No. 84 Old Dominion
Well, that didn't take long. Three years after joining the FBS, Old Dominion is quickly transforming into one of the better Group of Five programs in the nation.
The Monarchs exploded for 10 wins last season and though they lose two key offensive playmakers and disruptive linebackers, head coach Bobby Wilder has them primed for another run at the Conference USA title.
2016 Record: Wins-Losses (10-3, 7-1 Conference USA)
After starting 1-2 — with road losses to Appalachian State and North Carolina State — the Monarchs ripped off nine wins in their final 10 games, including against Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl, their first bowl appearance and win.
They were superb in a few areas (e.g. turnover margin, plus-13), good in many others (e.g. scoring offense, 35.1 points per game) and bad almost nowhere. However, if they expect to take the next step toward a conference title, they must contain powerful opposing offenses. They yielded 59 points in their lone league loss to Western Kentucky.
Head Coach: Bobby Wilder (9th year, 67-30 overall)
Bobby Wilder has flawlessly navigated ODU's league and division transitions since arriving in 2009. He took the Monarchs from an FCS independent to CAA member (and back to FCS independent) to FBS transitional member to Conference USA member.
They won 10 games and a division title in just their third year in the conference, and Wilder was rewarded with a contract extension through the 2021 season in March.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Blake LaRussa, RB Ray Lawry, RB Jeremy Cox, WR Jonathan Durhart, WR Travis Fulgham, OT Chad Hendricks, G Devin Hannan, C Nick Clarke
Ray Lawry, a three-year workhorse and the school's all-time leading rusher, returns with hopes of solidifying his spot in next year's NFL Draft. He's averaged at least 5.9 yards per carry each season, including a 7.1-yard average as a freshman in 2014, and forms one a dynamic one-two punch with junior Jeremy Cox (732 yards, 13 scores).
"I think we have the best combination of running backs in the country," Lawry said last year.
Lawry also has 49 career catches and is one of nine returning players who had at least three receptions last year. Senior Jonathan Durhart replaces Zach Pascal as new starter Blake LaRussa's top receiver, and junior Travis Fulgham is primed for another huge jump after catching eight touchdowns.
Junior center Nick Clarke leads an offensive line that saw an unexpected amount of shuffling and use of inexperienced players last year. He is one of three returning starters.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Bunmi Rotimi, DE Oshane Ximines, DE Tim Ward, DE Daniel Appouh, DT Miles Fox, CB Brandon Addison, CB Jamez Brickhouse, S Rob Thompson, S Sean Carter, S Justice Davila
Old Dominion has an embarrassment of riches at defensive end. Their top four edge rushers return, led by upperclassmen Bunmi Rotimi and Oshane Ximines, who combined for 21.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in 2016.
“Bunmi changed our defense,” said Wilder of Rotimi's move from from tackle to end. “It changed who we are as a defense. Now we have two edge players in Bunmi and Oshane that create a lot of pressure.”
The move helped them lead the Conference USA in turnover margin and rank second in scoring average (27.8).
They also return a ton of experience in the secondary, led by senior corner and team captain Brandon Addison. He led the team with 10 passes defended while adding three tackles for loss and two interceptions.
Experience is not the case at linebacker and it may force defensive coordinator Rick Nagy to adjust his three-linebacker scheme or use one of their many returning safeties in a hybrid position.
Notable Player Losses
QB David Washington, WR Zach Pascal, LB T.J. Ricks, LB Anthony Wilson, CB Aaron Young
David Washington transformed from receiver into one of the league's best quarterbacks. He led an efficient offense by averaging 8.3 yards per attempt and throwing just five interceptions in 13 games. He, along with departed senior Zach Pascal, are gigantic losses.
But, arguably given their lack of depth, the most important losses come at linebacker, where leading tacklers — the only two with more than 60 tackles — T.J. Ricks and Anthony Wilson are gone. Their pair combined for 201 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and nine passes defended.
Aaron Young led the team with three interceptions.
Notable Player Additions
QB Drayton Arnold, QB Jordan Hoy, WR Noah Ellison, LB Jordan Young, LB Lawrence Garner, LB Zach Lackman
Old Dominion's two biggest additions are redshirt freshmen in quarterback Drayton Arnold and Jordan Young.
Arnold, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, dazzled in their spring game, completing 21 of 28 passes for 245 yards and five touchdowns. Though he didn't beat LaRussa for the starting job, he and JUCO transfer Jordan Hoy give the Monarchs three great options.
“There were completions left on the table that I could definitely have gotten," Arnold said after the game. "Pocket presence I got to continue to work on and throwing the ball away in certain situations.
Wilder says Young, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, benefited greatly from their December bowl practices and could be the unit's leader for the next four years. Redshirt freshmen Lawrence Garner and Zack Lackman should also earn playing time.
Oddly, they don't have back-to-back home or away games all season.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Albany|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at UMass|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. North Carolina|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Virginia Tech|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Florida Atlantic|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Marshall|
|Friday, Oct. 20||vs. Western Kentucky|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at North Texas|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Charlotte|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||at FIU|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Rice|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Middle Tennessee|