College Football Week # 13: Ohio Revisited

For the first time this season, I'm returning to a well that ran dry.

Back in Week 10, I took Frank Solich's 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 over in Athens. The Bobcats just clinched the MAC East, and will play Central Michigan for the overall MAC title next week. Just winning their division gave Ohio their first football title of any kind since 1968. All those people who thought the University of Nebraska were morons for dropping Solich after some pretty successful years can feel smart; In just his second season at the Bobcats' helm, Solich has led this program to heights not even Jim Grobe (currently winning raves as Wake Forest's head man) reached here in the late 1990s.

All that's left for the Bobcats before the title game is some unfinished business with their archrivals, Miami of Ohio.

This has not been much of a rivalry of late. The RedHawks have won six straight over the Bobcats, and 11 out of 12. But this season, the tables have turned. Miami (OH), a perennial MAC powerhouse over the past decade and the former home of Ben Roethlisberger, has suffered a bevy of injuries, and will post its first losing season since 1994: they're 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 a 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 game?

Solich says no. He and the Bobcats want to win this game badly. Star running back Kelvin McRae has a six-game streak of 100+ yards rushing, and he wants it to continue. Ohio also has a four-game streak of preventing 10 points or fewer to opponents, and a six-game winning streak overall. And most importantly, there's the fact that this is a game against Miami, a school that's absolutely waxed the Bobcats over and 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 really is going to be a dream season in Athens, Ohio University has to beat Miami of Ohio, and beat them soundly.

Even better, Ohio's strength, running the ball, matches up perfectly with Miami's greatest fatigue. The Bobcats average 148 yards rushing per game; the RedHawks allow 162 a game. What Miami has done best is stop the pass, but you will not see Ohio try and throw more than, say, 15 or 20 times all game. And while Miami is an extremely pass-happy 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. Solich's team dominates time of possession with its running game, rarely throws to the wide receivers, lets the quarterback (Austen Everson) run with impunity, and is not going to blow anyone out of the water. But the defense has been extremely solid (especially against the pass), and over the team's six-game winning streak, only the Big Ten's Illinois has out-rushed them. Meanwhile, Miami is extraordinarily banned-up, especially on its offensive line: Charlie Norden and Matt McKeown are out for the year, which has led to Miami allowing 46 sacks in 11 games.

The RedHawks are not as bad as their record. They took Purdue to overtime, let Western Michigan get away on a late field goal, and should've 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 defeats has been below 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 home MAC games this year. Meanwhile, Ohio 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 got rolling for Solich & Co., the only ATS loss they had was, well, the half-point ATS loss in which I picked them up in this very column.

Was that freak happenstance, or did I curse them? We'll find out, because I like Ohio this week, too. I certainly do not expect a major-blowout win, because that's not what the Bobcats do. But I expect the Ohio U. contingency to travel well the three hours from Athens over to Oxford, and I expect the Bobcats to be far more motivated than your average division-already-clinched participant. I think the line's a little low because folks expect the Bobcats to rest for the MAC title game, but I do not think that happens. Instead, Ohio grinds it out, takes a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter, and stares right into the faces of the big bad RedHawks, and exorcises a decade's worth of demons. I'm taking Ohio (-3) at Miami (OH) to cover on their way to the conference title tilt.

Last Week: Going into Saturday night's contest in Cincinnati, the nation wonder whether Rutgers could stand up to the national scrutiny involved in possibly seeing the dominoes fall perfectly, and then whether the Scarlet Knights were ready to tackle Ohio. in the national title game. Guess we got our answer, huh? I jumped on the Rutgers train in a big way, then watched as the Bearcats scheded Ray Rice out of relevancy, and Let Rutgers QB Mike Teel self-destruct. And did he ever. Rarely has an undefeated team crumbled so badly as the Knights did last weekend, and I was not the only sucker who got taken down with them in their ridiculous 30-11 defeat as a 6.5-point favorite. As a result, we're 7-5 against the number for the season.