A coaching staff that harks back to Nebraska’s glory days. An option-oriented offense helmed by a young, dual-threat quarterback.
That’s right, we’re talking Cornhusker footba—wait, no, sorry, NATIONAL CHAMPION UCF FOOTB—no that’s not right either. [checks notes] Ah, the Ohio Bobcats.
When Frank Solich took over the Ohio program in 2005, he inherited a program that had been essentially irrelevant since the late 1970s. The Bobcats have now won the MAC East four times under Solich, appeared in bowl games for 9 of his 13 seasons, and have averaged more than eight wins a year since 2009.
This early season match-up with a mid-major is not one to overlook.
2017 Season: 9-4 (5-3 MAC)
Despite running into the buzzsaw that was Jeff Brohm’s early-season offense at Purdue, Ohio went 3-1 outside the conference, including a Power Five win (technically) over Kansas. They split their first two MAC games with two of the directional Michigans (Eastern and Central) before rattling off four pummelings in a row. Their 38-10 beat-down of a highly rated Toledo team was the high-water mark before suffering surprise road upsets at Akron and Buffalo. The drubbing recommenced in the Bahamas Bowl with a 41-6 victory over UAB.
Players to watch:
QB Nathan Rourke: The spoon that stirs the drink. Rourke’s emergence in the Purdue game sparked Ohio’s 2017 success. The JUCO product went on to a 2,000-yard passing/1,000-yard rushing season. Rourke was second-team All-MAC behind Toledo’s Logan Woodside.
RB A.J. Ouellette: Solich’s OTHER 1,000-yard rusher from 2017. Ouellette led Ohio in rushing attempts but only scored 7 touchdowns last year. He’ll have to pick up the slack from the graduated Dorian Brown, whose 11 touchdowns were second to Rourke’s 21 (!!). Ouellette joined Rourke on the All-MAC second team
OG Joe Anderson/OT Joe Lowery: The two returning players from the Bobcats’ three All-MAC linemen from 2017. These two seniors will pave the way for the talented rushers behind them. Both are mid-major studs with high-major size—Lowery stands 6-foot-7, while Anderson is 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds.
WR Papi White: Ohio’s O.Z. White led the 2017 squad in catches (36) and yards (631). He is tops in touchdown grabs among the returning receivers as well, hauling in three last year. White was used sparingly in the run game, but he can be a weapon in the return game as well—he averaged almost nine yards a return in 2017.
S Javon Hagan: With most of the production gone from 2017’s front seven, Hagan will have to anchor the defense from the back. He’s the leading returner in tackles. Kylan Nelson will play alongside him and form the core of the defense.
Mascot grade: C.
It’s a bobcat. It’s like grilled chicken at a barbecue: it’s hard to screw up, but you’re not gonna blow anybody’s mind with it. The weird jaundiced demon eyes mean you get the low end of Professor Wiley’s curve, Ohio.
The 2017 Bobcats had most of the hallmarks of a Frank Solich team: moved the ball efficiently but without a ton of big plays, won the field position battle, and played effective defense. Being -4 in turnover margin for the year is very un-Solich-like, however. For such a ground-based attack, the run game surprisingly struggled in short-yardage situations. The run defense was quite strong, but their passing defense suffered from a very low sack rate.
Ohio enters the season slightly ahead of Virginia in the S&P+ rankings—68th to UVA’s 73rd. Thanks to a 2.5-point home advantage, S&P+ favors Virginia to win by a point or two. And that makes sense from the eyeball test. Ohio returns a solid offense that shines on the ground, while defensive line depth is a big question mark for UVA. But the Bobcats’ defense overall should be a little shaky after losing so much experience and production. While the new-look Virginia offense won’t trick anyone accustomed to playing MAC offenses, it will get just enough done for the Hoos to slip by with a home win.
Score: UVA, 30-28.