new Army coach Rich Ellerson will bring 6-10, 283-pound wide receiver Ali Villanueva along with starting quarterback Chip Bowden from a team that won three games last season.
12. Kansas State: Massachusetts, at Louisiana-Lafayette, at UCLA, Tennessee Tech
The schedule doesn't provide as many gooey treats as some that Bill Snyder's teams have feasted on in the past, but it's still nothing to write home about. Massachusetts is a contender in the CAA, which is the toughest top-to-bottom FCS conference in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette will have to replace a lot of offensive talent, but can be troublesome at Cajun Field. UCLA struggled offensively last year and will be breaking in a new quarterback with four new offensive linemen. KSU might be able to compete in that one better than most might think. And Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown, returns a talented pass-and-catch combination of Lee Sweeney and Tim Benford. KSU still should roll, however.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State