Fourth year (27-8, all at ODU)
In a secure room deep below the Powhatan Complex, it's apparent that they have developed human cloning capabilities. Wilder, the Monarchs' happy warrior, is everywhere: camps, clinics, the recruiting trail, fundraising trips, media gatherings, bar mitzvahs, ship christenings, Model U.N. He was rumored to be at Burning Man this summer, looking for line prospects. If it's possible, the program's impending move to FBS has ramped up his energy and commitment. For all of his cheery accessibility, though, the man possesses a leader's bottom-line streak. It took him all of three days after the Monarchs' playoff loss to Georgia Southern to can his defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He demands a defense that complements the 'Narchs' national-caliber offense and imaginative, aggressive special teams. Expect him to work at it until it happens.
Soph. | 6-1 | 190 | QB
Took a battlefield promotion and ran with it. As a true freshman, he completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,385 yards, with 25 touchdowns and an astonishing one interception in 307 attempts. He's a little bigger and faster than last season and says he's more comfortable with the offense.
Sr. | 6-2 | 240 | LB
All-CAA at outside linebacker last season, he moves to the middle this season, to take advantage of his experience and athletic gifts. Far and away the Monarchs' leading tackler (111), his 14.5 tackles-for-loss were second only to defensive cornerstone Ronnie Cameron.
Sr. | 6-4 | 290 | DT
Third-team All-CAA last year and preseason all-conference pick for 2012. Started all 35 games the past three years, primarily at nose guard. Benefited from playing alongside Cameron, but effective in his own right. Blocked five kicks in his career.
The Monarchs appear to have this one covered. This is the program's last chance for postseason until 2015. Or ever, if the Mayans are correct. ODU cannot win the CAA title and automatic playoff berth that comes with it because of the impending departure for Conference USA and FBS. So the 'Narchs must take advantage of this opportunity and remove all doubt in the minds of the playoff selection committee. Working in their favor is that the CAA is such a strong league that a top-three or top-four finish is likely to ensure a playoff berth. Once in, Frisco's the limit. They take heart from last year's playoff performance. They drew the worst possible second-round matchup, against Georgia Southern and its triple-option offense, which they were unable to defend for various reasons. They still hung 48 points on the Eagles. Had the 'Narchs been bracketed differently, they very easily could have advanced further.
In its first year as an all-in, competing CAA member, ODU played with house money: no track record; modest expectations; loose and free, with nothing to lose. No reasonable person would have predicted that the Monarchs would win 10 games, go to the playoffs, put up track meet offensive numbers, and their true freshman QB channel Joe Montana. No sneaking up on anyone this year. Everyone knows what the Monarchs are about. No one overlooks a team picked to finish in the top two and that appears capable of hoisting a phantom trophy when it's over. The 'Narchs were among the national leaders in turnover margin last year, due in large part to Heinicke committing exactly two turnovers in approximately 600 snaps. How does ODU respond in the event of a few more giveaways, a few more unlucky bounces, opponents that play with the same joie de vivre that they themselves exhibited a year ago? Wilder's work ethic and the demands he puts on his players temper the hype surrounding the program. Still, it'll be interesting to watch a team that in 12 months came from off the radar to center stage.
The only thing that coaches hate more than turnovers are distractions. The Monarchs face a potential beaut with the cases against and impending trial of Reid Evans and Markell Wilkins on charges related to rape. Both were significant contributors and leaders within the program who were suspended immediately and indefinitely after their arrests. Coaches forever preach the "next man up" mentality and to rely on those available. Certainly, the players will say all the proper things about the absence of their mates — they support them and miss them, but they have a job to do, and they have to remain focused and blah de blah. But can they simply set aside Evans and Wilkins, and go about their business? The program has been blessedly free of such controversy since it was resurrected several years ago, but this represents a challenge for an outfit that's known mostly sunshine and balloons.
Sept. 1 | Duquesne | 6 p.m.
First meeting. The Dukes return nine starters from the team that finished 9-2 and tied for first in the Northeast Conference. Most notable are senior FS Serge Kona, the conference defensive POY, QB Sean Patterson (2,011 yards passing, 23 TD, 8 int) and RB Larry McCoy (1,381 yards, 12 TD).
