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Football Championship Subdivision

In the FCS Huddle: FCS Independents spring football notebook

Thirteenth in a series about spring football across the Football Championship Subdivision.

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As usual, the FCS Independent programs are just passing through the ranks.

Old Dominion is leaving for the FBS level and Conference USA next year. Charlotte's startup program will be there, too, in 2015.

Monmouth didn't get asked back to the Northeast Conference after it announced a move to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in most sports. The Hawks are now a year away from joining the Big South for football.

Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word are transitioning from Division II to the Southland Conference.

That's where Houston Baptist also is headed, but it has a startup program this year and is considering this a "developmental season" because it is not playing Division I schools. The Huskies program, under coach Vic Shealy, will consider 2014 as its first official season.

STORY LINES

ODU probably would have liked another shot at the FCS playoffs, having surrendered a fourth-quarter lead to Georgia Southern in the national quarterfinals, but the Monarchs are over the FCS scholarship limit and it's full steam ahead to the FBS, with five such opponents this season, including Maryland, Pittsburgh and North Carolina.

Charlotte coach Brad Lambert put together a veteran staff to get the 49ers on the fast track to success. After fall practice, he bolstered his receiving corps for this season with transfers Mikel Hunter (Air Force) and C.J. Crawford (Marshall).

In a rarity, Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word will play a home-and-home series this season, Oct. 19 in Abilene, Texas, and Nov. 9 in San Antonio.

OH, YES, THEM AGAIN

Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion quarterback. Do we need to say any more?

Middle linebacker Dan Sullivan is the unquestioned leader of the Monmouth defense. The senior gets into opposing teams' backfields.

Abilene Christian will rely on its skills position players, namely wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (142 career receptions and 17 touchdowns) and multi- dimensional running back Darrell Cantu-Harkless.

BREAKOUT PERFORMERS

Monmouth wide receiver Neal Sterling was hampered by an ankle injury throughout last season. Healthier as a junior, he should take off this season.

Scoring was a problem last season while Incarnate Word finished 2-9. Chabot College transfer Casey Jennings, a wide receiver, is an athletic playmaker.

It never hurts to have a stopgap in the middle of the defensive line. Charlotte thinks it has one in redshirt freshman nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi.

POSITION BATTLES

Abilene Christian is in the unusual spot of needing to replace a second straight four-year starting quarterback - Billy Malone, 2005-08, and Mitchell Gale, 2009-12 - each of whom threw for over 12,000 career yards. Returnee John David Baker, last year's backup, could face an experienced newcomer come August camp.

Fourth-fifths of ODU's starting offensive line returns to protect Heinicke. JUCO transfers Kyle Bottoms and Ely Anderson are among the players hoping to secure the right guard position.

Incarnate Word's Taylor Woods split time at quarterback last season, but redshirt freshman Trent Brittain has a chance to win the starting job.

SPRING PRACTICE DATES

Abilene Christian: March 19-April 16

Charlotte: March 18-April 20

Incarnate Word: March 21-April 20

Monmouth: March 26-April 27

Old Dominion: March 20-April 20

03/13 06:56:09 ET

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