Frank Solich’s building of a legitimate football program at Ohio University continues, and last week’s news of the 2013 Bobcats’ season-opener at Louisville being moved to Sunday, Sept. 1 is another big step in the exposure department.
It’s a move made for television and specifically for gifted Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but the Bobcats are willing participants in the only college football game that afternoon and one of two that day.
“That’s huge,” said Solich, who’s entering his ninth season at Ohio and has won bowl games in back-to-back years, the first such wins in school history. “This past season we got to open up at Penn State with a national audience and that was obviously a big, big game for us. This (Louisville game) is an opportunity for us to show the Ohio program off nationally, but that’s been happening now for a few years. All the TV games we have late in the year have opened a door. We have to play on odd days sometimes but that’s life.”
Solich has given life to a program that never previously had much, at least not on any sustained basis. Ohio won 11 games, total, in the four seasons before he arrived. The Bobcats have now played in four straight bowl games and went 9-4 last season even after a November slide that coincided with a busy, TV-driven Mid-American Conference schedule and a rash of injuries.
Louisville is getting a prime television spot for this year’s opener because it’s coming off a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida. But if Ohio wasn’t expected to at least compete, this game would be buried among dozens of others on college football’s opening Saturday.
The Bobcats won last year’s opener at Penn State, 24-14, and started the season 7-0, earning the school’s first-ever top-25 ranking before losing at rival Miami (Ohio) in October.
“Obviously we’re not going to be favored at a Penn State or a Louisville or any other big-time BCS school early in the year, and that’s fine,” Solich said. “We’ve found a way to compete in those games in the past and we’re going to have to be as good as ever to meet the challenge in Louisville. I think some people feel that’s a top-five or top-10 team with a quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who’s going to get Heisman Trophy mentions.
“He looked great in the Sugar Bowl, I know that. His next game is against us, so we have to rise to the challenge. Hopefully, we’ll play really well.”
Ohio has a gifted quarterback of its own in Tyler Tettleton, who broke most of the school’s passing records midway through his junior season last fall. He’s the headliner of a senior class that’s used to the spotlight, at least relatively speaking. Senior cornerback Travis Carrie was lost for the season last August but got an NCAA waiver to retain his final year of eligibility and should be one of the MAC’s top players.
“We had a fair number of season-ending injuries last year and a lot of those guys didn’t make it back for spring,” Solich said. “The silver lining in that cloud is that even though we were down in numbers, those young guys got more reps and if we need them, hopefully they’ll be ready. We have to develop some depth, especially on both lines.”
The Bobcats follow the Louisville trip with three straight non-conference home games, a rarity at the MAC level. The exposure will return — and grow — with wins, and with Solich on the sideline and Tettleton under center Ohio was an easy choice for three straight Tuesday games in November as part of the MAC’s television deal.
If you build it, and Solich has, people will watch.
“We have 250,000 alumni around the country and when they can be engaged with Ohio athletics, that’s a good thing,” Solich said. “We see positives from the exposure. We get e-mails and calls and alumni who want to come by the stadium and visit who maybe have never done that before. There’s a lot of pride, a lot of positive energy.”
An indoor practice facility has been in the works and is set for groundbreaking as soon as the proper paperwork passes through the proper channels. Renovations of the locker room done through a long-term fundraising campaign might be done before summer training camp opens, too.
There’s a buzz for Ohio football; there might even be a new standard, too. A conference championship awaits as the ultimate, still-unachieved goal; another chance to play David to Louisville’s Goliath in the opener is a good place to start.
“We have expectations,” Solich said. “Our kids believe they can play with the big boys, so to speak, and we encourage them to work like they want to prove it.”