’Cats face tough non-MAC sked

ATHENS, Ohio -Last year, Ohio University’s football team rolled through its non-conference schedule undefeated, including a historic season-opening win at Penn State.

The Bobcats of coach Frank Solich followed up that 24-14 victory with triumphs over New Mexico State (51-24), Marshall (27-24) and Norfolk State (44-10), allowing the Cats to take a 4-0 record into Mid American Conference play.

Ohio appeared set up for a huge season, but wound up losing four of its eight league contests to finish the regular season 8-4 before scoring win No. 9 in a 45-14 rout of Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl. For the second straight year, Ohio won a bowl game, the first two postseason bowl wins in its history.

This year’s non-conference schedule also will include four games to open the season. The Bobcats will travel to Louisville on Aug. 31, before playing host to North Texas (Sept. 7), Marshall (Sept. 14) and Austin Peay (Sept. 21). Only the finale of that quartet falls into the likely win category as Louisville will be a top 15 team in the initial national rankings, North Texas is a veteran team returning a great deal of talent and Marshall gave the Cats all they wanted in a three-point loss last year in Huntington.

Here’s a brief look at Ohio’s non-conference foes:

At Louisville

3:30 p.m., Sept. 1

The Cardinals are coming off a stunning win over No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

Louisville not only returns the architect of its football renaissance, fourth-year head coach Charlie Strong, but he once again will enjoy the services of third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

The Cardinals, 11-2 last year, lost just 11 lettermen from a year ago, with just three of those on the defense. If you are looking for a team that can go undefeated, Louisville likely will be favored in all 12 of its regular games. But don’t thinking BCS National Championship Game for the Cardinals, as not a single opponent will start out the season with a top 25 national ranking.

Bridgewater not only returns three of his top four targets from a year ago, but he also will enjoy the services of Tennessee transfer Matt Milton and Florida transfers Gerald Christian and Robert Clark.

Louisville -which will compete in the American Athletic Conference (formerly Big East) this year, will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

If the Cardinals have a weakness it is their special teams play as Louisville ranked 119th in net punting.

North Texas

7 p.m. Sept. 7

Not only has this program suffered eight straight losing seasons, including last year’s 4-8 campaign, but it is the process of moving from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA, a step up in competition.

Coach Dan McCarney is in his third year at the helm and has just nine wins to show for his first two seasons.

He’s been suffering from health issues including suffering a stroke last year.

Offensively, the Mean Green must decide whether two year starting quarterback Derek Thompson will man the game’s most important position for a third straight season, or whether the much-anticipated arrival of Kansas State transfer Brock Berglund will create a change under center.

Whoever winds up throwing the football will enjoy the services of wide receiver Brelan Chancellor, who caught 25 passes in seven games before breaking his collarbone last season.

The Mean Green can run the football, as evidenced by its 2,000-plus yards on the ground a year ago. So offensively, it is solid.

But the defensive line is a major concern.

If it solves its woes from a year ago, a .500 or winning season is possible.

If it doesn’t, North Texas likely is doomed to another losing campaign.

Marshall

8 p.m., Sept. 14

Marshall had a chance to beat Ohio last year when the Cats visited Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Marshall led 24-17 in the fourth quarter but Ohio scored the game’s final 10 points for a 27-24 win.

This year, coach Doc Holliday’s fourth at the Thundering Herd helm, Marshall looks ready to contend in Conference USA. Its Sept. 14 visit to Peden Stadium represents Ohio’s toughest non-conference home game.

Providing they stay healthy, it will be billed as a battle of the quarterbacks as Marshall’s Rakeem Cato and Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton both are capable of dominating a game.

Cato, who threw for 4,201 yards last season and 37 touchdowns last season, has the luxury of not having do it all as the Herd has a solid running game led by Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson.

Suffice to say the offense is loaded. It’s the defense that causes concerns for Holliday and Herd faithful. Last year’s prevent unit didn’t prevent much as it was 113th in red-zone touchdowns yielded. Marshall lost games in which it produced 34, 41, 38, 31 and 59 points, which are supposed to be winning numbers.

Austin Peay

2 p.m., Sept. 21

The Governors are coming!

No, neither Ohio’s John Kasich or any of his political counterparts will be present.

But the Austin Peay Governors represent Ohio’s final non-conference game before entering Mid-American Conference. Much like last year’s game with Gardner-Webb, this is a payday for Austin Peay, which finished 2-9 last year and placed eighth in the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Governors open the season with five straight road games, traveling to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Ohio and Eastern Kentucky before finally getting to spend a week at home.