Ambitious non-conference schedule for Ohio

ATHENS, Ohio – Before the Ohio Bobcats begin the four-game non-conference part of the schedule -which will fill up the four Saturdays in September -OU will open the season at Mid-American Conference opponent Kent State on Aug. 30, a game with a 6 p.m. kickoff that will be televised by ESPN3.

Then comes the four non-conference games, which feature a visit to a Southeastern Conference team, the annual battle with arch-rival Marshall, which will mark OU’s third straight road game, then a pair of home contests versus Idaho and Eastern Illinois.

Here are the non-conference games:

  • at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. Sept. 6, ESPNU: This game represents an opportunity for the Bobcats to beat a team from the nation’s strongest conference. That’s because while Kentucky is indeed an SEC member, it hasn’t won a league game since 2011. It went 2-10 last year, including a second straight loss to in-state rival Western Kentucky.

The good news for the Wildcats is that following that 2-10 season, his first at the Kentucky helm, Mark Stoops brought in a great deal of talent in an effort to revive a downtrodden football program at a basketball school. Whether he brought in enough talent is the question. Stoops is a defensive specialist and Kentucky should be improved in that area. The big question for the Wildcats is whether or not they will be able to generate enough offense.

  • at Marshall, noon, Sept. 13, CBS: For each of the last two years, the Bobcats have beat the Thundering Herd by a field goal. This one has all the makings of yet another down-to-the-wire barnburner.

Marshall won six of its final seven games last year, including a 31-20 win over Maryland in the Military Bowl.

Marshall won 10 games last year, which is impressive, but the Herd’s losses -in addition to Ohio -were to Middle Tennessee and Rice, which scored a combined 92 points against Marshall’s at times porous defense.

If you like high-scoring shootouts, you should like this one.

  • Idaho, Sept. 20 (Time, TV TBA): There’s no sugar-coating it. Idaho, which will provide the opposition for Ohio’s home opener, is one of the worst college football teams in America. Of the 125 FCS teams, USA Today rates the Vandals No. 123.

The only good news around Moscow is that Paul Petrino, the younger brother of Bobby Petrino and former Arkansas offensive coordinator, has been hired as the head coach, but the rebuilding job is monumental and won’t happen overnight.

Idaho goes into fall drills without knowing who will start at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. In other words, all the offensive skill positions are up for grabs.

If the Bobcats don’t win this one, remind yourself of that old Tony the Tiger commercial where he proclaims “It’s going to be a long season.” But the long season is likely to occur in Idaho, not Ohio.

  • Eastern Illinois, Sept. 27 (Time, TV, TBA): If you think Eastern Illinois is another patsy opponent, think again. Eastern Illinois advanced to the FBS quarterfinals last year before dropping a 49-39 decision to Towson.

But making the final eight wasn’t its greatest accomplishment. That came in the season opener when the Panthers traveled to San Diego State and not only won, but did so to the tune of 40-10.

Three weeks later, playing at MAC powerhouse Northern Illinois, the Panthers put up a valiant fight before falling, 43-39.

This year, Eastern Illinois has a new head coach in Arkansas graduate Kim Dameron, who will welcome back 43 of the 62 letterwinners from a year ago, including seven starters on offense, six on defense and two on special teams.

Top returnee is running back Taylor Duncan, who rushed for 998 yards last season. EIU also returns its entire receiving corps and three offensive line starters. It doesn’t return quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a first team all-American who threw for 5,050 career yards. How well the Panthers are able to replace him will determine their succes and whether or not they can upset Ohio.