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OU Freshman Kicker Nathanial Vakos (90) getting ready to make the extra point against Miami (OH) on Nov. 8th, 2022 in Oxford, Ohio.

Football Column: Ohio's 2022 season has changed the program's trajectory

TUCSON, Arizona - Not everything went as Ohio wanted it to this season. It began with a tragic injury to star quarterback Kurtis Rourke, likely costing the team its first Mid-American Conference Championship since 1968.

But things turned around, and the season was an unmitigated success. The Bobcats made the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2016 and won 10 games for just the fourth time in program history. As Tyler Foster rolled out of the back of the end zone with the game-winning touchdown in overtime of the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl, it was impossible not the think about how far the Bobcats have come since the end of last season.

The 2021 season was a disaster from start to finish for Ohio. It began with legendary head coach Frank Solich retiring due to health issues just weeks before the season kicked off, and while Ohio won two of its final four games to finish the year on a slight upswing, it still included a loss to Football Championship Subdivision Duquesne and a 3-9 record — Ohio's worst since 2003 and before Solich was hired.

From the moment the Bobcats' 2021 season ended, they knew 2022 would be better. 

"They (Ohio's nine super seniors) took charge the day after our last game last season," Ohio coach Tim Albin said. "Their leadership got us to where we are."

But the 2022 season didn't get off to the best start either, as before Ohio even kicked off, starting running back O'Shaan Allison was ruled out for the year.

Through six weeks, Ohio was 3-3 with two unconvincing wins, a pair of blowout losses to Power 5 opponents and an overtime loss to Kent State in which it allowed more than 700 yards of offense.

From there, the Bobcats' season completely changed, and with it, the program's future. Even after a 21-point win over Akron in Week 6, plenty of fans were still calling for Albin to be fired and there were plenty of valid reasons for concern.

But Ohio rattled off six more wins to charge into the MAC Championship game on a 7-game-win streak. That run included two of the most impressive wins the program has seen in years, a 21-point demolition of Buffalo to take control of the MAC East and a blowout of Bowling Green in the first game after Rourke's injury to clinch the division.

The Bobcats may have lost the MAC Championship game, but they had one more opportunity to end the season on a high note.

"We've been a 'one game at a time' outfit all season," Albin said. "I told them at the hotel, 'We're one game at a time, well we got one left.'"

Ohio survived a late Wyoming comeback with a 56-yard field goal from Nathanial Vakos in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. In the extra period, Ohio's defense held Wyoming to a field goal and Arizona Bowl MVP C.J. Harris found Foster in the back corner of the end zone to seal the 30-27 win.

So, now Ohio stands here with 10 wins under its belt and Rourke, the reigning MAC Offensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year, plans to return for the 2023 season. In the span of just over a year, Ohio has gone from floundering, with uncertainty at the head coaching position, to likely be the favorite to win its first MAC title in more than 50 years.

The Bobcats have now won each of their last four bowl games and Albin is only the second Ohio coach to win one after Solich.

Ohio went 6-0 at Peden Stadium, won games in Oxford, Ohio; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Muncie, Indiana; and, finally, Tucson, Arizona. And while Ohio will enter next year chasing the one thing that 2022 was missing, a win at Ford Field in Detroit, it cannot be overstated how much better a position Ohio is in now than it was a year ago.


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