Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The teams in this year's class of FCS independents are all getting ready to shift upward in 2014 and join new conferences, with Old Dominion on the verge of entering Conference USA on the FBS level.
That along with some very obvious additional factors makes ODU the consensus choice to top the independents this year.
The Monarchs fell to Georgia Southern in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs less last December and are not eligible to enter the postseason following this year's regular season. That won't stop record-setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke, though.
Heinicke is coming off one of the best seasons statistically in FCS history while also garnering CAA Football offensive player of the year honor and the Walter Payton Award as the outstanding player in the FCS.
Although Heinicke lost his top receiver in Nick Mayers after 2012, the Monarchs offense retains three receivers who each hauled in seven touchdown receptions last season.
Up on the schedule for ODU is a balanced mix of FBS and FCS teams. The Monarchs open the season with back-to-back road games against East Carolina and Maryland - two storied FBS programs. It will be a familiar sight for Bobby Wilder and his team come 2014.
Charlotte will eventually make the jump up to the FBS in 2015 after reinstating the football program. This will be the 49ers' first football season since 1948.
Monmouth, formerly of the Northeast Conference, will join the Big South Conference at the start of the 2014 season. But more importantly for the Hawks is getting receiver Neal Sterling healthy for this year. Sterling will be a top target for whichever young quarterback wins the starting job in preseason camp.
Incarnate Wood and Abilene Christian, up from Division II, will move to the Southland Conference before the start of next season.
Houston Baptist, not previewed, also will join the Southland next year. It is a first-year program that is playing what it considers to be a development season this year. The Huskies will consider 2014 as the first season for statistics kept in the program's record book.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2013 FCS Independents.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. Old Dominion
3. Abilene Christian
5. Incarnate Word