Head coach: Frank Solich
Last season: Despite getting destroyed in the MAC Championship and the GMAC Bowl, the Bobcats won the MAC East and logged some impressive victories, including one at Illinois. They did it with a terrific all-around defense and steady running game. Kalvin McRae remained one of the MAC's best ball carriers by averaging almost five yards per carry as a junior. Quarterback Austin Everson, meanwhile, was one of the nation's least effective passers, throwing for only about 100 yards per game with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Linebacker Matt Muncy led the defense as a senior. Linemen Jameson Hartke and Landon Cohen chipped in with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, respectively. Those totals put them among the MAC leaders. MACReportOnline.com also calls them preseason all-conference players.
Ohio will travel to the Rubber Bowl for a Nov. 7 game on ESPN2. This game easily could decide the MAC East champion.
Best returning player: Senior running back Kalvin McRae
Offense: It's usually not a cause for celebration when your senior quarterback leaves the team, but I can envision Solich secretly pumping his fist. Everson did his best with limited talent. Now there will be a three-way competition. Two of the candidates saw time in the MAC Championship as Solich ran a quarterback merry-go-round. Brad Bower, an Illinois transfer who was recovering from a bone bruise during the spring, seems to be the frontrunner because he has played in 13 games.
In the end, it shouldn't matter that much. This is McRae's team, and Solich will feed him. They will pray he stays healthy because only one other tailback is on the roster. The Bobcats will struggle to find serviceable players at fullback, tight end and wide receiver. Experience is missing at each position. Two players from a pretty good line are gone, but Matt Miller will return as the senior anchor. He led the team with 61 pancake blocks in 2006. Another offensive weapon is Chris Garrett, a Freshman All-American at punt returner last year.
Defense: Three of the starting four defensive linemen will return, including Hartke and Cohen. They should be successful in penetrating the line again this season. Linebacker is much, much more uncertain. Muncy and two others graduated. They have a mediocre junior college transfer, a guy who broke his leg last year and a converted cornerback among the first-string candidates. The Bobcats lost All-MAC cornerback T.J. Wright, but bring back his tag-team partner Mark Parson. Ohio should be deep at safety.
The Bobcats will have a darned good kicker because of the stupid $#$%# rule that allows players to transfer after completing their undergraduate degree without sitting out a year, as long as they have eligibility remaining. Michael Braunstein was honorable mention All-Pac-10 last season after making 10 of 12 field goal attempts for Washington. Now he's a Bobcat. Solich will, however, have to break in a new punter.
How the Zips match up: Last year's matchup was difficult to watch. At that point, the Zips still had a good shot at a bowl game. OU's defense made Akron's pee-wee quality offense struggle mightily. The Bobcat linebackers had a big night. Akron certainly will have an advantage with two-tight end sets now that those linebackers are gone. Ohio's advantage comes from McRae, who could run for 200 yards this late in the season, when the Zips' defensive line depth becomes even more sparce. Expect a low-scoring, ugly game. I can picture the Bobcats' ill-gotten kicker winning it for them.
Way-too-early prediction: Ohio 10, Akron 7