ATHENS, Ohio — If a preseason media poll is any indication of how the season will go, not only will the Bobcats be in the Mid-American Conference championship game for the first time since 2016, but the Green and White will bring back the hardware.
The selection of Ohio over MAC West favorite Toledo was announced at the 2019 MAC Football Media Day at Ford Field in Detroit.
Ohio— which has a total of 43 letterwinners and 14 starters returning from last season — has a dozen bouts to worry about before a potential trip to the Motor City, starting at 2 p.m. on Aug. 31 at Peden Stadium against Rhode Island, a FCS school.
Ohio will then visit Pittsburgh on Sept. 7 and Marshall on Sept. 14, before wrapping up non-conference play on Sept. 21 against Louisiana Lafayette at Peden Stadium.
The Bobcats — who were 6-2 in conference last year — begin MAC play with a trip to Buffalo, and then the Bobcats will be back in Athens to celebrate Homecoming against Northern Illinois. Following a trip to Ball State to finish out October, Ohio will host Miami and Western Michigan in back-to-back mid-week games to start November. The Green and White finish the season with road trips to Bowling Green and Akron.
After a 9-4 2018, Ohio — which has bowl victories in back-to-back seasons — enters its 15th campaign under the guidance of head coach Frank Solich.
While Solich will have a familiar face leading the Bobcat offense in 14th-year coordinator Tim Albin, the offseason departure of 13-year defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow opened the door for Ron Collins to take over the OU defensive unit. Collins is in his eighth year with the Bobcats.
Captains for the 2019 season include safety Javon Hagan for a third consecutive season, quarterback Nathan Rourke for a second year in a row, as well as wide receiver Cam Odom, defensive end Will Evans and left tackle Austen Pleasants for the first time.
The Bobcats have four all-conference first team selections on offense to replace, in wide receiver Papi White, running back A.J. Ouellette, left tackle Joe Lowery and left guard Joe Anderson. Ohio must also replace third-team all-conference right guard Durrell Wood, as well as running back Maleek Irons and slot receiver Andrew Meyer.
Nathan Rourke is under center for a third straight season for Ohio, and he enters his senior campaign with a 17-7 record in 24 starts. The 6-foot-2 senior was named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award.
Nathan Rourke was a second-team all-conference selection in back-to-back seasons. Last year he completed 154-of-252 passes for 2,228 yards and 22 touchdowns, while rushing for 816 yards and 13 more touchdowns. The dual-threat signal caller — who will be joined on the squad by his brother Kurtis, a freshman — is responsible for 74 touchdowns in his career, second-most in program history.
Odom is the top returning pass catcher for the Bobcats, hauling in 30 passes last fall for 418 yards and two touchdowns.
Graduation claimed third-team All-MAC outside linebacker Evan Croutch, as well as defensive lineman Kent Berger and defensive backs Kylan Nelson and Jalen Fox. Croutch — who had a team-high 90 tackles as a senior — recorded a team-best 5.5 sacks last season, while Berger sacked the quarterback five times.
Last season, the Bobcats got off the field on 56 percent of third downs, while stopping the opponent on 8-of-16 fourth down conversion tries.
Three-time all-conference defensive back, Javon Hagan is on the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, as well as the Jim Thorpe Award. Bobcats junior cornerback Jamal Hudson was also named to the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list.
Safety Jarren Hampton and linebacker Jared Dorsa — both back for their redshirt-junior seasons — tied with Hagan, Nelson and Croutch for the team lead with two interceptions apiece a year ago.
Hagan had 78 tackles last season, second most on the team. Dorsa tied with Nelson for third with 59 tackles.
Redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Amos Ogun-Semore had the most sacks last season of any returning Bobcat with 2.5.
Placekicker Louie Zervos returns for his senior season after going 13-for-17 on field goal attempts last fall, while converting all-68 point-after tries. Zervos made his career-long 51-yard field goal against Buffalo in 2016.
Also back for his senior campaign is punter Michael Farkas, a first team all-conference selection last year, and a third teamer in 2016. Farkas — who was a a two-time MAC East Special Teams Player of the Week last season — averaged 43.4 yards per punt on 43 attempts.
Ohio scored 40.1 points per-game last year, while surrendering just 24.6. … The Bobcats claimed a rushing advantage of 3358-to-1782, while scoring 40 times on the ground. … The 2018 Bobcats were outgained by a 3300-to-2710 margin in the passing game, but earned a 25-to-24 edge in passing touchdowns. … OU averaged seven yards par play and 466.8 yards per game last year. … The Bobcats turned the ball over 19 times, while swiping the ball from opponents 32 times. … Ohio’s 27-0 victory over San Diego State in the 2018 Frisco Bowl was the first-ever shut out in a bowl game by a MAC team.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.