Note: This preview appears in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 newspaper on Page A6.
Ohio faces Miami on Wednesday night in what is the biggest game of the season for the Bobcats.
Call it Mission: Impossible?
No, the task of beating the RedHawks is far from that as OU has proven with 11 wins in its last 13 ventures into the ‘Battle of the Bricks.’ What is so daunting about the game, however, is the self-professed goal for Ohio — it wants to have a sell out, in a mid-week game.
The Bobcats (4-4, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) and RedHawks (4-4, 3-1 MAC) will likely decide the fate of the MAC East with the result on the field. In the stands, OU is hoping to do something never achieved in MAC history. No MAC team, since the conference embraced midweek games in November about a decade ago, has posted a sellout during one of the ESPN-fueled midweek national television windows.
Ohio is going all out to try to make it happen. Head coach Frank Solich, now is his 15th season, is leading the charge.
During practice inside Walter Fieldhouse last week, Solich approached the media waiting to conduct post-practice interviews.
“Alright reporters,” Solich began. “I give you lots of information all the time. I need you to get people in the stands next week.
“Write articles. Go knock on people’s doors. Let’s go.”
It wasn’t an edict, or a command, or a plea, exactly. But it did underscore the importance of this particular game — not only for Ohio’s season-long goal of a MAC championship — and for both the university and the conference to make a good showing on a nationally television audience.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2, and will take place on the 150th anniversary of the first-ever college football game. Ohio-Miami will be the only football game in the entire country on Wednesday night.
It’s a spotlight as big as the conference has ever enjoyed for one of its midweek games.
“It’s going to be great for college football. It’s certainly great for both Miami and Ohio to be viewed on that day and the only game that’s telecast. And so, there’s going to be a lot of eyes on you,” Solich said last week. “With that, that’s good for not only your football team and your football program, but also for your university. We’re excited about being a part of it and look forward to it.”
And Ohio is pulling out the stops to get as many people in Peden as possible. The school has tried to entice students with a free pregame student tailgate inside Walter Fieldhouse. And one enrolled OU student in attendance will win free tuition for the spring 2020 semester.
ESPN will be there with a nationally recognized broadcast crew — Matt Barrie, Desmond Howard and Holly Rowe — and an increased effort in production values for the broadcast.
Ohio wants to make the game — the game of the year in the MAC East and a potential history-making win for Solich — an event. On Monday, Ohio coaches were out and about on campus encouraging students to attend.
Offensive coordinator Tim Albin, like Solich, made his pitch last week.
“We’re looking forward to getting it sold out. If you need any tickets, look me up on Twitter. I’ll take care of it,” he said.
History, however, shows it will be a tough task to fill Peden. Since 2008, Ohio has averaged just 15,224 in announced attendance for night games on non-traditional days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday).
The largest crowd for a #MACtion game at Peden since 2008 came in 2012 when 19,122 were listed as on hand for a Wednesday night showdown against Bowling Green.
But often, at Ohio and across the entirely of the MAC, huge swathes of empty seats are evident during the midweek games. The games were designed to fill a hole in ESPN programming, and aren’t set up with the in-person attendance in mind.
For instance, Ohio had three home midweek games in 2018 and averaged just 13,517 on each of those dates. The lowest attendance number, since 2008, for any Ohio home game came in a 2008 Tuesday night game against Buffalo (10,042).
With an official capacity of 24,000, it seems like a long shot for Ohio to fill it to the brim. There will be a ton of exposure, and stakes, and perhaps history, riding on the game in Peden on Wednesday night.
But will there be a full house to see it?
In 20 home games since 2008 on either weekday nights or Black Friday afternoons, Ohio has managed more than 18,000 in official attendance just three times.
Solich knows it’s ambitious to stump for a sell out in such circumstances, but he’s doing it anyway. He’s not worried about looking good for the cameras, although that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
But a big crowd will help his team in its biggest game of the year.
“That has no affect on me,” Solich said, when asked about the national focus on the game. “You get ready to play football, and you play football.”