DETROIT (AP) — Ohio coach Frank Solich is approaching his 75th birthday, looking and sounding as if he has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“I’ve got great energy and I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing for anything,” Solich said. “There will be a day when it doesn’t make sense for me to coach, but I don’t feel like that day is coming yet.”
Solich is expected to become the Mid-American Conference’s all-time winning coach this season and his Bobcats are the league’s preseason favorites. He has won 106 games at Ohio and he is five victories away from breaking the record set by Herb Deromedi set at Central Michigan from 1978-1993.
With 164 wins at the highest level of college football, Solich trails three active coaches in career victories: North Carolina’s Mack Brown, Alabama’s Nick Saban and TCU’s Gary Patterson. And like few coaches in college football, he has been in the same place for 15 years. Just three active coaches — Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Patterson and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham — have been at the same school longer than Solich.
“He’s a legend and we all feel fortunate to play for him,” standout safety Javon Hagan said. “He’s always so positive and doesn’t speak negatively about anybody or anything.”
Only one example is how Solich reflects on the abrupt end of his coaching career at Nebraska, his alma mater. A nine-win season in 2003 and a 58-19 record over six seasons, following in the footsteps of national-championship winning coach Tom Osborne, wasn’t enough for Solich to keep his dream job of leading the Cornhuskers.
“I don’t dwell on what happened because if I did, I wouldn’t be the guy I am,” he said. “I’m able to move on. If you don’t have that ability, this business can get you. Nebraska has struggled, no question, but I think Scott Frost will get that ship turned around.”
Solich’s challenge this season is to take a team that has won 34 times, including its last two bowl games, over the last four seasons and lead it to the school’s first MAC title since 1968.
Nathan Rourke, a dual-threat quarterback with two years of starting experience at Ohio, gives the program a great shot at ending the drought.
“They don’t give rings out in preseason,” said Rourke, who combined for nearly 3,300 yards passing and rushing last years while throwing for 23 touchdowns and running for 15 scores. “We’ve been picked to win it three years in a row and it’s time to put the work in to do it.”
Toledo was picked to win the West Division with 14 starters back. The Rockets received 15 first-place votes, trailing only the 24 cast for Ohio in the East Division. Miami and defending champion Buffalo are also expected to contend for at least a division title.
WANT TO PLAY?
In a sign of the MAC’s parity, six teams have played in the previous three championship games. Northern Illinois rallied from a 19-point, second-half deficit to beat Buffalo 30-29 for the title last year.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Western Michigan senior LeVante Bellamy may be among the fastest running backs in the nation, running the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds this summer. The first-team, all-MAC player ran for 1,228 yards and six touchdowns last season also scored on one of his 30 receptions.
When MAC coaches and players were asked to identify some of the conference’s best players, Akron quarterback Kato Nelson name was often mentioned.
“That means a lot to me because when I came here, I wanted to make an impression,” the redshirt junior said.
Nelson was the Zips’ offensive MVP last season after throwing for 2,329 yards with 15 touchdowns and running for 303 yards and a score.
Former Florida coach Jim McElwain is getting another shot to lead a team at Central Michigan. The Chippewas won only one game last year under coach John Bonamego after he led the program to bowl games the previous three years. McElwain lost his job late in the 2017 season at Florida with a 22-12 record over two-plus seasons. Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock, Bowling Green’s Scot Loeffler and Akron’s Tom Arth are also first-year MAC coaches.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Ohio will get a chance to see how it matches up with a solid Power Five program Sept. 7 when it plays at Pittsburgh. The Bobcats can boost their chances of winning the championship if they can open the MAC schedule Oct. 5 with a win at Buffalo and beat Northern Illinois at home the next week.
West Division favorite Toledo hosts Western Michigan, which received five first-place votes in the preseason poll, in their conference opener on Oct. 5. The MAC championship game is Dec. 7 in Detroit.
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