Philadelphia, PA – With the first half of the 2012 season in the books, there are a dozen undefeated teams left in the FBS, and three of them reside in the state of Ohio.
Few are surprised to see Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes with nary a blemish on their record, and for that matter, taking a look at Cincinnati's early schedule reveals few pitfalls, even its matchup with perennial ACC power Virginia Tech resulting in victory.
That leaves the Ohio University Bobcats, who have won their first seven games for the first time since 1968, and check in this week as the 25th-ranked team in the nation -- their first national ranking since the '68 squad went 10-0 en route to its fifth Mid-American Conference championship. Unfortunately, that was Ohio's last conference crown as several decades of futility followed.
Ohio played its first football game in 1894, and since that time the Bobcats have posted a record of 522-523-48. They have a total of five MAC titles to their credit, all of which came between 1953-68, and they have appeared in six bowl games. Ohio's foray into the postseason proved fruitless in its first five attempts, the team finally breaking through last year with a 24-23 win over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Frank Solich has been Ohio's head coach since 2005, amassing a 57-40 record and leading the Bobcats to three nine-win campaigns, three MAC East Division titles and four bowl games. To put that in perspective, the team had only three nine-win campaigns and two bowl appearances in the 111 years prior to his arrival.
The Bobcats will enjoy a bye this Saturday, allowing Solich and his players some additional time to prepare for the rivalry game known as the "Battle of the Bricks" against Miami-Ohio on Oct. 27. Having a little time to reflect, the coach spoke about his team being among the nationally-ranked this week.
"I think it is great for the program. It gives us national recognition, which is always good for you. It is good for recruiting. It is good for the attitude of the players in our program right now. It is good for the attitude of the coaches. I think it is great for the fans. There are a lot of pluses with this ranking. I think the only drawback is that it paints a bigger target on your back, but that's something we are glad to accept - you want that. We just need to learn on how to respond to that."
Ohio has one of the top offenses in the MAC this season, the team averaging 36.4 and 448.1 yards per game. Balance has been the key, as the Bobcats run the ball for 217.3 ypg and throw it for 230.9 ypg, the latter resulting in 17 TDs (second-most in the league). Nothing works unless the guys up front are doing their job, and the OU offensive line has been superb in allowing a league-low five sacks.
Defensively, the team yields 23.6 ppg to rank third in the conference, and while the effort against the run has been solid (134.4 ypg), foes are picking up nearly 260 ypg the through the air. Ohio leads the league in turnover margin (+15).
The Bobcats boast the MAC's leading rusher in Beau Blankenship (951 yards), while quarterback Tyler Tettleton has 12 TD passes and only one interception, and as a result ranks fourth in the conference in passing efficiency (144.4).
The team's signature win was a 24-14 come-from-behind decision at Penn State in the season opener, and while knocking off the likes of New Mexico State, Marshall, Norfolk State, Massachusetts, Buffalo and Akron with their combined record of 7-31 heading into action this week isn't overly impressive, winning out against four teams that have more than twice as many wins (16) at present certainly would be.
Solich appreciates the effort put forth by his players and coaching staff to this point, and while they have had some time off during the bye week, it's business as usual once again as they turn their attention to the RedHawks, who are among the MAC's most potent passing teams.
"I think it would be a mistake if we didn't give them a good amount of time off during this bye week. In saying that, you don't want to give the players too many obligations (in terms of football). What we are trying to accomplish is to have a practice to where we are working on things that are good to work on when you're in pads. Miami has been able to move the ball and put points up on the board. We'll work on our tackling and different things that we need to do better."
While recognizing the fact that being undefeated halfway into the season is a significant accomplishment, it's not like Ohio has beaten many quality opponents. The Bobcats will face much tougher tests down the stretch, and time will tell if they have what it takes to end the long drought for a conference championship.