Tuesday unofficially marked the beginning of 2013 athletic year in the Mid-American Conference. The first event: The annual football Media Day. Head coaches and top players from each of the conference’s 13 schools flocked to Detroit to discuss the upcoming season with media members from outlets around the country.
The MAC preseason poll was released Tuesday, and for the second consecutive year, Ohio was picked as the top team in Eastern Division. Members of the media put the Bobcats ahead of Bowling Green and 2012 Eastern Division champion Kent State.
Ohio head coach Frank Solich knows that it will be no easy feat to capture a second division title in three years.
“There’s more talent in the MAC conference now than there’s ever been,” he said.
Last season, the MAC sent seven teams to bowl games, and the conference earned its first-ever BCS bid.
New faces in the Front Seven
Ohio may be the preseason favorites, but they will need to find a way to restock their linebacking corps after starters Jelani Woseley, and Alphonso Lewis graduated. Both outside linebacker positions remain open heading into training camp, and other than senior Keith Moore, the position remains as one of Ohio’s biggest question marks.
However, Solich sees potential in the young linebackers. “We have a number of guys who are competing,” he says. “It will probably be the fastest group of linebackers we’ve ever had. I ‘m excited about this group.” Solich was hesitant to give specific names, but expressed that he was encouraged by what he has seen so far from linebacking corp.
The defensive line also saw major turnover after all four of the Bobcats starting defensive linemen graduated. Solich will look to Antwan Crutcher to be the leader of the unit of yet another young group of players.
Though many see Ohio’s front seven as the team’s biggest weakness, Solich thinks that the unit could evolve into one of the team’s strengths.
“The past recruiting class and the freshman that are on campus right now may be two of the best classes that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” he says.
The Herman effect
Eric Herman may no longer be listed on the official roster, but his impact is still being felt inside Peden Stadium. After being drafted in the seventh round by the New York Giants, Herman has given the program an invaluable gift: exposure. As the fourth Bobcat drafted in the last five seasons, Solich now has another weapon in his recruiting arsenal.
“Most players that I know want a chance at the next level,” he says. “We’re able to get players that chance.”
Even though the Bobcats lost one of their leaders and have experienced some turnover, senior running back Beau Blankenship is looking forward to running behind a new group.
“I got a good feel for it in the spring,” he said. “I know (offensive line) coach (Keven) Lightner will have them ready to go. I have full faith in them.”
It’s safe to say that senior wide receiver Donte Foster will be the leader of receiving corps. The senior caught 59 passes a year ago, eight of them for touchdowns. But because Ohio’s team strength falls on the skill positions, Foster will have plenty of help next season.
Ohio will return the majority of its receivers from a season ago, including Chase Cochran and Matt Waters. The trio combined for nearly 100 catches a season ago.
“You can’t have enough (receivers), especially when you run a fast-paced offense,” says Solich.
The Bobcats also welcome the return of senior Mario Dovell. He caught nine passes in Ohio’s victory over Penn State in week one, but suffered a leg injury that kept him sidelined the rest of the season.
“He feels really good about where he’s at right now,” said Solich on Dovell’s rehab.
“He’s a great physical receiver. He’ll be a huge impact for this team,” says Foster.
Tuesday night lights
Late season weekday night games are the norm in the MAC, as schools look to broadcast their games on a national stage. The Bobcats are slated to play three Tuesday night games against Eastern division foes. Last season, Ohio struggled in mid-week games and lost three straight. Solich doesn’t see that trend continuing and is much happier with the way this year’s schedule turned out.
“What I think is tough is what we faced last year. We played four games in 19 days,” he said. “This year, we’re fortune to have a schedule more in-tune with college football. We’ll have 6-7 days in between games. We won’t have the bunched-up games in a short period of time.”
Ohio will play on three straight Tuesdays in November: Nov. 5 in Buffalo, Nov. 12 in Bowling Green, and Nov. 19 at home against Kent State.
MAC Commissioner Updates
After arguably the most successful season in the history of the Mid-American Conference, commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher gave a “State of MAC” to begin the day. Highlights of his speech included:
-His thoughts on the new rules changes to protect head injuries. The new rule states that if a player “targets” another player’s head or neck area, he will be ejected from the game and must sit out at least another half of a game. “The hits we’re focusing on are where they come in high, and lead with a should or their head. Those are the ones we have to get out of there.”
-The MAC’s position on offering a larger stipend to players. “Personally, I’d like to explore some need-based models. I think we’ve recognized there’s an issue here. We have to quit kicking the can down the road.”
-The conference’s desire to add a 14th member: “Is 13 an intelligent number? Maybe. But we’ve made it work for at least seven years. I like our 13.”