A Tough Test Coming in Athens
(This is the fourth in a series previewing Louisiana's 2019 opponents. Today: Ohio. The Cajuns visit Athens on September 21. Thanks to Phil Steele's College football preview for the numbers).
In his 14 years as head coach at Ohio, Frank Solich has led the Bobcats to ten bowl games. He's now the longest tenured coach in the Group of Five and also the oldest head coach in the FBS, turning 75 on September 8th. He doesn't show any signs of slowing down. And, in year 15, Solich might have his best team yet.
Every year it seems, we look at the number of starters returning and think the Bobcats might step back a bit. But that rarely happens. And, despite losing double digit starters, Ohio is picked to win the MAC title. And, believe it or not, it would be their first league championship in 50 years.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke will lead the offense. He threw for 2,434 yards and 23 scores a year ago with eight interceptions. He also rushed for 860 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. Ohio will have a new bevy of running backs, with Julian Ross the only experienced running back (he redshirted in 2018 but had 250 yards rushing in 2017. There will be some youth at wide receiver as well but Ohio returns three of their top six receivers.
Defensively Ohio is always good. They gave up an average 24.6 points per game a year ago and they're expected to be stingy again this year. They shut out San Diego State in the Frisco Bowl a year ago to finish 9-4. Their linebackers will be the strength of their defense.
Ohio's special teams are among the nation's best. Senior kicker Louis Zervos, who has kicked 57 field goals in his career. Punter Michael Farkas was a first team all-MAC selection last year with a net of 39.8 ypg.
SCHEDULE: Ohio will play all four of their non conference games before entering league play. They get FCS Rhode Island at home and travel to Pitt and Marshall before hosting the Cajuns at Peden Stadium. They play Western Michigan and Northern Illinois from the West Division, but avoid Toledo.
OUTLOOK: It's really hard to believe 1968 was the last time Ohio won a MAC championship. Solich has been the model of consistency in his tenure with the Bobcats and has already beaten the Cajuns twice (2007, 2010). Rourke might be the best quarterback the Cajuns will face this year. It's not out of the realm of possibility the Cajuns can win this game, but they'd better play really well. This is a good football team.