Yes, it's a new season, and true, there are different players.
But the memory of the last meeting between William and Mary and Villanova still lingers.
"Flip a coin," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "William and Mary could easily be the national champion."
Except it's not. And Villanova — after rallying from a 10-0 halftime deficit for a 14-13 victory over the Tribe in the FCS semifinals on Dec. 11, then beating Montana in the title game — is.
The Wildcats (3-1, 1-0 CAA) are also ranked No. 1 in the nation as they come into Zable Stadium for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. rematch against the No. 7 Tribe (3-1, 1-1 CAA).
Oh, and Villanova has won its last six meetings against William and Mary.
"We've got to reverse the trend," said Tribe sophomore linebacker Dante Cook, citing William and Mary's numerous players from New Jersey and Pennsylvania as especially eager to beat Villanova, just outside of Philadelphia. "It's what we want do to. It's a sore subject for some of the upperclassmen, especially being so close and having a chance (last year)."
William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock is preparing for the showdown with all the reflective reverence for the teams' last clash one might expect.
"History's history," Laycock said. "We've got to get ready. This is a different team that we've got right now, so we've got to find ways to get better, find ways to improve, because this a very good, very good Villanova team we're going against."
The Tribe last beat the Wildcats in 2004, winning 37-29 – a streak stat Talley dismisses as "an historical thing."
"(The semifinal) was one of those games that just went our way at the very end," he said. "As all these games in the CAA are, just about every game with William and Mary has been a war. We've been fortunate, very fortunate, to have some things break our way."
A big reason for those fortuitous twists of fate last December was Wildcats senior playmaker Matt Szczur, a slot receiver, running back, kick returner and part-time quarterback in Villanova's Wildcat formation. Szczur took a direct snap 62 yards for Villanova's first touchdown, then picked up 9 yards off a fake punt on fourth-and-8 to keep the Wildcats' game-winning TD drive alive.
Szczur sprained his left ankle on the first play of Villanova's 22-10 win against Penn last weekend, and Talley said earlier this week his status for Saturday's game was "really questionable," with an intensive week of treatment planned.
"You always want to play the best, but if he's out, it's not hurting anybody," said Cook, who has 23 tackles and a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in his last two games.
There is no such uncertainty surrounding 6-foot-2, 230-pound Villanova senior quarterback Chris Whitney.
Whitney, who scored the game-winning touchdown in the teams' last meeting, has thrown for 532 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for another 138 yards and two TDs, bringing his career totals to 4,532 passing yards and 40 touchdowns through the air and 1,692 rushing yards and 14 TDs on the ground.
Michael Paulus, meanwhile, is making his first start as William and Mary's quarterback, replacing fifth-year senior and four-game starter Mike Callahan, who injured his shoulder in last week's 24-21 win at Maine.
Talley doesn't expect the look of William and Mary's offense to change much.
"They know us, we know them," Talley said. " … I think Jimmye's pretty much the same offensively. Defensively, we've going to get after it. We're going to try and stop the run, which is what we do."
That task may be easier if Tribe junior running back Jonathan Grimes, limited against Maine by an ankle injury but able to practice this week, isn't full-strength. But Talley, whose team is flying to Williamsburg for the first time ever to avoid a long bus ride, remains wary of what awaits the Wildcats in their first trip to Zable Stadium since 2006.
"I know they've put a star on this game, and they're waiting for us, very patiently, to come down there," Talley said. "We know that. We've had some slugfests with them, and they're a great program. … They've got homefield advantage right now."Copyright © 2015, CT Now