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Quarterback Nathan Rourke looks for a pass during Ohio’s game against Virginia on September 15, 2018. (FILE)

Football: Ohio opens MAC play with a top-heavy October

Editor’s note: As Ohio prepares to open fall camp, sports editor Matt Parker will examine each month of the Bobcats’ schedule.

The pros and cons of Ohio’s October schedule are evident at a simple glance. 

The pros: The Bobcats go into the month off a bye week and should have a fresh start to begin Mid-American Conference play. At the end of October, they play teams that went a combined 6-18 last season.

The cons: Ohio’s first two weeks of October feature a road trip to the runner-up from last season’s Mid-American Conference Championship Game. Then, the Bobcats host the champions the following week.

Perhaps that’s a pro for Ohio, but regardless, there is no easy dive into MAC play. Here’s a closer look at October for the Bobcats:

@ Buffalo (Oct. 5, 3:30 p.m., TBA)

Last season — in what was supposed to be a battle of the MAC East Division’s two powers — Ohio dismantled Buffalo in a 52-17 victory that gave it a chance to stay in MAC Championship Game contention.

Last year’s Buffalo squad featured star quarterback Tyree Jackson, two quality wide receivers in Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn and a deep rotation of defensive players.

Fifth-year coach Lance Leipold is tasked with a rebuild on both sides of the ball. Jackson and Johnson both went to the NFL, and Osborn transferred to Miami (Florida) for his last year of eligibility.

The Bulls will almost certainly have success, however, in their run game. They return five offensive linemen with a combined 87 career starts, and sophomore running back Jaret Patterson has became the go-to-guy for the Bulls offensive backfield. Patterson rushed for over 1,000 yards with 14 touchdowns.

Buffalo will have ample time to warm up for conference play as its nonconference schedule features home games against Robert Morris in Pennsylvania and Temple and road games against Penn State and Liberty.

Ohio last traveled to Buffalo in 2017, when it lost 31-24 behind two touchdown receptions from Johnson. The Bobcats haven’t won in Buffalo since 2009 in a 27-24 victory.

Northern Illinois (Oct. 12, 3:30 p.m., TBA)

Ohio’s first MAC West crossover game is against the reigning conference champion, Northern Illinois. The reigning champs, however, are vastly different from a year ago.

Former coach Rod Carey, who compiled a 52-30 record in seven seasons at NIU, left for the job at Temple. The Huskies top two wide receivers from a year ago are gone, and the defensive ends need retooled, too.

The pros for the Huskies, however, lie in the return of quarterback Marcus Childers, running back Tre Harbison and plenty of experienced offensive linemen.

Defensively, all three of NIU’s starting linebackers from last season return with a mix of secondary players.

The Huskies schedule before Ohio features three consecutive weeks on the road against Power 5 schools where they’ll play Utah, Nebraska and Vanderbilt.

Against Ohio, the Huskies lead the all-time series 12-10, including last season’s 24-21 victory over the Bobcats in DeKalb, Illinois.

Kent State (Oct. 19, TBA, TBA)

Ohio welcomes Kent State to town for its last home game in October. The Golden Flashes gave the Bobcats fits a year ago despite Ohio’s 27-26 victory, and they’ll look to seek revenge at Peden Stadium.

Quarterback Woody Barrett returns under center for Kent State, which headlines the list of returning offensive players.

Barrett gave Ohio trouble early in last season’s game with two touchdowns but was unable to find the end zone after the first quarter. It’ll be year two for coach Sean Lewis, who should benefit with a majority of the offense returning next season.

Despite its positives, however, Kent State simply hasn’t had an answer for Ohio. The Bobcats lead the all-time series 44-25-2 and are currently riding a five-game win streak. With the offensive talent that Ohio retains, the Golden Flashes’ inconsistent defense will once again be tested.

@ Ball State (Oct. 26, TBA, TBA)

The Bobcats final game of October features a road trip to Muncie, Indiana, to take on Ball State.

Last season, Ohio dismantled the Cardinals in a 52-14 drubbing. But there is optimism within the Ball State program, however, as it looks to avoid a third consecutive year full of injuries to key players.

With players now healthy, Ball State could finally have the poise to experience success. Backups have gained in-game experience, and the Cardinals bring back plenty of talent on the defensive side that could limit the air damage done from Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke.

The defense needs work on stopping the run, though. The Cardinals allowed six rushing touchdowns in Athens last season, but Ohio may struggle to find similar success on the ground without A.J. Ouellette and Maleek Irons in the backfield. 

While the Bobcats have had recent success against the Cardinals – winning the last two contests in a combined 100-45 effort – the Cardinals lead the all-time series 15-10 with their last victory at home in 2012.


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