Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder is no stranger to success.
Following the jumpstart of the program in 2007 and actual play beginning in 2009, Wilder has since compiled a smooth 52-20 record, along with a notable 6-6 clip during the inaugural season as an FBS member last year.
With standout quarterback Taylor Heinicke departing following an illustrious tenure, it’ll be interesting to watch the Monarchs develop without their leader under center.
Does Wilder fall beneath the .500 mark for the first time in his coaching career in 2015?
2014 Record: 6-6 (4-4, T-3rd C-USA East)
Key Wins: at Rice, Louisiana Tech, at Florida Atlantic
Players to Watch in 2015: RB Ray Lawry, WR Melvin Vaughn, LB T.J. Ricks
2014 Season in Review
Perhaps the string of wins to conclude the 2014 season can carry over to 2015? The Monarchs collected a trio of victories over Florida International, Florida Atlantic, and Louisiana Tech to close out their first season in the Conference USA.
While the game plan was revolved heavily on the offense–as the defense was frequently torched–the Monarchs buckled down late, surrendering only 90 points in those three wins. The previous five games? The opposition accumulated an average of 49.4 points per contest, all losses.
A .500 record displayed the persistence and capability of Wilder and Old Dominion in 2014, but there will be holes that require filling, and it starts at the quarterback position.
2015 Offensive Outlook
Now that Heinicke and his treasure trove of records will be absent for the Old Dominion offense in 2015, Wilder will call on redshirt freshman Shuler Bently to lead the troops.
What was once a toss up heading into spring practices, Wilder wasted no time in declaring Bentley the starter, as he and junior college transfer Joey Verhaegh were names to replace the 15,000-yard passer in Heinicke.
Fortunately for Bently, he’s alongside a handful of offensive playmakers, although the Monarchs will be one wide receiver short–and a large one at that–in Antonio Vaughan, a wideout that hauled in 63 receptions and 1,019 yards for Heinicke a season ago.
Similar to Marshall losing its quarterback-wide receiver go-to combination, yet reloading at the skill position, Old Dominion is eerily similar.
Zach Pascal returns as the leading pass-catcher with 59 receptions, 743 yards and 7 scores, while David Washington also collected 47 catches and 599 yards. Melvin Vaughn, a quarterback-turned-wide receiver in 2014, also nabbed 30 catches and 315 yards.
It’s a skilled corps that needs to replace the big-time play of Vaughan, but I expect a vast amount of balance and Pascal especially to have a breakout season as Bently’s number one receiver.
While it may the be the first year starting under center for Bently, Wilder has the opportunity to let the redshirt freshman find his comfort level, which means a hefty dose of Ray Lawry. The dynamic tailback that worked efficiently alongside Heinicke in 2014 collected 7.1 yards per rush and a whopping 16 touchdowns as a freshman.
The offensive line could be in great shape with four starters, although all-conference center Josh Mann departs.
It’s crazy to proclaim the unit better than 2014, but they may not see the rapid decline that most assume.
2015 Defensive Outlook
The depth may be imminent but the question is how long Old Dominion can keep the lid on opposing offenses in 2015.
Poncho Barnwell remains the key up front for a defensive line that played a role in ranking 114th versus the rush in 2014. Racking up 34 tackles and a team-high 3.5 sacks, the Monarchs are in dire need for a capable pass rusher, and Barnwell could be the guy.
Linebacker T.J. Ricks will head the middle of the field, as he returns as the leading tackler with 61.5 last season. UAB transfer Devon Brown stands out at cornerback, a position that lost a host of guys from 2014.
It’s tough to locate a prediction for 2015’s defense, as there’s not one guy that can carry this unit single-handedly. There should be a nice mix of athleticism in the secondary with the youth they provide, but the Monarchs could ultimately have to shoot for five-six scores to keep pace once more.
ODU Floor: 1-11
ODU Ceiling: 10-2
A large gap for this team in 2015, as the Monarchs can either saddle up with a potent offense, or be hindered by the loss of their record-breaking quarterback.
The Monarchs will be lucky to scrape up two victories in the initial five games of 2015 before heading into their bye week. Following the rest after contests with North Carolina State, Marshall and Appalachian State, the schedule gradually becomes doable, as six match ups could work in Old Dominion’s favor The Monarch’s will get Texas-El Paso and Florida Atlantic at home while traveling to Florida International, Southern Mississippi, and Texas-San Antonio.
I’m going to peg Old Dominion as a 4-8 team for 2015, based solely on the defensive issues. Given Heinicke and Vaughan were the answer for shootout-type games and the Monarchs still were unable to surpass the .500 mark, then I don’t see how it’s possible for the upcoming year with a redshirt freshman under center.