Wearing green of Ohio, Solich shows true colors

Coach's winning ways follow him from Nebraska

Analysis

College Football

September 12, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Frank Solich still looks a little out of place wearing the green and white of the Ohio University Bobcats rather than the red and white of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but the smile he flashed in Athens after Friday's 16-10 upset of Pittsburgh was as wide as any he had during those six seasons in Lincoln.

Solich, who was fired in 2003 after going 10-3 (and 58-19 overall) might be the perfect guy to bring a consistent winner to an Ohio program that has not had two straight winning seasons since 1981-82 and hasn't won the Mid-American Conference since 1968.

Though it's highly unlikely that the Bobcats can pull off another upset Saturday when they play at Virginia Tech, Ohio looked a lot more representative against the Panthers than the team that hadn't had a winning record since 2000.

After watching Pitt take the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, Ohio battled back to take a 10-7 lead and then used Dion Byrum's second interception return for a touchdown to shock the Panthers in overtime, setting off a wild celebration at 24,000-seat Peden Stadium.

"That's just about as bad a start as you're going to get," Solich said. "We've got people in the seats, our players were really excited about playing the game [on national television] and then to have one returned on you right on the opening kickoff kind of takes all the wind out of you.

"But to their credit, they just came back and continued to battle."

The same can be said for their feisty coach.

A former player and assistant at Nebraska, Solich was part of legendary coach Bob Devaney's first recruiting class in 1962 and succeeded another legend, Tom Osborne, in 1998. Despite taking the Cornhuskers to the BCS title game in the 2002 season - losing to Miami, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl in January 2003 - Solich was never truly accepted by Nebraska fans.

Only after Bill Callahan was brought in from the Oakland Raiders and the program had its first losing season since 1961 did Solich seem to gain a little respect back in Lincoln. Solich's first win on his new job might even make the seat even hotter for Callahan and Nebraska athletic director Steve Peterson.

Here's a look at some of the weekend's other highs and lows:

Best game: Those who stayed awake to watch the fourth quarter of fifth-ranked LSU's 35-31 comeback win at No. 15 Arizona State might have witnessed the game of the year. The story line of the Tigers playing their first game since Hurricane Katrina - on the road because of the ongoing relief effort in Baton Rouge, La. - was nearly obscured by the dramatic finish.

Trailing 17-7 going into the quarter, the Tigers blocked a field goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown, then blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to trigger what became a scoring binge by both teams. It ended with LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell's 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to Early Doucet with 1:13 remaining, and the Tigers holding on at the end.

Biggest disappointment: One week after pulling a stunning 17-10 upset of Oklahoma in Norman, TCU crashed back to reality by losing at SMU, 21-10, in Dallas. It marked the first time the Mustangs beat a ranked team since 1987. It was only the seventh win in 37 games for SMU coach Phil Bennett.

Best coaching job: Les Miles, who came to LSU after last season from Oklahoma State, should get a few votes for national Coach of the Year just having the Tigers ready to play, let alone win on the road against a ranked team. LSU was probably a lock before to win the SEC West, and with both Florida and Tennessee at home, a chance at playing for a national championship is realistic.

Worst coaching job: One week after making a disastrous debut at home against Notre Dame, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt showed again why he was such a bust in the NFL. Considered dark horses in the dismal Big East behind favorite Louisville, the Panthers will likely go into league play with three losses with a trip to Nebraska scheduled for Saturday.

Team that helped its BCS chances the most: While Notre Dame continues to be the biggest story with a 2-0 start under new coach Charlie Weis - the first Irish coach to win his first two games on the road since Knute Rockne in 1918 - there's still more work left in what has to be the toughest schedule in the country.

Texas benefited the most, with a 25-22 win over then-No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus, setting up the Longhorns for what could be Mack Brown's best championship run in eight years in Austin. With Oklahoma struggling and the Big 12 down in general, only a season-ending game in late November at Texas A&M seems dangerous.

Team that hurt its BCS chances the most: There's misery in company for the Big Ten. After the league went unbeaten the first week playing against mostly mid- or lower-tier teams, three of its best teams lost. Aside from Michigan losing at home to the Irish and the Buckeyes going down at The Horseshoe, Iowa lost to Iowa State.

That might leave Purdue as the Big Ten's best hope for a BCS title shot. The Boilermakers don't play either Michigan or Ohio State and get Iowa at home next month. But given Purdue's penchant to implode every year around midseason, it looks like the Big Ten might get shut out in the Big Game.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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