The Monarchs rank No. 90 in Athlon’s Top 130 for 2017
Old Dominion didn’t win a division title, but still racked up 10 wins in 2016 including a season-ending one over Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. The Monarchs bring back 15 starters so they should be in the mix in Conference USA’s East Division once again, although there are some questions marks for head coach Bobby Wilder’s team. The offense will have an inexperienced quarterback at the helm, but a strong and experienced supporting cast should help that transition. On defense, the front should be solid and the secondary is deep, but a young linebacking corps could result in some growing pains and/or adjustments early. ODU probably won’t win 10 games again, but getting at least six victories shouldn’t be too difficult.
Previewing Old Dominion Football’s Offense for 2017
Historically, quarterback play hasn’t been an area of concern for Old Dominion. And that includes seasons when conventional wisdom would suggest it should be. In 2016, the Monarchs handed the reins to David Washington, a converted receiver. Washington responded by throwing for 31 touchdowns versus five picks. With Washington gone, Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder has several candidates for the quarterback gig. That list includes last season’s backup Blake LaRussa and redshirt freshman Drayton Arnold. Wilder believes in his staff’s ability to develop a quarterback, so he’s sure the competition will yield a clear choice.
It helps that the running back tandem of senior Ray Lawry, the school’s all-time leading rusher, and junior Jeremy Cox returns after combining for 2,239 total yards last season.
Of the 10 players who caught three or more passes last season, nine return, including prime targets in receivers Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham. But someone from the large cast of receiving threats will have to offset the loss of senior Zach Pascal, who racked up 946 yards last season.
By the end of last season, just one senior was starting on the Monarchs’ line, meaning this season’s squad should have plenty of continuity. Junior center Nick Clarke will anchor a unit that will be able to cycle in as many as nine linemen whom Wilder trusts.
Previewing Old Dominion Football’s Defense for 2017
Wilder credits the defensive line as the unit that set the tone for the team’s giant leap forward last season. The Monarchs’ opponents averaged 8.6 fewer points and 54.2 fewer yards per game than in 2015 thanks in large part to the rock-solid group up front. And much to Wilder’s delight, the bulk of that group returns. Defensive end Oshane Ximines racked up a team-best 7.5 sacks, while fellow edge rusher Bunmi Rotimi had seven of his own. Two more dangerous ends, Daniel Appouh and Tim Ward, are also back. Wilder says there’s a rotation of six experienced players who will play on the inside of the defensive line.
But behind them, there are concerns. The linebackers will be young and thin. Junior Marvin Branch is the most experienced option. Sophomores Terez Dickerson and Derek Wilder, the coach’s son, will be in the mix, too. But with little in the way of sure things, Wilder says he might be forced to scrap the Monarchs’ preferred three-linebacker look in favor of a nickel scheme should no clear choices emerge.
It helps that the secondary is deep and experienced with a pair of cornerbacks in senior Brandon Addison and sophomore Jamez Brickhouse having already distinguished themselves as big-game players. Junior Sean Carter and seniors Rob Thompson and Justice Davila will provide some continuity at safety.
Previewing Old Dominion Football’s Specialists for 2017
Last season, freshman kicker Brad Davis stepped in for injured starter Chris Kirtley and hit 10 of his 12 field goal tries and 45 of his 46 extra points. With both Davis and Kirtley back, the Monarchs should have some healthy competition. Bailey Cate will handle the punting duties again, while Darrell Brown and Kesean Strong will have the inside track on the return jobs.
While falling a game shy of a league title, Old Dominion’s 10-win 2016 campaign was undeniably a breakthrough. And with 15 starters back, the Monarchs have every reason to expect that success to continue. “I’m a firm believer that, when you have success, if you can carry the momentum and then demand more from yourself and the players, you can continue to have success,” Wilder says. “That’s what we’ve been doing.”
National Ranking: 90
C-USA East Prediction: 3
(Ray Lawry photo courtesy of Old Dominion Athletics)