Old Dominion football has had a number of firsts recently–which makes sense, given the program has existed all of five years and been a full-fledged Football Bowl Subdivision member all of a month. Its next may be its biggest.
The Monarchs scored their first-ever Conference USA win last week at Rice in their first C-USA game. Friday, Old Dominion plays its first nationally televised game since 2012, when it appeared in its first FCS Playoffs.
Each of those momentous occasions was a baby step toward something bigger. Playing conference opponent Middle Tennessee Friday on Fox Sports 1 is another step in the continued growth of Old Dominion football, as head coach Bobby Wilder alluded to.
“It’s a national television game Friday night, our first-ever Friday night game,” he said in his press conference Monday, via ODUSports.com. “Great exposure for our program.”
The fledgling Monarchs step into the national spotlight with an opportunity to gain recognition–a precious commodity in the increasingly crowded college football landscape. And the university athletic department is seizing the opportunity by playing up the significance.
When weeknight football really gained momentum in the late 1980s, it was tailored for this kind of matchup of programs looking to gain some attention when it might otherwise get lost in the shuffle on the Saturday. Not far from Old Dominion’s Norfolk campus, Virginia Tech parlayed its Thursday night popularity in the early 1990s into national prominence.
Old Dominion’s fellow football newbie and C-USA partner UTSA was in a similar position as the Monarchs earlier this season, facing Arizona on a Thursday night Fox Sports 1 broadcast. The Roadrunners delivered a competitive game and electric atmosphere that won over plenty of new fans on social media. The hashtag #MEEPMEEP blew up much of the night.
The SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have all horned in on Thursday nights. The latter two sneak a few Fridays in, as well. Even the NFL behemoth is throwing its weight around during the work week.
But Old Dominion’s only competition this week is a Mountain West contest featuring perennial league cellar dweller New Mexico. In other words, Friday night is Old Dominion’s time to make its formal induction to the college football-watching nation.
For those unfamiliar with Old Dominion football, a quick overview: Expect a potent passing attack, which is a signature of the program throughout its development years. Wilder’s teams routinely finished in the top 20 for passing offense during the Monarchs’ abbreviated FCS run, topping out at No. 1 overall in 2012.
That season, current Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke threw for 5,076 yards and 44 touchdowns en route to winning the Walter Payton Award, presented to the top offensive player in the FCS. The Walter Payton is essentially the FCS Heisman.
Heinicke continues to air it out in the FBS. He’s coming off a 430-yard, five-touchdown performance in Old Dominion’s historic, 45-42 win last week at Rice.
MTSU rode one of C-USA’s better defenses to a bowl bid last season. The Blue Raiders were especially good against the pass, allowing just 203 yards per game to finish ranked No. 19 nationally, but surrendered a staggering 593 passing yards to Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty.
Expect Heinicke to try to match that number.
Perhaps equally as important as how Old Dominion performs on the field Friday, however, is the scene at Foreman Field. Nothing can hurt a program’s foray into the national spotlight quite like an empty stadium, which quickly turns into derisive retweet fodder.
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) September 19, 2014
The Monarchs need not worry about that. S.B. Ballard Stadium isn’t the biggest venue in the FBS–at just over 20,000, it’s actually one of the smallest–but the venue is sold out.
Kudos are in order to the Old Dominion athletic department for playing up the importance of Friday’s game. This is a program with tremendous growth potential, and this national exposure can be one of the biggest steps the Monarchs take in their infancy.