Photo Caption: File photo.
The Ohio Bobcats football team will take on the Miami RedHawks this Saturday knowing full well that no one on the current roster has lost to their hated rival from Oxford. Whether at home or on the road, the 'Cats have won six consecutive Battles of the Bricks, and the Bobcat seniors do not want this streak to end in their final season.
This is especially true for redshirt senior wide receiver Bakari Bussey, who enjoys reminding hometown friend D.J. Brown, a senior defensive back for the RedHawks, of the Bobcats' recent string of success.
"I just want to keep (the winning streak) going because usually when (Brown) comes back home, I have all my (Bobcat) mugs set out in the basement. He'll ask me for something to drink, and I'll pour him some Kool-Aid or something in one of the mugs and give it to him," Bussey said. "It would be a nice tradition to keep going, but definitely not losing to Miami would be a great accomplishment for me and the senior class."
Redshirt senior kicker Matt Weller agrees.
"That's something I would remember forever," Weller said. "To come back as an alumni in the future and say that to those guys when they're getting ready to play here a few years down the road. So, it's definitely an honor."
The 'Cats entered the week having made their debut in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Standings as the No. 24 team in the country. (The BCS Standings, which first came out prior to last weekend's games, will be used as the standard ranking system throughout the remainder of the season as opposed to the Associated Press sportswriters' poll, in which the 'Cats moved up to No. 23.)
While the number rankings are important, perhaps even more remarkable is that the 'Cats are in the national conversation for being a "BCS buster," meaning a non-BCS team that qualifies for a spot in the BCS tournament. Also in that esteemed category are Notre Dame (who has a big game against Oklahoma this weekend) and Boise State.
Though the team views its high ranking and national attention as spectacular accomplishments, they're also seen as something that can benefit opponents.
"That's not something I really think about, but for other teams, I think it's just really a bigger target for them to try to knock us off," redshirt senior defensive lineman Neal Huynh said of the ranking. "I just think it's going to be more motivation for other teams, but it's an honor to be recognized like that."
With this honor bestowed upon them, the 'Cats have been preparing for the potent Miami passing attack, which ranks second in the Mid-American Conference. This attack is led by senior quarterback Zac Dysert, who ranks second in the MAC in total offense with an average of 298.4 yards per game. Bobcat head coach Frank Solich believes that Dysert is an exceptional talent who makes the Miami offense difficult to contain.
"You look at his size, arm strength, accuracy and decision-making, and all those lead you to being an excellent NFL prospect," Solich said. "He's throwing to some very good receivers. They have the ability to protect him very well. So the whole combination of that makes it difficult to slow them down."
The Bobcat defense has struggled all season against the pass, giving up 259.6 passing yards per game, which ranks 11th out of 13 teams in the conference.
However, Huynh said he knows the defensive unit can improve upon this number.
"We've got to play better as a defense," Huynh conceded. "We just need to focus on getting back to the fundamentals, and hopefully that will help us win this game. It's going to come down to just playing hard and playing fast."
Even though the focus may be on the defense to slow the RedHawk offense down, Weller said that emotions have been running high for everyone all week during practice.
"We try to treat it like any other game, but with being ranked and having that target on us, and the game being against Miami, it's difficult," Weller said. "Miami week is always a big week. We're trying to treat it as much like any other game that we can, but it's definitely a little different feeling."
With Saturday's game being on the road, the 'Cats will need to be especially sharp in all phases of the game in order to come away victorious. However, the team enters the game having won seven of their last 10 road contests, a fact stressed by Weller.
"I think we've always been a pretty good road team, so I don't think that will play much into it," Weller said. "I think we're a good team no matter where we play."
Yes, the undefeated record is proof that the Ohio has a good team, but some of these victories have been closer than expected against teams with few to no wins. As Weller points out, it's now up to the team to maintain its status as a respected, ranked squad.
"The bar is raised, and everybody has to realize that everybody's watching us, and we've definitely got to play like we should be up there," Weller said.
In the words of Frank Solich, this continued recognition starts now.
"Our guys are well aware of all the things that have happened positively for us. They know what got us to this point, so I've got no concern about them somehow not preparing well or overlooking anything," Solich said. "I think they know that it has to be a daily preparation for us and we've got to try to get better day after day. There are a lot of things we need to get better in order to have a shot at finishing out the season the way we want to. That starts right now with Miami."
• Kickoff for the game is set for 3:30 p.m. It can be seen on SportsTime Ohio, the channel that shows Cleveland Indians games during baseball season.
• What do the players think of when they think of Miami?
"Blood." – Neal Huynh
"Win. Beat them. Anything you can do to defeat them." – Bakari Bussey
"We definitely don't like them. I wouldn't say hate, but it's always something we want to get done on Saturday." – Matt Weller
• Like the 'Cats, Miami (3-4) is also coming off its bye week. Their last game was a 37-12 loss to Bowling Green.
• The Bobcats enter the weekend as one of only 11 undefeated teams at the upper, FBS level of the college ranks.
• The Bobcats are currently in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, which is tied for fourth all-time in school history. This streak also ties the team with Rutgers, Florida and Ohio State for fourth in the country in the most consecutive wins department.
• Bobcat quarterback Tyler Tettleton is one of only four signal-callers in the country to have thrown 10 or more touchdowns while also throwing fewer than two interceptions.
• The 'Cats are just ahead of Louisiana Tech and West Virginia in the AP Top 25 and are just ahead of Texas and Wisconsin in the Coaches' Poll Top 25. They come in just ahead of Wisconsin in the BCS Top 25. They have never been ranked simultaneously in all three polls before.
• Around the MAC: Toledo (7-1), fresh off its upset victory of then-No. 21 Cincinnati, is now No. 26 in the AP poll. Northern Illinois (7-1) is also receiving votes in this poll. Kent State (6-1) plays at No. 15 Rutgers (7-0) this weekend to try and boost its resume.
• Solich on the MAC: "I think there's been signs for a while now that the MAC is a very strong conference. It's not just one or two teams. There are a number of teams right now in the conference that have the capability of stepping on the field and playing football games regardless of whether it's against another MAC school, a BCS school or whoever it might be. So that makes for a really challenging, exciting conference, and I think that's what we have right now. There are a lot of teams that can still win this conference race. They're positioned well to get in the championship game. We're one of those teams, but that's it; we're just one of those teams. I think the MAC is filled with really good football teams."
• Solich on AD Jim Schaus' five-year contract extension: "If you have confidence and feel good about your AD and he has confidence and feels good about you and your staff, then that meshes what you're looking for in order for everybody to move forward in a positive direction. I've always felt very comfortable with Jim since he's taken the job. I think he's great at understanding the big picture and what it takes to have a successful athletic department. He's been great for our program and for this university."