The Bobcats rank No. 72 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2019
All Ohio has done under Frank Solich is win, as the Bobcats have finished with fewer than eight victories just twice in the past 10 seasons. And that shouldn't change this year even with an offense that will feature plenty of inexperience and in need of new playmakers to step up. Fortunately, Solich has one of the MAC's best quarterback to lean on and a defense that could be ready to take another step forward after showing signs of growth late last season.
Previewing Ohio's Offense for 2019
The Bobcats could take a step back on offense after graduating seven offensive starters, including some of the program's best in running back A.J. Ouellette and wide receiver Papi White. Ohio returns no back who had more than 20 carries a season ago and only two wideouts (Cameron Odom and Isiah Cox) who had more than five receptions. Ohio will not be averaging 40.1 points per game as it did last season, nor leading the MAC in total offense.
But Ohio does have QB Nathan Rourke, and that's a great place to start. The senior dual threat has been an excellent operator in the Bobcats' option-based offense. Rourke has more than 6,000 yards of total offense over two seasons, is the best running threat at the position in the league, and has accounted for 77 total touchdowns in 26 career games.
Ohio will still be a run-first team. The offensive line has three new starters but will have a starting five that has four players with starting experience and three fifth-year seniors. There will be an ongoing battle at running back all season with speedy sophomore Julian Ross, bowling-ball redshirt freshman O'Shaan Allison, junior college transfer Demontre Tuggle and freshman phenom Walter Wilbon III all getting a crack to be the featured back.
Previewing Ohio's Defense for 2019
Ohio engineered an impressive midseason turnaround in 2018. The Bobcats allowed 31 points per game and 6.7 yards per play through the first seven games last year, but over the last five, those numbers dipped to just 17.2 and 5.2. And many of the reasons for that turnaround return.
The secondary should be a strength with senior Javon Hagan returning as one of the best safeties in the MAC. Junior cornerbacks Jamal Hudson and Marlin Brooks turned the proverbial corner in the middle of 2018, and now they return with confidence and experience. The same could be said of junior middle linebacker Jared Dorsa, who attacked more than he reacted down the stretch in 2018.
Ohio's mediocre pass rush — which produced only 25 sacks last season — should improve with the return of every defensive end on the roster, including starters Will Evans and Amos Ogun-Semore.
Ohio has a new defensive coordinator for the first time in 15 years as long-time DC Jimmy Burrow retired to watch his son, Joe, play QB at LSU this season. Head coach Frank Solich promoted Ron Collins, who has been on the staff for eight years and has previous play-calling experience at Boise State and Colorado.
Previewing Ohio's Specialists for 2019
Placekicker Louie Zervos and punter Michael Farkas are entering their fourth and final season at Ohio. The duo has been among the MAC's best in each of the last three seasons, and there’s no reason to believe things will be different in 2019.
Despite a lack of returning offensive weapons, the Bobcats are positioned as well as any team in the MAC East. Ohio returns the league's best quarterback in Rourke, will have a veteran defense to start the year and will again be helped rather than hurt by special teams play. If the young talent at the skill positions develops quickly, and the defense plays at the level it did to end 2018, the Bobcats should be on pace for at least eight wins and another run at a division title. But with the offense due for a step back, Ohio's margin for error will be slimmer than a year ago.
National Ranking: 72
(Top photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics)