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1. Playing the long game
During the conference realignment hullabaloo, Conference USA basically tried to stake out territory.
In 2010, before the shuffling began, the conference was the proposed Metro Conference minus the power teams; you had a few major media markets (Houston via Houston and Rice, Memphis, Dallas via SMU, New Orleans via Tulane, Orlando via UCF), with some respectable mid-majors and medium-sized markets (ECU, Marshall, Southern Miss, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP). It was always a conference based more on metro areas than small college towns, but it wasn't the blatant goal.
Now look at it. ECU, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and UCF were plucked away by what is now the AAC. And in an effort to remain at 12 teams, C-USA took two steps.
A. Raid the Sun Belt. FAU, FIU, MTSU, North Texas, and Western Kentucky, half of the 2010 SBC, are now in Conference USA. (C-USA also saved Louisiana Tech from the WAC.)
B. Dream big with FCS programs and start-ups. Charlotte started a program and got immediate inclusion. UTSA got the call-up after just two seasons as a program. And Old Dominion, deep in the talent-rich Norfolk-Newport News-Hampton-Virginia Beach corridor, moved up from FCS.
From a territory perspective, these moves made perfect sense. C-USA now has flag posts near many of football's talent bases -- Dallas (UNT), San Antonio (UTSA), Houston (Rice), Miami (FIU, FAU), Charlotte (UC), and Norfolk-and-thereabouts (ODU). This seems like a good thing, and even if the cable television bubble is deflating, it can't hurt from the perspective of TV revenue.
Now it just has to wait for the football to improve. Between the addition of slow-building start-ups and the 2015 collapses of UNT, UTEP, and Rice, Conference USA's product was dreadful last fall, worse even than the Sun Belt, which added solid former FCS programs like Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.
Injuries and youth played a role in C-USA's miserable form -- in virtually every one of these previews so far, I've talked about an offense or defense that got obliterated by injury -- but the optimist would say that C-USA's moves were done with the long-term in mind.
It's the same for ODU, really. After reaching 6-6 with a dynamite offense in 2014 (57th in Off. S&P+), Bobby Wilder's Monarchs had to replace all-star quarterback Taylor Heinicke and a large portion of a bad defense. But Wilder only signed three JUCO transfers, building the foundation with mostly four-year recruits. And after injuries and youth sent the offense reeling (109th in Off. S&P+), he signed no JUCOs in the 2016 class.
ODU is, like its conference, playing the long game. And as long as you win enough in the interim, that can pay off. The Monarchs went 5-7 thanks to a combination of weak opponents (six opponents ranked 111th or worse in 2015) and a 3-1 record in one-possession games, and goodness knows C-USA isn't projected to be any better this year.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 117 | Final S&P+ Rk: 110|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|5-Sep||at Eastern Michigan||122||38-34||W||35%||61%||-4.6||-0.5|
|24-Oct||at Florida International||112||12-41||L||14%||7%||-20.4||-16.5|
|21-Nov||at Southern Miss||56||31-56||L||16%||1%||-3.4||-4.0|
|Points Per Game||24.3||98||35.8||106|
2. Bad against good
It seems logical that teams would fare better against bad teams than good ones, but as opponent adjustments show, that's not necessarily the case. The percentile figures above are adjusted for the quality of the team you play, and many teams will end up filling more of a "good against good, bad against bad" niche.
Most teams in Conference USA, however, did not. Perhaps because of the depth issues associated with youth and injuries, there weren't a lot of "good against good" teams. ODU's a pretty good example.
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. S&P+ top 60): 11% (record: 0-5 | average score: Opp 45, ODU 16)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. S&P+ No. 90+): 36% (record: 5-2 | average score: ODU 30, Opp 28)
The Monarchs were never great, topping the 50th percentile only once all year, but while they ended up grading in the middle of the C-USA pack because they weren't awful quite as frequently as others, they still laid some eggs. And aside from a baffling blowout loss to FIU, most of those eggs came against the teams with a pulse.
