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College Football Week #10: Where Is Frank Solich?

Have you ever wondered what happened to Frank Solich?

You remember this guy: he coached at the University of Nebraska for six seasons. He was the loyal lieutenant who took over the Cornhuskers from Tom Osborne, irrefutable proof that it’s never a good thing to be the guy who succeeds The Guy. After compiling a 64-19 record as Nebraska leader, Solich was ruthlessly and controversially fired in favor of Beau Bridges. (Okay, no, it wasn’t Beau Bridges, it was Bridges lookalike Bill Callahan.)

Solich took a sabbatical, then in 2005 took over the moribund football program at Ohio University (which is, if you’ll digress, quite far in prestige, if not geography, from Ohio State University ). Jim Grobe turned Ohio into a good MAC team after resuming an 0-11 program in 1995, but Grobe jumped to Wake Forest after the 2000 season (and let’s face it, he didn’t exactly have the best record at Ohio: 33-33-1). Between Grobe and Solich came four years of Brian Knorr, who defeated just about everything Grobe did, going 11-35. Solich took over last year and went 4-7.

Things got better in 2006. Ohio is 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the ever-exciting MAC, currently tied with Kent St. in the MAC East (and they own the tiebreaker, after having knocked down the Golden Flashes on the road last week). They’re not a big team by MAC standards, but they’ve won four straight, including an upset victory at the University of Illinois just three weeks ago. What has gone best for the Bobcats is their defense: They’re currently 15th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game and have seven assists for eight touchdowns. Ohio traveled to Rutgers, Missouri and Illinois (as well as a silly game against I-AA Tennessee-Martin); if you count just the team’s five conference games, they’ve allowed just over 15 points and 278 total yards per game. In the typical high-flying MAC, it’s damn good. The Bobcats have eight starters back on offense and also seem to be gelling there, especially on the ground: During that four-game winning streak, Ohio is averaging 26.5 points scored and 210 yards rushing per match. At the same time, they have the 108th best passing offense in Division 1 football; it’s really a mini-Nebraska around three meters and a cloud of dust.

On the road against Eastern Michigan this week, I think it will work. The Eagles are 106th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (a whopping 181), and are also giving up 4.9 yards per carry. For me, it’s a flashing red light. Eastern Michigan gave up 178 rushing yards to Western Michigan last weekend, 175 at Toledo before that, 159 at Bowling Green before that, 179 at Louisiana-Lafayette before that, 176 at Central Michigan…oh , heck, you get the point. This enormous number of rush-defense is not aberrant: the Eagles are challenged on the defensive side of the ball. Additionally, on offense, Jeff Genyk’s team scored a MAC-worst 16 points per conference game. Three different quarterbacks have started for Genyk — Andy Schmitt, Tyler Jones and Dontayo Gage — but the team’s sacks and interceptions outweigh their touchdown passes. Overall, Eastern Michigan is 1-7 and 1-4 in MAC games.

Ohio was probably better at home than on the road, although their only conference loss came in Athens. Eastern Michigan has only hosted two games so far this year and will play three of its next four games at Ypsilanti. This line opened at Ohio by 4.5, but quickly zoomed to 6.5. But the trends look good for the Bobcats too. They are 4-0 ATS during that modest winning streak and 4-1 ATS in their conference games this year. Eastern Michigan, for its part, is 1-4 ATS against winning teams and 2-5 ATS as underdogs at home. Above all, I love Solich’s running game, paced by Kalvin McRae and his 11 touchdowns, to dominate the clock and the scoreboard against Eastern Michigan, challenged by the point defense. The march to the MAC title game continues this weekend, and I’ll take Ohio (-6.5) to Eastern Michigan.

Last week: Ohio State didn’t even bother to make it interesting against Minnesota, shutting out the hapless Gophers, 44-0. Taking the Buckeyes and giving away the 27 points was the right thing to do, and so I’m extremely glad I recommended you do it. This coverage puts us 6-3 ATS so far this year.

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