The Bobcats’ offense dominated competition throughout a good part of the 2022 season, leading the MAC in points per game (almost 31.8), offensive efficiency (153.3), and yards per game (421.4).
Heading into 2023, can the ‘Cats repeat that success or even improve? From a personnel standpoint, the answer to that question seems to be yes.
While turnover is a part of life in college football from one season to the next the ‘Cats emerge in 2023 relatively unscathed on that front, returning all but two starters, RG Hagen Meservy and WR James Bostic (2022: 33 receptions, 607 yards, 18.7 yards a catch-led MAC).
With the rest of an experienced O-line returning and a bunch of offensive skill players who made significant contributions in only their first season as full-time starters, the arrow is pointing up if those second-year guys can take the next step.
Given most of Ohio’s key players return in 2023, the obvious question is what is the status of MAC MVP QB Kurtis Rourke? Rourke is still making his way back from a knee injury suffered against Ball State on November 15, 2022. Ohio fully expects Rourke to return in 2023 so the question is not if but when he will be available.
Right now, there are no clear answers.
Rourke is expected to participate in fall camps at some level, and a decision will be made on his status for Ohio’s week zero opponent, San Diego State, sometime before kickoff on August 26, 2023.
In looking at the skill players, we’ll start with the quarterbacks, talking about what Rourke brings to the table and a capable option for week zero if Rourke is not ready.
- Kadin Beler (not on online roster)
- Jacob Winters
- Kurtis Rourke
- CJ Harris
- Parker Navarro
- Callum Wither
Rourke had one of the best QB passing seasons in Ohio history last year.
Though missing more than three games with injury, Kurtis Rourke had one of the best passing seasons in Ohio program history. Under his leadership, the ‘Cats claimed three of the top five spots in program history for most passing yards in a game (1st with 582 yards vs Fordham, 2nd with 459 yards vs Akron, 4th with 421 yards vs Kent State).
The Bobcat signal caller also earned the Vern Smith Leadership Award for the league’s best player, the first win by an Ohio player since the award’s inception in 1982. Rourke was prolific on a national level in 2022, finishing fifth in the FBS in passing efficiency (167.7) and 10th in yards passing per game (296).
Perhaps the key to the Bobcat’s offensive success was Rourke’s ability to take care of the ball as he threw just four interceptions in 353 passing attempts while also racking up great production in the process with 25 touchdown passes. Only one player in the FBS in 2022 had more pass attempts than Rourke with fewer interceptions (LSU’s Jayden Daniels, who threw three INTs in 388 pass attempts).
The one silver lining with Rourke’s injury last season is they found a capable leader and spot starter in QB CJ Harris, who showed he is a capable and composed option to win games.
Harris handled the end of the 2022 season about as well as a fan could hope under the circumstances. Harris started the season as third on the depth chart but got his first career start for an injured Rourke against Bowling Green with the MAC East division title on the line. Harris ran amok for four touchdowns (three rush, one pass) in a 38-13 rout of the Falcons and closed out the year as Arizona Bowl MVP.
Regardless of who is the signal caller in week zero, he will have some major firepower at his disposal with other skill players in this group, starting with wide receivers.
- James Bostic (graduate)
- Phillip Cole (graduate)
- Isaiah Davis (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Nigel Drummond II (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Donte Cruz (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Will Futhey (not listed on 2023 roster)
- Jalien Hammer (transfer from Butte College [JUCO])
- Chase Hendricks (incoming recruit)
- Christian Hilton (transfer from The Citadel [FCS])
- Jack Borer (incoming recruit)
- Desmond Duffy (incoming recruit)
- KJ Howard (transfer from Hocking College [JUCO])
- Chase Hall (incoming recruit)
- Ryan McDole (incoming recruit)
- Matt Stuewe (incoming recruit)
- Khamani Debrow (incoming recruit)
- Sam Wiglusz (2022 first-team all-MAC receiver)
- Keegan Wilburrn (2022 first-team all-MAC kickoff return specialist)
- Jacoby Jones
- Miles Cross
- Tyler Walton
- Aramoni Rhone
- Rodney Harris II
- Major Brown
- Caleb Gossett
Based on the position coach and 2022 returning production, it would be difficult to overstate the potential of this unit heading into 2023.
The unit is led by coach Dwayne Dixon, who returns for his 17th season in that role for the Bobcats. Coach Dixon knows what it takes to play at a high level, coaching former ‘Cat greats to the NFL such as Taylor Price, Donte Foster, and LaVon Brazill.
