Ohio needs to find a quarterback and quickly. Senior Austen Everson returns as the starter but could easily be replaced during fall practice. Everson completed just 47% of his passes for just over 1,100 yards, with 11 INTs and only 4 TDs. The Bobcats finished dead last in the MAC in passing offense at 118.5 yards per game. Brad Bower, a transfer from Illinois, may be the guy who becomes the starting signal caller. Bower played two seasons for the Illini, starting four games, before transferring to Athens. At 6-2, 210-pounds, Bower is the better passer. Brandon Jones and Josh Febus will battle for the backup role.
Running Backs Kalvin McRae is one of the best running backs in the MAC. McRae rushed for 1,153 yards and seven TDs and averaged 5.5-yards per carry last season. The junior is very durable and has good size at 5-11 212-pounds. Overall OU ranked 36th in the country averaging 174 rushing yards per game. Voncarie Owens is a very good backup RB and rushed for 140-yards last year against Kent State. He also averaged over 5-yards per carry on the season. Josh Abrams and James Magee provide good depth. Nate Clemens and Mitch Morsillo are traditional fullbacks.
Receivers/Tight Ends While the passing offense has been abysmal, the receivers are not that bad. Scott Mayle has recorded 25 plays of at least 20-yards or more over the past three years. With 4.2/40 speed, Mayle is a game breaker if someone can get him the ball. Justin Fitzgerald has good size but needs to stay healthy to become more of a factor in the offense. Justin Riley, Chris Garrett, William Norwood and Ahmona Maxwell provide depth. Look for the newcomers to make a name for themselves this fall with several highly recruited receivers coming from the 2006 class. Terrence McCrae, Robert Mercer and Chido Nwokocha will battle for playing time. At TE, seniors Corey Logan, Thomas Christy and Rudy Sylvan share the role.
Offensive Linemen This was Ohio’s biggest area of improvement last year, allowing 55 QB sacks in 2004 and reducing it to 19 last season. Three starters return but there are six players with some sort of starting experience coming back. The Bobcats should have one of the MAC's best run blocking lines. Matt Coppage is the bell cow at tackle and other returning starters include JJ Knabb and Matt Miller while Paul Johnson and David Shelby are the new starters. The projected starting five has good size (6-4 301 average per man) and is very physical. Bryson Bush, Pete D’Aguanno, Jeff Browning, Tommy Stuck, Mike Eynon and Mike Philibin provide depth. The offense line will be the strength of the Bobcat offense this fall.
Defensive Linemen The Bobcats received good news when Shane Yates received an extra year of eligibility. His return gives OU three returning starters in their 4-3 alignment. Brett Sykes and Landon Cohen also return. Jameson Hartke, who did very well as a freshmen last year producing 34 tackles with 4 QB sacks, is the lone new starter. The starters have decent size and athleticism, average 6-3 270 per man. There is good depth with Eric Kenkel and David Escobar. Solich recruited the defensive line hard after ranking 80th in the country in run defense last season and 88th in total defense. Alan Goff, Ernie Hodge and Horace Hubbard are newcomers who should contribute right away. Look for vast improvement along the defensive line this fall.
Linebackers The linebackers will be one of the team's biggest strengths with the return of Matt Muncy in the middle and Tyler Russ on the outside. Muncy is one of the best defensive players in the league as he racked up 115 total tackles last year, nine tackles for loss, and six pass deflections. Russ contributed with 88 tackles and Michael Graham returns at the other OLB position. Graham is smaller at 215 pounds but is a solid hitter. Michael Brown, Taj Henley and Jordan Meyers are the backups. If the starters remain healthy this should be the MAC’s top LB corps.
Defensive Backs Last year the Bobcats pass defense ranked 109th in the country 283-yards per game through the air. Dion Byrum graduated as of the MAC’s best cover corners and will be missed. TJ Wright has all-conference abilities and will man one corner spot with Mark Parson on the opposite side. Marquis Parham is a senior corner who has played in 33 games. Tony Ward and Todd Koenig are experienced junior safeties. Michael Hinton will be the “X Factor” in defensive backfield. A transfer from Virginia Tech, Hinton is big (6-3, 200) and fast and will contribute right away. The key to the overall defensive turnaround will be the development and improvement of the defensive backfield.
Special Teams Gone is Matthew Miller who handled both kicking and punting duties. Matt Lasher handled kickoffs last year but never tried an extra point or a field goal. He looks to be the PK entering the season. Zak Wertz and Cody Chappell will battle out for the punting job. Scott Mayle was 18th in the nation last year in kick returns at 27-yards per return. The 4.2/40 speedster certainly can make the kicking game exciting.
Final Thoughts Expect an interesting up and down season for the Bobcats in 2006. Offensively, the running game will be solid behind McRae and a very good line. The receivers have talent if a quarterback can emerge as a solid decision maker who does not throw so many INTs. Defensively, Ohio has added several talented players who along with the nine returning starters will be a much better unit in both total yards and points allowed. The schedule is quite friendly with divisional MAC rivals Akron and BGSU visiting Peden Stadium. Ohio isn't going to challenge for the MAC East title yet but there will be plenty of improvement with 17 returning starters and a terrific running game. Winning seven or eight games this year is not a stretch.
Mark it down! Ohio will beat one of their non-conference IA opponents this fall - Missouri, Rutgers, or Illinois. My guess is Rutgers (see below) but the Bobcats have improved their defense enough to keep them in each of these contests and none of these three BCS schools are national top-50 programs right now.
Schedule Analysis The Bobcats really did themselves a favor by lightening up their schedule. Gone is a home game with Virginia Tech, and Tennessee-Martin was added. Toss in Rutgers, Missouri and Illinois, and Ohio can conceivable win any one of those non-conference games. Outside of an early road trip to NIU, cross over games with Western and Eastern Michigan are quite manageable. Hosting BG an Akron is a plus too.
Most Important Game Hosting Bowling Green on September 30. After three straight road games, coming home and beating a divisional foe who will likely be in the middle of the MAC East race is a must. Last year the Falcons smoked the Bobcats 38-14 but this year’s BG team is not as good. Beating a long time conference rival is needed to show the Ohio faithful that there is progress being made by Solich’s staff.