ODU had a chance to reach bowl eligibility, but a terribly slow start against FAU doomed the bid. The Owls jumped out to a 24-3 lead, and while the Monarchs surged ahead in the third quarter, two fourth-quarter field goals gave FAU a 33-31 win. From the "bad against good" perspective, the loss perhaps saved ODU from a bowl blowout, but that's small consolation. Going 5-2 against teams in FBS' lowest quadrant, instead of going 6-1, knocked the Monarchs under .500.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.3%||109||Succ. Rt. +||85.0||117|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||36.0||128||Def. FP+||36.1||127|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.2||94||Redzone S&P+||88.6||111|
|Q1 Rk||114||1st Down Rk||110|
|Q2 Rk||96||2nd Down Rk||92|
|Q3 Rk||95||3rd Down Rk||102|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Shuler Bentley||6'1, 202||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8161||140||269||1432||12||6||52.0%||18||6.3%||4.6|
|David Washington||6'3, 199||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR||94||161||1155||8||3||58.4%||9||5.3%||6.5|
|Joey Verhaegh||6'3, 210||Jr.||NR||0.7500|
|Blake LaRussa||5'10, 186||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Drayton Arnold||6'0, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8013|
3. Protecting your young QB
Even with Heinicke, Old Dominion's passing game was based more in efficiency than big plays. In 2014, Heinicke completed 64 percent at 12 yards per completion. But he had a big-play threat in Antonio Vaughan (16.2 yards per catch), which stretched the field a bit for efficiency options like David Washington and tight end Melvin Vaughn.
In 2015, with redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley behind center, ODU offensive coordinator Brian Scott played it safe. The Monarchs employed the "save your QB" approach of throwing frequently on standard downs and running semi-frequently on passing downs. This approach can save your young QB from having to make many big throws under pressure.
Of course, it helps if the first-down passes actually go somewhere. On first down, Bentley completed 52 percent of his throws at just 11.3 yards per completion. He was sometimes bailed out by a big run by Ray Lawry (who's been one of the nation's more explosive backs for a couple of years now) or Jeremy Cox, but the pass-first approach just resulted in a ton of passing downs and inefficiency.
In theory, things could open up in 2016. Bentley's back, as is David Washington (the part-time receiver who took over for Bentley midseason before getting hurt), and 2015 JUCO transfer Joey Verhaegh. And if the Monarchs can keep just about every skill position player from getting hurt simultaneously, as seemed to happen late in 2015, they could have enough weapons to damage opponents.
|Ray Lawry||RB||5'10, 201||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8402||194||1136||11||5.9||6.0||40.7%||3||2|
|Jeremy Cox||RB||5'11, 207||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7917||72||369||1||5.1||6.1||36.1%||0||0|
|David Washington||QB/WR||6'3, 199||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR||31||176||0||5.7||3.7||51.6%||5||1|
|Shuler Bentley||QB||6'1, 202||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8161||27||90||2||3.3||5.0||25.9%||6||4|
|Kesean Strong||RB/WR||5'10, 179||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8044||27||75||1||2.8||1.5||37.0%||2||1|
|Brandon Simmons||RB||5'9, 190||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Nick Ferrari-Smith||RB||5'9, 186||RSFr.||NR||NR|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Zach Pascal||WR||6'2, 214||Sr.||NR||NR||120||69||975||57.5%||30.4%||8.1||58.3%||45.8%||1.68|
|Jonathan Duhart||WR||6'3, 212||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7733||80||47||636||58.8%||20.3%||8.0||61.3%||48.8%||1.54|
|Marques Little||WR||5'9, 176||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8085||42||23||221||54.8%||10.6%||5.3||66.7%||35.7%||1.44|
|Ray Lawry||RB||5'10, 201||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8402||27||21||152||77.8%||6.8%||5.6||37.0%||22.2%||2.29|
|Jeremy Cox||RB||5'11, 207||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7917||22||20||99||90.9%||5.6%||4.5||54.5%||27.3%||1.52|
|David Washington||QB/WR||6'3, 199||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||NR||19||8||67||42.1%||4.8%||3.5||47.4%||26.3%||1.16|
|Kesean Strong||RB/WR||5'10, 179||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8044||15||6||46||40.0%||3.8%||3.1||53.3%||20.0%||1.22|
|Nick England||WR||6'0, 179||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.6722||13||7||70||53.8%||3.3%||5.4||38.5%||46.2%||0.90|
|Eri'Reon Hayes||WR||6'2, 212||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7856||12||7||115||58.3%||3.0%||9.6||66.7%||50.0%||1.77|
|Travis Fulgham||WR||6'3, 206||So.||NR||NR||10||6||89||60.0%||2.5%||8.9||70.0%||50.0%||1.46|
|Isaiah Harper||WR||5'9, 167||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7744||7||4||28||57.1%||1.8%||4.0||71.4%||28.6%||1.42|
|T.J. Boothe||WR||6'2, 215||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8260|
|Adam Swann||TE||6'5, 237||So.||NR||0.8100|
|Quintin Reynolds||WR||6'0, 183||So.||NR||NR|
|Noah Ellison||WR||6'2, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8315|
|Scott McCluney||WR||6'1, 185||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8200|
|Marcus Joyner||TE||6'2, 250||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8200|
4. Depth chart wreckage
ODU's final depth chart was missing a few guys. Washington's passer rating had topped 135 against both UTSA and UTEP, but he was out. Lawry was limited. Projected starting receiver Blair Roberts and tight end Melvin Vaughn had been out all year. The offensive line was on its seventh different starting lineup of the year.
