Javon Hagan celebrates a 3rd down stop during a game against Bowling Green at Peden Stadium. (File)
Ohio’s stretch of significant games began on Oct. 1, when it defeated Miami (5-6, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) in its first conference game this season.
With each conference game from Miami to Buffalo, the significance of the game grew. A 27-20 loss to Eastern Michigan at home prefaced Ohio picking up three straight wins, defeating Kent State, Toledo and Buffalo.
Ohio’s game Tuesday against Central Michigan (2-4, 5-5 MAC) will be its most significant game of the season. If the Bobcats beat the Chippewas, the Bobcats will win the MAC East. Ohio will play Central Michigan at 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Ohio (7-3, 5-1 MAC) hasn’t played in a MAC Championship game since 2011, and it hasn’t won a MAC Championship since 1968.
“We kind of look at every game as being vitally important,” coach Frank Solich said during last Monday’s press conference. “And I think that’s one thing about going game-by-game, but building that particular game up because that game becomes big if you don’t win it.”
A Bobcat win means they’ll clinch the MAC East. A loss, and the MAC East will come down to the final week of the season. If that were the case, Ohio would need to lose to Akron and Miami would have to beat Ball State for Ohio to stay home on conference championship weekend.
Ohio’s mentality of taking one game at a time has worked this season, however, as it has a chance to go undefeated on the road in conference play. The last time Ohio went unbeaten on the road in conference play was during the 2009 regular season.
Solich acknowledged that the Bobcats travel well; they don’t think about next week’s game until the current week’s game is finished.
Sitting at five wins in the MAC, however, Central Michigan is one win away from being bowl eligible. Ohio knows it will need to continue to play well in order to stymie Central Michigan from doing so.
“They’re going to give us their best shot. We’re going to give them our best shot,” safety Javon Hagan said.
Ohio traveling well stems from its defense being one of the best in the MAC. The Bobcats rank No. 3 in the conference for points allowed per game with 23.
Central Michigan’s offense isn’t one of the best in the MAC, scoring 28.4 points per game. Hagan said Central Michigan’s best strength is its running game: the Chippewas average 128.6 yards per game.
Central Michigan wide receiver Corey Willis’s shiftiness will also pose a challenge to the Ohio secondary as well. Willis is ranked No. 7 in the MAC for receiving yards per game with 79.
“It’s going to be fun playing against him,” Hagan said.
Last Monday, for reasons he couldn’t explain, Solich said it’s difficult to play at Central Michigan. Ohio lost to Central Michigan 28-10 during the 2014 regular season. The Chippewas are 3-2 at home this season.
Though the Bobcats are a solid road team, this game is more important than their game against Buffalo, and defeating Buffalo was more important after a win against Toledo.
A MAC Championship is on the line, and at 5-2 in conference play, Miami is in contention for the MAC East title, too.
“Every week we go in knowing we have a target on our back,” Hagan said. “So each opponent that we play, we never take them for granted.”