The year 2016 has become a point in history when long sports droughts in the state of Ohio have ended.
While the Cleveland Indians try to end a 68-year World Series championship drought, the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA title, enabling the city of Cleveland to bask in the glow of its first major pro sports championship since 1964, snapping a 52-year dry spell.
Obviously, a Mid-American Conference drought won’t get even 1.3 percent of the publicity a pro sports championship will receive. Nevertheless, the Ohio University community witnessed a moment on Thursday night which will resonate among alumni for a long time to come.
When Frank Solich — unfairly kicked to the curb by then-Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson — arrived in Athens, Ohio, over a decade ago, his program had not yet attained a number of firsts, and it had not registered a number of achievements in a considerable period of time.
Ohio hadn’t ever won a bowl game or made back-to-back bowl games.
Solich did both.
Ohio hadn’t ever won back-to-back bowl games.
Solich checked that box.
Ohio hadn’t won the MAC East Division title.
Solich did so three times.
Ohio hadn’t beaten Toledo since 1988, and hadn’t won in the Rockets’ Glass Bowl stadium since 1967.
Entering Thursday’s game, Solich hadn’t been able to cross those items off his to-do list as the Boss Bobcat.
He can now.
Ohio’s 31-26 win snapped a long walk through the wilderness, encompassing 49 years and 16 losses against the Rockets. After being wholly Toledo’s possession for 28 years in this rivalry regardless of location, Ohio broke free from the chains of misery. Solich engineered the latest formidable feat at the low-profile coaching stop which has restored his football reputation.
The MAC does not offer the white-hot spotlight of a BCS championship game — the 2002 Rose Bowl in which Solich coached the Nebraska Cornhuskers against Miami — but Ohio University gave a football lifer a chance to prove that soaring accomplishments could be forged without supreme resources or a steady track record of high-level performance. Ohio didn’t have the pedigree or heritage of Nebraska. The Bobcats didn’t have an equivalent of Tom Osborne, whose shoulders Solich could step on. No, this was Solich’s project, Solich’s task to build something from the ground up.
He hasn’t yet won a MAC title, but this cathartic conquest of the Toledo team which had terrorized Ohio for so long is merely the latest indication of Solich’s coaching chops in what had been a dry and barren football landscape. Ohio, without a bowl appearance since 1968 when Solich arrived in 2005 to take over the program, has once again taken a bold step forward.
Speaking of that MAC title Ohio has never won: While the MAC East is anything but a done deal, this win — coupled with Akron’s loss to Buffalo on Thursday night — did much to ensure that at the very least, the Ohio-Akron regular season finale on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving will decide the East title. The Bobcats own tiebreakers over teams in the middle of the MAC East standings. They would have to collapse over the next few weeks in order for the Akron game to not have a bearing on the division crown.
Given the way the Bobcats stood up to their longtime nemesis from Toledo on Thursday night, any sort of collapse is not very likely.
Frank Solich will make sure of it.