Photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Bobcats might have had the most exciting season of any team in college football as they participated in eight games decided by one touchdown or less on their way to a 10-4 overall record and a Mid-American Conference East Division title.
Frank Solich took a different approach to his seventh season as the team's coach and instilled a fast paced, no-huddle offense. Initially the changes yielded positive results as Ohio appeared dominant while defeating New Mexico State (44-24), Gardner-Webb (30-3), and Marshall (44-7) in its first three games. The Bobcats were not able to find the same success in their final non- conference game and lost to Rutgers (38-26) on the road.
Ohio kicked off its MAC season with a triumph over Kent State (17-10), but hard-fought losses to Buffalo (38-37) and Ball State (23-20) followed. Solich's team then reeled off five straight victories, including a crucial win over Temple (35-31), to finish the regular season at the top of the East Division's standings.
The Bobcats held a 20-point lead at halftime in their MAC Championship game versus Northern Illinois. Chandler Harnish and the Huskies charged all the way back and NIU's PK Mathew Sims put his team up, 23-20, with a game-winning 33- yard field goal on the last play.
Ohio rebounded from its conference championship game by defeating Utah State, 24-23, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl for the program's first-ever bowl win.
OFFENSE: Ohio set single-season school records for points (427) and yards (449.3 per game) under the hurry-up offense, but it lost momentum down the stretch. A league-best six Bobcats were named to the MAC's All-League team on the offensive side of the ball. Junior QB Tyler Tettleton performed remarkably well in his first year as a starter and finished the season with 3,306 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. He also dashed for 666 yards and 10 TDs on the ground.
LaVon Brazill and Riley Dunlop's departures leave Tettleton with the task of finding new favorite targets. Donte Foster (352 yards, 5 TDs) had the most productive season in 2011 of all the returners. Tyler Futrell and Mario Dovell are expected to expand their roles as well. True freshman Chris Murray has the talent and ability to develop into a go-to-guy as he gains experience.
The rushing attack that finished 23rd in the nation (200.3 yards per game) graduated its primary tailback, Donte Harden. Beau Blankenship is the leading candidate to take over as the workhorse, but Ryan Boykin should get plenty of opportunities as well. Both tailbacks should thrive behind OU's big and experienced offensive line, led by left tackle John Prior (6-6, 301).
DEFENSE: Ohio had the best scoring defense (22.1) in 2011 of any team returning to the MAC this season. Linebacker Noah Keller, who was the heart and sole of the team, will not be easy to replace. Keith Moore (6-0, 219), who showed promise with seven tackles in the bowl game, will take over Keller's position. Defensive ends Tremayne Scott (eight TFLs, 3.5 sacks) and Corey Hasting (48 tackles, 3.5 sacks) will be the toughest players to block on the deep, experienced defensive line.
Cornerback Travis Carrie (6-0, 212) returns for his senior season after earning a Second-Team All-MAC selection in 2011 with a league-best 17 passes defended. He also tied for the conference-high with four interceptions. Free safety Gerald Moore (84 tackles, two INTs) was second on the team in tackles last season. Moore has shown he has the ability to make game-breaking plays in the past, and he may need to do so more this year without Keller.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Matt Weller set the school single-season scoring record with 123 points while making 25-of-34 field goal attempts and 48-of-49 extra point tries. He enters his senior year just 12 points away from the program's record for most career points. Redshirt freshman Grant Venham is the leading candidate to assume the punting duties.
OUTLOOK: Ohio has won more games than any other MAC school in the past six seasons. The one thing missing that would validate Ohio as a mid-major standout is a MAC title. The Bobcats have not won a league title since 1968 and come into this season hungrier than ever after letting one slip through their fingers last year.
Ohio will be in the national spotlight in its opener as it travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in the first game of the Bill O'Brien era. The Bobcats will host New Mexico State for the home opener. Ohio will face former MAC-rival Marshall on the road again as part of its non-conference slate.
Ohio avoids Toledo, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois this season. Of the Bobcats' four conference road games, three are versus opponents that finished .500 or worse in the league last season, and the other scheduled away game is the newest addition to the MAC, Massachusetts.
"If you don't play your best football week after week in the MAC you don't win football games whether you are favored or not," said Solich. "They are going to make it challenging on us, but we are going to make it extremely challenging for the other teams in the MAC too. I think it will be a very competitive year."
Solich and his staff have clearly developed Ohio's program into a gem. The Bobcats' favorable schedule should lead to a return to Detroit for the MAC Championship game. Ohio is a complete team, but it will need to replace its stars from last season to end its 44-year stretch without a conference championship.