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NCAA Football Preview - Ohio University Bobcats

2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: It was a middle-of-the-road season for the Ohio Bobcats in the Mid-American Conference. The team, led by veteran coach Frank Solich, finished with a 7-6 overall record and posted a 4-4 mark in conference play - good for a third-place tie in the MAC East Division standings in 2013.

The Bobcats participated in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl against East Carolina at the end of the season, and were defeated 37-20. The loss dropped Ohio's all- time bowl record to 2-6. The Bobcats have made it to a postseason bowl contest in each of the past five years.

Ohio dropped its 2013 season opener to national power Louisville, which featured then-Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback. The Cardinals came away victorious, 49-7, but Ohio bounced back the following week with a hard-fought 27-21 win over Conference USA's North Texas. The win started a string of four consecutive W's for Ohio as the team finished up non-conference play and started to dig into the MAC portion of the slate.

Toward the end of the schedule, the Bobcats lost three straight contests in which the team scored a combined 16 points in those losses. A win over Massachusetts put the team back on track in the final regular-season contest, but it didn't help boost the team for the bowl game.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Ohio returns just four offensive starters this upcoming season, and three of those players are on the offensive line. The Bobcats will be looking to replace all of their top statistical leaders offensively, including the ever-important quarterback.

"We are going to be a little bit of a work in progress on the offensive side of it," Solich said. "The really good thing about it is we are talented. We are going to be playing with young players across the board."

Tyler Tettleton is no longer with the program, which means Ohio has a big challenge ahead in replacing its starting signal caller. Tettleton had a big year under center for the Bobcats in 2013, throwing for 2,851 yards and 21 touchdowns. Derrius Vick saw some time at QB last year, but only threw for 277 yards and a touchdown. He's in line to be the starter unless he's beaten out for the job.

Both Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin are gone, which means 12 combined rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 yards on the ground goes with them. Daz'mond Patterson is the leading returner after gaining 222 yards and scoring twice, but freshman Maleek Irons is expected to carry a heavy load in the backfield as well.

Receiver Chase Cochran is the only returning starter at a skill position after catching 37 balls last year for 689 yards and four touchdowns. He'll try to replace Donte Foster at the top of the receiving chart after Foster racked up 1,018 receiving yards and seven scores in 2013.

DEFENSE: The defense, unlike the offense in 2014, gets a sturdy number of players back from the previous campaign. Eight starters are coming back for another go-around at the MAC title, but will the defense be enough to compensate for an inexperienced offense?

Four of the team's top five tacklers from a year ago return, including middle linebacker Ben Russell, who topped the Bobcats in 2013 with 88 stops, and added 5.5 tackles for loss to his resume. Russell is joined by Nathan Carpenter, who started alongside Russell in the middle of the defense.

Perhaps the strong point for Ohio on defense will be on the line up front. Senior Antwan Crutcher, who is a beast of a nose tackle at 6-foot-2, 304 pounds, returns to anchor the defensive line, which is extremely young. The veteran tackle registered 50 stops last season and added 4.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry to his stat line. He's a force in the run stopping game.

Strong safety Josh Kristoff is the go-to man in the defensive backfield. The senior returns after finishing second on the team in tackles (72) a year ago. He also recorded five pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for loss. Free safety Thad Ingol intercepted three passes in 2013, which is the most for a returning player. The defense will look to help out its offense by lowering the 27.5 ppg it surrendered to opponents last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior Josiah Yazdani returns to bolster the place kicking duties. Yazdani was nearly perfect last season, connecting on 14-of-15 field goal attempts with a long of 49 yards. He was a perfect 8-of-8 from 20-29 yards.

Juco transfer Mitch Bonnstetter will likely take over the punting job from Grant Venham, who is not on the roster entering the season. Venham punted 50 times for an average of 37.8 yards, with a long of 59.

OUTLOOK: On paper, losing key starters at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions can be deadly. But for Ohio, a strong offensive line and an experienced defense may be all the team needs on which to build.

The team doesn't have a particularly tough non-conference schedule, with FBS programs Kentucky, Marshall and Idaho on the ledger in weeks two through four. The Bobcats then host FCS competition Eastern Illinois before launching into the MAC schedule full-time. Contests against Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Buffalo and Northern Illinois will be tough, but those teams pride themselves on a strong offense, while Ohio's strength is defense.

In 2013, Ohio averaged 27.4 ppg. That number is bound to go down, at least at the start of the season when players are getting acclimated to their starting roles. The Bobcats will likely end up with a record somewhere around .500 once again, and don't count this team out on a sixth-straight bowl game appearance. This team could surprise many once things get underway.

"It's an exciting time for us," Solich said. "I like our players' attitude. I like what they did from winter conditioning, actually from the moment the season got over with. A lot of them, the leaders on the football team, came to me and had some ideas, and they wanted to get things done at a very high level."