After starting slow in Greenville a week ago, the Hokies came storming back with 57 unanswered points to remain undefeated through the season's first three weeks. Old Dominion awaits the Hokies next, one final tune-up before what promises to be a monumental showdown with No. 2 Clemson in Blacksburg.
To gather some unique first-hand perspective on the Monarchs, I spoke to David Teel, columnist for the Daily Press and the unquestioned best sportswriter in the Commonwealth.
JC: Old Dominion has enjoyed a rapid ascent to major college football in recent years, a charge led in part by longtime head coach Bobby Wilder. As someone who's been fortunate enough to have a birds-eye view of the culture shift in Norfolk, how impressed have you been with Wilder's ability to revitalize this Monarchs program? Is it fair to equate his impact at Old Dominion to Frank Beamer's in Blacksburg?
DT: Bobby Wilder didn't rebuild ODU football. He built it from scratch. The Monarchs hadn't played the sport since 1940, and all he's done since arriving in Norfolk in early 2007 is make the program among college football's most remarkable start-ups. Since starting competition in 2009, ODU is 69-31 and has endured only one losing season, a testament to Wilder's ability as a coach and salesman – he's a natural on the stump. The Monarchs thrived in the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the Championship Subdivision's strongest league, and are competitive in Conference USA, a weaker Bowl Subdivision league. But let's be clear, eight-plus seasons do not approach Beamer's 29 in Blacksburg, as Wilder would be the first to tell you.
JC: Some Tech fans squabbled at the thought of a home-and-home series with ODU, while others seemed to recognize the potential value of the occasional road quest into the fertile recruiting grounds of the 757. Do you see this as a win-win matchup for both programs, or is Tech exposing itself to unnecessary risk against an up-and-coming Monarchs team poised to eventually play spoiler to a high-major foe?
DT: Selfishly, I like this series since it brings the Hokies to my hood for the first time since the 1986 Oyster Bowl in Norfolk against Temple. That said, by the time the latest contract between the schools expires in 2031, I may be watching from my nursing home room holding a drool cup. But I do understand fans questioning the wisdom of scheduling one program 13 times in 15 years. Not that it's risky. Playing ODU isn't any more or less risky than playing Marshall or Appalachian State. And those are the types of programs we're talking about — those from the Group of Five conferences. You can't schedule every non-conference game against Michigan or West Virginia or Notre Dame. So when playing a G5, why not save travel and guarantee money and make it against an in-state opponent from an essential recruiting region? The lone downside here is that the Monarchs don't continue to improve and that annual blowouts make the series stale.
JC: Old Dominion opened the 2017 season with two straight victories before taking one on the chin last weekend against a reeling North Carolina team. Are the Monarchs still a few recruiting classes away from truly competing against the top half of the ACC? Where are the biggest gaps Wilder's tasked with filling?
DT: A few recruiting classes, indeed. ODU is 0-8 versus Power Five opponents, 0-7 against the ACC, and all were decided by at least two scores. Here's a telling nugget from Wilder: Only one of his players, junior defensive tackle Miles Fox, had multiple Power Five offers (Georgia Tech and Iowa).
JC: With most lines hovering in the high-20's ahead of Saturday's in-state clash, it's no secret Tech is the prohibitive favorite in this one. What's the recipe Old Dominion must follow to stay within striking distance of Josh Jackson and company?
DT: To be remotely competitive, the Monarchs will have to do what West Virginia, Delaware and East Carolina could not: Force the Hokies into turnovers. In that vein, ODU needs to rediscover a pass rush that produced 15 sacks in victories over Albany and UMass but only one in the loss to North Carolina. Finally, the Monarchs must help Stevie Williams, their true freshman quarterback who's the youngest quarterback in the FBS and has never started a college game.
JC: Prediction time: do the Hokies roll to 4-0, or can the Monarchs pull off a stunner in Lane Stadium?
DT: The margin may not match last week's, but Tech will win comfortably and move to 4-0 for the first time since 2011, when it's fifth game was against...Clemson at home. Sound familiar?