Fifth year (38-10, all at ODU)
Imagine the offspring of Richard Simmons and Tony Robbins with a 5-Hour Energy drip. That's Wilder, particularly after last season concluded in the FCS playoff quarterfinals. To be fair, Wilder had to be. He and the staff had to recruit more and better players to have a prayer of competing as they prepare for ODU's move to the Football Bowl Subdivision. He has had to beat the bushes for players, funds, exposure and legitimacy as the Monarchs prepare to navigate the football version of limbo. They are neither FCS nor FBS with a mixed bag of a schedule, but are ramping up for full Conference USA membership next year. He juggled his defensive staff for the second consecutive year, bringing in coordinator Rich Nagy and line coach Jeff Comissiong, men with solid reps nationally who he knew from their days together at Maine. In six years, Wilder has become a fixture in Hampton Roads. Armed with a reworked contract that's heavy on incentives, he is more determined than ever to deliver a program worthy of the trust that the administration and community bestowed on him. Whether he can do so at the next level remains to be seen, but it won't be for lack of effort.
JR | 6-1 |195 | QB
ODU's best player and last year's Payton Award winner as the top offensive player in FCS. Threw for 5,076 yards and 44 TDs while leading the nation's No. 1 scoring outfit. He's become an on-field extension of coordinator Brian Scott's cortex. Biggest challenge this year is being patient and judicious against better opponents.
SOPH | 6-3 | 230 | LB
Hampton native and Virginia transfer quickly worked his way into Monarchs' defensive system and became one of best players by season's end. Started final nine games and was No. 2 tackler behind four-year starter Craig Wilkins, with 87 total stops. Expected to be a leader on a group with many new faces.
SR | 6-5| 270 | DT
Made a huge leap forward in spring and fall camp and has the chance to follow in the Ronnie Cameron/Chris Burnette mold. Newport News native must produce for ODU defense not to get overrun by upper-tier opponents. 'Narchs had trouble stopping the run at key times past two seasons.
Aug. 31 | at East Carolina | 7 p.m.
Welcome to FBS. The Pirates return 16 starters from last year's co-division champ and were picked to win C-USA's East Division. 'Narchs face a thousand-yard rusher (Vintavious Cooper) and receiver (Justin Hardy).
Sept. 7 | at Maryland | 4 p.m.
The Terps should be better than last year, when injuries all but scrapped the depth chart and Randy Edsall at one point was forced to play a German Shepherd at quarterback. Two words: Stefon Diggs.
Sept. 14 | Howard | 6 p.m.
Monarchs' home opener and first of four consecutive home games. The Bison were picked to finish sixth in the MEAC and have several standouts, notably OL Josh Matthews and DB Julien David.
Sept. 21 | The Citadel | 6 p.m.
First and most important: don't forget the "The." Perhaps ODU's most intriguing FCS game, since the Bulldogs run the triple option, and the Monarchs have yet to stop it.
Sept. 28 | Albany | 6 p.m.
One of the CAA's two new football members. The Great Danes are transitioning from the lower-level scholarship Northeast Conference, and figure to have just 35 scholarship players this season.
Oct. 5 | Liberty | 6 p.m.
The Flames aspire to FBS, but the program and Lynchburg don't fit the profile sought by FBS leagues, so they remain in the Big South. LU tied for the league title last year with playoff teams Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina.
Oct. 19 | at Pittsburgh | TBA
Another step up and a chance to play in an NFL stadium: Heinz Field. The Panthers play three Virginia schools in a row — U.Va., Tech and then ODU. Heinicke will want to keep track of DT Aaron Donald.
Oct. 26 | at Norfolk State | 1 p.m.
City rivals meet at Dick Price Stadium in what's likely ODU's last venture to an FCS opponent. The Spartans were picked seventh in the MEAC, but have a star LB in 6-7 Florida transfer Lynden Trail.
Nov. 2 | Rhode Island | 2 p.m.
The Rams were earmarked for the bottom half of the CAA, but have a slew of new faces and several FBS transfers who figure to contribute immediately. Head coach Joe Trainer is 9-35 in four seasons.
Nov. 9 | at Idaho | 5 p.m.
ODU's longest road trip and the fourth of five FBS opponents. The Vandals' new head coach, Paul Petrino, is Bobby's younger brother and oversaw high-powered offenses at Arkansas, Louisville, Illinois and Southern Miss.
Nov. 16 | Campbell | TBA
Come for the tailgate, stay for the tailgate. The Camels are a late replacement for Charlotte, which pulled out of their scheduled game. ODU has outscored them 155-41 the past three years.
Nov. 23 | at North Carolina | TBA
The Tar Heels were picked third in the Coastal Division behind Miami and Virginia Tech. Replacing RB Gio Bernard and defense are the primary issues. QB Bryn Renner is a third-year starter.
The league is in flux, with division preseason favorites East Carolina (East Division) and Tulsa (West Division) headed elsewhere next year. Marshall was picked second in the East behind ECU and has the reigning MVP in junior QB Rakeem Cato, who led the nation in completions (406) and passing yards per game (350.1). The league has a well deserved reputation for shootouts. Seven teams scored at least 30 points per game, eight gave up at least 30 points per game. C-USA has six primary bowl tie-ins, including the Liberty Bowl, the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the Military Bowl and the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
HOW GOOD ARE THE MONARCHS?
We may not know, even by the end of the season. Their schedule is such a hodgepodge — mid-level ACC opponents, second-tier FCS opponents — and there are so many new faces that progress will often be measured in the video room and practice field, rather than by scores and statistics. Wilder has said that this season reminds him of 2009, the Monarchs' first, when his only expectation was that his team would play hard. Certainly, the Monarchs are further along now than in '09, when there was no track record. ODU is clearly superior to several opponents, but the players must strive for some level of consistency, lest they play up to or down to the level of competition. Without the incentive of playoffs or postseason, the Monarchs figure to treat their FBS opponents as bowl or playoff games as they try to prove that the move up wasn't premature or ill-advised.
HEINICKE AND THE OFFENSE
How Heinicke and ODU's go-go offense might fare against FBS defenses has been an intriguing topic around these parts for a couple of years. Now, we'll have an idea. Sort of (see above). Wilder has said he isn't interested in his junior quarterback duplicating his numbers from a year ago, though Heinicke is likely to put up video game stats against several outmanned opponents. What Wilder wants is first downs. Generate enough first downs, he figures, and results will take care of themselves. Heinicke must be more prudent and patient against FBS defenses. He possesses an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and extend plays, but it remains to be seen if he can do so against quicker, faster defenders. They will test his patience and willingness to throw it away or slide or settle for two-yard gains.
It's no secret that defense cost ODU chances to advance further in the playoffs the past two seasons. Though the Monarchs won't face Georgia Southern and its triple-option scheme, several other teams lit them up in various ways: Villanova, New Hampshire, even William and Mary to an extent. Rich Nagy, the new coordinator, knows defense and most important, knows what Wilder likes on defense. How quickly he can mold an effective unit is questionable, especially given that 13 of 22 players on the preseason defensive two-deep are new. Remember, too, that ODU's offense stresses its defense. More plays, quick strikes and a willingness to go for it on fourth down can make it difficult on a defense.