In 2014, the Ohio Bobcats will be a team in transition. The Bobcats have gone to five straight bowl games under head coach Frank Solich, and they seem like a good bet to run that streak to six. But the Bobcats have a lot of talent to replace and simply attaining bowl eligibility may have to be enough for this season.
For Solich, getting the offense ready for the upcoming season could be a bit like constructing a brand new building where a cherished monument once stood. Not only do they have to build the offense entirely from scratch, they have to replace a couple long-time starters who helped guide Ohio to historic success.
The most pressing issue will be finding a replacement for quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Junior Derrius Vick has some experience and looks like the most likely heir to Tettleton’s job. Vick should give the Bobcats more production on the ground, but his ability as a passer is questionable. Sophomore JD Sprague is also in the mix for the starting job.
The Bobcats also have to replace workhorse running back Beau Blankenship. Daz Patterson will certainly get plenty of touches after averaging 5.4 yards per carry last season, but Ohio will most likely try to compliment him with another, larger running back.
The Bobcats also lost five of their top six receivers. Chase Cochran, who had nearly 700 receiving yards last season, returns, but that’s about it. They will most likely look to Cam Wilson, who transferred from the Iowa Hawkeyes, as a No. 2 receiving target.
To make matters worse, the offensive line is going to be far younger than any coach could really feel comfortable with. They have some experience, but the starting lineup will consist entirely of sophomores and juniors. And the offensive line was a weakness for Ohio last season. The more-experienced lineman will have to step up in a big way if this offense is going to get any traction.
On the other side, the defense actually returns quite a bit of experience. The Bobcats were very young on defense last season, and it showed. They gave up a lot of big plays and, naturally, a lot of total yardage, as well. But the experience they gained should mean an improved defense for Ohio this season.
The Bobcats did lose a couple starters in the secondary, but it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. They return three experienced seniors at safety, along with a talented junior corner in Devin Bass. Ohio also brings back the majority of their starters in the front seven, and have plenty of depth. If the secondary struggles early on, the Bobcat should at least be solid against the run.
One thing working in Ohio’s favor is the schedule. They will play tough road games against the Kentucky Wildcats and the Marshall Thundering Herd early in the season, and they will most likely be an underdog at home against the Northern Illinois Huskies later in the year. The rest of the schedule is very manageable. With home games scheduled against the Idaho Vandals, the Eastern Illinois Panthers and the Akron Zips, along with a road trip to play the Miami (Oh.) Redhawks, the Bobcats should be able to win at least four games.
Ohio may experience some growing pains, but a sixth-straight bowl game is a reasonable expectation. They may be on the road to becoming contenders in the MAC again, but the estimated time of arrival for that trip may not be earlier than the end of 2015.