Ohio thumped Southeastern Louisiana last weekend to start 3-0 for the first time since 2012, another hint that the Bobcats are on the rise again after two seasons of mediocrity. Those familiar with Frank Solich should not be surprised.
The former Nebraska coach, who will lead his Bobcats into TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, has turned previously ordinary Ohio into the best program in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division since his arrival in Athens, Ohio, in 2005. After Minnesota, the MAC schedule looms, making Saturday the Bobcats’ best chance to steal some national attention this season.
“It will definitely be a challenge,” Solich said. “I think our guys are anxious to meet that challenge.”
Ohio’s 3-0 start wasn’t built on an overly cushy schedule. The Bobcats won by 17 at Idaho in their opener, and followed that with a 21-10 victory against Marshall, a 13-game winner last season, before routing Southeastern Louisiana.
“You want to have momentum,” Solich said, “and right now we have some.”
The Gophers (2-1) have won two in a row, but momentum has been hard to come by. Their last game was a wobbly 10-7 victory over Kent State, a team that regularly finishes behind Ohio in the MAC standings. The Bobcats won’t be sneaking up on Gophers coach Jerry Kill.
“It’s a well-coached football team,” Kill said. “They do what they do well, and you can tell he’s got his mark on it.”
Solich’s run at Nebraska, where he succeeded the legendary Tom Osborne, did not end well. In six seasons, Solich coached in a national championship game, had three top-10 finishes, earned the Big 12 Coach of the Year honor twice and won a Big 12 championship. But after a nine-victory regular season in 2003, athletic director Steve Pederson fired Solich, memorably commenting: “I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity” in the news conference. Following Osborne, a Hall of Famer whose three national championships and 13 conference titles gave him pope-like status in Lincoln, proved to be a nearly impossible assignment.
Solich landed on his feet at Ohio. In his 10-plus seasons, he’s won 75 games, two bowl games and three MAC East titles, the first of which came in 2006 and gave the school its first football title of any sort since 1968.
This season, Ohio has put together an early campaign for resurgence, although the first major test of that will come Saturday. The Bobcats are fielding the top scoring defense in the MAC — they’ve allowed just 17.3 points per game — and boast the league’s No. 1 pass-efficiency ranking behind senior quarterback Derrius Vick, who put up his first career 300-yard game vs. the Lions last Saturday.
Solich, his two co-offensive coordinators and his defensive coordinator make up the only coach-coordinators team in college football that has stayed together at one school for the past 10 years. Ohio has its core coaches, their philosophies — and now it’s looking for its next signature victory.
“[Staff consistency] is huge in every aspect of the game,” Solich said. “You get on the merry-go-round of hiring and firing coaches, and trying to build a program is generally not going to get done that way. … I’ve felt very comfortable here, and I think our coaches feel very comfortable here.”