The start of the 2013 college football season hasn't necessarily been kind to Shenandoah University, but it hasn't been terrible either.
The Hornets are 1-2 after their first three games, with their lone win coming against winless Ferrum on Sept. 14. Shenandoah has done things well at times in all three phases of the game, and other times the Hornets have appeared less than impressive.
Inconsistency has plagued the Hornets in the early going, but they have had two weeks to prepare for tonight's game against Bridgewater College, and Shenandoah head coach Scott Yoder used the extra week to get back to some of the basics.
The bye week last week came at a good time for Shenandoah. The Hornets got to use the first three weeks of the season to get a feel for where the team is at under Yoder's new offensive and defensive schemes. They got to test the waters, see what does and doesn't work and make the necessary tweaks.
The real season starts now for Shenandoah. Tonight is the Old Dominion Athletic Conference opener for the Hornets, and these are the games that really matter.
Shenandoah's struggles in its first season as a member of the ODAC last year are well chronicled, and the sense of frustration that crosses the face of Hornets players whenever last year's disappointing 0-7 showing in the conference is discussed pretty much sums it up.
The Hornets are eager to put last season behind them, and the talk within the program since preseason camp opened in August has been to make some noise in the ODAC. And that hasn't changed.
Being picked to finish seventh out of eight teams in the preseason conference polls didn't dampen the Hornets' spirits. Neither has the lackluster start to the new "Red Dawn" era under Yoder.
"We want to shock the ODAC, especially since a lot of people are probably sitting there on their Hudl's watching film like, 'Oh, we have Shenandoah this week, that's a win.' We don't want them to think that anymore," Hornets sophomore running back Andrew Smith said during Shenandoah's weekly media day on Wednesday. "We want them to be like 'OK, we have to prepare for this, this and this' because we will come and give you a fight, and we'll hit you on your chin."
Shenandoah's first step at achieving that goal comes against Bridgewater, and tonight will provide a good idea of where the Hornets' program is at under Yoder.
The Hornets understand that turning around a program that has struggled in recent years is going to be no quick fix, and it's unfair to expect a significant turnaround from Yoder and his staff in Yoder's first season, but a good showing tonight could do wonders for the Hornets.
Shenandoah is expecting a victory over Bridgewater tonight, and Hornets sophomore linebacker Michael Messick flat out said, "we need this win." But will it spell doom for the Hornets if they don't win? Absolutely not.
This is the opportunity to make that statement that the Hornets players have been talking about since the preseason, but Shenandoah doesn't even have to win for that statement to be made. If the Hornets manage to put together a respectable showing against the unbeaten Eagles (3-0), it could be just the confidence builder that the team needs to win a few games in the ODAC and finally put the demons from last season to rest.
"This is why the guys are here, to play league games that matter against really good opponents," Yoder said. "The league is tough, and certainly they found that out last year. But their attitudes have been great. Emotionally, there is no doubt that they'll be ready to play and I'll be looking forward to it."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD