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State of the Program 2019: Ohio Bobcats

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The Bobcats have worked hard to become the model of consistency. Now, they need the results to make the effort all worth it.

Illustration: James H. Jimenez | Photo: Anthony Allocco

We are living in the golden age of Ohio Bobcats football.

It’s been 11 years since Ohio finished a season below .500. At that moment in time, the program had zero bowl trophies in its history.

Then, head coach Frank Solich became acquainted with the program and developed it to unforeseen heights throughout the next 10 seasons. From 2009-18, the Bobcats won nine or more games in five seasons, made a mark in the AP Poll in 2012 (first time since 1968), and won four bowl games. And perhaps, the ascent hasn’t finished. Ohio sewed together back-to-back 9-4 seasons in 2017 and 2018, capped with bowl game dominations.

There’s still one major box to check though, and that’s a conference title. Neil Armstrong hadn’t taken his “giant leap for mankind” on the moon last time the Bobcats finished on top of the MAC in 1968. Ohio was 37 yards away from upsetting an undefeated Western Michigan team in the MAC Championship Game three seasons ago when Robert Spillane intercepted Greg Windham’s pass on an out route with 51 seconds to go. Despite sustained success, the Bobcats haven’t qualified for a return trip to Detroit, but as long as Frank Solich is still coaching, the Bobcats look here to stay.

Solich Stability

There are programs across the country such as Fresno State or Louisville or Ole Miss where you have no idea what result you’re going to get heading into the year. But Ohio thrives on consistency. The Bobcats’ past 10 years have seen records of: 9-5, 8-5, 10-4, 9-4, 7-6, 6-6, 8-5, 8-6, 9-4, and 9-4. Even during the down years of 2013 and 2014, the team still attained bowl eligibility.

This 10-year average of 8.3 wins per year is impressive in a Group of Five conference where personnel turnover is frequent. But Ohio’s had a relatively stable coaching staff through the years. Offensive coordinator Tim Albin has held his position since Solich arrived in 2005. Defensive coordinator Ron Collins is entering his eighth season on staff, although he spent the first seven years as a linebackers coach while holding co-defensive coordinator duties in 2017 and 2018.

Even with this stability, Ohio hasn’t thrown itself into the national conversation. The Bobcats have never recorded 11 wins in their history — a feat which has been accomplished five times by Northern Illinois and once by Western Michigan, Toledo, and Kent State this decade alone. As mentioned previously, Ohio creeped into the AP Poll for two weeks in 2012 after a perfect 7-0 start featuring a road win at Penn State. That season quickly regressed to the mean as the Bobcats fell in four of their final six games, and the MAC ended up sending Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl.

Another 9+ win season seems on the table this season, as Ohio boasts the top quarterback in the conference. Nathan Rourke immediately established himself as one of the top mobile threats in the country with 21 rushing touchdowns as a sophomore in 2017. He elevated his passing game as a junior and pioneered a shutout victory over San Diego State in his most recent outing, the 2018 Frisco Bowl. There are questions surrounding the front seven, backfield, and offensive line of the current team, but with a playmaker and a strong coaching staff returning, there’s not much to fret about in Athens, OH. Solich’s staff adjusts to heavy offseason turnover with poise, as demonstrated when Ohio effectively transitioned out of the prosperous Tyler Tettleton era or when Ohio replaced nearly the entire defense from 2017 to 2018.

Talent Acquisition and Developing

Ohio’s past five recruiting class rankings (from 2019 to 2015), according to 247Sports are: 102, 121, 103, 115, and 92 — often landing in the middle tier of the conference. Recruiting is an overrated aspect of college football as the MAC’s recruiting rankings hardly reflect the on-field performance.

Solich and the staff have done a better job at developing players than acquiring them. Since the 2008 NFL Draft, the Bobcats have produced nine draft selections including three defenders in the past three seasons (Tarell Basham, Blair Brown, Quentin Poling).

Players from the program have received notable accolades too. Offensive tackle Joe Lowery earned an All-American selection from Pro Football Focus on their Second Team. Additionally, the Bobcats boasted six First Team All-MAC selections in 2018, with two returning players, strong safety Javon Hagan and punter Michael Farkas. Rourke, a Second Team selection, is the only other member of the 2019 roster to be recognized by the conference last November.

How Long Will This Last?

With Bill Snyder gone from Kansas State, Frank Solich is now the oldest coach in the FBS at 74 years old. Solich’s coaching career launched in 1966 and he’s preparing for his 15th season with Ohio, which is presumably his final stop on this incredible journey.

He’s in good health and his teams seem to improve as he ages. Solich is the most accomplished coach in the program’s history with several records including 106 victories, a .586 winning percentage, and four bowl wins. How much longer does this run last?

Solich has created strong stability through reliable assistants, and when Solich leaves, one of those assistants — likely Tim Albin — will become the next face of Ohio football. When the day comes, it’ll be something the program has prepared for.