clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What’s New for the 2023 Ohio Bobcats?

Ohio has had a knack for finding gems in the depths of their roster in recent years, and will have to do so again in 2023 to replace a bevy of contributors.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 MAC Championship - Toledo vs Ohio Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bobcats look to infuse an impressive returning core of players with some new faces and developing players to make another title run in 2023.

After shuffling some names around on the coaching staff and attacking the transfer portal in 2022, Ohio developed into one of the most complete teams in the MAC by season’s end, burying contender Bowling Green in the regular season finale under an avalanche of 38 straight points to clinch the MAC East title on an effort in which all phases were clicking.

While they came up short 17-7 against Toledo in the MAC championship, the bowl win over Wyoming propelled Ohio to just its third 10-win season in the last 54 years (2022, 2011, 1968). It was a vast improvement from a 3-9 record the season before, and showed many in the MAC the East division was not a forgone conclusion.

Fast forward to 2023, and the Bobcats look to have the firepower in place to take another shot at the MAC Championship and another post-season. The ‘Cats return the coaching staff intact and a core of some of the MAC’s best players on both sides of the ball.

Where Ohio will look different heading into 2023 on the field is some new starters and depth, with the most change on the defensive and kicking specialist units. We take a look at the new faces and some of the developing players who are in the mix this season for expanded rolls.

Familiar faces return and new names blend in on offense

NCAA Football: Ohio at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Bobcats return virtually everyone from a unit that ran amok through several MAC opponents last season, averaging a league-leading 31.8 points per contest.

The main question is obviously the health of QB Kurtis Rourke, who is returning from a knee injury and is expected back sometime this year. The reigning MAC Player of the Year has no current time frame for a return, making the backup QB battle important.

Looking at the rest of the offense, on the plus side, the ‘Cats should return a few key contributors who missed most or all of last season.

RB O’Shaan Allison is on the current roster and should return to action after being lost for 2022 due to a camp injury. Allison’s career 1,200 yards rushing over 25 games give the ‘Cats a productive and experienced backfield option to pair with returning MAC Freshman of the Year Sieh Bangura.

Ohio should also get a boost to the receiving corps with the return of Tyler Walton, who is on the current roster but did appear in most games last season. Walton was the leading Bobcat receiver heading into last season with 53 career catches.

The major task on the offensive line will be coping with the loss of right guard Hagen Meservy, who had a notable career for the Bobcats, appearing in over 50 career games after winning the job as a true freshman. It’ll be hard to replace a first-team all-MAC contributor, even if the other four along the line return from last season.

Reserve lineman Christophe Atkinson started in the Bowl game for an injured Meservy and may emerge as the new starter in 2023.

The Bobcats also have one of the MAC’s best wide receiving groups returning in 2023, but will need to find a replacement for James Bostic. Bostic was a tall target at about six-foot-three and graduated in 2022 leading the MAC in yards-per-catch (18.4.)

Heading into 2023, the six-foot-five Aramoni Rhone may get a shot to follow the footsteps of these former players. Rhone was a three-star recruit per 247Sports in 2021, and has been in the Ohio system for a few years. Spring ball reports are that Rhone did some standout work and is one of the fall candidates to emerge with a shot to replace Bostic.

Unproven pieces hope to make the grade on defense

Austin Peay v Pittsburgh Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Bobcat defense was easily one of the MAC’s most improved units in 2022, peaking in the championship game by holding Toledo’s second ranked MAC offense in points per game to only 17 points, about 14 below their season average.

But not everything gold can stay, as the ‘Cats will have to replace a lot of contributors on all levels of the defense if they want to if they want to meet or exceed last year’s production.

The most changed unit on the team is probably the defensive line. Kai Caesar (currently with the Baltimore Ravens), third-team All-MAC defensive end Jack McCrory and Bryce Dugan, exhausted eligibility this offseason, while Denzel Daxon (Illinois), Kylen McCracken (Marshall), and Jeremiah Burton (uncommitted) all transferred out.

