Before the start of the 2013 season there was a swell of hype surrounding the Ohio Bobcats football team. For the second straight season Ohio was the preseason media favorite to win the MAC East. Our reader predictions had the Bobcats going 8-0 in conference play, by a decent margin. The hype was understandable.
The 'Cats were loaded with talent, including quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who seemed poised to cap off his three-year run with a huge season. They were coming off their second-straight bowl win, a game they won by 31 points. A season after cracking the BCS Top 25 before injuries caught up to the team, people were throwing the Bobcats season-opener vs. then No. 9 Louisville on upset alert. The whole nation was watching as the game got moved to a prime spot: 3:30 p.m. the Sunday before the NFL season began. If the 'Cats wanted to make a statement to reaffirm their fans' faith after a mid-season collapse in 2012, this was the time to do it.
Then reality set in.
The kitties were bullied by the Cardinals. Bruised, beat up and dejected the 'Cats started off 2013 with a 49-7 loss. The beat down was a harbinger of future disappointments for Ohio fans, but not before some clever deception.
The Bobcats won six of their next seven games, and seemed poised for a big season, despite the initial knockdown. Sure, running back Beau Blankenship was having an awful season coming off a year in which he finished in the Top 10 in the nation in rushing. Sure, Tyler Tettleton was on pace for his worst season ever. Sure, Ohio's defense couldn't stop the run. But, the 'Cats were winning, and winning cures all ailments. Except when it doesn't.
When the calendar hit November, the Bobcats collapsed, only this time it seemed to be the result of a self-destructive spiral, rather than injuries. In three games to start the month, all on TV, the 'Cats fell out of contention for a MAC East championship in spectacular fashion; losing by a margin of 123-16.
A brief flash back to dominance, over a miserable UMass team had Ohio fans hopeful for a strong finish and a chance to go bowling. When the surprise pick came through that Ohio and its 4-4 MAC record and not Toledo, which had a better conference record and beat the teams Ohio was destroyed by, was going bowling in St. Petersburg, it seemed like a chance to go out strong, and send the most successful senior class in Ohio Football history with a strong win. For a little while it appeared to be well within reach.
The 'Cats led 20-17 in the fourth quarter after trailing early. Then, like the season itself, Ohio collapsed in the fourth quarter. When it was all said and down the Bobcats lost 37-20 and finished the year 7-6. It was disappointing to say the least.
But, looking back on the Bobcats' 2013 season isn't as simple as looking at the teams six losses by a margin of 235-66, No, it would be too one-sided to simply look at the follies of the 'Cats, and their senior class and wrap 2013 up as a failure and call it a day.
Was 2013 a failure? Absolutely. Was it still apart of the greatest run ever in program history? Correct again.
The sheer fact that I'm writing this article, complaining about a 7-6 season and a loss in a bowl game that Ohio put a strong fight up in, is a sign that in reality while 2013 didn't live up to the lofty preseason expectations, it was a success. Three seasons ago, a 7-6 year with a strong showing for two quarters of a bowl game would have been a good season.
The fact is in 2013 Tyler Tettleton still managed to put up one of the best statistical season of any Ohio quarterback, ever. The wide receiver core stepped up and showed depth, and Chase Cochran emerged as a true deep threat. The offensive line, though banged up all season long, gained valuable experience, and should be an asset next season, even with the loss of several starters. Defensively, Ohio's secondary improved, and though it got torched at times this season, when it was on, key players such as Devin Bass and Nathan Carpenter proved that they are able to hang with anyone. The 'Cats found their replacement for Matt Weller, and fixed a punting problem. And, Ohio found a defensive star of the future in freshman defensive end Terrell Basham, who has the potential to be the best player to ever wear the green and white.
Oh, and for all the talk of Ohio's play-calling needing to open up and change, with the likes of Derrius Vick and Daz' Patterson stepping into starting roles in 2014, fans should get their wish. Patterson is a dynamic player who fits the mold of a poor man's Dri Archer. If the Bobcats plan to put him into the starting running back role, they will be forced to work in some new plays to maximize his abilities.
For Ohio, 2013 may not have gone as planned, but that doesn't negate the fact that the season was, in a way, a success. Frank Solich and company have built a program on a solid foundation, and if the team could survive all the lows of 2013, the team can survive the loss of a great senior class.