Solich opens at home with Pittsburgh

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Associated Press

Ten thousand pairs of thunder sticks. Ten thousand rally towels. Two thousand T-shirts.

Peden Stadium will be awash with a lot of free stuff on Friday night - all green and white, of course - to mark what Ohio University hopes is a long-awaited turning point in its football program.

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It's Frank Solich's coming-out party.

The face of the former Nebraska coach has already become the face of the Bobcats (0-1), a perennial also-ran in the Mid-American Conference. His mug has adorned billboards around the college town of Athens in southeast Ohio for months.

On Friday night, he gets to settle into his new home for the first time, facing a Pittsburgh team that flopped a week ago in coach Dave Wannstedt's home debut. The Panthers (0-1) brought in famous alumni Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino and Mike Ditka for the big moment, only to get trashed by Notre Dame 42-21.

Wannstedt knows what Solich is feeling.

''It's a very similar situation, I'm sure, as far as trying to set a foundation for his program,'' Wannstedt said.

Solich is starting from scratch. The Bobcats haven't been seen by a national audience since 1969, when they were coming off a 10-1 record and the MAC championship. They slipped to 5-4-1 that year, and kept on sliding.

The Bobcats have had only six winning seasons in the past 35 years, averaging a paltry 3.7 wins per year. A dozen times, they've won two or fewer games. They've had back-to-back winning seasons only once.

During the slide into football oblivion, a campus tradition grew. Students went to the 24,000-seat stadium, stayed to watch the renowned marching band at halftime, then made a mass exodus before the second-half kickoff.

That's what Solich is up against as he works to build a fan base beginning with the students and extending to backers throughout Ohio.

''We are really working at trying to get support for our football team, and I think that's going to happen. We're hoping we can maintain the enthusiasm with our students in terms of attending the game,'' he said.

The Bobcats opened with a 38-14 loss at Northwestern that showed their lack of experience and depth.