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ODU prepares for first season in CAA
Phase Three of the grand experiment known as Old Dominion football commences in less than six weeks, and no one is more eager to begin or less certain about its outcome than Bobby Wilder.
The head Monarch is justifiably optimistic, based on results of phases one and two. But ODU jumps into the deep end of the pool in its first season as a full-on, competing member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
“People should expect the unexpected,” Wilder said with a chuckle Wednesday at the CAA’s preseason media day, “because I honestly have no idea. I’m taking the same position as I took going into 2009, when I was asked how do you think you’ll do. I have no idea how we’ll do.”
Wilder voted the Monarchs last in the coaches’ preseason poll, not because he’s sandbagging, but because he knows the league. Wins over VMI and Monmouth are nice, but he requires evidence before judging his team to be a viable member of the nation’s best Football Championship Subdivision conference.
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“The message is different this year,” Wilder said. “There’s a greater sense of urgency. I’ve told the players that you need to approach each week with the idea that you’re playing a team that can embarrass you if you’re not prepared.”
The Monarchs have demonstrated that they can do infrastructure and interest. Facilities are first-rate. Foreman Field is filled every Saturday. It remains to be seen, however, if they can play top-shelf FCS football. Not just weekly, but annually.
“I feel like we’ll come in and be competitive, no matter what,” defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron said. “I can’t necessarily give you the record we’ll have, but I feel like week in and week out, we’ll give each (opponent) our best, and we’ll see where it falls at the end.”
True Blue believers point to last season’s William and Mary game as proof that the Monarchs are ready. They pushed the eventual CAA champs to the limit before falling 21-17 on a late touchdown.
But emotionally, that was a bowl game for ODU in a season in which its notable challenges were judiciously spaced.
The Monarchs defeated Hampton, an upper-tier MEAC team, largely because the Pirates’ punt protection unit took a siesta. They surrendered a thousand points and a million yards to a nationally-ranked Cal Poly team that did what few FCS teams do: traveled cross country for a regular season game.