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Now It Gets Serious For Old Dominion As It Opens Conference USA Play at Rice

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It won't be an easy task knocking off the defending conference champions in Houston. Can the Monarchs send an early message to the rest of the league?

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Conference USA play, Old Dominion! Your first assignment: beating Rice.

Yes, Rice, the defending conference champions that come in 0-2 but have played Notre Dame and Texas A&M on the road. However, the Owls could be missing a key part of their lineup: DT Christian Covington has suffered a knee injuryand might not play against the Monarchs.

The mantra that head coach Bobby Wilder has proclaimed from day one of this program—Aim High—holds true even more as the team enters C-USA play. He doesn't just want the Monarchs to be seen as the "new kids on the block"; he feels that his team can genuinely compete within the conference—and eventually win championships.

But they'll have their work cut out for them against a very strong Owls team that, despite a double-digit loss at the Aggies, outgained the team offensively. If they can manage a win, they'll be able to make an early statement to the rest of the league.

Rice, last year's Conference USA champion, lost its first two games in short order...But with many key players back from a team that went 10-4 last season, and a nine-game home winning streak, tied for seventh-longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Owls are eight-point favorites.

Quarterback Driphus Jackson averaged 188 yards passing and 73 yards rushing the first two games.

"He's one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and he's the most athletic," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said.

Rice outgained Texas A&M by more than 100 yards and averaged 424 offensive yards in its first two games.

"And that was against two of the best teams in the country," Wilder said. "This is going to be a major challenge."

Are the Monarchs up to the challenge? We'll have to see. One issue that they may have to face is the health of their signal caller, Taylor Heinicke, but Wilder has mentioned that the senior is "fine" and will play on Saturday. Something to keep an eye on.

By the way, I've been keeping an eye on Heinicke's stats, and so far they haven't been equal to what he's put up in the past: 81 of 119, 742 yards and five touchdowns in three games. That's an average of just over 247 yards a game. There could be a number of factors behind that (he's still incredibly accurate, though, with a completion percentage of 68.1%), but at least early on against FBS competition the numbers aren't Heinicke-esque. We'll see what happens as the year progresses.