Ohio accomplished more in 2011 than in any of its previous 115 years of football, and that success makes expectations for the 2012 season very lofty.
With a sophomore quarterback and a new offensive scheme, the Bobcats broke numerous school records and surpassed the expectations of just about everybody — except themselves of course.
But the team will lose 18 seniors, including nine starters and six team captains. From offense and defense to special teams, the only unit that will not lose any starters is the secondary.
“Defensively, we were young, and I think we have a chance to be better overall,” coach Frank Solich said. “We have players within the system that I think have the capability of really playing well.”
The new season also brings the promise of young players maturing to fill their predecessors’ shoes.
Quarterback Tyler Tettleton shattered just about every single-season passing mark and is on track to rewrite Ohio’s career passing record book from cover to cover. Placekicker Matt Weller is well within reach of becoming Ohio’s all-time scoring leader in his final season in Athens.
But the Bobcats will need to fill holes at every offensive position besides quarterback and tight end.
All-Mid-American Conference tackles Joe Flading and A.J. Strum are among the departing seniors, as are top receiving targets LaVon Brazill and Riley Dunlop. Running back Donte Harden, who almost met his goal of becoming Ohio’s first 1,000-yard rush since 2007, leaves a vacancy in the backfield.
Solich said the Bobcats have talented players that will need to step up as the seniors step down but matching their productivity will be a challenge.
“We’re going to have to replace them with really good players,” Solich said. “We have quality receivers, but do we have someone who’s going to step up and play as consistently as Riley and LaVon did? That remains to be seen.”
On defense, the Bobcats will be thinnest at linebacker, which has been a strong point in recent years. Noah Keller’s graduation not only leaves the critical middle linebacker slot open, but it also signals the exit of the team’s top tackler.
Depth is also quite thin under center. Tettleton appears to have a lock on the starting job for the next two years, but no other quarterback on the team has played a snap of college football. Backup signal callers Kyle Snyder and Ronnie Bell decided to transfer.
“Whoever that backup’s going to be is going to be a really young guy,” Solich said.
But perhaps the biggest shoe to fill is the powerful right cleat of exiting punter Paul Hershey. Solich says there are no clear candidates to replace Ohio’s fourth-down and field-position specialist.
The Bobcats will get a boost from their incoming class of recruits, many of whom have committed orally because of a big win or seeing the team play frequently on the ESPN family of networks.
Despite his program’s rise in national prominence, Solich says his work at Ohio is not done. He would not comment on whether he had been contacted about other coaching jobs around the country, but he said he is devoted to his current position.
“There’s no reason for anybody to be talking about (job openings at other schools),” Solich said. “I think I’ve made it clear that I am clearly happy here at Ohio in the way things are going. We’ve got more work to get done here at Ohio. That’s been my intent from the moment I stepped on this campus.”
At least two outgoing seniors have their sights set on professional football. Brazill recently was invited to the NFL Combine, where he will have a chance to show off his skills before April’s draft.
Keller also is hoping to draw the eyes of pro scouts, but his backup plan seems ideal too.
“Hopefully I get a shot somewhere,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, I’ll take my MCAT and apply to med school.”