Frank Solich has brought everything to a program that prior to his arrival had nothing. He’s brought winning seasons, bowl victories and national attention.
The one thing he hasn’t brought, however, is the thing it’s wanted the most.
A Mid-American Conference Championship.
He’s made it there four times, most recently in 2016. And with the best quarterback in his tenure since Tyler Tettleton, it looks like 2016 will still be the 15-year coach’s most recent appearance after the Bobcats 24-21 loss to Miami.
For a program that has been a consistent face of the MAC, it’s had some unwanted consistency, too. In games where it needs to win, it hasn’t.
If it had won against the RedHawks a year ago, Ohio would have been in Detroit. In 2017, if it hadn’t blown a halftime lead against Central Michigan and had beaten Akron, the Bobcats would’ve had the chance to play for what it now desperately craves.
All of those ifs and woulds add up to nothing, though. And those same ifs and woulds are back this season after the RedHawks again, wiped out Ohio’s control in reaching the title game.
“Obviously we want to win a MAC Championship every year,“ Solich said. “But we’re at a point in time where right now, that doesn’t look like it’s going to get done.”
Ohio had a chance to help itself. It was tied with Miami at the top of the East Division. Both teams had beaten the two toughest division opponents in Buffalo and Kent.
Solich had only lost to Miami just once in Peden Stadium. The loss last year in Oxford, which kept Ohio out of the title race, was motive enough. But if it wasn’t, it played under the lights in front of a national audience on the 150th birthday of college football.
Everything was set up for Ohio to finally make the next step and instead, it stood still.
“To be honest, it’s pretty tough right now,“ quarterback Nathan Rourke said.
Rourke himself had a tough day. His three touchdowns are overshadowed by three sacks and plenty of hurries. He fumbled the ball in an attempt to evade a collapsing pocket, and Miami recovered and scored on its first play of the next drive.
His numbers didn’t raise an eyebrow like they usually do – 15-for-27, 133 passing yards and 16 carries for 89 rushing yards – but it all can’t be depended upon one player to have outrageous numbers for a team to have achieve its goals of winning a championship.
The defense, one that has key parts from a unit a year ago that forced a conference-high 32 turnovers, has been vanilla – actually played well in the loss.
It allowed a season-low 278 total yards, but three big plays gashed the defense. A 45-yard touchdown run, a 20-yard touchdown pass that if it had been deflected instead of tipped would’ve forced Miami to punt and a 7-yard pass that set up the 53-yard game-winning field goal.
“They made plays, and we didn’t,“ senior linebacker Eric Popp said.
That’s been too common of a pattern for Ohio this season. It had put a stop on it the last few weeks, and for the most part, it held that pattern in check against the RedHawks – except when it needed to at the most dire times.
There’s still hope for the Bobcats. They can win their next three games and hope that Miami stumbles somewhere in the remainder of its schedule. That’s unlikely, as the RedHawks too face East Division opponents Bowling Green and Akron, who have a combined 3-15 record.
Miami could lose to Ball State, which Ohio beat at the end of October, but even that seems far-fetched after the sheer control that it placed against the Bobcats in the most important game of the East Division.
At 75 years old, Solich and his time window to hoist the MAC Championship trophy shrinks with each missed opportunity. “There’s always next year” can’t be said after it’s been picked to win the conference in consecutive seasons.
“We’re going to need an awful lot of help to get into the championship game,“ Solich said.
It shouldn’t need help, but once again, it does.