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College Football Week #13: Ohio Revisited
For the first time this season I return to the well that has dried up.
Back in Week 10, I took Frank Solich from the Ohio University Bobcats, giving 6.5 points to Eastern Michigan. Alas, Ohio won 16-10. And I said: argh.
But I still love the story in Athens. The Bobcats just won the MAC East and will play Central Michigan for the overall MAC title next week. Just winning their division gave Ohio its first football title of any kind since 1968. All those people who thought the University of Nebraska were morons for ditching Solich after a few pretty successful years can feel smart; in just his second season at the helm of the Bobcats, Solich has taken this program to heights that even Jim Grove (currently winning raves as Wake Forest’s main man) didn’t reach here in the late 1990s.
All the Bobcats have left before the title game is some unfinished business with their previous rivals, Miami of Ohio.
This hasn’t been much of a rivalry lately. The RedHawks have won six straight over the Bobcats, and 11 of 12. But this season, the tables have turned. Miami (OH), a perennial MAC powerhouse for the past decade and former home of Ben Roethlisberger, has endured a slew of injuries and will post its first losing season since 1994: 2-9 overall and 2-5 in the MAC. Meanwhile, Ohio is 8-3 overall and 6-1 in the conference, their first winning season since 2000. The Bobcats are the superior team, but the question is: With nothing but pride to play for, will Ohio rest its best players just six days away from the MAC title?
Solich says no. He and the Bobcats want to win this game badly. Star running back Kelvin McCray is riding a six-game streak of 100+ rushing yards, and he’s looking to keep it going. Ohio also has a four-game hitting streak allowing opponents 10 points or less, and a six-game winning streak overall. And most importantly, there’s the fact that this is a game against Miami, a school that has absolutely waxed the Bobcats over the past decade. Check out the last five scores: 38-7 (2005), 40-20 (2004), 49-31 (2003), 38-20 (2002), 36-24 (2001). If this is truly going to be a dream season in Athens, Ohio University needs to beat Miami of Ohio, and beat it hard.
Even better, Ohio’s strength, running the ball, matches up perfectly with Miami’s biggest weakness. The Bobcats are averaging 148 yards rushing per game; The RedHawks are allowing 162 per game. What Miami did best was stop the pass, but you won’t see Ohio try to pass more than, say, 15 or 20 times all game. And while Miami is an extremely good offense (35 attempts per game), the Bobcats have allowed just 160 passing yards per game, second best in the MAC and 12th best in the nation. Solih’s team dominates the time of possession with its running game, rarely throws to the running backs, lets the quarterback (Austin Everson) run with impunity, and won’t blow anyone out of the water. But the defense has been extremely stout (especially against the pass), and during the team’s six-game winning streak, only the Big Ten’s Illinois has outscored them. Meanwhile, Miami is remarkably broken, especially on its offensive line: Charlie Norden and Matt McCown are out for the year, leading to Miami allowing 46 sacks in 11 games.
The RedHawks aren’t as bad as their record. They took Purdue to overtime, let Western Michigan escape with a late field goal, and should have beaten Ball State but for a late drive and a one-yard TD pass as time expired. Their average margin of loss in their five MAC losses was under five points. But they’re also 4-10 against the spread in their last 14 as underdogs, 1-4 ATS in their last five home games, and 0-3 straight up (albeit by a combined seven points) in MAC home games this year. Meanwhile, Ohio State is 5-1 ATS in their last six overall, 5-2-1 ATS in games following an ATS win and 4-1 ATS in their last five conference games. In fact, as the momentum for Solich & Co. grew, the only ATS loss they had was, well, a half-point ATS loss in which I picked them right in this column.
Was it a freak coincidence, or did I curse them? We’ll find out, because I’m loving Ohio this week too. I certainly don’t expect a big win, because the Bobcats don’t do that. But I expect the unforeseen events in Ohio to make the three-hour trip from Athens to Oxford a good one, and I expect the Bobcats to be much more motivated than your average division entrant has already acquired. I think the line is a little low because people expect the Bobcats to rest for the MAC title, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Instead, Ohio grinds it out, takes a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, and stares the big bad RedHawks right in the face, and exorcizes a decade’s worth of demons. I’m taking Ohio (-3) at Miami (OH) to cover their run to the conference title.
Last week: Entering Saturday night’s contest in Cincinnati, the nation wondered if Rutgers could withstand the national scrutiny involved in possibly seeing the dominoes fall perfectly, and thus whether the Scarlet Knights were ready to contend with Ohio St. in the national title game. I guess we got the answer, huh? I jumped on the Rutgers train in a big way, then watched the Bearcats draft Ray Rice irrelevantly, and let Rutgers KB Mike Teel self-destruct. And is it ever. It’s rare for an undefeated team to collapse the way the Knights did last weekend, and I wasn’t the only moron who got beat with them in their ridiculous 30-11 loss as a 6.5 point favorite. As a result, we are 7-5 on the season.
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