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What You Need to Know About the 2018 Ohio Bobcats

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The MAC favorites are ready to dust off the 50-year old trophy for a new one.

Ohio v Massachusetts Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

November 23, 1968.

Bill Ness and the Ohio Bobcats defeated the Northern Illinois Huskies, completing a perfect 10-0 regular season. Led by dual-threat quarterback Cleve Bryant and running back Dave LeVeck, the Bobcats claimed their second-straight Mid-American Conference title and their fourth under Hess in the decade alone.

One calendar year later, the Apollo XI is the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon, Joe Namath guarantees an unlikely Super Bowl win for the New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts, and former Nebraska fullback Frank Solich begins coaching high school football at Lincoln Southeast High School.

Fifty calendar years later, the 2018 Ohio Bobcats team is coming off of a 41-6 Bahamas Bowl victory and a solid 9-4 season under 73-year old head coach Frank Solich. Led by dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke and veteran running back A.J. Ouellette, the Bobcats are yearning for conference glory that no player on the roster has witnessed in his lifetime.

On July 24 in Detroit, the Bobcats were voted favorites to claim the MAC East title. Just two years ago, Ohio was a late-game interception away from stunning an undefeated Western Michigan team in the same city.

But after finishing ninth in the FBS with a 39.1 scoring average and a decent defense, Ohio is now an overwhelming favorite for the top dog in the MAC East. After taking the MAC East title, Ohio is also predicted to edge Northern Illinois in the conference title game in the Motor City.

Is this the year Ohio breaks the streak, living up to these lofty expectations?

2017 Results

2017 Ohio Bobcats Results

Date Opponent Score
Date Opponent Score
09/02/17 vs. Hampton (FCS) W, 59-0
09/08/17 @ Purdue L, 44-21
09/16/17 vs. Kansas W, 42-30
09/23/17 @ Eastern Michigan* W, 27-20
09/30/17 @ Massachusetts W, 58-50
10/07/17 vs. Central Michigan* L, 26-23
10/14/17 @ Bowling Green* W, 48-30
10/21/17 vs. Kent State* W, 48-3
10/31/17 vs. Miami (OH)* W, 45-28
11/08/17 vs. Toledo* W, 38-10
11/14/17 @ Akron* L, 37-34
11/24/17 @ Buffalo* L, 31-24
12/22/17 vs. UAB (Bahamas Bowl) W, 41-6
* - Denotes conference game

Ohio finished 9-4 with a 6-2 mark in the MAC. The Bobcats were able to attain one Power Five victory over the Jayhawks while falling to a much-improved Purdue team.

The greatest win on the schedule was the 38-10 beatdown over the conference champion Toledo Rockets, but the 37-34 hangover loss at Akron a week later prevented Ohio from coasting to a MAC East title.

Ohio drew a revitalized UAB program in the Caribbean for bowl season. The Bobcats were the only MAC team to leave the postseason unscathed, demolishing UAB in 41-6 fashion. Running back Dorian Brown and strong safety Javon Hagan were MVPs of the contest.

The Bobcats’ offense erupted in 2017, jumping from 85th in scoring offense to ninth (39.1 PPG). Defensively, the unit took a minor step back, allowing just 24.2 PPG, slipping from 26th to 44th in the category from 2016 to 2017.

Following the season, inside linebacker Quentin Poling was the only Bobcat selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, falling to the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round at 227th overall.

Head Coach and Key Players

Frank Solich, Coach:

Solich is the longest tenured coach in the conference... and it isn’t even close. Earning his initial fame as a coach of Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ glory years, Solich has been a mainstay in Athens since 2004. It’s been 10 years since the Bobcats finished with a losing record under the veteran. Since then, he’s led the school to its first three bowl victories in history, with the latest occurring just eight months ago.

Nathan Rourke (Jr.), QB:

In his first season as a starter, Rourke took opposing defenses by storm as a runner and a passer. He led all FBS quarterbacks with 21 rushing touchdowns, threw for an additional 17 scores, and earned a spot on Second Team All-MAC.

A.J. Ouellette (Sr.), RB:

Ouellette has seemingly been a Bobcat for a long time, serving as the team’s primary running back dating back to 2014. After a medical redshirt in 2016 extended his college career, the power back pieced together his first 1,000-yard season last year while running a one-two punch with former Bobcat back Dorian Brown.

Papi White (Sr.), WR:

An electric speedster, White is a useful component of the Bobcats’ offense. He is occasionally used as a running back but thrives as a deep threat receiver. In a run-first offense, White returns as the team’s leading receiver from 2017.

Javon Hagan (Jr.), SS:

Hagan is the team’s relentless hitter. An aggressive strong safety, Hagan ranked second on the squad with 85 tackles as a sophomore. He’s no stranger to forcing turnovers either, earning six forced fumbles and four interceptions in his two seasons in green and white.

Louie Zervos (Jr.), K:

In his freshman season, Zervos set a new FBS record for the most field goals made by a freshman with 29. The kicker is one of the most reliable in the country, sitting at 44-of-53 (83%) over two years, with a career long of 51 yards.

2018 Schedule

2018 Ohio Bobcats Schedule

Date Opponent FPI Win Probability (%)
Date Opponent FPI Win Probability (%)
09/01/18 vs. Howard (FCS) 98.4
09/15/18 @ Virginia 43.5
09/22/18 @ Cincinnati 52.4
09/29/18 vs. Massachusetts 60.4
10/06/18 @ Kent State* 89.8
10/13/18 @ Northern Illinois* 38.0
10/20/18 vs. Bowling Green* 81.8
10/25/18 vs. Ball State* 89.1
11/01/18 @ Western Michigan* 41.0
11/07/17 @ Miami (OH)* 47.9
11/14/17 vs. Buffalo* 69.3
11/23/17 vs. Akron* 82.1
* - Denotes conference game

Ohio’s 2018 slate is split between six home games and six road affairs. The Bobcats schedule is rather manageable, featuring one very winnable Power Five game at Virginia. The toughest game on the upcoming schedule should be the trip to DeKalb versus Northern Illinois. Additionally, either the Western Michigan or Miami (OH) game could serve as the likely “trap game” à la Akron in 2017.

In terms of New Year’s Six contention, Ohio will probably have to finish this schedule 12-0 in order to receive consideration. The Bobcats face one of the easier schedules in 2018, so American and Mountain West programs with several tough losses may be considered above a one or two loss Bobcats team.

Stadium

Ohio returns to Peden Stadium for the 80th-straight year. Peden is the oldest venue in the MAC, operating as the Bobcats’ home base since 1929. Standing for four score, the stadium has seen several renovations and modernizations in 1986 and 2001. The capacity stands at 27,000, but the largest crowd Peden Stadium has seen occurred on Week 2 in 2012. Following an upset win over Penn State, 25,893 of Ohio’s fans greeted the Bobcats during the Bobcats 51-24 win over New Mexico State. The surface of Peden Stadium has been classified as FieldTurf since 2002, after a layer of natural grass enveloped the field from 1929 to 2001.

Offensive and Defensive Schemes

Ohio runs a variety of offensive schemes under Solich. The Bobcats are primarily a run-focused team, electing to rush on about 63 percent of plays last year.

With Rourke under center, the Bobcats have run plenty of speed options out of the shotgun lately. The team often rotates between running backs, and this year’s duo will consist of Ouellette and senior Maleek Irons.

On the other side of the pigskin, Ohio runs a 4-3. Nearly the entire front seven from last year is gone, and the absences of linebackers Quentin Poling and Chad Moore will definitely be missed on the unit. The secondary remains the strongest and most experienced position group with Hagan leading the way and veterans Kylan Nelson and Jalen Fox providing additional support.

Bobcats in the NFL

  • Tarell Basham, DE, Indianapolis Colts (2017 Draft)
  • Blair Brown, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars (2017 Draft)
  • T.J. Carrie, CB, Cleveland Browns (2014 Draft)
  • Troy Mangen, TE, Atlanta Falcons (2018 Undrafted)
  • Quentin Poling, ILB, Miami Dolphins (2018 Draft)
  • Casey Sayles, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers (2017 Undrafted)