2013 | 8-4 First year in Conference USA
Sixth year (46-14, all with ODU)
Growing up in rural Maine, young Bobby Wilder was often alone with his thoughts, a common occurrence for residents of the least populous state east of the Mississippi. Little was given to Wilder, who subsisted on snow and deer jerky for the first 15 years of his life. As he grew older, he began to question whether an abundance of timber and lobster adequately compensated for the harsh winters and crushing isolation of the lower 48's Gateway to New Brunswick. He saw the toll it exacted on those around him. You think fellow Mainer Stephen King dreamed up all the twisted, horrific stuff he writes? Heck no. He was simply relaying friends' and neighbors' vacations and family gatherings. Anyway, Wilder took to football and football to him. He loved the competition, but even more the game provided the kind of human interaction and camaraderie he was permitted to see only Thursdays on the family Magnavox and in dog-eared issues of People magazine he stashed in his locker. Wilder viewed football as a vessel and vowed that when he could no longer play, he would remain in the game and share its lessons with others like himself. He served a 17-year apprenticeship at his alma mater, the University of Maine, which was a little like a Trappist monastery without the robes and abbey ale. When he finally had the opportunity to venture south and begin his own program at Old Dominion, he would defy convention. He would onside kick as if it were a contract incentive. He would be true to the spirit of native Algonquin tribes and follow their credo of "behanem papoose kickit wuss" — which translates roughly to "only women and children punt inside their opponents' 40." ODU's program soared to great heights more quickly than anyone could imagine, but now faces an even greater challenge: a program that didn't exist seven years ago competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Well, when you've doused yourself in whale oil and set yourself on fire to get warm, Conference USA doesn't seem so tough. There's snow in the icebox and deer jerky in the bottom left desk drawer.
Sr. | 6-1 | 205 | QB
ODU's best and most visible player gets to test himself against a full helping of FBS competition in his final season. His numbers were down a bit last season from his breakthrough sophomore year, when he won the Payton Award as the top offensive player in FCS. He still completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for 4,000 yards and 33 TDs against a mixed-bag schedule. He has thrown for more than 11,000 yards in his career. The Monarchs' offense won't look significantly different, but Heinicke will have even greater responsibilities and options to call plays and to keep the chains moving — the primary aim for Wilder and offensive coordinator Brian Scott.
Sr. | 5-8 | 172 | WR
Vaughan is one of Heinicke's favorite targets, and might be more so since Larry Pinkard's dismissal from the program. Vaughan, a native of Ahoskie, N.C., was ODU's No. 2 receiver last year, with 60 catches for 843 yards and nine touchdowns. He also started two games at running back, rushing for 70 yards and a score at Pittsburgh. He caught at least five passes in seven games and hauled in at least 100 yards in receptions four times. Vaughan's 167 career catches are second in program history, and his 2,248 receiving yards are third.
Sr. | 6-0 | 210 | Rov
A captain and one of the key performers on a defense that must grow up in a hurry. Lorton native played safety the past two years, but moves up to a hybrid linebacker/defensive back position. The move gets more speed, athleticism and experience closer to the ball and was assisted by the development of others in the secondary. Simmons was second on the team with 78 tackles last season, including nine in the opener at ECU and seven versus Maryland. Led the Monarchs in tackles in four games. Has FBS pedigree after starting his career at Vanderbilt and transferring to ODU.
WELCOME TO FBS
Yes, the Monarchs got a taste of Football Bowl Subdivision competition last season, but the five games were reasonably spaced. ODU went 1-4 in those games and was inconsistently competitive — after one quarter, the Monarchs were completely overmatched in the season finale at North Carolina. Following the opener versus Hampton, ODU gets 11 consecutive FBS opponents and a full Conference USA schedule. CUSA isn't the Southeastern or the Pac-12, but the league returns four programs that won at least eight games and 10-win teams in Rice and Marshall. The Monarchs have only two recruiting classes of FBS-level players and face teams with fully stocked FBS rosters. ODU will match up well with several opponents. Others figure to expose the Monarchs, particularly a defense that has yet to prove itself, even against FCS opponents at times. The move to FBS and Conference USA has much of the fan base aflutter. Folks would be wise to temper their expectations.
