Late-season weeknight games are to Mid-American Conference football what Monday Night games are to the NFL – chances for exposure, usually on national television, without having to share the spotlight or scoreboard with other teams.
If anybody is watching college football, they’re watching MAC teams.
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Since Miami hasn’t been as relevant as it would like to be in recent seasons, opportunities to bask in the spotlight haven’t been as numerous. That helps Tuesday’s 8 p.m. game at Ohio – scheduled to be televised on ESPN2 – transcend the “Battle of the Bricks” rivalry and the impact on East Division standings.
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Coach Chuck Martin pointed out that the game against the Bobcats is the RedHawks’ first midweek road game in his four seasons at Miami.
“It’s a huge challenge moving forward, playing a game like this,” he said. “(Ohio) is used to this. We’ll have to figure out how to handle this.”
Miami (3-5, 2-2) goes into the game in third place in the division, one game behind Ohio (6-2, 3-1) and 1 ½ behind Akron (5-4, 4-1), Miami’s opponent on Nov. 7 at Yager Stadium in Oxford. The Bobcats, who tied the RedHawks for the division championship last season and earned the MAC championship game berth by virtue of their 17-7 win over the RedHawks at Miami, are coming off a 48-3 whipping of Kent State, which edged Miami, 17-14, on Oct. 14 at Kent.
“Structurally, they have the same coaching staff they’ve had for a while,” Martin said. “They define consistency. Normally, in a conference like the MAC, you have tons of coaching changes and no one has consistency. They bring consistency. Their base defense and what they do on offense is the same.”
Ontario, Canada, native Nathan Rourke, a 6-foot-2, 209-pound sophomore quarterback, leads the Ohio offense in his first season as a starter, while 6-foot, 235-pound fifth-year senior middle linebacker Quentin Poling is the heart of the Bobcats’ defense.
“Offensively, they’ve got a new quarterback who’s hitting people and making very good throws,” Martin added. “They’re piling up rushing yardage. Their middle linebacker (Quentin Poling) is as good as any player in the league. He can run and hit. He’s the total package. They’re very hard to run against. They can make a team one-dimensional. There are reasons they’ve been at the top of the East for a long time.”
Besides the national television hype, the impact on the division standings and the intensity of a long-time rivalry, Halloween activities could make Athens – traditionally a town that loves a good time – even more festive. Senior tight end Ryan Smith and his teammates are looking forward to it, he said.
“Everybody’s excited,” Smith said. “We’ve played OU pretty well since I’ve been here. They have lots of experience defensively. (Poling) has been there four or five years. He’s a very talented player, and they are physical and fast.
“It’s not a problem facing a hostile environment or a large crowd. It fires me up.”
Miami might not as much prime-time football experience as Ohio, but Bobcats’ coach Frank Solich respects the battle-testing the RedHawks have built up in other areas.
“You need all of your weapons against Miami,” Solich said last week during his weekly media session. “They’re a very good and experienced football team. They have eight guys on both sides of the ball from last year’s team that were counted on as starters. That’s a really experienced football team, and they were really good last year. You know that’s going to be a factor, and you know what you’re going to be up against.”
Solich is 11-2 against Miami since arriving in Athens and has established a template that Martin would like to see the RedHawks emulate.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Martin said. “We know what we’re capable of. Frank’s been through this. He knows what to expect. We’d like to be more like them. They’ve become the benchmark of consistency.”