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Is This The Year Frank Solich And Ohio Capture The MAC Title?

Generally there are only three reasons why a college football coach would lose/leave his job:

A) poor performance
B) offered a job at a more prominent university or by an NFL team
C) retirement (Come on JoePa!). 

Since the turn of the century, Ohio University has had three head coaches because of reasons A and B. Right after the 2000 season Jim Grobe left for Wake Forest (where he has done a great job), placing Brian Knorr in charge of the program. Unfortunately for Knorr, he wasn't fit for the job and went 11-35 before he was fired in 2004.

Frank Solich was hired to replace Knorr after putting up a stellar 58-19 record during his first six seasons at Nebraska. Solich's teams did struggle in big games against ranked opponents but overall his body of work was impressive and Ohio University looked to be headed in the right direction with Solich.

When someone like Solich takes over at a non-powerhouse university under these circumstances, the first order of business is maximizing the talent of players they didn't recruit and may not necessarily be all that talented. Rarely will you see a coach make a huge impact his first year on the job a year after that team went 4-7 so it wasn't surprising to see the Bobcats go 4-7 in Solich's first year in Athens. That said, OU didn't have to wait much longer for Solich to turn the program around as the Bobcats won the MAC East in 2006 with a 9-6 record (7-1 in conference) and reached the GMAC Bowl.

After a brief return in mediocrity in the '07 and '08 seasons the Bobcats have finished first and second in the MAC East in the past two seasons with a 17-10 record (13-3 in conference play) while reaching two more bowl games (Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 09; New Orleans Bowl in 10). Even though Ohio has yet to have much success in the post-season under Solich it is starting to feel like this is the year where everything comes together and Ohio finally picks up a post-season win or two.

It may seem odd to expect that from the only team in the conference that isn't returning their starting quarterback from last season but the Bobcats are getting back enough talent on the offensive line and at the wide receiver position to make due with a new starting quarterback. Tyler Tettleton was given the starting job just a few days ago and, in my opinion, he was the best option. Phil Bates has seniority as he enters his final collegiate season but he is a classic example of an ATH recruit that never defined his position. That said, he's a valuable asset on offense because of his versatility and I like the idea of having the traditional QB in Tettleton and the wildcat option in Bates that can take snaps and run, take handoffs and run and catch passes and run. It wouldn't surprise me if Bates ended up out-rushing all of the Bobcats' running backs this season - he nearly did last year despite missing three games.

Ohio's defense also lost some key components to graduation and they'll have an entirely new defensive line this year. It will be tough to replicate the outstanding success they had in run prevention last season but they also have one of the better secondaries and line backing cores in their conference. Also returning after a year cut short by injuries is linebacker Noah Keller, who has pro potential if he could ever stay healthy. Keller rehabbed well during the summer and has looked good in camp. As of now Keller is expected to play the majority of the season and if that's the case, Ohio shouldn't have too much of an issue defensively even with a brand new front four.

As Matt mentioned in his team preview for Ohio, some folks have thrown around the idea of a perfect regular season record for the Bobcats this season. A combination of a weak schedule, a great compilation of talent at key positions and a terrific coach in Frank Solich make 12-0 a possibility. Even if it's a longshot (and it might not be - that schedule is really weak), Ohio looks poised to do great things this season. But do they have enough to win the MAC title and potentially a bowl game as well?

It seems to me like Ohio is missing just one thing before taking that next step as a program under Solich. Ohio, despite it's impressive recent success, has yet to have a breakout star that gives the team attention on the national level and produces at an extremely high level. Since 2002 the Bobcats have only had one four star recruit according to Scout (Boo Jackson, who came out of Junior College, not high school) and no players that rated higher than an 80 (on a scale of 100) since 2006 according to ESPN's recruiting database (the only player that rated 80 was offensive lineman Jon Lechner back in 2009). Additionally, Ohio has only had one player at a skill position accumulate over 1,000 yards. Kalvin McRae rushed for over 1,000 yards for three straight years from 2005-07 (Interesting tidbit: McRae rushed for 1153 yards as sophomore in 2005 while Ohio's top quarterback only threw for 1151 yards).

Of course, there are definite limitations for a school like Ohio to recruit a superstar. Unless there is a kid who's father played football at the Ohio or something like that, Ohio State is going to be the sexier pick for almost all top recruits. That may change in the aftermath of the Terrelle Pryor saga but that seems unlikely.

This situation reminds me a bit of Texas Tech's back in 2000. Ohio may not be the talent pool that Texas is but with UT and Texas A&M grabbing five star recruits left and right and with Oklahoma, LSU and other out of state schools poaching the occasional five star recruit as well, getting players to go to a less heralded at school like Texas Tech was difficult. Mike Leach was able to overcome that by building a terrific offensive line and getting not-quite-elite but talented quarterbacks and unleashing them into his unique system.

Leach was consistently making bowl games but his best season at Tech came after Michael Crabtree broke out as the best wide receiver in college football history (sorry about that, I love me some Michael Crabtree). Crabtree wasn't even an elite recruit, either. He played QB in high school but Texas wanted him as a defensive back and almost every school viewed him more as an athlete than an actual QB. Given a grade of 45 out of 100 by ESPN, Crabtree ended up signing with Texas Tech where evil genius Mike Leach convinced him to drop basketball as a second sport and convert to wide receiver. Long story short, Texas Tech is now getting top flight Texas talent (they have two top notch wide receivers that no doubt chose Tech because of what Crabtree and Leach did in 2008). They still aren't on UT's level but they went from a third world country in a recruiting sense to getting the 15th rated recruiting class for 2012 per ESPN.

That breakout player is what is keeping Ohio from becoming a more viable option for top level recruits in Ohio and surrounding areas like Chicago or Kentucky. Even though the program has made strides over the past few seasons, 9-5 seasons in the MAC isn't going to get Dorial Green-Beckham or Adolphus Washington or any other five star recruit from the 2012 class to pick Ohio over Ohio State. The Bobcats need to have more than a good season to become a more prominent program. Certainly, there are limitations on a MAC program from reaching the limelight but even if the step isn't as big as the one Texas Tech has made of late, it feels like there is a chance for significant progress to be made.

I have been known to bring success to various sports teams across the country. I started my website in October of 2008 specifically to cover the Texas Tech Red Raiders and they went on to have the best year in school history that season. I started a Lakers website in 2009 and they went on to win two straight NBA Championships immediately after. A year after I met Derrick Rose at Team USA practices he won the MVP award. Here's to hoping my first year at Ohio University brings more than just success, which is expected at this point, but also fodder for a reputation that will help the program succeed well past the year. And so long as Solich doesn't lock anybody in a toolshed, that remains a possibility.

[Sorry for the cheesy ending but when you pass up academic scholarships from Florida, USC, Kentucky and Syracuse to go to the Scripps Journalism School at Ohio, you really have to hope for a reason to be prideful in your university past the academic side of things. #HumbleBrag]