Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Talkin' Ohio Football With Matt From Hustle Belt

Welcome to a record third-straight MAC-related post on To mark the occasion, I brought in someone who actually knows what he's talking about when it comes to MAC football: Matt Sussman from the pre-eminent MAC-centric blog, Hustle Belt. Matt was gracious enough to answer a few questions about Ohio's season and be the first non-fake guest for a Q-and-A.

MPF004: Every conference opponent has a first- or second-year coach (exception being Dave Clawson, 3rd year at Bowling Green). How much of an advantage does that give a veteran coach like Solich?

Matt Sussman: Yeah, the conference has been beleaguered by bigger schools with fatter paychecks. Having continuity at the head coach position is an advantage when recruiting. I don't think Solich will be hired away any time soon, but the other coaches will likely be fired or climbing the coaching ladder in two years. In terms of an edge during the season, I don't know how much of a difference it makes.

MPF: Although, I'd like to think there are in-game advantages. Solich knows his players better, and he's seen the other team's players before. He shouldn't get flustered by late-game situations (a la Les Miles) and he in theory knows the officials. Those are the things I think would make a difference on gameday.

MS: There may be some advantage, but even these new coaches have been around college football before, and big games too. Consider that Steve Addazio [former Florida offensive coordinator] and Dave Clawson [former OC at Tennessee and now the most-tenured sweatervest wearer in the Buckeye State] have been in the SEC. Darrell Hazell [Kent] and Dave Doeren [Northern] coached at OSU. Don Treadwell [Not Cheating Miami] called plays at Michigan State. They've all seen a lot and been in close games. Solich as well has Big XII and even BCS experience. You're right that he's recruited all his players, and maybe there's something to the fact that he can coach to that. But that seems more like an off-the-field advantage, where the difference is made in recruiting, practice and conditioning. Is Solich a great in-game tactician? I don't know about that; maybe that's the real question here.

MPF: Phil Bates. I've seen the man throw in person and on TV. Even at home I wasn't sure if the ball was going to hit me. Given his speed (good) and arm (not good), he seemed perfect for a position change to slot receiver, but early reports from camp have him still at QB. If he's going to stay at QB he has to throw a lot better or no defense will respect the pass. Do you like Bates, or the kid Tettleton, or Door #3 (aka reshirt freshman Snyder) for the QB position?

MS: If I were a coach, I'd always put in Mickey Tettleton's son. But that's why I'm not coaching. I have the same concerns about Bates being a full-time starter. I think he's still going to be a direct snap guy, but with another year of experience he may take on a bigger load. I'd bet they split the time between him and Tettleton.

(Note: since this conversation, Tettleton was announced as the starter. I followed up for Matt's thoughts on this quasi-breaking news....)

MS: I think that Tettleton might be their greatest weakness on offense ... obviously he's a third-year player so maybe he has enough experience. I haven't seen him play so he could be great, but first-year starters tend to make a few mental mistakes when the game speeds up. Then again, Austin Boucher [The Other Miami] won a MAC Championship last year.

Phil Bates' 2010 stat line. "This is our concern, Dude."

MPF: Phil Steele likes Ohio to win the division, but almost more for reasons of schedule than talent. In my experience, when the best thing you can say about a team is who they DON'T play, it's not a good sign. How do you see this year's Bobcats handling this schedule? Is it tailor-made, or are they going to stub their toe against the bottom feeders?

MS: It's a trendy pick because we know very little about these teams, and all we have is their skill set on paper and the skill sets/rankings of all the other teams, and yes, in theory, Ohio has a schedule where they can run the table. But if you look at the MAC media poll, another byproduct of soft science ... we really don't know what kind of team they're going to be. They could be great, or they could be average. But we know they have what looks to be an easy schedule. Perhaps Buffalo or Akron or CMU is actually going to be formidable, and suddenly the schedule isn't such a string of cupcakes.

MPF: Sticking with the schedule for the moment, what is your game of the year? Bonus points for picking something besides Temple on ESPN2.

MS: Ha. Well, last year they got their revenge on Temple by knocking them out of the MAC East race, but the following week they had a devastating loss to Kent State. So you might see the Bobcats try to come out and cream them. And the Miami game, always.

MPF: What do you see as the greatest strength and greatest weakness of this year's squad? Feel free to answer in terms of a player (RT Flading or MLB Keller) or position group (linebackers) or intangible (coaching, schedule, Rufus's badass-ness).

MS: The offensive line is definitely their advantage, and even if that's all they had going for them, it's a hell of a starting point. Especially since one of their drawbacks is being the only team to have lost their starting quarterback. So likely the learning curve for the new QB will be mitigated by an experienced blocking line.

I'm from Iowa. Templeton Rye is from Iowa. I like Templeton. I am going to accidentally call this kid 'Templeton' at least as often as I call him Tettleton.

MPF: Ohio's special teams are beyond good and dare I say, BCS-conference caliber, with Keller and Hershey and I assume Lavon Brazill returning kicks. Given Ohio's propensity for close games, especially in 2009, do you see special teams as a difference-maker in Ws and Ls this year?

MS: That all does depend on if Brazill can return to his 2009 form. We know Hershey and Keller should be solid, but they'll also need smart play from their blockers.

MPF: Frank Solich's Ohio teams have a history of getting to, but not winning, the big game. See: 2006 conference championship and bowl, 2009 conference championship and bowl, 2010 vs. Kent with the East title on the line. Is this the year they finally win a meaningful game, ie a conference championship or bowl? (The Pitt upset was cool, but not meaningful in a postseason sense.)

MS: It's very possible. I think they can reach the MAC Championship, but to go as far to say they'd beat Toledo or NIU or even WMU is going to be tough. Looking on the other side, people say Cubit is due at WMU, and that's actually a championship game I'd love to see, because then something absolutely would have to give.

MPF: If you could ask Frank Solich one question, what would it be? If you
were both at a Court Street bar, would it be a different question?

MS: If it were Courtside, it would be "what are you doing here?" And given the fact that I rarely get out, if I did happen to run into him, I'm pretty much stupefied that he was at the same place I was.

I miss Boo Jackson's senior leadership at the quarterback position. And I miss his hair.

MPF: Now that Boo Jackson has moved on, who has your favorite nickname and hairdo in the MAC?

MS: If one Boo is good, then two is better. BG's cornerback/kick returner Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates takes the title. As for the hair, always look for the Pacific Islanders. And Akron has one with an amazing mane, and the name couldn't be any more perfect than defensive tackle Phil Tonga.

He's got good hair, but he's no Franshaw.

MPF: Have you ever used the word "Mac-tastic" in a sentence?

MS: I prefer MAC-ceptional.

Thanks, Matt. Be sure to check out his blog at Ohio opens the season on Sept. 3 at New Mexico State on something called AggieVision. Good luck Bobcats!

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