2014 CFN Preview - Old Dominion Monarchs
Old Dominion QB Taylor Heinicke
Old Dominion QB Taylor Heinicke
Posted Jun 1, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - In just six years, ODU is playing with the big boys. (Getty Images)

Old Dominion Monarchs

Preview 2014

By Rich Cirminiello
- 2014 Old Dominion Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Bobby Wilder
6th year: 46-14
Returning Lettermen
Off. 24, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best ODU Players
1. QB Taylor Heinicke, Sr.
2. WR Larry Pinkard, Sr.
3. WR Antonio Vaughan, Sr.
4. LB Richie Staton, Soph.
5. SS Fellonte Misher, Jr.
6. WR Blair Roberts, Sr.
7. WR Zach Pascal, Soph.
8. DE Terrell Reid, Soph.
9. CB Reggie Owens, Sr.
10. C Josh Mann, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Hampton
Sep. 6 at NC State
Sep. 13 Eastern Michigan
Sep. 20 at Rice
Sep. 26 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 4 Marshall
Oct. 11 at UTEP
Oct. 25 at WKU
Nov. 1 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 8 FIU
Nov. 22 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 29 at Florida Atlantic

Six years ago, Old Dominion did not have a football program. Today, the school is a full-fledged FBS affiliate, the latest stage in a football rebirth in Norfolk.

In 2005, the university voted to revive a sport that had been dormant since 1941. It hired a coach, former Maine assistant Bobby Wilder, and set out to methodically build a team from scratch. The Monarchs crawled before they walked. They returned to the field as an FCS Independent in 2009, and then joined the Colonial Athletic Association two years later. Old Dominion will start jogging briskly this fall as a member of Conference USA.

Wilder is still in charge, the architect of a program that could write the blueprint for a football renaissance. The Monarchs have won 46 games in five years, earning widespread respect by qualifying for the FCS playoffs in 2011 and 2012. Sellouts at Foreman Field have been the norm, and recruiting has steadily improved. Well done, Old Dominion. But are you ready for a step up in weight class?

The Monarchs' taste of life on a higher rung didn't go especially well last season. Yeah, the final record said 8-4, but Old Dominion was 1-4 versus FBS teams, while allowing an average of 50 points per game. It closed 2013 by losing to North Carolina by 60 points, giving new meaning to the 80-20 rule. The good news? ODU has a better idea of the challenge ahead, and it plans to attack accordingly.

Old Dominion carries a few vital ingredients for success into 2014—staff stability, a signature player and a heavy dose of momentum. The star is QB Taylor Heinicke, a rare talent for a program still in its infancy. The senior has brought national attention to Norfolk since becoming the starter as a freshman in 2011.

He won the 2012 Walter Payton Award, given to the top FCS player, and he's the target of interest among NFL scouts. Heinicke is the triggerman of a high-powered passing game that will once again be needed to overcome an overmatched defense.

Ready or not, here comes Old Dominion. The Monarchs are prepared to compete in Conference USA, much the way UTSA did in the West Division a year ago. With Heinicke and Wilder steering the ship together for one final season, ODU is fully capable of being a fly in the Conference USA ointment.

What to watch for on offense: How refreshing, how Heinicke. Heinicke was the catalyst for an offense that produced 6,228 yards and 508 points in only 12 games last season. He's back, but so are his top four receivers, as well as up-and-coming RB Gerard Johnson. Conference USA defenses are going to bow to a Monarchs passing attack that spreads the field with a wave of experienced and athletic pass-catchers. As long as Heinicke stays healthy, there's absolutely no reason Old Dominion can't be among the league-leaders in scoring in 2014.

What to watch for on defense: The "D" in ODU will not stand for defense in 2014. Decent opponents gashed the Monarchs a year ago, a trend that shows no signs of abating. They're an FBS team, with a defense stuck in the FCS ages for the time being. Old Dominion's issues begin up front, where an inability to generate a consistent push creates problems for the run and pass D. Every true freshman from a solid recruiting class will get an opportunity to crack the two-deep this summer.

The team will be far better if… the defense spends less time on the field. The unit's singular aim is to get the ball back to Heinicke as soon as possible. Forcing punts and creating turnovers both qualify, but the Monarchs didn't do either well last season. Had Old Dominion been in the FBS in 2013, it would have ranked 100th or lower in scoring defense, pass defense and third-down D. Yeah, this squad can win shootouts, but it prefers not to be dragged into them every Saturday.

The Schedule: The Monarchs ease their way into the season with a layup against Hampton, and then it's on with a chance to come up with one of the two big non-conference games on the slate going to NC State. The other high-profile date is at Vanderbilt to kick off November, but hosting Eastern Michigan in mid-September isn't bad. Welcome to the Conference USA world - no go play at Rice, the defending champion. Getting Middle Tennessee and Marshall up next is hard, but the games are at home before going on the road for three straight weeks - there's no home game between October 4th and November 8th.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Taylor Heinicke. Emerging programs need someone to captain the ship through choppy waters. Heinicke has been that guy for the Monarchs since becoming the starter in 2011. The senior not only piles up huge numbers as a passer and a runner, but he's given Old Dominion an identity during the formative years. He's the lightning rod that's brought media and recruiting attention to a school with no business grabbing headlines. The multi-tasking Heinicke will use his finale as an NFL audition, while boosting ODU's notoriety at the same time.

Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Richie Staton. There's a youth movement taking place in Norfolk. And Staton is the leader of it. The Monarchs must improve on the defensive side of the ball after getting routinely trucked last season. Staton is the type of physically-ready run defender who produced right out of the gate as a true freshman in 2014. The man in the middle of the run D excels at diagnosing the flow of a play before wrapping up in the open field.

Key players to a successful season: Every defensive back. Old Dominion was a sieve against the pass in 2013, despite facing seven opponents below the FBS level. The Monarchs yielded an average of 452 yards a game through the air, including a staggering 13.7 yards per catch. While the defensive backs can surely use more help from the pass rush, they've got to improve at sticking to receivers. Each of last season's secondary starters is back, but it won't matter if they can't cover more consistently.

The season will be a success if ... the Monarchs finish .500 or above for the sixth year in a row. Old Dominion wants to follow the trajectory of UTSA, which went 7-5 in its Conference USA debut. The Monarchs are in better shape than the 2013 Roadrunners, thanks to the Heinicke factor on offense. Now, ODU won't beat NC State or Vanderbilt. But it'll hang with most of its new league brethren. Unfortunately, the Monarchs can only bowl this season if there aren't enough eligible teams to fill every opening.

Key game: Sept. 20 at Rice. Can Old Dominion compete in a tougher new league? A trip to Houston to face the defending Conference USA champs will serve as a suitable measuring stick. Since the Owls are rebuilding on both sides of the ball, three games might not offer enough reps to prepare for a veteran Monarchs team. Stealing a win at Rice could at once reroute ODU's direction and expectations for 2014.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Points per game: Old Dominion 42.3 – Opponents 34.0
- Sacks: Old Dominion 20 – Opponents 21
- Yards per catch: Old Dominion 11.9 - Opponents 13.7

- 2014 Old Dominion Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players