Playing in their first season as an FBS independent, the Old Dominion Monarchs have posted a respectable 6-3 record.
But that record does not come without major caveats. And the Monarchs hope to change the most major of those—a winless record against FBS competition—Saturday against fellow independent Idaho Vandals.
Old Dominion's wins—in which it has averaged an impressive 52.5 points per game—have all come against FCS opponents, and five of the six have been at home. Their three losses have been in their only three challenges of FBS opponents—defeats on the road to East Carolina, Maryland and Pittsburgh.
But a 47-10 blowout loss to the Terrapins aside, the Monarchs have been competitive in their setbacks. Their season opener, at East Carolina on Aug. 31, saw them trailing just 35-31 through three quarters before losing 52-38. And more recently, on Oct. 19 at Heinz Field against Pittsburgh, they trailed again by just four heading into the fourth quarter, eventually falling by 11, 35-24.
The transition to FBS status for Old Dominion is even more impressive when considering the team didn't even exist at all as recently as the 2008 season. After posting a 9-2 record as an FCS independent in its inaugural season of 2009—the best record for a first-year program in college football's modern era—Old Dominion followed up with records of 8-3, 10-3 and 11-2 in the next three years.
Under head coach Bobby Wilder since their inception, the Monarchs have been no slouch. This year's explosive offense is headed up by junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who won the Walter Payton Award in 2012 as the top offensive player in the Championship Subdivision—only the second sophomore ever to receive the honor.
So far this year, Heinicke has completed 71.1 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards, with 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. In his three games against FBS competition, he has gone 87-137 for 816 yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
This week's battle with the 1-8 Idaho Vandals marks the Monarchs' best chance to get their first FBS win under their belts. (They'll play one more FBS opponent, North Carolina, on Nov. 23.)
While ODU will have to travel all the way across the country to face the Vandals, the team they'll meet is a very vulnerable one. Idaho ranks 123rd in FBS in points allowed per game at 44.2, which does not bode well as they prepare to face the Monarchs' explosive offense. Their lone win of the season was at home against another team that had to travel cross-country, a very bad Temple team, and they held off a late Owls rally for just a two-point win that day.
Old Dominion will be looking to make a name for itself in a weak Conference USA beginning next season. They are a team on the rise.
Idaho, meanwhile, has been wandering from conference to conference since returning to FBS in the mid-90s and needed special permission to stay at Division I's top level as an independent in 2013 when they were left off the realignment carousel.
These are teams headed in opposite directions.
When they cross Saturday, Old Dominion could very well be leaving the Land of Potatoes with a milestone victory.
PREDICTION: Old Dominion 41, Idaho 31