The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 116 Old Dominion.
Previewing Old Dominion’s Offense for 2014:
As it moves into its second season in FBS and its first in Conference USA, Old Dominion has the luxury of a proven quarterback in senior Taylor Heinicke. He begins this season with a string of 33 straight starts and the 2012 Walter Payton Award — the FCS equivalent of a Heisman — on his résumé. Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder says Heinicke’s decision-making is critical for his young team. Last year, the Atlanta native completed 70.0 percent of his passes for 4,022 yards with 33 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
He’ll have some options in the passing game as Antonio Vaughan and Zach Pascal return after catching 40 or more passes last year. There’s also a wave of young talent at receiver behind them that has the Monarchs’ staff excited.
The running backs will be young — the more established trio of Gerard Johnson, Cam Boyd and Malik Moseley might have to share time with newcomers. After losing some key contributors on the offensive line, the Monarchs are looking for answers there, too, although coaches believe there’s enough raw talent on hand to form a solid group.
Old Dominion as a program is still in the process of adjusting to the FBS level, but the Monarchs’ offense — which averaged 42.3 points per game as Heinicke torched opposing defenses — is ready to compete in Conference USA.
Previewing Old Dominion’s Defense for 2014:
All but two of the Monarchs’ defensive starters from the end of the 2013 season are back, but that may not mean much. After the Old Dominion defense gave up 34 points and more than 450 yards per game last season, every spot is up for grabs.
The main culprit for the struggles was inexperience. The Monarchs were painfully young on the defensive line in 2013, starting six first-year players at various points. All of them are back, and the coaches hope they’ll be able to build on that experience.
After strong springs, junior college transfers Reece Schmidt and Martez Simpson will provide a boost for the linebacker corps. Andre Simmons should help too after moving down from the safety spot.
The secondary returns two starters, including last season’s leading tackler Fellonte Misher.
For a unit that had its share of low moments last season, most notably giving up a head-spinning 80 points at North Carolina, improvement is mandatory if the Monarchs plan on making any noise in their new league.
Previewing Old Dominion’s Specialists for 2014:
Ricky Segers will handle the kicking duties after redshirting last season. Sophomore Joe Pulisic and freshman Jarrett Cervi will likely battle in preseason for the punter job. All of them should benefit from experienced long snapper Rick Lovato. In addition to being key cogs on offense, Vaughan and Moseley will figure prominently in the return game as well.
Since the program restarted in 2009, the Monarchs have shown that they can adapt. In their second year in the powerful CAA, they won a league title and reached the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs. In their first season as an FBS program, they knocked off Idaho and hung with bowl teams East Carolina and Pittsburgh. In five seasons, all under Wilder, the Monarchs are 46–14.
The challenge will be steeper this season as there’s only one FCS school on the schedule as opposed to the seven that the Monarchs played in 2013.
But with Heinicke as the face of the program and last season’s young talent maturing, Old Dominion appears to have what it needs to keep that steady upward trajectory in place.