In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 26, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. You can find all the rankings and previews here.
No. 86 Ohio
Ohio has quietly been one of the most stable programs in America over the last decade. And that will continue in 2017 with the return of head coach Frank Solich, two good running backs, a veteran offensive line and defense laced with potential all-MAC performers.
2016 Record: 8-6 (6-2, MAC)
Ohio fell just short of their first MAC title since 1968 … again. Their loss to Western Michigan was their fourth championship defeat since 2006, and their loss to Troy in the Dollar General Bowl three weeks later was their third-straight bowl defeat.
Still, the Bobcats won eight games for the second-straight year and sixth time since 2009 and narrowly missed another 10-win season. Their four regular-season losses came by an average of 6.3 points, they beat a Power Five foe handily (Kansas) and nearly knocked off Tennessee.
Head Coach: Frank Solich (13th year, 88-67 overall)
When Frank Solich took over in 2005, no one thought the former Nebraska coach would led the Bobcats for more than a decade. In 2016, he won at least eight games for the seventh time, reached a seventh bowl game in the last eight years and won a fourth MAC East title.
"I learned a long time ago in this business that you better be businesslike,” Solich said in December. “You can try to be humorous and try to be funny and try to do different things in terms of motivating your football team, and there are coaches who do a great job of that, but you better be yourself."
Solich returns for a 13th season and is still chasing his first MAC championship.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Quinton Maxwell, RB Dorian Brown, RB A.J. Ouellette, WR Papi White, WR Elijah Ball, TE Troy Mangen, OT Joe Lowery, G Durrell Wood, C Jake Pruehs
A year ago, Quinton Maxwell lost the starting job to Greg Windham but still started seven games. Now he's trying to win the job again, this time against JUCO transfer Nathan Rourke.
Frankly, Maxwell wasn't great in 2016. He completed better than 60 percent of his passes only twice, struggled badly in a seven-point loss to Central Michigan and threw more touchdowns than interceptions only three games. Still, the athleticism, arm strength and intangibles are there to be one of the MAC's better quarterbacks.
“He’s got really excellent potential as a quarterback," Frank Solich said during spring practice. "He has the potential to be a really good passer, he’s shown that he throws the intermediate and short ball well. He needs to work a little bit on his deep ball; he’s certainly got a strong enough arm."
Elijah Ball and Papi White, a converted running back, are the only two returning receivers who caught more than 15 passes, but they do return senior tight end Troy Mangen, who appears primed for a breakout campaign.
Dorian Brown is back after an 800-yard season, as is A.J. Ouelette, who missed all but one game last year with a foot injury. The duo will be guided by a veteran line that includes all-conference center Jake Pruehs.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Cleon Aloese, LB Quentin Poling, LB Chad Moore, CB Kylan Nelson, S Javon Hagan
Ohio's defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in scoring average, rushing and total defense, largely because of aTarell Basham-led front seven (14.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks). Basham was a third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft but disruptive defensive tackle Cleon Aloese returns.
Aloese, a 6-foot, 300-pounder, exploded as a junior, recording his first two career sacks and ranking fourth on the team with 10 tackles for loss. He's one of many front-seven seniors aiming for no drop-off following the departure of Basham and leading tackle Blair Brown. Linebackers Chad Moore and Quentin Poling combined for 20 tackles for loss and 11 passes defended.
After a young secondary tried valiantly to contain MAC offenses, they finally have experience with five cornerbacks who started a game and an emerging safety in Javon Hagan. Hagan led the team with 10 passes defended and three interceptions as a freshman.
Notable Player Losses
WR Sebastian Smith, WR Jordan Reid, DE Tarell Basham, LB Blair Brown, S Toran Davis
Sebastian Smith had 90 yards and a touchdown in a huge 31-26 win over Toledo in late October. His production will be sorely missed, as will Jordan Reid, who recorded back-to-back 600-yard, five-touchdown seasons.
Basham was one of the MAC's premier edge rushers the last four years, racking up 27 career sacks. He and Blair Brown combined for 29.5 tackles for loss in 2016, including three against Tennessee. Toran Davis did his best to stabilize an inexperienced secondary, tying for the team lead with three interceptions.
Notable Player Additions
QB Nathan Rourke, WR Brevin Harris
The most notable additions both come on offense in JUCO transfer quarterback Nathan Rourke and true freshman receiver Brevin Harris.
Rourke, an Ontario native who played at Fort Scott Community College in 2016, was ready to work before he even committed to the Bobcats and will challenge Quinton Maxwell for the job.
"He’s the first guy that I ever went to see on a recruiting visit that when I got there, he had a notebook and was writing down everything I said," said Ohio quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording. "He hadn’t even committed to be a Bobcat yet."
Harris is a long, lanky (6-foot-3, 175 pounds) target who joins an unsettled receiving corps. The Creston, Ohio, native passed on offers from Purdue and Navy to join the Bobcats.
There is nothing daunting about Ohio's 2017 schedule. While they do play two Power Five teams, those are against two of the worst teams in the nation over the last few years, Purdue (away) and Kansas (home).
They have three-straight home games in late October and early November and end the season with back-to-back road games.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Hampton|
|Friday, Sept. 8||at Purdue|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Kansas|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Eastern Michigan|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at UMass|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Central Michigan|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Bowling Green|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Kent State|
|Tuesday, Oct. 31||vs. Miami (OH)|
|Wednesday, Nov. 8||vs. Toledo|
|Tuesday, Nov. 14||at Akron|
|Friday, Nov. 24||at Buffalo|