Like the programs at Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, Old Dominion finds itself in a bit of a twilight zone this season -- not quite ready for the prime time of “big boy” FBS football, but not eligible for trophies and titles at the FCS level, either.
In their final season in FCS before moving up to the higher level of NCAA Division I, the Monarchs are not eligible for the FCS playoffs or for a conference championship. Similarly, Georgia Southern and App State are not eligible for the playoffs or a Southern Conference title this season as they move up to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference.
But in the view of Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, Old Dominion is ahead of GSU and App State in the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“They look like an FBS program already, even as they make the transition,” said Higgins, whose 1-2 Bulldogs play at Old Dominion (1-2) on Saturday in Norfolk, Va.
“I think Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, they still look like FCS programs as they move up. But this team, it looks like they’ve been there two or three years already.”
And that’s not bad for a program that’s only been playing for four years after a break of some 88 years. ODU is 39-12 under coach Bobby Wilder since re-starting its program in 2009, moving quickly from FCS newbie to Colonial Athletic Association power and next to FBS league Conference USA, where the Monarchs will begin play in 2014.
ODU’s quick rise is due to three main factors: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a 6-1, 205-pound junior from Atlanta; a rabid fan base that has sold out all 30 of its home games to date at 20,068-seat Ballard Stadium, and bought more than 14,000 season tickets for this season; and the fertile recruiting area around its home base in Norfolk, Va.
“It’s amazing to see what they’ve done,” Higgins said. “You look at teams like Georgia State that have struggled making that adjustment. People don’t realize how fervent a football area Virginia Beach is. They put a team there, and now everyone is coming out to see them.
“They picked the right guy in Bobby Wilder, a guy from a solid program in Maine. And he hit right away on this guy Taylor Heinicke.”
Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS last season, passing for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns last season. This season, Heinicke has hit 67.9 percent of his passes for 910 yards and seven scores against three interceptions in three games – losses to East Carolina and Maryland, and last week’s 76-19 win over Howard.
In terms of style and scheme, Higgins said ODU’s spread attack most resembles that of App State, among teams The Citadel has played in recent years.
“They are going to spread it out, and there will be a lot of bubble screens on the outside, trying to get matchups there,” he said. “And as good a thrower as the quarterback is, he is deceptively fast.”
Old Dominion is officially classified as an FCS Independent this season, but Higgins said the Bulldogs will approach this game much as they do games against South Carolina and Clemson – a test against a full-fledged FBS squad with more scholarships and resources.
“When you play FBS teams – and that’s how we look at Old Dominion with their scholarships and the players they have – our players get excited for those games,” he said. “On the road, a sold-out crowd, and a chance to test yourself against very good competition.”
• The Citadel did not commit a penalty in last week’s 28-21 win at Western Carolina. That’s just the fifth time in school history, and the first time since a 70-19 loss at Florida in 2008, that the Bulldogs did were not penalized in a game.
• The Bulldogs’ 19-play drive to open the game at Western Carolina was the team’s longest since a 21-play drive against Delaware in 2002. The Bulldogs won that game, 24-20.