Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What To Make Of These Bobcats?

I've been watching Ohio football pretty much since TM entered the picture in a serious way. I remember sitting in Finley Dunne's one sunny September in 2005 because it was the only place the Ohio game (vs. Northwestern) was on TV. Later we were present for the re-match.

In all that time, the Bobcats have occasionally surprised but generally been a disappointment. Numerous winnable games have gone by the books. I'm 0-3 seeing them in person, and each time they had a lead or were in a winnable position late.

Last year was no exception: with the East title and a return trip to the conference championship on the line, all they had to do was beat 4-7 Kent State. So on the Friday after Thanksgiving they turned in an awful performance, losing 28-6 and setting up a lethargic performance in the Whatever Bowl I Don't Even Remember Or Care Sponsored By Company You've Never Heard Of.

But this year, I am filled with excitement and optimism, and not just cause right now is football's spring training. This might be the year Ohio gets over the hump and wins a meaningful postseason game.

As Phil Steele points out, a lot of the reason is the schedule. Now, I've always been cautious when the best thing you can say about a team is "look at who they DON'T play." But look at this:

Steele Rankings
N. Mexico St.109
Gard.-Webb I-AA
Marshall 97
@Rutgers 66
Kent St.105
Ball St.113
@BG 115
Fake Miami100

Ohio is 90. Using the Steele ranking, only Rutgers is a sure loss, Marshall and Temple (maybe CMU) are tossups, and the rest ought to be wins. On paper, that's 9 wins and probably the East title. And who they miss is key: Toledo (77), W. Michigan (73) and Northern Illinois (78).

But the Steele method is based on predicted strength. It doesn't tell us anything about the teams that actually played last year. That's why I started How Are You Going To Get Better, which posits that to improve you must beat someone this year who you lost to last year.

In the non-conference, Ohio's HAYGTGB shows wins over I-AA Wofford and Sun Belt Louisiana-Lafeyette. Losses were to Marshall and Ohio State. This year, the "easy" win can be retained by beating I-AA Gardner-Webb. But the marquee game is at Rutgers, and while Rutgers is down, they are still a Big East team. Marshall stays on the schedule, which means they have to either flip Marshall or win at New Mexico State. Winning on the road in week 1, especially so far from home, generally is not easy. (Although on the other hand, the Aggies were near the bottom of all defensive categories last year, so maybe it's not that hard.)

In the MAC, there's isn't much room for improvement. Ohio went 6-2 in conference as part of a 7-game winning streak midseason. The losses were to Kent (inexplicable) and Toledo (also not very reasonable).

Ohio: 2010 vs. 2011
2010 Opp.Result2011 Opp.Result
WoffordWinN. Mexico St. ?
Toledo LossGard.-Webb ?
@tOSULoss* Marshall ?
@Marshall Loss@Rutgers ?
@E.Mich. WinKent St.?
BGWin@Buff ?
AkronWinBall St.?
@Fake MiamiWin @Akron ?
La.Lafeyette Win Temple ?
@TempleWin@BG ?
@Kent Loss Fake Miami?

* -- victory vacated by The Ohio State

I hope the Bobcats can find some revenge against Kent State. Toledo falls off, replaced by Central Michigan which does not have Dan LeFever or Brian Kelly so this is looking good. EMU also drops off, replaced by Ball State, which should be a win. All that means Ohio will need to keep last season's wins against their East foes to improve on last year.

And how does that improvement happen? To be honest, even against weak competition, I'm not sure. There's a new QB, either a guy who can't hit the broadside of a barn (do they have barns in southeast Ohio?) or a guy who didn't play a down last year. The top returning rusher is said wild-armed quarterback. The D-line has zero starters returning.

I'm hopeful, but cautious. Stop by later this week to see what a real expert thinks.

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