Philadelphia, PA – 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Ohio was on track to be a BCS buster in 2012 after it won its first seven games with impressive road victories at Penn State and Marshall highlighting the early season run. Partly due to injuries making the Bobcats very thin, coach Frank Solich's squad could not sustain its initial momentum and lost four of its final five games. The team failed to return to Detroit for the MAC Championship game, but it did manage to earn a bowl invitation for the fourth consecutive year.
The Bobcats also took down New Mexico State (51-24), Norfolk State (27-24), Massachusetts (37-34), Buffalo (38-31) and Akron (34-28) during their impressive start. The chase for perfection ended with a 23-20 loss at Miami- Ohio. Although Ohio looked to have cured its problems the next week while completing a 45-14 rout of Eastern Michigan, it suffered three straight losses to Bowling Green (26-14), Ball State (52-27) and Kent State (28-6) to conclude the regular season.
Solich improved to 4-6 in bowl games as he guided Ohio to an easy, 45-14 decision over ULM in the Independence Bowl.
"We were a beat down football team toward the end of the season," said Solich. "We had our share of injuries and we had four games in 19 days in November, so it all kind of hit us. The preparation for the bowl game, there was enough time in there for our guys and I think they really got refreshed. We seemed to be hitting on all cylinders when we won the game."
The Bobcats have secured a bowl game win in each of their past two seasons but still seek their first conference title since 1968. Solich has a 117-63 overall record including his tenure from 1998-2003 at Nebraska. He led the Cornhuskers to the 1999 Big 12 title and was also the MAC Coach of the Year in 2006.
OFFENSE: Even though they dealt with injuries to key players at basically every position, the Bobcats still produced 31.7 points per game and ranked 33rd in the FBS with an average of 444.8 yards of total offense per outing. Solich had great balance on the offensive side of the ball thanks to his standout quarterback and tailback.
Senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton has stood out as a leader at Ohio since he became the starter prior to the 2011 campaign. As a sophomore, he threw for 3,306 yards with 28 touchdowns against 10 interceptions and took the Bobcats to within a field goal of winning the MAC Championship. His overall production was not as great due to the fact he missed one game with an abdominal injury and attempted 46 less passes. Tettleton did cut down on his mistakes (18 TDs to four INTs) in 2012 while increasing his career rushing numbers (886 yards, 15 TDs).
Senior tailback Beau Blankenship stole the show in Athens last season, ranking 10th in the FBS and third in the MAC in rushing with 1,604 yards and 15 touchdowns on 312 carries. Blankenship gained some steam near the conclusion of the regular season with 306 yards and 3 TDs on 50 carries over a two-game span against Ball State and Kent State, both of which participated in the postseason. Senior Ryan Boykin also got a chance to shine when Blankenship was limited with injuries. He gained 445 yards on 74 carries for the season and delivered a breakout performance versus EMU with 128 yards and two total touchdowns.
The receiving corps has a few quality options with senior Donte Foster highlighting the group. Foster returns after pacing the squad with 4.9 catches and 54.9 yards per game last year. Junior Chase Cochran will be expected to take on a bigger role after reeling in 22 catches for 377 yards and four scores in 2012.
The bright side of all of the injuries last season is that a handful of offensive linemen gained valuable experience. The Bobcats are very strong on both edges with senior tackles John Prior (6-6, 303) and Ryan McGrath (6-6, 298) back as starters.
DEFENSE: Ohio had the fourth best defensive unit statistically in 2012 with allowed averages of 388.4 yards of total offense and 24.8 points per game. It was very sporadic throughout the course of the year as it had some surprisingly poor showings against the weaker offenses of Massachusetts, Buffalo and Ball State to go along with stifling displays against Penn State, Bowling Green and Kent State.
Linebacker Keith Moore was the heart and soul of the defense last season with a team-best 98 total tackles, which is 28 more than anyone else on the roster registered. He will have just as much pressure on him to perform in his final tour of the MAC being one of just two returning starters on the defense.
The front four is going through a transitional phase which will force Solich to rely on a deep group of newcomers. Tony Porter (6-1, 307) and Tarell Basham (6-4, 250) could both see action as true freshmen due to the lack of depth on the line.
The secondary will be a little more consistent. Senior cornerback Travis Carrie is ready to return after missing all of last season due to injury. Carrie led the team with four interceptions in 2011. Jamil Shaw is expected to start at the other corner after missing all of 2012 after suffering a season- ending injury in the opener at Penn State. Junior strong safety Josh Kristoff is the second-leading tackler (60 total) among returners.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Oklahoma State transfer Matt Green will take over the place kicking duties for the graduated Second-Team All-MAC selection Matt Weller. Green has a strong enough leg to handle the kickoff duties as well as attempt field goals from over 40 yards away. Grant Venham showed promise last season as a freshman while starting at punter.
The return game is going to be given a boost by Carrie's return. He averaged 12.5 yards per punt return and took one back to the house in 2011. Sophomore running back Daz'mond Patterson led the squad last year with 582 kick return yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts.
OUTLOOK: Ohio has a slim chance of jumping out of the gate the way it did last season due to its difficult road opener at Louisville. It has a very manageable schedule the rest of the way though, and the Bobcats are poised at making a run at the league title.
"It is always the goal to win every game and get to the MAC Championship," said Blankenship. "I feel like we would be disappointed if we didn't get there. It's a long season, but that is definitely the end result we want."
After visiting the Cardinals for their opener, the Bobcats play three in a row at Peden Stadium against North Teas, Marshall and Austin Peay. They then begin their quest for Detroit at Akron. The rest of Ohio's list of MAC opponents consists of Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Miami-Ohio, Buffalo, Bowling Green, Kent State and UMass. Solich's unit is picked to win the East Division and will have no excuse not to as it avoids playing Northern Illinois, Ball State and Toledo during the regular season.
A 10-win year with a MAC Championship is certainly within reach for Tettleton and company. The new personnel on the defensive side of the ball need to mesh together quickly and with all the turnover, any injuries could be devastating. Ohio's all-conference caliber positional players on the offensive side of the ball should make it a very tough matchup each and every Saturday.