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2013 Pre-Season Preview: Old Dominion Monarchs

2012 Record: 11-2 (7-1 in CAA of FCS)

Head Coach: Bobby Wilder (38-10 at ODU)

Stadium: Foreman Field in Norfolk, Va (capacity = 19,818)

Affiliation: Will begin play in C-USA in 2015

Schedule Glimpse: 2013

Schedule Link

FBS Non-Conference: 9/7 at Maryland, 10/19 at Pittsburgh, 11/9 at Idaho, 11/23 at UNC

FCS: 9/14 vs Howard, 9/21 vs The Citadel, 9/28 vs Albany, 10/5 vs Liberty, 10/26 at Norfolk St, 11/2 vs Rhode Island

Future Conference Foes: 8/31 at ECU, 11/16 vs Charlotte

 

Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stat to Fear: gave up 197.3 yards rushing per game 

Stat to Cheer: scored TDs on 76% of trips to red zone

 

Personnel:

Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 9; Defense: 6; Special Teams: 1)

Key Defensive Returnees: LB Caleb Taylor (87 tackles, 3 sacks), LB John Darr (75 tackles, 2 sacks), DT Dominique Guinn-Bailey (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks), S Paul Morant (50 tackles) 

Key Offensive Returnees: QB Taylor Heinicke (398 of 579 for 5076 yds, 44 TD, 14 INT), RB Tyree Lee (864 yds rush, 8 TD, 5.4 ypc), WR Antonio Vaughan (60 rec, 7 TD), WR Blair Roberts (56 rec, 7 TD), WR Larry Pinkard (55 rec, 7 TD)

Top Recruits: DT Rashaad Coward, WR Keyshawn Henderson, RB Wesley Bullock, DT Cullen Casey, QB Shane McCarley

 

Inside Scoop with Joe Suhoski of MonarchFans.com:

CFBZ: ODU starts the transition this year to the FBS and will play a partial FBS schedule. What do you think will be the biggest obstacles for the Monarchs to overcome against the increased competition?
 
MonarchFans.com: The downfall of Old Dominion's FCS playoff push the last two years has been its defense. In losses to Georgia Southern in the playoffs, the defense surrendered 55 and 49 points, respectively. The Monarchs ranked in the bottom third of FCS in rush defense last year, and two of its starting linemen are graduating (along with a third part-time starter). Pass defense was statistically not ranked as low as against the run, but the secondary was at times porous as well.  
 
With this in mind, coach Bobby Wilder emphasized defense this recruiting season, both from high school and junior college ranks. In addition to the turnover in personnel (six total starters on defense graduated), Wilder will have his third defensive coordinator in as many years with Rich Nagy. Nagy and Wilder coached together at Maine in the early 2000's, and Nagy was the coordinator at Western Michigan last season. Improving the defense, particularly against the run, will be the biggest obstacle given the loss of so many starters along with the new DC.
 
 
CFBZ: Most college football fans have heard of ODU QB Taylor Heinicke. Who are some other players to watch on this team?
 
MonarchFans.comTaylor Heinicke gets a lot of recognition, and for good reason. He set multiple NCAA single-game and season records last season. No small part of his success, though, is the ability of his receivers. Although the team loses the program's most prolific receiver (Nick Mayers) to graduation, three other starters return. Wideouts Larry Pinkard, Blair Roberts and Antonio Vaughan can each be game-changers when given the chance; Pinkard and Roberts each had three-touchdown games, while Vaughan had at least 123 receiving yards in two of the last three games.  
 
On defense the leaders are Nate Barnes and Caleb Taylor. Barnes, a defensive tackle, has been a reserve most of his career. However, the redshirt senior has impressed coach Wilder so much with his play this spring that he was named one of the four team captains. He is the team's only senior on the defensive line and is needed to provide leadership along with production. Meanwhile Caleb Taylor will be a redshirt sophomore in 2013. The linebacker sat out his freshman year at the University of Virginia before transferring to ODU. As a redshirt freshman last year, he was second on the team in tackles despite not starting at middle linebacker until Week Five. He missed much of spring practice after knee surgery, but he is probably the team's most-talented defender. Safety Paul Morant and linebacker John Darr will be counted on to produce this season as well.
 
