ATHENS — It sounds as though Ohio coach Frank Solich snowballs the media at picture day every year when he talks glowingly about his team no matter how many players he lost from the previous season.
The Bobcats must find answers in replacing seven players on defense and old reliable Jake Pruehs at center, but Solich is bullish about his team going into the opener against Howard on Saturday at Peden Stadium.
“I like the makeup of our team, the athletes that we have and the energy they’ve shown, and that helps you win football games,” he said.
Solich said as much going into last season, the 2015 season and most of the seasons before that.
And who could blame him?
Ohio is coming off a season in which it finished 9-4 for its eighth winning season in the past nine and its third bowl victory ever, a 41-6 win over Alabama-Birmingham in the Bahamas Bowl.
The Bobcats are favorites for the Mid-American East and conference championship because of dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke, 1,000-yard rusher A.J. Ouellette, four veteran starters on the offensive line, secondary-stretching receivers Papi White and Andrew Meyer and a defense led by linebacker Evan Croutch and safety Kylen Nelson.
The kicking game should be among the best in the MAC with punter Michael Farkas and kicker Louie Zervos.
Associate head coach and offensive co-coordinator Tim Albin gushed talking about his side of the ball.
“This is the most experience we’ve had since 2013, and with that come high expectations. We’re going to try to exceed all those expectations,” Albin said. “The senior class wants to leave its mark.”
Roarke, a junior from Oakville, Ontario, gave the Bobcats what they had lacked since Tyler Tettleton took the offense to another level from 2011 to ’13, and that’s a durable quarterback capable of turning games on a single play. He threw for 2,203 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 912 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Ouellette, a former walk-on, came back from injuries his sophomore year to run for 1,006 yards and seven touchdowns in averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
The line features right tackle Austen Pleasants, right guard Hagen Meservy, left tackle Joe Lowry and left guard Joe Anderson. Sixth-year senior Durrell Wood of Groveport is back from injury. He has 24 career starts.
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Tim Burrow is upbeat despite the lack of returning players. The biggest losses were linebackers Quentin Poling and Chad Moore of Grove City and four linemen.
“The good news is we have a fair amount of talent coming back,” Burrow said. “The lack of experience is a factor going into the first games, but they can run and they can tackle.”
Candidates for the line are Kent Berger, Andrew Payne, Zach Burks and Antrez Baker. Berger and Payne played a lot last season.