Coach Dixon will have under his tutelage a few pro prospects starting with Sam Wiglusz, who was named a candidate for the East-West Shrine Bowl 2024 based on last year’s performance. Stuck in a numbers game at Ohio State behind a glut of first-round NFL draft selections like Chris Olave, Garret Wilson, Jameson Williams and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Wiglusz transferred to Ohio in 2022 and had a breakout campaign, tying the Bobcats all-time single-season record for touchdown receptions with 11 while finishing second all-time in receptions with 73 and fifth in receiving yards with 877 in his debut season.
Like Wiglusz, Jacoby Jones’ first season with the Bobcats was filled with elite moments and production, with 45 catches for 776 yards and six scores. Look for the Bobcats to get the ball in Jones’ hands however possible, including kickoff returns, through the air, or on the ground by sweeps and the like. Jones presents a tough physical match-up as he is a load to bring down at about six-foot-two, 225 lbs., while demonstrating good speed and agility for his size. Jones had plenty of circus catches from last season to prove he has great hands as well, giving opponents a dangerous tandem to work with.
If Jones and Wiglusz weren’t enough for opponents to deal with, Miles Cross returns after posting his best season yet as a Bobcat with 47 catches for 560 yards. Cross got his most significant time as a starter last year and should be ready to put his best foot forward after an offseason of development.
- Jake Neatherton (graduated)
- Julian Ross (graduated)
- Tyler Toledo (not on online roster)
- Rickey Hunt Jr. (incoming recruit)
- AJ Wilson (incoming recruit)
- Sieh Bangura
- O’Shaan Allison
- Nolan McCormack
- Quintell Quinn
- Bryce Kitrell
- Devon Hunter
Heading into 2022, the running back group figured to be a strength— but was severely tested when the injury bug bit hard. Program staple O’Shaan Allison was lost to injury before the season started and virtually every other player in the room was out with or played through injury for part of the year.
Fast forward to 2023 and the Bobcats return healthier with some talented options, led by Sieh Bangura. Ohio’s first MAC Freshman of the year since 2016 (safety Javon Hagan), Bangura was a workhorse down the stretch in 2022, rushing for 583 yards with seven scores (six rush, one catch) in the last five games. With an offseason to train and behind an offensive line mostly intact from 2022, the best should be ahead for Bangura.
Allison returns to the roster after a 2022 season-ending injury and will undoubtedly provide a boost to the group if he is 100 percent. Allison is an experienced back who, like Bangura, showed out his freshman season to the tune of 869 yards rushing (6.3 per carry.)
Nolan McCormack also returns with play in the style of former ‘Cat and current CFL Toronto Argonaut AJ Ouellette, primarily a north-south bruiser with reliable hands.
The Bobcats reinforced the group with a versatile true freshman in Rickey Hunt Jr., who was a two-star sport (basketball) in high school, playing most positions on the offensive skill group including QB. Hunt was a three-star football prospect per 247Sports, with offers from six schools (including Power Five program Iowa State) prior to committing to Ohio.
- Michael Molnar (position change)
- Mason Williams (incoming recruit)
- Tyler Foster
- Will Kacmarek
- Alec Burton
- Bryce Butler
- Kyle Fullam
Ohio will fortify its ground and air attack in 2023 with this group, primarily from the returning trio of Will Kacmarek, Tyler Foster, and Alec Burton.
Kacmarek and Foster are two players who got their first significant offensive action in 2022 and may be ready to take that next step with an offseason to hone their craft.
Will Kacmarek could be an important part of a championship run in 2023 after solidly contributing on offense and special teams as only a redshirt freshman.
Ohio TEs play a critical role in the rushing game and can be a viable option in the passing game and the Bobcat TE showed he can do both. Kacmarek executed some effective run blocks down the stretch against good defenders on Miami, Toledo, and Wyoming, helping to spring Bangura and Harris for some explosive plays. The six-foot-five, 250 lb. St. Louis native also led the TE group in catches with 20, showing pretty good movement and soft hands in the process for a guy his size.
Tyler Foster flashed some big-time catch ability making a number of impressive grabs throughout the season including the game-winner in OT versus Wyoming. Standing at about six-foot-six and with four TDs under his belt in 2022, consider Foster to be a redzone threat this year where his height and hands give him a definite advantage.
If called upon, Foster is very capable of handling more of the load in the passing game than his 13 catches in 2022.
This is the second entry in a series of Ohio football previews. The next piece will focus on the offensive line. Please look forward to that! If you missed the first piece, please click here.
Ohio kicks off their 2023 campaign Saturday, August 26th at 7 p.m. ET, as they travel to San Diego, California to face off against the San Diego State Aztecs.