When the Warhawks and Bobcats square off in the 36th Independence Bowl on Friday, December 28, the two teams will conclude similar seasons. Both enter the post season with an 8-4 record and both found themselves in the national spotlights throughout the 2012 season for their on the field success. Additionally both hit losing skids due to injuries.
"We did get off to a great start and I think very early on, I think we had a very good football team," Ohio Head Coach Frank Solich said at a Thursday press conference in Shreveport. "As the season went on, we did sustain a number of injuries to key personnel and that did affect us, since many were season ending injuries."
The injuries the Bobcat sustained include a pair on the defensive line, including tackle Neal Huynh, who remains questionable for the bowl game. Adding to the injury list is Donte Foster who has battled a thumb injury late in the season, and offensive linemen Ryan McGrath, Vince Carlotta, and Eric Herman.
"We played the tough part of our conference schedule later in the year, and that did affect us," Solich said. "We hope to get a few guys back, we won't get many, but we hope to get a few back. A lot of our young guys that were substituting though for those that were injured got a lot of experience now and we expect them to perform better. We had a lot of depth at the start of the season, but when starters went down, we dropped off a little bit. We should have enough experience now."
Despite all of the injuries, the Bobcats finished in the top five in the Mid-America Conference (MAC) in total offense and defense.
Leading the offensive charge is running back Beau Blankenship. The former Iowa State transfer finished third in the league in rushing, surpassing the 1,500 yard mark on the ground and adding another 177 in receiving yards.
While the 2012 seasons of ULM and Ohio parallel one another, Solich believes that the MAC and Sun Belt are likewise parallel.
"I think they compare very well," he said. "I think you look even at Monroe's non-conference schedule, and how they did is just an example of how well (the Sun Belt) has grown. I think the same growth is true in the MAC as we have has some big non-conference wins, and have a team in the Orange Bowl; so things are going very well."