Sept. 8 | at Hampton | 6 p.m.
The Monarchs won each of the first two meetings, a grind-fest decided by special teams in 2010 and a 45-42 shootout last season. The two teams combined for almost 800 yards, and ODU scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, with QB Thomas DeMarco running for two scores in the last seven minutes.
Sept. 15 | Campbell
The Monarchs have won all three previous meetings against Campbell, dominating the past two by a combined 85-27. The Camels, of the Pioneer League, resurrected their program in 2008. They finished 6-5 overall, 5-3 in the league. A tuneup before things get serious the following week.
Sept. 22 | New Hampshire | noon
Intriguing matchup between Wildcats, who have made eight consecutive FCS playoff appearances, and ODU, which aims for a second postseason berth on its way out the CAA door. UNH returns 14 starters, led by Buchanan Award winner Matt Evans at LB and all five offensive linemen.
Sept. 29 | at Richmond | 3:30 p.m.
Monarchs won last year 42-28 in a game that wasn't that close. UR went winless in the CAA last season, prompting a coaching change that brought in Danny Rocco. The Spiders have some Peninsula flavor with All-CAA LB Darius McMillan (Phoebus) and productive WR Ben Edwards (York).
Oct. 13 | Villanova
ODU stuffed an uncharacteristically impotent 'Nova team last year 37-14, essentially cruising in the second half. The Wildcats, who won the NCAA title in 2009, should present a stiffer challenge. They return 20 starters, as well as 2010 All-CAA receiver Norman White.
Oct. 20 | at Towson | 7 p.m.
Showdown between the teams picked to finish 1-2 in the CAA. Tigers handed ODU one of only two conference losses last year, 39-35. They got up off the mat to score 15 points in the final three-plus minutes, including the game-winning TD on a 4th-and-29 that will haunt Wilder forever.
Oct. 27 | Delaware | noon
Another big-time matchup between CAA powers. The Blue Hens held off ODU in the 'Narchs' CAA debut last season 27-17. As usual, Delaware has plenty of talent, led by All-CAA RB Andrew Pierce (1,279 yds, 16 TD), LB Paul Worrilow (92 tackles) and WR Nihja White (131 career catches).
Nov. 3 | at Georgia State
ODU dusted the Panthers in Atlanta 40-17 last year. Colby Goodwyn rushed for 184 of ODU's 282 yards on the ground. Three interceptions and a blocked punt for a touchdown were key. Georgia State was picked to finish 11th in its one and only CAA season before departing for the Sun Belt.
Nov. 10 | William and Mary | noon
The Monarchs had no answer for W&M's Jon Grimes (227 yards), but held on for a 35-31 win because the Tribe defense couldn't hold in the fourth quarter, and ODU cornerback Eriq Lewis came up with two interceptions in the final minutes. Likely the last meeting between the two for quite a while.
Nov. 17 | at James Madison | 7 p.m.
The regular-season finale figures to have a bearing on postseason, in terms of matchups and potential seedings. ODU won the first meeting last season 23-20, shutting out JMU in the second half as the Dukes lost three offensive linemen to injuries. Heinicke was the difference, accounting for 286 yards.
Here's one of those questions whose answer is unknowable, without benefit of a parallel universe machine: Had Old Dominion closed the deal and beaten Towson last year, would the Monarchs have gone on to win the CAA title, received a more favorable playoff draw, and in turn be the preseason favorite to win the conference in 2012? The Monarchs finished tied for second, one game behind Towson. A lot of variables, since the 'Narchs had four regular season games after Towson. Both lost in the playoff round of 16, Towson at home, ODU on the road. Both teams return approximately the same number of starters and were picked to finish 1-2 in the league this year. How much was Towson picked to finish first a function of last year's regular season title? Or perhaps that voters were biased toward a team that's staying in the league and not bolting for FBS after this year? Who knows? Besides, James Madison, picked to finish third, is ranked higher than both of them in national preseason polls.