Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series. As the season nears forward, sports editor Spencer Holbrook will analyze each month of the Ohio football schedule.
In a little over a month, Ohio will begin fall camp. In less then two months, the Bobcats will open their 90th season at Peden Stadium when they play Howard. Coach Frank Solich will lead the Bobcats as they hope to win their first Mid-American Conference championship in 50 years.
Although non-conference wins are not imperative to win a conference title, the Bobcats want to start the season off well as they approach their conference slate.
Howard (Sept. 1, 2 p.m., ESPN+)
Ohio’s non-conference schedule begins when the Bobcats host Howard, a historically black university. The Bison finished 7-4 last season, but had one of the most memorable moments of the year in college football; they defeated UNLV as a 45-point underdog in the season opener.
The Bison return sophomore quarterback Caylin Newton, who started as a freshman and was the team’s leading passer. He had 2,432 yards passing and 13 touchdowns last season. He also racked up 753 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, good for second on the team a year ago. Ohio will have to stop Newton, the dual-threat quarterback, to avoid a UNLV-like upset from 2017.
Ohio’s bye week is early in 2018. Following the bye week, the Bobcats will play 11 straight weeks to close the regular season.
@ Virginia (Sept. 15, 3 p.m., ACC Network Extra)
Virginia had potential in 2017. Quarterback Kurt Benkert was back, and the Cavaliers started 5-1. After that, however, they lost six of their last seven games, including a blowout loss to Navy in the Military Bowl.
With Benkert gone and only five offensive starters back from last season, the Cavaliers have many question marks surrounding them as they enter 2018. Coach Bronco Mendenhall enters his third year in Charlottesville with junior Bryce Perkins at quarterback.
The Cavaliers will field an experienced defense, which returns eight starters from a unit that struggled last season. The defense allowed 28.4 points per game a year ago, but with gained experience, the defense could be the strongest unit for the Cavaliers. If not, Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke could have a big day.
The only previous meeting between the two schools was in 1993, when No. 21 Virginia won, 41-7. The Cavaliers do have a losing record (6-7) against Group of Five opponents since 2011, though, and Ohio will be coming off a bye week.
@ Cincinnati (Sept. 22, TBD)
The Bobcats and Bearcats have met 51 times, but they haven’t played since 1981. The bad news for the Bobcats is they’ve lost six of the last seven meetings. The good news is those meetings all came over 30 years ago and mean nothing.
The Bearcats enter their second year under head coach Luke Fickell. Fickell’s first year wasn’t smooth; Cincinnati finished 4-8. The Bearcats will try to rebound by opening at UCLA, a neutral-site game against Miami (OH) at Paul Brown Stadium and a home game against Alabama A&M before welcoming Ohio.
Although the Bearcats return senior quarterback Hayden Moore, true freshman Ben Bryant is gaining attention and may see the field. Sophomore Gerrid Doaks will be the featured running back. With an improved offensive unit, Cincinnati could have a better year. Defensively, they return seven starters and will pose challenges to Ohio’s explosive offense.
The Bearcats were just 2-4 at home last season.
Massachusetts (Sept. 29)
In last year’s trip to UMass, Ohio won a 58-50 shootout over its former MAC foe. UMass was in the MAC from 2012-2015. The Bobcats will close out their non-conference slate against the Minutemen.
The offense that scored 50 points against Ohio a season ago will feature nine returning starters, which could pose some threats to the Ohio defense.
If the Bobcats can get through September without a loss, they’ll put themselves in a good position to make a statement in the MAC. Wins at Virginia and Cincinnati would give Ohio a confidence boost heading into October. If Ohio loses in non-conference play, the MAC championship dream will still be intact, but the vision of a potential New Year’s Six bowl bid would be in jeopardy.