On Monday, Ohio coach Frank Solich held a news conference in Athens for the first time in two weeks. Three days prior, he took part in a press conference in Nassau, Bahamas, where the Bobcats will play in the Bahamas Bowl against UAB on Dec. 22.
“The players are really looking forward to it,” he said at the outset Monday. “When you get ready for a bowl game there's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm that takes place. You want to make sure that you are going down there to win a ball game, and I think that's the makeup of our team.”
Solich gave a nod to Ohio’s 12 players named to all-conference teams, but the bulk of the conversation centered on reflecting on the season’s end and discussing all things related to the Bahamas Bowl.
Just a few weeks ago, Ohio (8-4, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) was primed for a historic year and a highly regarded postseason game. But a pair of losses derailed a chance at a MAC Championship and, consequently, a more prestigious bowl.
“We let a couple of games get away from us,” Solich said, referencing road losses against Akron and Buffalo. “We want to go down (to the Bahamas) and make sure we play our very best football game and it's not a situation where we have any regrets when we walk off the field.”
A win in the Bahamas would be Ohio’s third-ever bowl win — not to mention the first for anyone on the current roster — so that serves as a reasonable silver lining for the season.
It could also be a launching point for the program, which Solich believes has come to expect bowl eligibility and seek more.
“We're closer and closer to being the kind of football team that can break into the Top 25 and that can win MAC Championships,” he said. “That's the next step for our program. There was no talk this year about becoming bowl eligible. Not one word from a coach, not one word from a player.”
Football in paradise
Escaping Ohio’s chilly temperatures in late December is one plus of playing a tropical bowl game, as is the team’s four-night stay at the Atlantis resort — equipped with a casino, white-sand beaches, 11 pools, a shopping center, tennis courts and more.
It’s almost easy to forget that the whole point is to play a football game.
“I don't have to drum up things for them to have fun down there,” said Solich, who added jokingly, “One thing you have to be careful about and we will have to stress is not being late for meetings.”
From a preparatory standpoint, the Bobcats will have just three practices in Nassau to adjust to the high-70s, low-80s weather.
To make sure the players aren’t “panting when kickoff is starting,” as Solich put it, the team will do its best to replicate warm conditions while still at home. In Walter Fieldhouse, the Bobcats will practice with the doors closed and the underground heating on. It won’t be perfect, but the object is to maximize stuffiness in the best way possible.
As for the allures of Atlantis, Solich is happy to let his players embrace the amenities — to some extent.
“Can you win a bowl game and have fun at a bowl site?” he said. “Absolutely. If you try to be all business when you go down there it doesn't work. There needs to be a mix for your players and we as coaches understand that.”
Odds and ends
— Quarterback Nathan Rourke, who left the game against Buffalo with an injury but returned after just four plays, “has enough time to get himself in good shape” for the bowl game, Solich said. Rourke is vital to the Bobcats’ attack, as he rushed for a program-record 21 touchdowns this season (second in NCAA)
— Running back A.J. Ouellette, who sustained a shoulder injury on Ohio’s first drive against Buffalo, is at risk of not playing against UAB. “It will be close as to whether or not he will be in the game, we are not sure yet,” Solich said of Ouellette, who is 20 yards shy of becoming Ohio’s first 1,000-yard rusher in five seasons.
— For the first time, college football has an early signing period on Dec. 20. The Bobcats will already be in the Bahamas, but Solich said almost all of the players who have committed to Ohio will sign on that date.