When Old Dominion was wallowing with a 1-6 record in mid-October, losing eight or more games seemed much more likely than securing a bowl berth.
But the Monarchs stunningly turned their season around with five straight wins, and their reward is a date with Tulsa on Monday in the Myrtle Beach Bowl in Conway, S.C.
Things looked bleak when Old Dominion was routed 43-20 by Western Kentucky on Oct. 16. But the Monarchs of Conference USA won three games by 14 or more points during their hot streak.
Old Dominion (6-6) now plays in a bowl game for the second time since becoming an FBS program in 2013. The first was a 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl.
“I love our story. I love this season. It’s the most fun season I’ve ever been a part of,” Monarchs coach Ricky Rahne said. “The kids never changed, never blinked. They believed in our coaching staff; our coaching staff believed.”
The Golden Hurricane (6-6) also finished strong to land a bowl berth, winning their last three games by a cumulative 98-54.
Tulsa played a tough schedule that includes road losses to three teams that were in College Football Playoff contention — Cincinnati, Ohio State and Oklahoma State. In the second game of the season, the Golden Hurricane led the Cowboys in the fourth quarter before falling 28-23 in Stillwater.
Tulsa was 1-4 after it was steamrolled 45-10 by Houston on Oct. 1. More than a month later, the 28-20 loss to CFP-bound Cincinnati left the Golden Hurricane with a 3-6 mark — but they rattled off wins over fellow American Athletic Conference foes Tulane, Temple and SMU to earn the bowl invitation.
“We take it one game at a time, and every game that we get to play with each other is something big,” said Tulsa receiver Josh Johnson, who has 75 receptions for 985 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Golden Hurricane running back Shamari Brooks (3,622 career yards) needs 30 yards to surpass Tarrion Adams (2005-08) and move into second place in school history.
The defense is led by defensive tackle Jaxon Player, who has 13.5 tackles for loss.
“We worked all year to get here, so why not go out with a bang?” Player said. “We’ve been through a long season. Going 6-6 is rough, but we made it here. I want to enjoy the fruits of my labor.”
The Golden Hurricane, who are 10-12 in bowl games, will try to slow down a trio of strong Old Dominion offensive players.
Running back Blake Watson (1,035 rushing yards) topped 100 on the ground six times, Zack Kuntz (71 catches for 674 yards and five scores) ranks second nationally in catches by a tight end, and receiver Ali Jennings III is eight yards shy of reaching 1,000.
Linebacker Jordan Young has a team-high 83 tackles for the Monarchs, who are now bullish on their abilities.
“We grew in some confidence, I would say,” Rahne said of the late-season stretch. “But in terms of our toughness and ability to compete, no, this team has shown me that from Day 1.”
–Field Level Media