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College football fans who follow only the "big time" programs probably remember Frank Solich as the guy who couldn't live up to the impossible standards set by Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney at Nebraska.
Solich won 58 games in six years as Osborne's successor, yet got the ax after the 2003 regular season. That didn't work out so well for Nebraska -- it led into the Bill Callahan era -- but it became a blessing for Ohio. Solich took over the Bobcats on Dec. 16, 2004 and has built them into the class of the MAC East. Some might say they're the class of the entire 13-team league.
Ohio has won 46 games the last six seasons, which is more than any other MAC program. The Bobcats have played in four bowls the last six years. They won 10 games last year for the first time since 1968. They also won a bowl game -- a last-second 24-23 victory over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl -- for the first time in school annals.
The only thing that stops Ohio from being the unmistakable class of the MAC? An actual MAC championship. The Bobcats owned a 20-0 halftime lead over Northern Illinois on Dec. 2 at Ford Field in Detroit. But then Ohio's offense, which set single-season school records for points and yards and so much more, went flat. The Bobcats managed just 76 total yards in the second half and threw an interception.
Meanwhile, NIU's Chandler Harnish (the league MVP) threw one touchdown pass ... and another ... and another. When the Huskies' Mathew Sims kicked a 33-yard field goal on the game's final play, Ohio suffered a 23-20 loss that serves as its fuel for 2012.
"There are always ways to get better," Solich said. "Obviously one thing that jumps right out at you is winning a MAC championship. That's never easy."
But the Bobcats appear to be in better position than any other school to get that accomplished this season. Tyler Tettleton returns at quarterback and Ohio plans to run its no-huddle offense at an even quicker tempo to take advantage of his experience and skills.
Then there's the defense, which Solich believes ought to be the best in his eight years at Ohio. "I like what we're all about there," Solich said. "We have more people coming back than we've ever had. We have more depth than we've ever had."
Throw in the return of senior kicker Matt Weller -- voted the 2011 MAC Special Teams Player of the Year -- and Ohio appears to have the stuff to bring home its first MAC championship since Bill Hess' 1968 team finished the regular season undefeated.
Head Coach: Frank Solich (Nebraska '66)
Record at school: 50-40 (8 years)
Career record: 108-59 (14 years)
• Tim Albin (Northwest Oklahoma State '89) Asst. head coach/offensive coordinator/running backs
• Jimmy Burrow (Nebraska '76) Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/safeties
• Gerry Gdowski (Nebraska '90) Assistant head coach/quarterbacks
• Ron Collins (Washington '87) Linebackers
• Dwayne Dixon (Florida '85) Wide receivers
• Brian Haines (Marietta '04) Tight ends/recruiting coordinator
• Keven Lightner (Nebraska '96) Offensive line
• Fred Reed (Mesa State '93) Defensive backs
• Jesse Williams (Sonoma State '88) Defensive line