Stop us if you've heard this before, but ODU's defense is a big question mark. For all of the productivity and buzz from QB Taylor Heinicke and the offense, the Monarchs' success depends on stopping folks occasionally. Last year, ODU would have finished 11th in Conference USA in scoring defense (34.0 ppg) and 13th in total defense (452.2 ypg), against a schedule with seven FCS opponents. The Monarchs made progress under new coordinator Rich Nagy and line coach Jeff Comissiong, but came unraveled late in the season due to the accumulated weight of inexperience and injury. Defense was the primary focus in recruiting and the offseason, but there are no quick fixes. ODU has more depth than ever, particularly at linebacker, but experience again may be an issue. The preseason depth chart — a fluid situation, to be sure — lists only two senior starters and a total of nine seniors in the playing rotation. As we've mentioned in the past, ODU's hurry-up offense stresses a defense more than traditional huddle schemes.
RETOOLED OFFENSIVE LINE
QB Taylor Heinicke's health and well-being, as well as the Monarchs' ability to move up and down the field, hinges on an offensive line that looks very different than the previous couple of seasons. ODU replaces three starters: D.J. Morrell, Jack Lowney and David Born. Center Josh Mann and Connor Mewbourne are the only returning regular starters, and both missed spring practice with injuries, along with offensive tackle Ely Anderson. All three were full-go during preseason camp and are expected to be in the starting lineup for the opener versus Hampton. Truth be told, injuries forced the Monarchs to adjust and develop some depth along the O-line last season. Born missed the final six games with injuries to both knees. Mann missed the final two games with a knee injury, and starting guard Troy Butler slid over to center. Soph Tyler Fisher, the expected starter at left guard, started the final six games last season as a true freshman. Mewbourne started at both guard and tackle. Linemen don't have to hold blocks as long in ODU's quick-pass scheme, but how well the unit gels will dictate the effectiveness of the run game and how often Heinicke can take shots downfield.
Aug. 30 | Hampton | 3:30 p.m.
The Monarchs' opener is their only FCS opponent and one of the more, shall we say, manageable games on the schedule. HU comes off a 4-8 season and has a new coaching staff, led by Connell Maynor.
Sept. 6 | at N.C. State | 6 p.m.
Nowhere to go but up for the Wolfpack, 2-10 overall and winless in the ACC in coach Dave Doeren's first season. Monarchs hope this turns out better than their last trip to Carolina.
Sept. 13 | Eastern Michigan | 6 p.m.
The Eagles were 2-10 last season and one of the worst teams in FBS, giving up 45 ppg. They return 17 starters under new coach Chris Chreighton, including 1,000-yard rusher Bronson Hill.
Sept. 20 | at Rice | TBA
Welcome to Conference USA. Owls were CUSA champs last year and picked to finish second in West this season. They return 12 starters, among them all-league WR Jordan Taylor.
Sept. 26 | Middle Tenn. St. | 8 p.m.
Friday night TV game features a MTSU team picked to finish second in the East. Blue Raiders return eight starters on defense, 13 overall, including tackling machine T.T. Barber.
Oct. 4 | Marshall | TBA
Three-game CUSA gauntlet concludes with unanimous preseason favorite. Thundering Herd have both Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year – QB Rakeem Cato and D-lineman James Rouse.
Oct. 11 | at UTEP | 8 p.m.
Miners were 2-10 last season under first-year coach Sean Kugler and picked to finish last in the West. UTEP returns 15 starters, including RB Aaron Jones and kick returner Autrey Golden.
Oct. 25 | at W. Kentucky | TBA
The Hilltoppers, like ODU, are CUSA newbies. They finished third in their last year in the Sun Belt and have a new head coach in Jeff Brohm. They return QB Brandon Doughty and nine starters on defense.
Nov. 1 | at Vanderbilt | TBA
Nov. 8 | Florida International | 3:30 p.m.
FIU has 50,000 students, few of whom play football well. The Panthers were 1-11 last season and got crushed by FCS Bethune-Cookman. They were picked to finish last in the East.
Nov. 22 | Louisiana Tech | 1 p.m.
La. Tech went 4-8 last season in former East Carolina head coach Skip Holtz's first year. The Bulldogs were picked fourth in the West and have one of the league's best backs in Kenneth Dixon.
Nov. 29 | at Florida Atlantic | Noon
The Monarchs take their talents to South Beach – or Boca Raton. New coach Charlie Partridge, a Bret Bielema disciple at Wisconsin and Arkansas, has excellent defenders in LB Andrae Kir and DB D'Joun Smith.
The conference finally has some stability in membership, with 13 teams competing this season and Charlotte's fledgling program coming aboard next year. East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane are gone, while ODU and Western Kentucky are newcomers. The league wasn't quite the shootout haven of recent years, though five teams averaged at least 29 points per game and six allowed at least 30 per game. Marshall, with QB Rakeem Cato, is the overwhelming favorite to win the East Division and the league. CUSA has six bowl tie-ins for this season and arrangements with 10 bowls.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun