The Ohio Bobcats look to start the season off on the right foot Saturday as they host the Howard Bison in nonconference action at Peden Stadium. This is the first meeting between the two schools but Howard is certainly not going to roll over for Ohio; the Bison beat UNLV 43-40 and narrowly lost 38-31 at Kent State last season. Howard features head coach Mike London, who served at the helm of Virginia from 2010-15, and sophomore quarterback Caylin Newton, the younger brother of former Auburn Tiger and current Carolina Panther Cam Newton.
Nathan Rourke returns as the quarterback of the Bobcats after a 2017 season that saw him earn Second Team All-MAC honors as he accounted for over 3,100 total yards and 21 touchdowns. Ohio has a productive ground game with Rourke and senior running back A.J. Ouellette. Ouellette, the former walk-on, bounced back from a medical redshirt in 2016 to rush for over 1,000 yards last season and is currently ninth in program history with 2,478 career rushing yards. On the receiving end, senior Papi White is an explosive playmaker for the ‘Cats as he led the team with 17.5 yards per reception and was named Third Team All-MAC as he averaged 8.9 yards per punt return.
The offensive line was a strength of the team in 2017 as it helped Ohio rush for 244.5 yards per game, and it only has to replace one starter. Sophomore center Brett Kittrell is not exactly inexperienced either as he saw action in five games last season. The offense has a fairly dominant left side as tackle Joe Lowery and guard Joe Anderson were each named to the All-MAC Second Team in 2017.
Defensively, only one starter returns from last season’s front seven in linebacker Evan Croutch. On the back end, Ohio returns some proven players, highlighted by safety Javon Hagan who was second on the team with 85 tackles in 2017 and was named to the All-MAC Third Team. Safety Kylan Nelson and cornerback Jalen Fox are excellent cover guys as they combined for 19 pass break-ups last season. The Bobcats also boast on of the better kickers in the MAC in Louie Zervos, who has a career-long made field goal of 51 yards and was named to the All-MAC First Team in 2016 as well as the Third Team last season.
Meanwhile, Howard returns six starters on offense including 2017 MEAC Rookie of the Year in Newton, who accounted for over 3,200 yards of offense and 25 scores. Receivers Kyle Anthony and Jequez Ezzard were All-MEAC selections as they combined for 74 catches, 1,659 yards, and 11 TDs through the air. Defensively, the Bison should be very stout as they return seven starters from last season, including All-MEAC defensive back Bryan Cook and his four picks.
Clearly, this game isn’t going to be the cakewalk that it appears to be on paper. With so many new faces in the front seven for Ohio, Howard may have some success running the football early. Eventually, the talent of the Bobcats will take over and they will go into the bye week with a victory. The score might be something like 34-14; not real close of a game but closer than everyone thinks it should be.