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Old Dominion quarterback Steven Williams (14) tosses a pass during the second half of the Old Dominion Virginia Tech NCAA college football game in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

HUNTINGTON - Last season, Old Dominion pulled off one of Conference USA's biggest upsets in years when it defeated nationally ranked Virginia Tech at Foreman Field in Norfolk, Virginia.

Unfortunately for the Monarchs, that - coupled with a win over North Texas - was one of few highlights in a season in which the team went 4-8.

As nice as the Virginia Tech win was, it was trumped by lowlights, which included a 32-point loss to Liberty, a 34-point loss to Middle Tennessee and losses to East Carolina and Rice - both of which were among the bottom football teams in FBS.

To complicate matters, quarterback Blake LaRussa, who was pivotal to the team's offensive success, is also now gone, and the quarterback competition that was supposed to take place in the spring to find his replacement never got off the ground due to injuries and the subsequent recovery process for three of the team's top four starter hopefuls.

That means fall camp will be huge to former starter Steven Williams, JUCO signees Messiah deWeaver and Stone Smartt and freshman Hayden Wolff.

Of that group, Williams has the most Division I experience, but deWeaver and Smartt are talented products who led successful campaigns at the JUCO level. Wolff is also a talented player, but a broken wrist plus the experience level of those around him likely means a redshirt unless something wild happens.

A lack of returning skill players adds pressure to an already pressure-filled situation at quarterback once camp opens, so Wilder's plight to improve the Monarchs' 4-8 mark from 2018 is tenuous at best.

Two NFL-level wide receivers are also gone in Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham, so new targets will have to be developed. Relief may come from the tight end spot where Keon White and Marcus Joyner are likely to get plenty of opportunities.

The running game returns a constant from 2018 in Kesean Strong, but Strong rushed for just 499 yards in 2018. His nine touchdowns did lead the team in that department, however. Ironically, Strong is also the team's leading returning receiver with 21 catches.

Up front, the left side will be strong with Isaac Weaver and Tony Barnett returning, but replacing center Nick Clarke will be no easy task.

Defensively, tackles Jeremy Meiser and Juwan Ross return, but the loss of playmaker Oshane Ximines (a New York Giants draftee) is a big blow for a defense who will be looking for playmaking ability.

If there is a benefit, the linebackers feature lots of returning experience, which is good news. However, their success rate - especially late in games - was reason for concern in 2018 and needs to be addressed if the Monarchs are to turn things around.

The play of those linebackers becomes even more crucial with the safety position needing overhauled. Cornerback Joe Joe Headen does return to the secondary.

On special teams, kicker Nick Rice was a strong player in 2018, but punter Bailey Cate needs to improve to help the Monarchs flip the field for an inexperienced offense and defense.

After the season-opener against Norfolk State, it is likely that the only game Old Dominion will be favored in until mid-November is a home date with East Carolina.

For a team opening up a new-look stadium this fall, that is not exactly something you want to hear.

For Wilder, a third-consecutive dismal season could spell the end of his tenure with the Monarchs - something he's looking to avoid.

To do so, Old Dominion likely needs a bowl berth. The more likely scenario is a three-win season, however.

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