Preview 2017: Old Dominion’s Rise To Conference USA Power
Old Dominion has risen fast into a Conference USA powerhouse. Is the program ready to be a champion?
Well that was quick.
Old Dominion head coach Bobby Wilder built up an FCS powerhouse, going 38-10 in his five years at the lower level with two playoff appearances, but it was supposed to take a while to adjust to life in the FBS world.
The pieces were in place to be solid, and ODU was able to ease its way in, playing an FCS schedule as an FBS independent, and then took the training wheels off as a member of Conference USA.
After a respectable two-year run going 11-13, the adjustment time was over. Now, Wilder might just have his Monarchs in a position to win the Conference USA championship.
It’s not like ODU is cruising through the ACC Atlantic or SEC West – beating just four FBS teams that finished with winning records over the last four years – but that’s part of the deal in Conference USA. There are plenty of bad teams, and someone has to beat them.
Does Wilder have Old Dominion in a position where it can come up with those wins over the one or two good ones to take a conference title?
The Monarchs might have tied for the East crown last year, but they lost to WKU in the one head-to-head battle that mattered. This year’s team might be good enough to take the East outright.
Star QB David Washington is done, but the 1-2 rushing tandem of Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox should be among the league’s best.
Top target Zach Paschal is gone, but the rest of the receiving corps is strong, and four starters are back up front. As long as Blake LaRussa is ready to handle the quarterback gig, the offense won’t drop off significantly, if at all.
The defense that was so solid throughout last season should have a killer pass rush and fantastic secondary. As long as the linebacking corps can rise up without TJ Ricks and a few of last year’s top playmakers, it should be good enough.
And, ODU has the coaching staff. 67-30 with six winning seasons in his eight years at ODU – and just one 5-7 campaign coming in the first year in Conference USA – Wilder has done one of the best under-the-radar coaching gigs in college football.
This year, he doesn’t have to come up with a miracle. Everything he put in place needs to keep on rolling.