We didn't ever get to see the intended ODU offense in 2015. And for all we know, we might not in 2016 either.
We also don't know what the intended lineup will be. While Lawry and Cox give the Monarchs a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield, and while six of the eight linemen who started at least two games are back, we still don't know about the plans at QB, and we don't know if or how much the Monarchs can count on Roberts (who has missed two seasons with injury now) or Vaughn (a decent possession guy). Sophomore Kaesean Strong was a three-star recruit per the 247Sports Composite, and sophomore Eri'Reon Hayes showed some late-season flashes, but this is a unit full of unknowns. It might be smart to run the ball quite a bit.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Tyler Fisher||LG||6'3, 317||Sr.||NR||0.7000||7||24|
|Troy Butler||LG||6'3, 313||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7333||9||15|
|Darius Garcia||RT||6'3, 315||Jr.||NR||0.7000||3||12|
|Tyler Compton||RG||6'4, 304||Sr.||NR||NR||2||10|
|Nick Clarke||C||6'4, 301||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7511||9||9|
|Chad Hendricks||RT||6'6, 280||So.||NR||NR||4||4|
|Eric Hampson||LT||6'5, 288||Jr.||NR||0.7700||0||0|
|Manuel Matiarena||LG||6'4, 307||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7583||0||0|
|Cullen Casey||RT||6'4, 295||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8001||0||0|
|Isaac Weaver||OL||6'6, 275||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8100|
5. Injuries usually heal
First, ODU trotted out a line that consisted of Darius Garcia at left tackle, Tyler Fisher at left guard, Tyler Compton at center, Tyler Burns at right guard, and Connor Mewbourne at right tackle. Then Nick Clarke and Troy Butler replaced Compton and Mewbourne. Then Mewbourne replaced Garcia for a game. Then Garcia replaced Butler and Mewbourne took over again on the left. Then Compton and Clarke replaced Fisher and Butler. And Hendricks replaced Garcia.
Only Burns started all 12 games. The ODU offensive line was never settled until November, and ODU didn't reap the rewards of line continuity because of injury issues elsewhere. Every team deals with injuries, but a little bit of continuity would go a long way.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.1%||92||Succ. Rt. +||84.8||121|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.2||105||Off. FP+||27.9||102|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.6||85||Redzone S&P+||92.9||99|
|Q1 Rk||113||1st Down Rk||112|
|Q2 Rk||97||2nd Down Rk||116|
|Q3 Rk||105||3rd Down Rk||92|
6. The defense didn't pick up enough slack
In 2014, ODU was held back by a defense that wasn't FBS-ready. The Monarchs allowed at least 40 points in each of their six losses, allowed 5,426 yards for the season, and ranked 125th in Def. S&P+.
They already needed to improve simply because they were bad; when the offense began to fall apart, that put even more pressure on the unit.
Technically, it did improve. ODU rose to 108th in Def. S&P+, powered (relatively speaking) by the combination of a decent pass rush and solid big-play prevention on passing downs. They had to force passing downs first, which continued to be an issue, but once they did, they showed some skill.
Last year's relative strengths could turn into actual strengths. Three-quarters of the starting line returns -- an all-name trio of Rashaad Coward, Bunmi Rotimi, and Oshane Ximines (combined: 16 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, six pass break-ups) -- along with lanky pass rusher Tim Ward. And active, aggressive corners Aaron Young and Brandon Addison (combined: 3.5 tackles for loss, 20 passes defensed) are back as well.
