Crowded backfield

Junior De’Montre Tuggle (left) and sophomore Julian Ross (right) are just two of the options Ohio is expected to look at in the running back position early in the 2019 season.

Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Aug. 27 newspaper on Page A6.

Game week has finally arrived for the Bobcats.

But that doesn’t mean the depth chart is locked down.

Ohio released its first official depth chart of the season on Monday, in advance of Saturday’s season opener against FCS foe Rhode Island at 2 p.m. inside Peden Stadium.

As has become typical in recent years, there were several — four in fact — ‘OR’ notes on the document.

The Bobcats begin 2019 without a clear starter at running back, and unclear backups at quarterback, cornerback and defensive end.

Ohio head coach Frank Solich is fine with that. His team will use the non-conference schedule to iron those little details out.

“We plan to play a lot of those guys and see how it all plays out,” Solich said during his weekly press conference on Monday at Peden Stadium.

The running backs have had an open competition all camp long. Redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison and third-year sophomore Julian Ross are both listed as the potential game 1 starter. Both played sparingly last season.

Junior college transfer De’Montre Tuggle is listed as the backup, and Solich said walk-on backs Ja’Vahri Portis and Jake Neatherton will likely see early season work as well.

“I think Coach (Tim) Albin plans to play all of those guys and see how it plays out,” Solich said. “There’s little game experience in the room.”

Allison was a camp standout in the spring, and clearly was the No. 1 back at the start of fall camp. But Ross, who sat out the spring and missed most of the first week of camp, remains the fastest player on the team and has appeared in 10 total games over two seasons.

Tuggle is new to the roster in 2019, but impressed early with his quick feet and acceleration.

As for a backup quarterback, Ohio declined to name a clear No. 2. Both sophomore Joe Mischler and freshman Kurtis Rourke were listed as potential backups to starter Nathan Rourke.

Mischler and the younger Rourke have competed for the backup role since the spring. And if Ohio has an idea who is next up after Nathan Rourke, it hasn’t said so publicly.

“We’re still practicing, still evaluating,” Solich explained. “Both have great potential in that regard. We still have two guys fighting for it.”

At defensive end, senior Chukwudi Chukwu and senior Sam McKnight are both listed as backups at DE. Both were part of the rotation a year ago.

And at corner, it’s junior Xavior Motley and sophomore Tariq Drake who share a spot on the second team. Motley has been out for more than a week, but played a year ago. Drake came on as camp wound down.

Another preseason pick

As if a full summer of magazine picks, internet previews and media votes wasn’t enough, Frank Solich’s brethren in the MAC coaching ranks sent another clear message on Monday.

In 2019, the MAC East Division — presumably — is the Bobcats’ to lose.

Ohio was selected to win the Mid-American Conference East Division in the 2019 MAC Football Coaches Preseason Poll, the conference announced Monday. The poll was made up of voting from the MAC’s 12 head coaches.

Ohio received each and every vote, and the max 72 points, to be East Division champion.

The coaches poll mirrored the results from nearly every preseason prediction. Across the board, including in the conference media poll in late July, the Bobcats were the pick to win the MAC East. Ohio was also the unanimous favorite to win the East in the media balloting, and received a league-high 13 votes as the team most likely to win the MAC Championship.

In the coaches balloting, Ohio outdistanced Buffalo (50 points) and Miami (49) for top honors in the East. Kent State was fourth, followed by Akron and then Bowling Green.

In the West, Toledo (59 points) won a much closer vote. Five of the six schools in the West received a vote to win the division, with Western Michigan (second, 56 points) and Northern Illinois (49) right on the Rockets’ heels. Eastern Michigan (42), Ball State and Central Michigan rounded out the voting.

Ohio hasn’t won the MAC Championship since 1968. Under Solich, the Bobcats are 0-4 in MAC title games and hasn’t won the MAC East Division in any of the four times they were picked to do so in the preseason.

“All coaches, as they go into the season, need to manage expectations,” Solich said.

“We’re fine with the expectations put on us. It’s a point of emphasis to go out and prove it.”

2019 MAC Football Coaches Preseason Poll

TEAM (first place votes) — Points

MAC East Division

Ohio (12) — 72

Buffalo — 50

Miami — 49

Kent State — 37

Akron — 25

Bowling Green — 19

MAC West Division

Toledo (4) — 59

Western Mich. (4) — 56

Northern Ill. (2) — 49

Eastern Mich. — 42

Ball State (1) — 26

Central Mich. (1) — 20

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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