Frank Solich can empathize with Bill O'Brien.
It was "daunting" replacing Tom Osborne as Nebraska's football coach, Solich said earlier this week as his Ohio team prepared to play Saturday at Penn State.
What O'Brien faces surpasses daunting for obvious reasons — reasons that don't much interest Solich, at least not this week.
A native of Smokeless, Pa., Solich is back in the national limelight, or awfully close to it, trying to pull off the biggest win in the Ohio program's history.
He has never felt comfortable in the limelight.
"I'm fine with fading into the woodwork and doing my job," he told me in November.
The 67-year-old Solich has been doing his job quite well, steadily building Ohio over the past eight years to the point where it's the preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference championship.
And to the point where the Bobcats are a legitimate threat to further dampen spirits in Happy Valley.
"After Nebraska, I figured if I could take a program and really build it — I mean, really build it — then I'd feel pretty good about my coaching career and be able to look back and feel comfortable with it," Solich said.
Ohio enters the season with momentum from its first-ever bowl victory (in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) and its first 10-win season since 1968. It was the Bobcats' third straight bowl game.
Before Solich's arrival, the Bobcats had been to two bowls in their history.
Ohio's rise under Solich has remained under the national radar in part because it has been a gradual ascent. The ascendancy should continue this season, as the Bobcats return 15 starters from last year's team, including quarterback Tyler Tettleton — a rough-and-tumble spark plug who threw for more than 3,000 yards last season.
Tettleton, a junior, gives Ohio at least one distinct advantage over quarterback-challenged Penn State.
Expect a close a game.
Seems Solich has found a nice fit in Athens, Ohio.
Some might suggest otherwise.
"If you're going to say it's a good fit, then what you're saying is Frank Solich is a mid-major coach only," said Bob Sawdon of Lincoln, a close friend of Frank's. "I don't agree with that."
Solich was 58-19 (.753) at Nebraska. It wasn't enough in the wake of Osborne's remarkable success.
So, yeah, the NU job was daunting — but not as unwieldy as the situation O'Brien faces at Penn State.
FIVE TO GO
Yeah, Notre Dame has tradition. It has mystique. It has Touchdown Jesus. It also has the toughest schedule in the nation. Here are the top five most arduous schedules, according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com.
1. Notre Dame — I hope Brian Kelly's superiors take into account the schedule's ridiculous difficulty. The road slate includes games at preseason No. 13 Michigan State, at No. 4 Oklahoma and at No. 1 USC. The Irish also play home games against No. 8 Michigan and No. 21 Stanford, and face Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago on Oct. 6.
2. Ole Miss — The Rebels are a close second behind the Irish on this list. A very close second. Ole Miss plays an absolutely lethal road schedule: at No. 2 Alabama, at No. 10 Arkansas, at No. 6 Georgia and at No. 3 LSU. The Rebels also play No. 15 Texas at home on Sept. 15. Welcome to the big time, Hugh Freeze.
3. Washington — Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian might know his team's postseason fate after the first six weeks of the season. Between Sept. 8 and Oct. 13, the Huskies play four nationally ranked opponents: No. 3 LSU (road), No. 21 Stanford (home), No. 5 Oregon (road) and No. 1 USC (home). Then UW plays four of its last six Pac-12 games on the road, including trips to Arizona and California. Sheesh.
4. Kansas — Charlie Weis' task is difficult enough without an inordinately difficult schedule. The Jayhawks, 2-10 under Turner Gill last season, play ranked opponents in five of their first eight games: No. 20 TCU (home), No. 22 Kansas State (road), No. 19 Oklahoma State (home), No. 4 Oklahoma (road) and No. 15 Texas (home). They also play at No. 11 West Virginia to close the regular season.
5. Michigan — The Wolverines crack the top five mostly because of their opener against the Tide. Brady Hoke's crew also plays No. 13 Michigan State at home, along with road games at Notre Dame, at No. 17 Nebraska and at No. 18 Ohio State. At least UM avoids facing Wisconsin.
Going to the mailbag
So, what did you think of Johnny Stanton last weekend in his game on ESPN2?
I caught glimpses of the game. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Stanton (of Santa Margarita, Calif.) played as I imagined: He's a powerful runner, though without explosive speed. What made the biggest impression was his arm strength; the ball jumps from his hand. I think he has great potential as a passer. He also has a strong presence. The Huskers got a good one.