From the outside it may appear that everyone in Ohio is a Buckeyes fan.  Ohio State probably gets more publicity than all the other institutions in Ohio combined, and for a long time it was the only Ohio school in a BCS conference, so it’s easy to see why some may believe this.

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been an Ohio Bobcats diehard since the day I stepped on campus in September 2008.  Coincidentally, my hatred for Ohio State, which had laid dormant during my grade school years, has awoken while on the campus of another university.  This is partially due to the fact that on game day I see more scarlet and grey jerseys in campus bars than green and white ones in the stands of Peden Stadium.  This article in Ohio University’s student newspaper pretty much sums up my opinion on the Ohio State issue.

It’s hard to be a fan of a non-BCS school (unless that school is a perennial power like Boise State, TCU or Utah).  The mainstream media only reports on our team if something really amazing or really terrible happens, and you won’t see Lee Corso putting on a Bobcat head anytime soon.  The only times our games are shown are early in the season when we pick up our paycheck to play one of the BCS schools or during the conference season on a Tuesday night on ESPN U.

I decided to document my experiences this past Saturday as my beloved Bobcats opened Mid-American Conference play against the Toledo Rockets in an attempt to describe what it’s like to root for a school big enough to play at the same level as the big boys, but small enough to remain off the mainstream radar.

I left my apartment around 1 p.m. after watching the first quarter of the noon games.  The Ohio Women’s Volleyball Team was hosting a mini-tournament against some big names, Pitt, Northwestern and nationally-ranked Tennessee.  Our volleyball team is good.  They’ve won the MAC and played in the NCAA tournament the past several years.  However, they weren’t good enough this weekend, sweeping Pitt Friday morning, losing a five-set heart-breaker to Tennessee that night and falling 3-1 to tournament champions Northwestern on Saturday. And yes, you read that correctly, I skipped out on other schools’ football games to watch my school’s volleyball match.

The match ended around 4 and I headed to the tailgate park for some pregame festivities.  We don’t have too many tailgaters, and very few students partake in the action.  I suppose most of the student body would rather watch other games than to tailgate ours, especially with Ohio State playing Miami at 3:30.  I tailgate with members of Bobcat Attack, a forum for Ohio athletic superfans like myself.

The homemade Bobcat Attack megagrill

While we talked about the volleyball tournament and that night’s game, the tent next to ours was a different story.  Instead of grilling and getting excited for our game they had a portable satellite tuned to the Buckeyes game and spent the afternoon huddled around the TV cheering every time OSU did anything.  That’s a good indicator of how the Bobcats almost always play second fiddle, even in their own city.

I stuck around the Bobcat Attack tailgate long enough to grab a hot dog, then made my to the Student Tailgate Park.  This is one of the better recent decisions made by the university, a practice field converted into an area for students to hang out before kickoff.  There’s a DJ, plenty of cornhole boards and every week different vendors come with free food for everyone.  As a member of the OZone, our official cheering section, I usually work the table at the park signing up new members.  It was extremely busy for the first game, but by week two almost everyone is signed up, so there isn’t much traffic.  Overall turnout at the student tailgate also took a big hit from week one to two.  Partially because everyone wants to do to everything move-in weekend, partially because the sky was grey and the forecast was calling for rain and, again, partially because most students were still too busy watching Ohio State to come out.

I entered Peden Stadium right at 5:30, just as the gates opened.  I’m usually one of the first ones in the stadium to claim my seat.  A benefit of being a smaller team is students get into all games for free and OZone members are given the best sections in the stadium.  I parked myself in the front row of the 50 and watched the teams warm up for the 7:00 kickoff.

The field view from my seat

These would actually become pretty full with students, at least until halftime

We actually schedule our games around Ohio State’s schedule.  When they play at noon, we play at night.  When they play at night, we kickoff at 2.  Their 3:30 game is a dilemma because if we start early, everyone will leave to get to a bar to watch the Buckeyes.  We decide on a night game in hopes that the dual fans will come out once the OSU game is over.  That’s another problem more prestigious programs don’t have to deal with.  A lot of our students grew up Buckeye fans and it’s hard for them to switch allegiances and make the Bobcats their top priority.

As kickoff approaches “The Most Exciting Band in the Land” takes the field.  The Ohio University Marching 110 is truly the pride of the university.  They are routinely rated one of the best college bands in the country for their high-energy performances and funky dance routines.  A lot of students actually care more about the band than the football team and it’s evidenced by the exodus of students after the 110’s halftime performance.

The Marching 110 doing what they do best

It’s sad to see how many students head for the exits after halftime.  Even if the game is close, and this one was 13-13 at the break, roughly half of the students will head out before its conclusion.  Night games are the worst because most students need to start their drinking before 10 when the game ends.  The atmosphere takes a huge hit as a result, but that’s the price you when students are apathetic towards their own school’s athletics.

Toledo held us scoreless in the second half, and they picked up a touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 20-13 victory.

No victory on Victory Hill this time

It was a tough loss at home because we are a favorite in the MAC East and Toledo is picked to finish near the bottom of the MAC West.  You always want to start conference play off on a good note and we failed to do that.  What makes matters worse is we can’t do anything about our conference record until October 2.  This week we travel to Ohio State and then on to Marshall on September 25.  We’ll probably lose both games and start up MAC play again deflated with a 1-3 record.

Playing in the FBS, but outside the BCS is tough because even if we went undefeated we wouldn’t play for a National Championship.  Many top-level FCS schools are competitive with FBS teams of our caliber, and those teams have a playoff and a title to compete for.  The best we can do is play in low-level bowl games in undesirable cities (I’m looking at you Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit!)

I know this has been a pretty negative post, but don’t get me wrong, I love my school and my team.  I just wish more of the student body felt the same passion I do.  I have a blast at all the games and some of my best friends here are the other diehard Bobcat fans.  I know it’s hard to get excited when the team is never ranked and isn’t mentioned on ESPN, especially when a team some 80 miles up US 33 has been a contender for years.

This week is especially hard for me and other Ohio fans as we once again travel to the Horseshoe and take on the Buckeyes.  We played Ohio State in 2008 and almost pulled off the upset.  It was my first weekend on campus, and it really cemented my love of the Bobcats.  Every time I’ve walked past someone with an OSU shirt on this week I’ve wondered, does he even know who they play this week?  I’d hope that all the students here will be wearing green and white this Saturday, but I’ve already heard some saying they will be sporting both schools’ colors as they watch.  I can’t fathom rooting against my own school, no matter how long I’ve been a fan of the opponent, but I know it will happen on Saturday.  If we somehow manage to pull off the upset I’m sure many of my classmates will be upset that we ruined OSU’s shot at losing a National Championship game to an SEC school.

I’d be ok with them being upset because I’ll be out celebrating the biggest win in my school’s history.  Go Bobcats!