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Ohio Football: 2018 Bobcats Preview and Prediction

Nathan Rourke, Ohio Football

Nathan Rourke, Ohio Football

Ohio will be a favorite to win the MAC East in 2018, and if the defense finds its traditional form, then it could be a big year for the Bobcats. The real drama for Ohio will be to see if it can end the program's MAC championship drought, which extends back to 1968.

Previewing Ohio Football's Offense for 2018

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Kansas Football/BIg 12 Magazine

Junior quarterback Nathan Rourke (912 rushing yards, 2,203 passing yards, 39 total TDs) was a revelation for Ohio in 2017. The Canadian-born junior college transfer won the starting job by Week 3 and turned in the most productive season for an Ohio quarterback in program history.

Rourke -- and a bruising ground game that averaged almost 250 yards -- helped Ohio to a program-record 39.1 points per game. With Rourke and backup QB Quinton Maxwell (eight career starts) in place for 2018, there are hopes in Athens for even more this season.

Senior A.J. Ouellette (1,006 yards) returns in the backfield, and senior Maleek Irons is back after a season-long suspension in 2017. The Bobcats return two starting wideouts, including big-play specialist Papi White and fellow senior burner Andrew Meyer. The duo combined for 71 receptions, 1,114 yards and five touchdowns in 2017.

The offensive line will be among the best in the conference with four returning starters, including All-MAC selections on the left side with tackle Joe Lowery and guard Joe Anderson.

Ohio knocked it out of the park offensively in 2017, with one exception: turnovers. The Bobcats had a minus-4 turnover margin, and Rourke, in his first season at the D-I level, was guilty of 12 turnovers (seven INTs, five lost fumbles). With Rourke's continued development, and the talent in place around him, that number should drop in 2018.

Previewing Ohio Football's Defense for 2018

For the past two seasons, the Bobcats have featured the best run defense in the MAC. That likely won't be the case in 2018, and it will shine a spotlight on a secondary desperate to show improvement. Ohio must replace six starters in the front seven, including one of the program's all-time greats in middle linebacker Quentin Poling. Senior outside backer Evan Croutch is the lone returning starter in the front seven, but Dylan Conner and Tyler Gullett got extensive work last fall. In the middle, junior Austin Clack and sophomore Jared Dorsa will try to fill the void left by Poling.

On the line, new interior starters Kent Berger and Andrew Payne were effective rotational players a year ago. A pair of junior college transfers -- Cole Baker and Zach Burks -- will be needed to provide quality depth. The Bobcats will be young at defensive end with a trio of sophomores -- Amir Miller, Will Evans and Austin Conrad -- eating up a lot of reps.

Defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow hopes his secondary, now the more seasoned part of the defense, can improve enough to counter any expected drop in the run defense. Junior safety Javon Hagan is one of the best playmakers in the MAC.

Previewing Ohio Football's Specialists for 2018

The Bobcats had the most complete, and best, collection of special teams units in the MAC last season, and that strength should continue in 2018. Junior Louie Zervos remained the most accurate (83.3 percent) placekicker in the league. Junior punter Michael Farkas has not yet had a punt blocked in his career, and more than 60 percent of his punts were not returned. Also back are top punt returners White and Kylan Nelson, and top kickoff returner Julian Ross.

Final Analysis

Coach Frank Solich has the Bobcats poised for a run at the MAC East title. "This is a team that could easily win the division -- and the league -- this year if they get more of the same kind of play from the quarterback position," says one opposing MAC assistant coach.

College Football Rankings: Ohio