Five seasons after restarting its program and moving up from the FCS ranks, Old Dominion joined Conference USA. In the four seasons since, the Monarchs have established themselves as a solid league member, winning 17 conference games and earning a share of the East Division title and bowl victory in 2016. However, with each mark of progress, the expectations have increased, making last season's 5-7 mark a bit of a letdown.
Previewing Old Dominion Football's Offense for 2018
Get full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, and national rankings. Click here to buy a copy today or visit your local newsstand!
Sophomore Steven Williams pilots the offense again after earning the starting quarterback job midway through last season. The youngest player to see action in the FBS in 2017, Williams started seven games, threw for 1,528 yards and accounted for nine total touchdowns. While Williams, who will have a seasoned backup in junior Blake LaRussa, threw 11 interceptions, he played the final four games without a turnover.
"This is a big opportunity for him," Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder says. "He's put on size, and put on strength. You can see the development physically."
Senior running back Jeremy Cox, who gained 797 yards from scrimmage before missing last season's final two games, will fill the shoes of the departed Ray Lawry, who led the Monarchs in rushing in each of the last four years. Seniors Isaiah Harper and Travis Fulgham were strong options in the passing game last season, while fellow receiver Jonathan Duhart, who has 109 career catches for 1,619 yards and 19 scores, returns for a fifth year after injuries wiped out most his 2017 season.
The veteran playmakers will benefit from the four starters who return along the offensive line.
Previewing Old Dominion Football's Defense for 2018
The defensive front will be a problem for opponents. Senior all-conference end Oshane Ximines returns after posting a school-record 8.5 sacks and team-high 14 tackles for a loss last season. Fellow ends Daniel Appouh and Tim Ward are also back after combining for 6.5 sacks in 2017. Six tackles with significant experience return, headlined by seniors Miles Fox and Pat Toal, who combined for 8.5 sacks last year.
At linebacker, Old Dominion returns its top two tacklers from last season in senior Marvin Branch and sophomore Jordan Young.
The secondary is where there are the biggest questions. Senior safeties Sean Carter, Justice Davila and Justin Noye have established themselves as strong, reliable options, but due to roster turnover, the rest of the unit is largely unproven. Joe Joe Headen and Jamez Brickhouse should grab the cornerback spots after starting at points last season.
Previewing Old Dominion Football's Specialists for 2018
Old Dominion likely has the best special teams talent in the league. Kick returner Harper and junior punt returner Darrell Brown are back after earning first-team all-conference nods in 2017. Sophomore placekicker Nick Rice hit 11 of his 12 field goal tries inside of 40 yards and was perfect on his 27 extra points. Meanwhile, junior punter Bailey Cate returns after averaging 40.5 yards per kick.
With plenty of starters back and wins in three of their final four games last season, there's reason to believe that the Monarchs can make another jump forward.
"We feel like we can do that, with a lot of veteran players and the amount of guys back," Wilder says. "There's going to be a lot of competition all across the board. When you come off of a season where you don't go to a bowl game, every spot is up for grabs."