Ohio is the defending MAC East champion and figures to be in the mix again this fall. The Bobcats return six starters on offense and will likely lean on the running game with uncertainly surrounding quarterback and the receiving corps. The defense was fifth nationally against the run in 2016, but loses the services of the conference’s best defender. The front seven will look different, but has two of the MAC’s best linebackers to anchor the middle and the secondary features plenty of experience. Ohio has been a consistent winner and contender under head coach Frank Solich and that should be no different in 2017.
Previewing Ohio Football’s Offense for 2017
Sophomore quarterback Quinton Maxwell started seven of Ohio’s last eight games in 2016, but he was inconsistent. He’ll start 2017 as the No. 1 option with good reason, though. He has experience, good size, a strong enough arm and is a strong runner. But he’ll be pushed by junior college transfer Nathan Rourke, who arrived in time for spring camp and still has three seasons of eligibility. Inconsistency can’t be tolerated for an offense that needs to improve.
The Bobcats’ biggest weakness will be a lack of proven playmakers down the field. Three of the team’s top four receiving options are gone, including big-time producers Jordan Reid and Sebastian Smith, who combined for 113 receptions, 10 touchdowns and 1,555 yards last season. If Ohio is to improve on its mediocre offense, then the team’s young group of wideouts — headed up by converted running back Papi White — will have to develop. Sophomore Elijah Ball and redshirt freshman Cam Odom are the next logical choices to be difference makers.
Ohio has a solid group up front. The Bobcats return three starters on the offensive line, with returning All-MAC pick Jake Pruehs at center.
The ground game could carry Ohio. Junior running back A.J. Ouellette missed all but four plays last season after a Lisfranc injury, but he led the team in rushing in 2014 and ’15. Senior Dorian Brown (825 yards in 2016) had a breakthrough 2016 campaign, and junior Maleek Irons returns as well.
Previewing Ohio Football’s Defense for 2017
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The Bobcats leaned on a fearsome front seven last year to help cover up a young secondary.
was a top-five defense against the run and piled up a program-record 44 sacks but will have to rework a unit that lost four starters in the front seven — most notably MAC Defensive Player of the Year Tarell Basham at defensive end.
Ohio could still be stout up front. The Bobcats will likely have seven seniors in the front seven, including returning standout linebackers Quentin Poling and Chad Moore.
And while Ohio won’t have a player of Basham’s caliber on the defensive line, the unit hopes the depth it created last year will pay off. Nose tackle Cleon Aloese is a good run stuffer up the middle, and end Kevin Robbins is poised to be the team’s new sack leader.
The young secondary of a year ago is more seasoned and should be improved. The Bobcats return five players who started games at cornerback last season. At safety, sophomore Javon Hagan is poised to become one of the MAC’s best.
Previewing Ohio Football’s Specialists for 2017
Ohio had questions on special teams going into last season but won’t have any for the foreseeable future. Returning sophomores Michael Farkas (punter) and Louie Zervos (placekicker) far exceeded expectations. Farkas had only three of his 71 punts result in touchbacks and had 30 downed inside the 20. Zervos set a program record with 29 made field goals and was a solid 7-of-10 on kicks from beyond 40 yards.
Ohio will be in the mix again for a MAC East title and a bowl bid. That’s been the case for much of Frank Solich’s 12-year tenure. The defense will be competitive and should keep the Bobcats in most games. The run game should be more effective with better injury luck in the backfield compared to last season. But for Ohio to take another step — challenge for 10 wins, be a favorite to win the MAC Championship Game — it will have to figure out a way to juice up an offense that hasn’t been among the MAC’s top three in the past decade. With young quarterbacks and unproven receivers, it’ll be a tough task.
National Ranking: 85
MAC East Prediction: 2
(Quentin Poling photo courtesy of Daniel Kubus/Ohio Athletics)