Of course, the cupboard is far from bare to offset the reserve losses. DE Shane Bonner, DE Dontay Hunter II, and DT Rayyan Buell, to name a few, all saw significant action in 2022 and will have a chance to stake their claim to more gameday reps.

The ‘Cats also made some portal moves at the position, signing transfers DEs Kwame Sutton (Austin Peay,) and Kaci Seegars (Liberty) and DT Tristian Cox (Purdue).

With Sutton, Ohio gets an experienced player with 47 appearances with Austin Peay who is in the physical mold of McCrory and may be a great fit for the Bobcat system at end as an athletic guy with a high motor.

Seegars, like McCrory, is also a former linebacker converted to defensive end whose six-foot-two, 240 lb. frame and impressive athleticism could be a factor in Ohio’s scheme in a “hybrid” DE role.

Switching gears, Ohio fans will see some changes at safety, with the losses of Tariq Drake (a two-time all-MAC performer), Alvin Floyd and Zach Sanders.

Drake emerged as a leader in the secondary in the past two years and Floyd and Sanders played some of their best Ohio ball in the second half of the 2022 campaign, really helping the defense gel during the stretch run.

True freshmen Adonis Williams Jr. really has the arrow pointing up to start at one of the safety spots based on his first season, where he was a physical presence around the box, recording 31 stops, four tackles-for-loss, and a sack and a fumble recovery in 12 games.

Ohio also hit the portal for some additional experience, selecting two corners-turned-safeties including Walter Reynolds (Holy Cross, [FCS]) and Myles Fleming (Minnesota.)

Reynolds is no stranger to FBS action as his squad toppled the Buffalo Bulls on a Hail Mary win in the 2022 season opener. A four-year starter who stands at six-foot and 200 pounds, Reynolds started at cornerback for 12 games in 2019 before transitioning to safety, gaining a reputation for a hard-nosed, physical playstyle. The former Holy Cross standout was named a captain in 2022, helping guide the Crusaders to a 12-1 campaign.

Uncertainty on special teams will need time to resolve

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 31 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special teams will be transformed in 2023 with openings at all three specialist positions, including the placekicker, kickoff specialist, and possibly some reps at punter.

The major loss was true freshman phenom kicker and second-team 2022 All-MAC performer Nathanial Vakos, who took his talents via the portal to the Wisconsin Badgers after the 2022 season.

In the time following Bobcat great Louie Zervos and prior to Vakos’ arrival, Ohio had a few years where field goals were perhaps not clearing the crossbar with desired regularity with 60 percent of attempts converted (albeit one of those years was the COVID-shortened season).

Vakos changed that in a hurry in 2022, connecting on over 81 percent of his attempts including a 55-yard bomb at Western Michigan and a 46-yarder with four seconds left to force overtime in their win over Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl.

Ohio inked two true freshmen to compete for Vakos’ spot this year. Gianni Spetic ranked as the sixth-best kicker in Kohl’s Camp and was noted also for his kickoff distance. Ohio also signed Alex Kasee who ranked 38th in the Kohl’s Camp as a kicker. (For what it’s worth, Vakos was the 31st-ranked kicker according to Kohl’s in 2022.)

To add some context to the rankings, the Camp is a pretty big deal with kickers ranked in the top 55, with most participants signing Division I offers in 2023.

Finally, the ‘Cats also brought in Vanderbilt grad transfer punter Jared Wheatley to replace Jonah Wieland, who split some reps with returning punter Jack Wilson last season. They’ll have to fight it out to lift Ohio from the bottom of the conference punting charts, where they averaged just 37.6 yards per boot.

This is the first in a series of Ohio football previews, with our next piece addressing offensive skill positions. Please look forward to that!

Ohio’s season kicks off Saturday, August 26th at 7 p.m. Eastern time in San Diego, California, where they are set to play the San Diego State Aztecs.