The questions, then, are about the run defense. There was drastic youth on the defensive line, where seven of 13 contributors were freshmen or redshirt freshmen and Rotimi was a sophomore. And interesting youth could lead to better linebacker depth -- sophomore Isaiah Worthy returns from a redshirt, and redshirt freshmen Casey Bernard and Derek Wilder were among the top-rated players in ODU's 2015 signing class. (Two more incoming freshmen were 247 three-stars as well.) ODU has decent potential here, but the Monarchs' next good FBS-level run defense will be their first.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Rashaad Coward||NT||6'5, 307||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8059||12||33.5||4.6%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Bunmi Rotimi||DT||6'4, 280||Jr.||NR||NR||12||24.5||3.4%||6.0||3.5||0||2||0||0|
|Oshane Ximines||STUD||6'3, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8035||12||22.0||3.0%||7.5||5.0||0||4||0||0|
|Miles Fox||DT||6'1, 281||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8295||12||17.0||2.4%||3.0||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Scott Wiggins||STUD||6'3, 230||Sr.||NR||NR||12||16.0||2.2%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Tim Ward||DE||6'6, 226||So.||NR||0.7633||12||15.0||2.1%||5.0||2.5||1||3||0||0|
|Terrell Reid||STUD||6'2, 274||Sr.||NR||NR||10||5.5||0.8%||1.5||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Jude Brenya||DE||6'3, 256||Sr.||NR||0.7000||12||5.5||0.8%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Pat Toal||NT||6'4, 307||So.||NR||0.7733||11||5.0||0.7%||1.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Daniel Appouh||DE||6'4, 246||So.||NR||0.8800||9||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Torrez Wentz||DT||6'2, 276||So.||NR||0.7500||3||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Tyson||NT||6'1, 335||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7994||8||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Galen Evans||DT||6'3, 284||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR|
|Ryan Londree||DT||6'3, 260||So.||NR||0.7500|
|Mufu Taiwo||DT||6'5, 293||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7806|
7. The makings of a good pass rush
Ximines took to the STUD position with aplomb. Granted, he wore down in November -- zero tackles for loss in the last four games -- but he's got obvious potential. We'll see if Ward is able to add a little bit more beef to his frame, but these two could form nice bookend pass rushers, and they could get some occasional blitz help from linebackers like TJ Ricks.
The problem comes in stopping the run. The ends are awfully small, and while Coward made quite a few plays for his size (he was the seventh-leading tackler, which is pretty high for a nose tackle), he evidently didn't make enough of them.
There is plenty of beef further down the depth chart. Sophomores Pat Toal and Brandon Tyson could be ready for a heavier load, and redshirt freshman Mufu Taiwo could join the rotation as well. It appears there are plenty of options here, but we still have to see if there's actual talent. ODU ranked 126th in Success Rate+ last year, and nothing quells a solid pass rush more than not having opportunities to actually rush the passer.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|TJ Ricks||MLB||6'0, 226||Sr.||NR||NR||12||85.0||11.8%||4.5||2.5||1||7||1||1|
|Shadow Williams||OLB||6'0, 216||Sr.||NR||0.7800||12||31.0||4.3%||4.5||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Marvin Branch||OLB||6'2, 224||So.||NR||NR||12||20.0||2.8%||1.0||0.0||0||1||0||1|
|Anthony Wilson||MLB||6'1, 214||Sr.||NR||NR||10||17.0||2.4%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Isaiah Worthy (2014)||LB||6'1, 236||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8033||9||14.5||2.0%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Richard Thomas||OLB||6'0, 224||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7500|
|Casey Bernard||LB||6'2, 232||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8300|
|Derek Wilder||LB||6'1, 248||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8044|
|Jaylin Jeffries||LB||6'0, 237||RSFr.||NR||0.7633|
|Lawrence Garner||LB||6'2, 218||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8200|
|Zach Lackman||LB||6'2, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.8100|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Justice Davila||FS||6'0, 191||Jr.||NR||0.7822||11||63.5||8.8%||0||0||0||4||0||0|
|Aaron Young||CB||5'11, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7956||12||48.0||6.6%||2.5||1.5||1||8||0||0|
|Sean Carter||FS||6'1, 196||So.||NR||NR||12||38.5||5.3%||0||0||0||1||0||1|
|Brandon Addison||CB||5'10, 177||So.||NR||NR||12||33.0||4.6%||1||0||0||11||0||0|
|C.J. Bradshaw||SS||5'10, 182||Sr.||NR||NR||12||21.0||2.9%||0.5||0||1||2||0||0|
|Christian Byrum (2014)||S||6'1, 186||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8091||9||16.5||2.3%||0||0||2||0||0||0|
|Rob Thompson||FS||6'1, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||5||5.5||0.8%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Justin Noye||S||6'1, 202||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8367||12||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Andre Bernhard||DB||6'2, 193||Jr.||NR||NR|
|R.J. Brown||CB||6'0, 193||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Jordan Glover||CB||5'11, 175||So.||NR||NR|
|Jamez Brickhouse||CB||5'10, 176||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8321|
|Jelani Carter||DB||6'1, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7885|
|Elijah Blue||CB||6'0, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7817|
|Joe Joe Headen||CB||5'10, 170||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7932|
8. The secondary did its part
Strong safety Fellonte Misher turned into a solid play-maker in his senior season, but he's basically the only player to replace from last year's secondary. That could mean very good things. Young and Anderson are small but aggressive, and between sophomores Sean Carter, Christian Byrum and Justin Noye, junior Rob Thompson, and senior C.J. Bradshaw, the odds of finding a decent Misher replacement are high.
