NORFOLK — Old Dominion athletic officials are working with Conference USA in an attempt to allow the Monarchs to compete in a bowl game in 2014 should certain conditions be met, coach Bobby Wilder said Wednesday at a news conference to reveal the football team's mid-year recruiting class.
Wilder was back in town after a whirlwind 10 days that included the Monarchs' season-ending playoff loss to Georgia Southern, a recruiting trip to the West Coast and a quick trip to Philadelphia earlier this week.
Wilder attended a banquet Monday in Philly, where record-setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke won the Payton Award, given by The Sports Network to the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
As grateful and humble as he was by Heinicke's award and the national recognition he and the program have received in the past two seasons, Wilder and the staff move forward with the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision and C-USA.
"I think this move is much harder than starting the program," Wilder said. "To open at East Carolina and at Maryland is harder than opening at home against Chowan and at home against Virginia Union. All due respect to those programs, but this is a step up and a much greater challenge. … Everything just got harder."
The challenge begins with recruiting, particularly to shore up a defense that again was statistically among the most porous in FCS: 89th in scoring defense (30.46), 94th in total defense (420 ypg), 100th against the rush (197) and 74th against the pass (222).
As an FBS program, Wilder said, the Monarchs now have access to a broader and deeper pool of talent. There's also greater competition for that talent, and other programs are quick to remind recruits that ODU is in transition and subject to certain conditions.
Originally, the Monarchs' move up entailed a two-year transition period in which they would be ineligible for both the C-USA title and a bowl berth until 2015. But Wilder said, and athletic director Wood Selig confirmed, that Selig has discussed with C-USA officials the possibility of ODU being eligible for the conference title in 2014 and for a bowl berth.
C-USA officials already pledged to help ODU play a full conference schedule in 2014. The Monarchs could become eligible for a bowl in '14, should they win enough games and the current array of 35 bowls not fill their 70 slots. Selig said nothing is definite, but he is hopeful that the conference will accede to ODU's wishes.
"This becomes critical now for what we're trying to accomplish as a football program," Wilder said, "and for what we're trying to get accomplished in recruiting."
It's especially critical as the Monarchs recruit junior college players in an attempt to add experienced talent and to balance recruiting classes. Junior college talent is important, at least in the short run, so that one year is not overloaded as the program moves from the FCS maximum of 63 scholarships to the FBS limit of 85 scholarships.
Opposing programs repeatedly told junior college recruits that if they attended Old Dominion, they wouldn't be able to play for a conference championship or a bowl for both of their remaining years in college. That soured a handful of recruits who were interested in the Monarchs.
The possibility of a league title and a postseason bowl as seniors provide a carrot for junior college players and help to level the recruiting field a bit for a program that re-started just four years ago.
Wilder was pleased with the nine-man class announced Wednesday. Seven of the signees are defensive players. Six are from junior colleges, including four defensive linemen — a critical area as the Monarchs must replace a total of six quality linemen from the past two years.
"It was important to get four mid-year D-linemen," Wilder said. "We need those kids right now to get practice in the spring and to learn the system, because they're going to need to play in the fall."
Though Wilder could not speak specifically about the commitments that ODU has received, leading up to the traditional February signing day, he is greatly encouraged by the class in general — provided they are able to sign them.
The class includes more two- and three-star recruits and higher-rated players than the Monarchs have ever been involved with, much less been able to recruit.
Most of all, Wilder acknowledges that next season will be a challenge. The Monarchs will play a patchwork schedule that includes home games against FCS programs, road games at FBS programs ECU, Maryland, North Carolina and Idaho, and without tangible postseason benefits.
"It's going to be a different year, a challenging year," Wilder said, similar to when the program started in 2009. "It truly gets back to, how much do you love the game of football and how much do you want to represent Old Dominion."Copyright © 2015, CT Now