ODU looks to solidify, enhance playoff position in final two games

NORFOLK — Recent history suggests that Old Dominion's win last Saturday secured a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The final two weeks will determine when and where.

"I think first and foremost, my experience in this league has taught me that if you can find a way to get to eight overall wins, then you're in," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said Monday. "If you can get to nine wins, there's probably a home game in there, whether it's first round, second round.

"If we can figure out a way to get to 10 wins, then we're probably talking about being one of the seeded teams."

The Monarchs' (8-1, 5-1 CAA) quest for nine continues Saturday at noon against hard-luck William and Mary (2-7, 1-5 CAA) at S.B. Ballard Stadium in the regular-season home finale.

Wilder's recall is accurate, when it comes to the benchmark for CAA playoff participation. Every conference team with at least eight wins since 2003 has made the playoffs.

Each of the past two years, a seven-win team has received an at-large invitation, as well: JMU last year and New Hampshire in 2010.

Wilder spends a bit more time than most coaches playing amateur FCS handicapper, for a couple of reasons. On its way out the Colonial Athletic Association door, ODU is ineligible for the league title and automatic playoff berth, and thus must earn an at-large invitation.

As the Monarchs transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision, this season is also the last time the program can earn a title until 2015, its first season as a full, competing member of Conference USA.

The FCS at-large pool — 10 spots in the 20-team playoff field — is a beauty contest comprised of a team's record, strength of schedule and a less tangible stew of ranking, reputation, statistics and eyeball test.

Wilder routinely talks up the Monarchs' ranking — fourth in both major polls after last week's 53-27 win at Georgia State — as well as statistical highlights. ODU continues to lead the nation in both scoring and total offense.

Rankings are irrelevant with a playoff to determine a champion. But again, because ODU must earn an at-large berth, anything that keeps the team in the public eye, and in front of selection committee members, is beneficial.

The CAA has had at least four teams in the playoff field for the past five years. In three of the past five years, including last season, the conference landed five teams in the field. The 20-team playoff field increases the league's chances for four and five teams to make postseason.

"I still think there's going to be consideration for 7-4 teams in our league," Wilder said, "and I think there's a strong possibility that four or five teams are going to go."

Six teams are still in contention for playoff berths: ODU, James Madison, New Hampshire, Richmond, Villanova and Towson.

A handful of potential knockout or seeding games will take place the final two Saturdays. JMU closes against Villanova and ODU. Towson concludes its season at New Hampshire.

William and Mary and Delaware are in position to play spoiler. The Tribe faces ODU and Richmond. Delaware plays Richmond and 'Nova to finish its season.

ODU's 9-2 record a year ago earned a first-round home playoff game against city rival Norfolk State. The Monarchs, who tied for second in the CAA, then had to travel to No. 3-seed Georgia Southern in the second round.

The Monarchs' attempt to burnish their playoff resume coincides with all of the attendant emotion and activity of Senior Day. Last year ODU defeated Richmond on Senior Day to get to eight wins, then won at William and Mary to finish 9-2.

"I already made a point to the guys that, yes, this is Senior Day, this is their last regular-season home game, but we're thinking beyond this," Wilder said. "There's not the finality to it that there might be at some other programs that are having Senior Day that don't feel like they've got an opportunity to be one of 20. So we'll try not to have the mindset that it's final, that this is it.

"We're trying to play and win this game so hopefully we can be home in the postseason. That's what I relayed to the players (Sunday) night. And that's what they all acknowledge. Other than the true freshmen, all the other guys remember that was the mindset last year."

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