The Ohio Bobcats grinded out a season of impressive feats in 2012. But, it was marred by a 1-4 stretch in the second half of the season, compounded by numerous injuries.
Frank Solich, in his eighth year with the program, guided Ohio to a 7-0 start, highlighted by a first game victory in Happy Valley over Penn State, and a 45-14 Advocare V100 Independence Bowl Victory over Louisiana-Monroe. With a healthy group of Bobcats heading into the 2013 season, Ohio is on many a fans radar, with plenty taking them to win the MAC East.
A big story in the spring was coach Solich limiting the amount of contact and full go drills in practice, as he attempted to lighten the wear and tear on his players. This is expected to be a continuing trend after more than a dozen players suffered season-ending injuries in 2012. And now with guys healthy on both sides of the ball, there doesn't seem to be much (well, that is if you don't count Bowling Green) to keep the 'Cats from taking a MAC East crown.
There were losses suffered in the trenches, as Ohio is replacing an entire defensive line, and three offensive lineman.
Defensive ends Kendrick Smith, Nic Barber and Ty Bransz are expected to pick up the slack, while Antwan Crutcher, Watson Tautuiaki and Brandon Purdum will jam things up in the middle at nose tackle and nose guard.
Left guard Jon Lechner, a preseason third-team All-MAC selection by Phil Steele, enters 2013 with 25 starts under his belt and will likely be the leader of the new-look O-Line. Left tackle John Prior also garnered a second team preseason All-MAC rating from Steele. But even with three new starters on the line, Ohio's front five should be imposing this season.
The Bobcats return nearly all skill position starters, with eight offensive players back for another year. Tyler Tettlton, Beau Blankenship, Donte Foster, Chase Cochran (who had a bust out bowl game performance in which he had 162 yards receiving), and the big fellas on the line make for a daunting offensive group.
Foster and Blankenship had break out years in 2012, with Foster setting career highs in receptions (59) and yards (659) along with eight touchdowns. Blankenship was no slouch either, with the bowling ball-like back sprinting his way to 1604 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Tettleton embarks on his senior year already the greatest quarterback in school history in just two seasons.
Ohio returns leading tackler Keith Moore at linebacker and has a healthy group of defensive backs that just a year ago were devastated by injuries. Jamil Shaw and Travis Carrie are two highly-touted cornerbacks that are both healthy after having missed virtually all of last season (Carrie, a preseason All-MAC performer on several lists including Steele's and was hurt in fall camp last season, Shaw went down at Penn State). Ian Wells filled in admirably at the spot a year ago, and was recently elevated to the starting corner spot opposite of Carrie. Nathan Carpenter, somewhat of a homegrown kid from Lancaster, Ohio returns at nickelback for his junior season.
The Bobcats are also looking to replace Matt Weller, a consistent kicker for the squad with a decision seemingly yet to be made for a replacement.
Ohio will start the 2013 season with a high profile matchup against Louisville's Heisman candidate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and a high powered Cardinals offense. The game will be one of just two Sunday games of opening weekend, as kickoff is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 1, at 3:30pm Eastern time, on ESPN.
A showdown awaits with Marshall in Athens on Sept. 14 with the Thundering Herd looking for revenge after falling to the Bobcats in Huntington, W. Va., a year ago. Austin Peay and North Texas make up the other two non-conference games before Ohio heads to Akron for its first conference game (with the two having played a surprisingly close game a year ago with a 34-28 final).
The biggest game on the schedule for the 'Cats is likely when they head to Bowling Green for a matchup with the vaunted Falcons defense that was the best the MAC had to offer a year ago. The Nov. 12 matchup could very well pit the top two contenders for the MAC East in a deciding game.
And if you're an Ohio State fan who happened upon this article, enjoy this because it should always give Buckeye fans a smile.