 
CFBZ: Going into fall practice, what are the biggest weaknesses for the Monarchs?
 
MonarchFans.comThe offense benefits from returning nine starters from last year's squad, and it's hard to identify a weakness on a squad that led FCS in points-per-game last season.  The defense's difficulties were documented in response to your first question and should be classified as "unknown" as much a "weakness." Still, the Monarchs lose Craig Wilkins to graduation this season. Wilkins was included in the first ODU signing class, and led the team in tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks and interceptions last year. Replacing him at linebacker would be tough enough already, but the squad was thin at linebacker last season. The most tackles by a non-starter at linebacker was 16. There is an influx of talent from high school, JUCO and a couple players who redshirted last season, but how they perform in a new scheme is unknown at this point.
 
Old Dominion has also relied heavily on special teams early in its existence; there were countless blocked kicks, on-sides kicks and fake punts/kicks that directly gave the Monarchs advantages. I mention this because they lose the only punter they've known with Jonathan Plisco's graduation. Casual fans may not follow the kicking game closely, but Plisco graduates as the all-time leader in yards per punt (45.1) in the FCS. He was a weapon that was frankly needed in the team's infancy, and changed the course of multiple games with his kicking. This offseason coach Wilder recruited and signed Jake Walsh, a punter from Australia who trained at a school specializing in training kickers for American football. The only player on ODU's roster to have punted in an NCAA game is Taylor Heinicke; the Monarchs do not know yet how any of their kickers will perform in a game. It's not quite a "weakness" but it is not known if the punting squad can be a weapon against improved competition.
 
 
CFBZ: Taking a peek at the early schedule, what would be a successful outcome against the likes of early FBS opponents ECU and Maryland?
 
MonarchFans.comFrom the standpoint of the team and players, the only successful outcome for the Monarchs would be wins against East Carolina and Maryland. coach Wilder's mantra at Old Dominion has been "AIM HIGH," and he will coach his players into expecting to compete in and win those games. 
 
Realistically, Coach Wilder has been able to recruit FBS players for only one season, and none of those recruits have yet to play a down at Old Dominion. It is hard to measure a qualitative factor like "the ability to compete" but it would be a success if the team is in position to win in the fourth quarter in both games. If the players can avoid mental mistakes (penalties, missed assignments) against an improved level of competition, that could be counted as a success.  
 
Still, in four short years, Old Dominion quickly reached a point where coaches, players and fans expect to win.  Good things can be identified in losses, but success will be measured in wins.
 
 
Verdict:
Last year, the Monarchs didn't play a single game against an FBS opponent but they were very successful against their FCS competition as they notched a 10-1 regular season record and made it to the second round of the FCS Championship tournament. This year, the Monarchs will play five FBS opponents in ECU, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Idaho and UNC. All five of those games will be on the road. 
 
It's tough to tell exactly how the Monarchs will fare as their simply is no barometer. As Joe pointed out in the Q&A, ODU has a very good offense and I think that offense has the ability to give some of their FBS opponents some issues. The big test will be along the lines of scrimmage. Having only recruited FBS-type players for one year this will be a big telling point on how quickly the Monarchs can come in and play with the FBS teams. 
 
One thing I know from watching ODU's playoff game against Georgia Southern last season is that this will be a fun team to watch and they will only get better as they get matched up against better competition. A real positive for ODU is how the schedule plays out. They do face two very tough games off the bat against ECU and Maryland but after those two games they get four straight home games against non-FBS opponents.
 
My expectation for ODU is to win every non-FBS game they play and to beat Idaho for an early 8-4 prediction. That leaves the four games against ECU, Maryland, Pitt and UNC as the "swing" games. If they can win one of those games you have to look at this season as wildly successful and I would not be shocked if they went into ECU in game one and pulled off an "upset". If they don't win any of those games but are competitive then it will be a great starting point for ODU in the FBS.
 
 
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:
 
Independent: Georgia State
Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, writer for Crystal Ball Run and founder of College Football Zealots

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