In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 66 Ohio
"We’ve got some talent,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said after spring practice. “It should come together. I feel good about coming out of the spring.”
Yes, coach, you have some talent. You have a ton of talent.
Ohio is my highest-ranked MAC team, 10 spots above potential MAC Championship opponent Toledo. Nathan Rourke is the best quarterback in the conference and they have some all-conference-caliber players around him. Can they fill defensive holes well enough to end their 50-year conference championship drought?
2017 Record: 9-4 (5-3, MAC)
Ohio recorded their eighth season with at least eight wins since 2006 and now have 25 victories over the last three years, third in the MAC behind Toledo (30) and Western Michigan (27).
Three of their four losses came by seven or fewer points and they scored at least 34 points in nine of their 13 games, including a 41-6 annihilation of UAB in the Bahamas Bowl.
Head Coach: Frank Solich (14th Year, 97-71)
"I feel right at home in this coat, I want you to know that," Frank Solich said while wearing an Ohio coat during his introductory press conference in December 2004.
The former Nebraska head coach — who hadn't coached for any other college program besides his alma mater — might've felt at home in Athens but not one person expected Solich to be Ohio's coach 14 years later.
He's averaged 7.5 wins, won 10 games for the second time in program history, won four MAC East titles and built one of the most consistent programs in the country. Solich is still chasing a MAC title but it's impossible to overstate what he's done since arriving in 2004.
RB Dorian Brown, C Jake Pruehs, LB Quentin Poling, LB Chad Moore, CB Bradd Ellis
Dorian Brown averaged nearly seven yards per carry last year, partly aided by All-MAC Second-Team center Jake Pruehs, a four-starter for the Bobcats.
Defensively, Quentin Poling — one of the best players in program history — is gone. A two-time team captain, the Ohio native had 218 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks the last two seasons. He was the third Bobcat drafted in the last two years. Corner Bradd Ellis set a program record with 19 pass breakups last year and linebacker Chad Moore had 13 tackles for loss and five interceptions the last two years.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Nathan Rourke, RB A.J. Ouellette, RB Maleek Irons, WR Papi White, WR Markel Davis, WR Andrew Meyer, WR Elijah Ball, OT Joe Lowery, G Joe Anderson, K Louie Zervos
Nathan Rourke, ladies and gentleman. The Canadian came out of nowhere to replace former starter Quinton Maxwell and lead the most powerful offense in program history.
"He's the first recruit that I ever met that showed up with a notebook," quarterbacks coach Scott Isphording recalled of his 2016 recruitment of Rourke from Fort Scott Commnunity College, where he was buried on recruiting rankings as the No. 14 pro-style JUCO quarterback. "He came down to see me and he had a notebook. He was writing stuff down, had things he wanted to know about, all of it. I said 'Alright, this is my kind of guy.'"
The 6-foot-2, 209-pounder pushed through a couple inefficient passing games but was mostly good through the air and spectacular on the ground, rushing for 912 yards and 21 touchdowns in leading Ohio to a program-record 39 points per game.
After averaging just 4.4 first-quarter points in 2016, they averaged 7.5 last year. Their yards per carry also jumped from 4.3 to 5.9, yards per pass attempt from 6.7 to 7.6 and third-down conversion rate from 36.9 percent to 40.3 percent.
Somehow, despite the losses of Pruehl and Brown, the rushing attack might be even better, thanks to the return of 1,000-yard rusher A.J. Ouellette (and Maleek Irons from a year-long suspension) and four starting linemen. The MAC's best line is led by tackle Joe Lowery and Joe Anderson, who form one of the best left sides in the entire country.
An embarrassment of riches at receiver should help Rourke improve on his efficiency. Though Elijah Ball, Andrew Meyer and Cam Odom all missed all or a majority of spring ball with injuries, all three are expected to be 100 percent for the season. Papi White is also back and sophomore Markel Davis capitalized on the absences and was the subject of some adulation.
“I really like what he showed us this spring,” Solich said. “He’s got good speed. He’s got good eye-hand coordination. He can go up and catch the ball. So he’s got a lot of things going for himself.”
Junior kicker Louie Zervos is the best in the conference, hitting 83 percent of his field-goal attempts last year.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Will Evans, DT Kent Berger, DT Andrew Payne, LB Evan Croutch, LB Eric Popp, CB Jalen Fox, S Javon Hagan, S Kylan Nelson,
Here come the questions, which is unusual for a defense that long-time Frank Solich coordinator Jimmy Burrow has built into a reliable unit.
The Bobcats were mediocre vs. the pass last year but allowed 3.6 yards per rush, improved their sacks per game from 1.3 to 2.1 and held four opponents to 20 or fewer points per game. Gone are eight starters, including six in their front seven.
Interior linemen Kent Berger and Andrew Payne will assume big roles after combining for 39 tackles (Payne had 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, too) last year, as is sophomore end Will Evans. A former two-star recruit who passed on a late offer from Minnesota, Evans isn't a huge guy ( 6-foot-2, 243 pounds) but he's strong and quick and oozing with pass-rushing potential.
The secondary is in great shape and in position to improve on their numbers from a year ago. Veteran safeties Javon Hagan (below) and Kylan Nelson are both all-conference candidates.
Quentin Poling is gone but, thankfully, they return senior Evan Croutch at outside linebacker after a breakout season. Junior Eric Popp is one of several former backups who had loads of snaps during spring practice and could wind up playing alongside Croutch if Burrow and co-coordinator Ron Collins want them on the field together.
DE Amos Ogun-Semore, DT Cole Baker, DT Zach Burks
Cole Baker and Zach Burks were the only JUCO players in Ohio's 2018 recruiting class. With plenty of holes to fill, both will see immediate time but it was Baker turning heads in the spring as he worked with the first team.
Also on the line, redshirt freshman defensive end Amos Ogun-Semore routinely stood out and had a sack-fumble in the spring game.
Ohio has a wild 2018 schedule. They have a Week 2 bye, three sets of back-to-back road games and no Saturday games after Oct. 20.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Howard|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at Virginia|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||at Cincinnati|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||vs. UMass|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Kent State|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||at Northern Illinois|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Bowling Green|
|Thursday, Oct. 25||vs. Ball State|
|Thursday, Nov. 1||at Western Michigan|
|Wednesday, Nov. 7||at Miami (OH)|
|Wednesday, Nov. 14||vs. Buffalo|
|Friday, Nov. 23||vs. Akron|