OXFORD, Ohio – The last two weeks have been quite a time in the town of Athens, Ohio — a presidential campaign visit that brought national attention, a move into the Top 25 college football poll that gained more notice.
It's been a long time since Ohio University had such a spotlight. And it's time for the Bobcats to see how their hometown excitement plays on the road.
No. 23 Ohio (7-0, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) moved into the Top 25 on Oct. 14, its first national football ranking since it finished the 1968 season at No. 20. The Bobcats followed their ascendance in the polls with a bye week that included President Barack Obama's visit to the southeast Ohio campus.
The attention could end abruptly on Saturday, when they visit rival Miami University (3-4, 2-1) in the southwest corner of the state with everything on the line.
"We are appreciative of where we're at," coach Frank Solich said. "But we also know how we've gotten there. We've gotten there by not getting excited about things.
"But I think it's obvious when your program gets highlighted the way it is highlighted, the players, coaches and fans do take some pride in that fact. With that said, they want to continue to play well and continue to be recognized. The challenge will be there with Miami."
It's been one of the MAC's edgiest rivalries for decades. Miami has the overall lead, 51-35-2, and more historical prominence as the "Cradle of Coaches." Ohio has taken control of the rivalry lately, winning the last six games, including three in a row in Oxford.
Not since 2003, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the RedHawks deep into the national rankings, has one of these rivalry games had so much at stake for either of them. This time, it's the RedHawks looking to get notice for knocking off a ranked rival.
Ohio's success has brought more attention not only to the rivalry but to the conference as well.
"I think that's tremendous for our conference," Miami coach Don Treadwell said. "What they're getting now is deserving, and it helps all of us."
A win in Oxford would take the Bobcats to some very unaccustomed places. Ohio is trying to go 8-0 for the first time since 1968 and only the sixth time in school history. The Bobcats have won eight in a row since the final game of last season, tied for fourth-longest winning streak in school history.
Their offense gets most of the attention. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton has run a balanced offense flawlessly, throwing only one interception with 12 touchdown passes. He's already the school's career leader with 40 career touchdown passes. Last year, he threw for three touchdowns and accounted for 314 yards overall in Ohio's 21-14 win over Miami in Athens.
Tettleton also is a threat to run, which puts a lot of stress on defenses.
"I don't think you can stifle anything," Treadwell said. "They do so many things so well. They have one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in our conference with Tettleton. It's not one thing you take away and hope for the best. He can do both. He's just dangerous. He knows how to win. He's the catalyst for what they do offensively."
He's half of a dangerous duo. Junior running back Beau Blankenship has topped 100 yards in six of the seven games this season and ranks third nationally at 135.8 per game. He ran for 269 yards in a win at Massachusetts on Sept. 29, the third-highest total in school history. The Bobcats have run for 200 yards in three of their wins this season.
They'll be facing one of the nation's worst defenses. The RedHawks are giving up an average of 37.6 points per game, having allowed 56, 39, 49, 52 and 37 points. They've given up an average of 500 yards per game, ranking 115th nationally.
The RedHawks held down Ohio in their game last year and will be inspired to do it again.
"Last year was a great ballgame, where we hung on to win at the end," Solich said. "I think it will be similar to that."
In order to keep it close, the RedHawks also will need a better performance from senior quarterback Zac Dysert. The RedHawks have the MAC's second-ranked passing attack, but haven't scored a lot of points lately because of turnovers. They're coming off a 52-14 loss at Cincinnati and a 37-12 loss at Bowling Green that included five Dysert interceptions, his worst two-game stretch since 2010.
If Dysert gets going, there could be another close finish.
"I see them as a team that's capable of putting it all together," Solich said. "I see signs of them doing that."
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