Updated Thu, Jan 2, 2014 6:33 pm
As the seconds ticked away from the Ohio Bobcats in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl on Dec. 23, the careers of 19 members of Ohio’s winningest senior class reached their conclusions. With the era officially at an end, some fans, students and others around the Bobcat football program have begun to question what the lasting legacy of this senior class will be: a positive or negative one.
After a march to the Mid-American Conference Championship game and the program’s first ever bowl win in 2011, the Ohio Bobcats were heralded as the next Bowl Championship Series buster. Since the large expectations arose, the Bobcats have fallen short, wasting strong starts in 2012 and 2013 with dramatic collapses on the homestretch to lose their way out of more MAC Championship appearances.
The recent Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl performance can even be used as a snapshot of the tenure of the senior class. The Bobcats came out showing fight, surprising many with their ability to hang with the powerful East Carolina offense. But after a missed field goal near the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Bobcats crumbled, allowing the Pirates to score 20 unanswered points to run away with the victory.
The Bobcats showed potential and fight for three quarters, but crumbled on the homestretch when faced with adversity, similar to the story of the past two Ohio football seasons.
Fans have been left with a bad taste in their mouths and many pointed to the successful sophomore season that raised expectations that simply were never met. While some are frustrated, others argue that while Bobcats have fallen off track the last two seasons, their résumés still feature accomplishments that no other Ohio senior class can boast.
“What we’ve been able to do here is what nobody else has done,” redshirt senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton said. “If you look around and see everything that’s going up here, it’s because of us and because of this coaching staff.”
Tettleton arrived in Athens with the rest of his senior classmates when the Ohio football program was far off the national radar. From 1983 to Tettleton’s arrival in 2008, the Bobcats averaged just 3.5 wins per year with 92 total victories. During the quarterback’s five-year tenure, Ohio has accumulated 43 total wins, averaging 8.6 wins per year and has appeared in five-consecutive bowl games.
With this type of résumé, Tettleton and a number of other players and fans argue that Bobcat fans should be thankful for how greatly the senior class advanced the Ohio program. Fans might still be thankful for their contributions, but some are still left wondering what could have been if the Bobcats didn’t collapse on the homestretch.
Over the first seven games of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the Bobcats compiled a strong 12-2 combined record. In the final stretch of games, however, the ‘Cats achieved just a 5-7 combined record, falling out of contention for a conference title in both years.
Most recently, when the Bobcats controlled their own destiny to reach the MAC Championship at the beginning of November 2013, blowout losses against the Buffalo Bulls, Bowling Green Falcons, and Kent State Golden Flashes ruined their title chances and left a bad taste in the mouths of many Bobcat fans.
Senior linebacker Keith Moore recognizes that the collapses might have had an impact and thinks that it is upsetting to think about their legacy being tarnished. Moore said that while he believes that the recent skid should not affect the class’ legacy, it in fact might have already made its impact and that it is “scary to think about.”
Fellow teammate Daz’mond Patterson also voiced his concern. Patterson, a sophomore running back, said that he has learned a lot from senior running backs Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin, but his lasting memory of the seniors might be skewed as well.
“Unfortunately, I’ll think about the way we finished,” Patterson said. “It’ll be hard not to think about how we sloped off at the end of this season.”
Just 12 days before a loss to the Miami RedHawks that sent the 2012 season spiraling out of control, Sports Illustrated published an article titled “Solich’s School For Boise,” a piece about how head coach Frank Solich has rebuilt a “once-hapless Ohio into an unbeaten team that’s poised to become the next great BCS buster.” The article depicts a scene where the Bobcats are tied with the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game when Tettleton finds receiver Landon Smith in the end zone to steal the trophy from a perennial national powerhouse.
Since the Sports Illustrated article surfaced in 2012, the Bobcats have mounted just an 9-10 record, leaving many to question whether the expectations the national college football audience aided to the crumbling of a class that appeared to be the ones to lead Ohio to national prominence.
No matter what ignited the collapse, the era is now over and the debate over the legacy of the class will continue in Athens for years to come.
Many around the program have doubts, but there is no doubt in the mind of Frank Solich of the impact that the senior class has made on the Bobcat program and Ohio University as a whole. Besides countless appearances in the Ohio and MAC record books, Bobcat fans can look no further than the construction of a new athletic field house and the decision to sell the naming rights to Peden Stadium as a reminder of the impact that the 19 seniors have made.
“They’ve been a great group to work with and they’ve done an awful lot for Ohio,” Solich said. “I feel like I kind of grew up with them here and there’s a togetherness here with our staff and those players that is very meaningful.”