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The Independent Review: Old Dominion junior Taylor Heinicke back for encore

Old Dominion should put up huge passing numbers with Taylor Heinicke under center. Photo: HamptonRoads.com

Texas A&M has Johnny Manziel and Old Dominion has Taylor Heinicke.

Old Dominion begins their transition from FCS to FBS football this season, and they will ride the arm of quarterback Taylor Heinicke along the way. Heinicke caught national attention last season when he set the NCAA Division 1 passing record with 730 yards in a wild shootout victory over New Hampshire last September. But as the Monarchs begin to prepare for moving in to Conference USA n 2014, Old Dominion needs to prove their program can thrive on more than just a heavy passing game.

Joe Suhoski of MonarchFans.com previously detailed some of the other key players on Old Dominion's roster that football fans should pay attention to in a Q&A with College Football Zealots.

"Although the team loses the program's most prolific receiver (Nick Mayers) to graduation, three other starters return," Suhoski said to College Football Zealots. "Wideouts Larry Pinkard, Blair Roberts and Antonio Vaughan can each be game-changers when given the chance; Pinkard and Roberts each had three-touchdown games, while Vaughan had at least 123 receiving yards in two of the last three games."

Old Dominion is returning nine starters on offense, which should mean the Monarchs will once again be a formidable foe when they have control of the football.

The offense, of course, will be led by Walter Payton Award winner from 2012, Heinicke. The Walter Payton Award is the Heisman Trophy equivalent at the FCS level, and Heinicke won the award as a sophomore. This season you will not see Old Dominion's quarterback on any award watch list or preseason All-America teams though. Because Old Dominion is a provisional FBS program this season, no players are eligible for season accolades and Old Dominion may not participate in the postseason in either level. Heinicke passed for 5,076 yards and 55 touchdowns last fall. Matching those numbers will be difficult this season but fans should still expect to see a healthy dose of passing wherever Old Dominion is taking the field.

It is the defense that will be a concern for Old Dominion. In the game that saw Heinicke set the NCAA passing record, Old Dominion scored 64 points. They needed every single one of those points because the defense gave up 61 points to New Hampshire. That one game may have been more a blip on the radar, but the Monarchs allowed over 30 points in a game six times last season, and with the level of competition about to ramp up a bit it will be a need to focus on moving forward.

Old Dominion is located in a pretty fertile recruiting region of course, with Virginia generally consisting of a number of quality recruits to pursue. For now Old Dominion will struggle to compete with the likes of Virginia Tech and Virginia, as well as surrounding states with programs making routine visits to Virginia, but Old Dominion has plenty of growing up to do before they can worry too much about that. But perhaps Old Dominion is already making moves in the recruiting game.

Old Dominion won a recruiting battle with Houston for Texas quarterback Shane McCarley. Last week Old Dominion successfully held on to that commitment after McCarley was drafted by baseball's New York Yankees. That should send a message to some degree about where Old Dominion is heading. McCarley was a 33rd round draft pick by the Yankees, so who knows what his baseball future would have panned out to anyway, but keeping him on track to play at Old Dominion could pay off in the near future for recruiting pitches in Norfolk.

A 2-0 start in 2013 is not exactly unrealistic, with road games at East Carolina and Maryland to open the season. If Old Dominion can manage to score two upset road victories in their FBS debut, they could be in store for a solid season with a schedule made up of half FBS opponents and half FCS opponents.

Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.