Editor’s note: As Ohio prepares to open fall camp, sports editor Matt Parker will examine each month of the Bobcats’ schedule.
In 50 days, the seats at Peden Stadium will be filled, the sidelines will be full and Ohio will return to the field to kickoff its 91st season against Rhode Island on Aug 31.
The Bobcats start their season with four nonconference games, which should provide a glimpse at how they’ll fare in their Mid-American Conference schedule. With games against a formidable Power 5 school and a former conference rival, Ohio should have its hands full as it readies for a run to the MAC Championship.
Rhode Island (Aug. 31, 2 p.m., ESPN+)
Ohio starts its season in the confines of Peden when it’ll host Rhode Island, an FCS school.
The Rams (6-5, 84-4 Colonial Athletic Association in 2018) faced inconsistencies shown most clearly through their final record. Former quarterback JaJuan Lawson started seven of the Rams’ 11 games, led Rhode Island to a 4-3 record and tallied over 1900 total yards with 22 touchdowns.
Now, Rhode Island will make its first-ever trip to Athens with big questions under center. Redshirt junior Vito Priore is expected to receive the starting nod, and he threw seven touchdowns and four interceptions in six games last season. He should serve as a quality first test for Ohio’s defense.
@ Pitt (Sept. 7, 11 a.m., ACC Network)
The 2019 season will provide a tint of nostalgia for longtime Ohio fans in back-to-back weeks, and a Week 2 matchup against Pitt will trigger the old memories first — the two teams have met seven times, and the Panthers hold a commanding 6-1 lead. It was the Bobcats one win, however, where the memories have lasted.
A thrilling 16-10 overtime win in Peden Stadium in 2005 welcomed coach Frank Solich in his home debut for the Bobcats. Dion Byrum had two interceptions returned for touchdowns, including a walk-off 85-yard return in overtime.
In the 14 years since Byrum’s storied play, Ohio — regarded as a bottom-of-the-barrel Division I FBS program at the time — has become a household name for Group of 5 schools and has won four bowl games under Solich.
A win against Pitt would be a convincing sign that the Bobcats are ready to give their 74-year-old coach his elusive first MAC Championship.
Coach Pat Narduzzi returns to the helm along with returning starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. A season ago, the Panthers went 7-7 and 6-2 in the ACC and played against some of the country’s best with names like Notre Dame, Penn State, Central Florida and Clemson.
@ Marshall (Sept. 14, 6:30 p.m., Facebook)
Phase two of Ohio’s nostalgic September features a road trip to Huntington, West Virginia, to rekindle a classic rivalry.
“The Battle for the Bell” first began in 1905 when the Thundering Herd defeated the Bobcats 6-5. The two teams last played in 2015, and Ohio won by a much more modern 21-10 score.
Marshall built a successful campaign last season and went with a 9-4 record that ended with a win over South Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl.
Led by quarterback Isaiah Green, a redshirt sophomore, the Thundering Herd have the capability of being one of the better Group of 5 schools this season. Green totaled over 2,000 passing yards for 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions a year ago. His receiving core, however, is a bit more unproven, as top wideouts Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams finished their careers at Marshall.
Defensively, the Thundering Herd allowed a solid 4.6 yards per play and 328 yards per game. They’ll have to replace two defensive linemen and four linebackers, though, so the Bobcats’ running game could explode in the rematch against their old rival.
Louisiana (Sept. 21, TBA, TBA)
After two weeks away from Athens, the Bobcats will host the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns (7-7, 5-3 Sun Belt in 2018) enter the 2019 season after ending last season in a tough way: a 30-19 loss in their conference championship and a 41-24 loss in the game.
UL-Lafayette will have to replace quarterback Andre Nunez, but its committee of running backs returns along with all five starters from last season’s offensive line. There’s plenty of reason to respect the Ragin’ Cajuns run game, but it’ll be Week 4 for Ohio, and there should be some answers to the questions about its defense.
The Ragin’ Cajuns feature a continuous improvement on defense, too. Two seasons ago, it ranked 129 out of 130 teams. Last season it was 13 spots higher at 116, and with key players returning at all levels of the defense — including linebackers Jacques Boudreaux and Chauncy Manac, who combined for over 120 tackles — the defense could see another year of growth.
Bye (Sept. 28)
Ohio’s bye week falls in Week 5, a much more comfortable spot compared to its Week 2 bye last season, and it provides a perfect week of rest before the Bobcats begin their MAC schedule.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Pitt defeated Clemson and Penn State last season. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.