Plus, Wilder has recruited DBs better than perhaps any other unit. Per 247, Noye and Byrum were both three-star recruits, as was redshirt freshman corner (and another all-name candidate) Jamez Brickhouse. And incoming freshman Elijah Blue was a Rivals three-star, for what that's worth. There are plenty of athletes to be found in Virginia, and Wilder's found a few in the 6'0, 180-pound range. Especially with this pass rush, ODU's secondary should again be a strength.
|Chris Kirtley||6'1, 191||So.||27||51.4||1||1||3.7%|
|Ricky Segers||5'11, 204||Sr.||20||60.0||0||1||0.0%|
|Chris Kirtley||6'1, 191||So.||21-23||6-8||75.0%||4-5||80.0%|
|Ricky Segers||5'11, 204||Sr.||5-5||1-2||50.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Zach Pascal||KR||6'2, 214||Sr.||20||20.7||0|
|Marques Little||KR||5'9, 176||Jr.||13||18.1||0|
|Marques Little||PR||5'9, 176||Jr.||15||2.3||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||121|
|Field Goal Efficiency||94|
|Punt Return Success Rate||115|
|Kick Return Success Rate||50|
|Punt Success Rate||117|
|Kickoff Success Rate||128|
9. Wanted: Legs
ODU was not only working with a thin, inefficient offense and sketchy run defense; it was also working with an awful special teams unit. Kick returns were decent, and freshman kicker Chris Kirtley at least showed a decent leg (4-for-5 on field goals 40 or longer), but punt returns were nonexistent, only four percent of Kirtley's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, and the Monarchs were 104th in net punting.
The result of poor special teams and an efficiency disadvantage: horrendous field position. ODU's field position margin was minus-7.8 yards per possession, worst in C-USA and second-worst in FBS. The field was tilted all year, which honestly makes it a bit of a miracle that ODU even reached 5-7.
Just about everybody's back in the special teams unit. That might be good, and it might not.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|10-Sep||at Appalachian State||59||-18.8||14%|
|17-Sep||at N.C. State||40||-22.5||10%|
|22-Oct||at Western Kentucky||45||-20.8||12%|
|19-Nov||at Florida Atlantic||100||-7.4||33%|
|Projected wins: 5.1|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-23.7% (103)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||113 / 120|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-1 / -0.6|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-0.2|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||71% (65%, 76%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||4.0 (1.0)|
10. At least a 50 percent chance in six games
That ODU indeed went 5-7 last year is a reminder that there are wins to be found in Conference USA no matter your flaws. And despite a non-conference slate that features trips to both Appalachian State and NC State, ODU still faces seven opponents projected 100th or worse in 2016. And as you see above, ODU is given at least a 50 percent chance of winning in six different games.
As I end up saying in basically every C-USA team preview, if this team exceeds the expectations set by last season's numbers -- and one of these teams will -- the path to seven or eight wins is pretty clear. For ODU, that means establishing what could be a solid run game and allowing a strong pass defense to shine by occasionally making stops against the run.
It could certainly happen. I like Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox in the backfield, and between David Washington, Shuler Bentley, and last year's understudies, there's a chance a decent quarterback emerges. With stability and experience, both lines could improve, and the secondary could turn into a genuine strength. But as with much of this conference, this team has to earn the benefit of the doubt.