by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

Head coach Frank Solich has performed quite the mini-miracle with the Bobcats in his first seven seasons in Athens. Consider that Ohio had been to just one bowl game in its history (the 1968 Tangerine Bowl) and posted an 11-35 SU mark in the four seasons prior to his taking over. In the last three seasons, thanks to Solich, the Bobcats are 27-14, including a school-record 10 victories last season and have been to three straight bowl games, winning their first ever at the end of this past season. "We've developed the program to a certain level," Solich said "The goal though is to keep growing.”

Growing indeed. Solich has several key holes to fill, but he’s taken steps to do just that. The Bobcats lost three key producers from last season’s 10-win group. MLB Noah Keller (116 tackles), RB James Harden (986 YR) and WR/KR LaVon Brazill (74 catches) all ran out of eligibility. All will be missed, but all can also be replaced. The defense will rely more on a pair of excellent senior outside backers in Jelani Woseley and Alphonso Lewis (who missed the spring with a minor surgery but should be back). The middle man will be ex-walkon Keith Moore, who has earned the starting job and a scholarship. A major plus is that eight of the top nine tacklers return to the MAC’s second-toughest scoring defense from a season ago, and eight experienced secondary players are back, including all-MAC CB Travis Carrie (right vs. Bowling Green last fall; 4 ints.) and safety Xavier Hughes (3 ints.). The defensive line needed a boost in the pass rush, prompting Solich to bring in a handful of jucos to provide a quick fix. Spring drills indicated Ty Branz could be ready to step in and put some heat on opposing passers. Holdover sr. DE Tremayne Scott (2nd team all MAC) broke his foot and missed the spring, but should be ready to resume at full speed when the Bobcats visit Penn State Sept. 1.

The offense has a master cylinder in the person of jr. QB Tyler Tettleton (left; son of ex- pro baseball player player Mickey), who was 20th in the nation in total offense, throwing for 3306 yds., with 28 touchdowns, while running for 666 yds. and scoring 10 times on the ground. Harden was good, but Solich has a pair of juniors in Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin who combined to rush for 898 yards last season. Blankenship averaged 5.0 ypc in 2011, and he won the job by making big play after big play in spring scrimmages. The offensive line lost both tackles but has the best middle three offensive line group in the MAC, and jr. John Prior looked very capable of taking over as Tettleton’s blind side protector during spring work. Sr. G Eric Herman was an all-MAC selection and sr. C Skyler Allen is likely to be on the team after this season is completed. Holdover TE Jordan Thompson is a nice big rangy target at 6-4, 248 who caught 24 balls in 11 starts last season.

The receivers, however, pose a question Solich might not yet have an answer for (or at least, not the answer he wants). “We’ve got to get better...we need some of those guys to start stepping up,” according to the coach. Between Brazill and the graduated Riley Dunlop, the Bobcats lost 117 catches and 17 TDs. Jr. Donte Foster (30 recs. in ‘11) becomes the lead receiver, and another of Solich’s juco imports, jr. Matt Waters, won one of the other wide receiver spots in spring. The third starter at wideout in o.c. Tim Albin’s offense is sr. Tyler Futtrell, but it’s a real question if they can replace the playmaking ability of Brazill, who also returned punts and kickoffs.

Summary: Ohio is the preseason choice in the MAC East and could be favored in every game after visiting Happy Valley. If the wide receivers step up, the Bobcats should waltz into the MAC title game against either Northern Illinois or Western Michigan. Looks like another 10-win season and, if they can win the MAC championship, a better bowl game.

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