BOISE, Idaho – Well, they’ve done it again.
Somehow, after being picked as the preseason favorites to win the Mid-American Conference back in August, the Bobcats experienced a season they didn’t think they would.
Ohio (7-6, 5-3 MAC) lost four of its six games by a combined 11 points. The other two losses were one possession games at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats snapped a 10-year losing streak in Buffalo to open up conference play with an overtime win.
They lost two key games down the stretch, including the informal MAC East Division championship to Miami.
But Ohio also won the two games it absolutely needed to when it defeated Bowling Green and Akron to become bowl eligible.
To cap it off, the Bobcats defeated Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 30-21 to close out the season on a three-game win streak.
It was more important than a three-game win streak, though.
It was the program’s fifth consecutive winning season. It was the program’s third consecutive bowl win – a program first. It was the program’s second win in Boise.
In a season that featured many ups and downs, there should be reason for optimism as the 2019 season has officially ended.
And the 2020 season is unofficially underway.
The end of an era, but a familiar twist
Nathan Rourke won’t be playing in any more games for Ohio. The senior quarterback wrapped up a storied career for the Bobcats and shattered more than a few records along the way. Let’s look at a few.
- Most touchdowns responsible for in a career (111)
- Most touchdowns scored in a career (51)
- Most yards in a career (10,087)
Replacing a quarterback, who carried the offense more times than he should’ve, will undoubtedly be a difficult task for coach Frank Solich and his offensive staff.
They don’t have to look far, though, because Nathan’s younger brother, Kurtis, is set to take over.
Despite undergoing a season-ending shoulder surgery on his left shoulder, the younger Rourke is in line to be the next great quarterback under Solich, offensive coordinator Tim Albin and quarterback coach Scott Isphording.
While it’s unknown if he’ll be available for spring ball, he’ll be joined by Drew Keszei and incoming freshman C.J. Harris as an early enrollee.
Plenty of backup
While the quarterback room will be both young and inexperienced, the Bobcats return all three of their primary running backs in O’Shaan Allison, Julian Ross and De’Montre Tuggle.
They also return wide receivers Cam Odom, Shane Hooks, Isiah Cox and Tyler Walton. Tight ends Ryan Leuhrman and Adam Luehrman will return, too.
Optimism surrounding the defense
Point blank, it was a bad year for the defense. A year ago, they led the MAC in turnovers. Through 10 games this season, they only had six.
Playing under first-year defensive coordinator Ron Collins, the Bobcats played the same defense that former coordinator Jimmy Burrow ran with twists here and there.
Luckily for Ohio, it returns nine of 11 starters. With another spring and fall camp under Collins’ direction, it should have a better year two.
Brief schedule analysis
Ohio starts the season by hosting FCS North Carolina Central and then travels to Boston College. Following that, it hosts Marshall and then travels to Texas State.
That ideally is a 2-2 or 3-1 start.
The Bobcats will play their usual slate of MAC East opponents, and in back to back seasons will play against both teams that appeared in the MAC Championship game.
While they likely won’t be picked as the favorite to win the MAC, in their four appearances in the MAC Title game, they weren’t the preseason favorites.
Solich to stay
There’s optimism from new athletic director Julie Cromer: at 75 years old, Solich is still able to get the job done.
“Frank Solich is a future hall of fame coach with an impeccable national reputation. We are proud of the culture of athletic and academic success he and his staff have established at Ohio University and we appreciate Frank's deep commitment to our institution,” Cromer said in Ohio’s official release. "We look forward to his continued leadership of our football program."
A national prominence in the Group of 5
When media, fans and others in college football mention teams in the G5, of course names such as Central Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis and Boise State headline the group.
But Ohio deserves respect after the consistency the program has had under Solich. Perhaps that respect would be more apparent if it had won one of its four MAC Championship games, but the “there’s always next year” cliche holds true for at least two more years.