‘Cats Hope Experience Lands Them MAC Title

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The Ohio Bobcats football team has never been better than it’s been in the past two seasons. But, despite all the recent success, entering the 2013 season there is still some unfinished business to attend to.

“They’ve done an awful lot, but there are a few things they feel they need to get accomplished,” head coach Frank Solich said about his team.

No. 1 on the list of goals is winning the ever elusive Mid-American Conference Championship.

“It’s our last year and we definitely want to get it done,” said Ohio senior running back and team captain Beau Blankenship. “This is our last chance at it. So, I feel like we have to get it done. We have the pressure to do it, and I think we can if we stick to our game plan.”

The Bobcats were close to winning a MAC Championship in 2011. They led the Northern Illinois Huskies 20-0 at halftime, before falling 23-20 on a last-second field goal. Then in 2012, the ‘Cats were the heavy favorites to win the MAC East again, but after starting 7-0 they dropped four of their last five regular season games to slip to third in the division.  It left a bad taste in the team’s mouth, and sparked the new team motto: “Be relentless, finish strong, no regrets.” In 2013 Ohio is looking to live up to that motto.

“No regrets,” Blankenship said while explaining what the motto means to the team. “Just get it done and don’t look back. Don’t have any regrets … Get it done.”

Picked to win the MAC East this year by the media for a second straight year, the Bobcats have the pieces to possibly win the team’s first MAC Championship since 1968. The trio of offensive seniors from Oklahoma, quarterback Tyler Tettleton, wide receiver Donte Foster, and Blankenship, are all back. The team also seems to have taken a negative from 2012, and used it as a building block for success this season.

Ohio was plagued by injuries this past season, with more than a dozen key players going down for the year. That forced several younger players into starting positions, especially on defense. But, from those injuries, the Bobcats have built up a wealth of experience. Last season’s weakest position, cornerback (due to the loss of both starters for the season by Week 1) is now arguably the strongest. Five returning players, including seniors Travis Carrie and Jamil Shaw who both missed 2012 due to injuries, have all started multiple games at cornerback. It is experience like that which will be valuable for Ohio this season.

 “I think we’re much more prepared than last season,” senior safety Josh Kristoff said of the benefit from last year’s injuries. “I think it comes back to the experience part. We’re all on the same page now. We all know what to do, where everybody is going to be at, and what time.”

But experience alone won’t be enough to propel the ‘Cats to new heights in 2013. The team will have to remain healthy and play smart to successfully navigate a schedule featuring some dangerous matchups. Ohio opens its season against the No. 9 team in the nation, the Louisville Cardinals, on the road.

“They are a tremendous football team. They might be the best football team we have played in our time here. And we’ve played some pretty good football teams,” Solich said. But he also said he believes his team can compete with anyone, and if Ohio can get by Louisville unscathed the Bobcats will have more opportunities to prove that once the conference season begins.

But for right now, the team seems fully dialed in on the bigger goal by taking it one step at a time. Currently, all focus is on Louisville. The ‘Cats seem ready for the fight.

“We respect them,” said junior nose tackle Antwan Cructher. “But we’re going to make them respect us.”

Blankenship shares his teammate’s confidence and focus. “We have the confidence to win. We just have to go in, play our game,” he said. “We just have to go in there with the mindset that we can do it.”

The mindset enshrined in the motto: Be relentless, finish strong, no regrets.

Ohio’s season opens Sunday, Sept. 1 at Louisville. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN at 3:30 p.m.