Given the program's relative lack of success over much of the past 40 years, you might think the Bobcats' recent pair of MAC East titles in the last four years would have players and coaches feeling they've accomplished something.
Ohio won the MAC East, and went to a bowl game, for the second time in four years in 2009. But like the other bowl season under head coach Frank Solich, the year ended with consecutive losses in the MAC Championship game and then the bowl game.
"It's past the point where we're glad to have winning seasons," Solich said. "We've got to start finishing off the season, and start winning those games at the end of the year."
The 'Cats should be positioned to make another run in the MAC. Ohio returns six starters on offense, and seven on the defensive side of the football.
Ohio has plenty of returning talent at wide receiver and running back, good depth and young talent on the offensive line and senior quarterback Boo Jackson was the starter for the final 10 games of the 2008 season.
Defensively, Ohio returns the entire two-deep on the defensive line, both starting safeties and MLB Noah Keller -- who could be the best in the MAC this season.
"I feel good about us and the potential we have as a team," Solich said after Ohio's spring game on April 24. "I think we have the capability of being good."NOTES, QUOTES
--Linebacker Noah Keller may be the best player on the roster this season. Coming off an All-MAC season in which he racked up 155 tackles, Keller will be working behind a veteran defensive line. With the front four's ability to soak up blockers, and Keller's knack to quickly diagnose plays, another mammoth season is expected from the Kearney, Neb. native.
--For the first time during his tenure in Athens, head coach Frank Solich had to replace more than one spot on his coaching staff. Recruiting coordinator Scott Isphording moved on Toledo to become the Rockets' quarterback coach, and cornerbacks coach David Brown moved on to accept a head coaching position at a small college in Missouri. But Solich was able to maintain some continuity by replacing both positions with coaches who had worked with the Bobcats recently. Fred Reed, the defensive coordinator at Buffalo last season, returns to reprise his role as the corners coach. Brian Haines, a GA at Ohio two years ago, is back as the tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
C Skyler Allen -- Ohio needed to find a replacement for a two-year starter at center, and the sophomore certainly grabbed the position in spring camp. A bit player last fall, Allen quickly emerged as the leader in April and is poised to give the Bobcats a strong centerpiece on the OL for years to come.
CB Omar Leftwich -- With three other potential starting cornerbacks out of spring camp with injuries, the sophomore made the most of his opportunity. Signed in February, the junior college transfer was slotted as the starter at one corner by the third week of spring camp and consistently made plays all spring long.
QB Phil Bates -- With senior quarterback Boo Jackson out all spring, Bates -- a junior -- showed he was capable of being the Bobcats' signal-caller if need be. With terrific size at 6-2 and 224 pounds, Bates will be a weapon in Ohio's many option looks out of the "Pistol" formation. He also made huge strides this spring in his throwing accuracy, which was a concern coming in.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He has all the physical tools to be a real weapon in the running game. Now, if we can get him to complete upwards of 60, 65 percent of his passes, well then he could be a real special player." -- Ohio coach Frank Solich on junior quarterback Phil Bates.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Ohio was a surprise winner in the MAC East in 2009, but returns more than enough to make a strong push as a repeat champion this fall.
The Bobcats were 9-5 last year and return 14 starters. Ohio looks to have more depth and capable replacements in areas of need.
And unlike last year, when the line of scrimmage was a concern, Ohio this season is stocked with proven players along the defensive and offensive lines.
If the Bobcats can get consistent play at the quarterback position, a 10-win season is certainly possible.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Wide receiver Taylor Price was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft, and quarterback Theo Scott has used up his eligibility. However, Ohio believes it can move on without both.
Senior Boo Jackson and junior Phil Bates will battle it out under center, with Jackson the more poised passer and Bates more of a running threat. Both quarterbacks will have plenty of weapons. Ohio returns two of its top three running backs, and a receiving corps that includes multi-faceted play-maker LaVon Brazill and Terrence McCrae -- who had 11 TD catches last season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Ohio led the nation last season in turnovers forced, picking up nearly three per game. While Ohio needs to develop a new pair of starting cornerbacks and outside linebackers, the rest of the unit returns intact. Defensive tackles Ernie Hodge and Marcellis Williamson, MLB Noah Keller, senior safety Steven Jackson and sophomore safety Gerald Moore give the Bobcats a strong defense up the middle. Ohio will again be aggressive, and will need to develop more pressure on the quarterback through a variety of blitz schemes.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Matt Weller was terrific last season and returns after a Freshman All-American type of season. Senior LaVon Brazill returned four punts for touchdowns last season. There are concerns however. Junior Paul Hershey is slotted to be the punter for the first time in his collegiate career, and Ohio has no proven kick returner on the roster.
--QB Boo Jackson sat out spring camp while recovering from shoulder surgery. He was able to resume throwing in April and is on track to be back on the field in time for summer workouts.
--Also out of spring camp were safeties Steven Jackson (hip) and Hilton Dawson (knee). Like Jackson, both are expected to be ready by the summer and both will be counted on for help in the back end of the defense.
--NG A.J. Oxley is likely soon to be dismissed from the team. The senior was suspended for all of 2009 for an undisclosed matter, and then in April was arrested following an alleged drunk driving incident in downtown Athens. He was suspended immediately after the latest incident and is not expected back.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010