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Top CFL prospect Rourke generating plenty of buzz

Kurtis Rourke Ohio Bobcats Kurtis Rourke - Getty Images

Ohio University quarterback Kurtis Rourke will play his closest game to home this season when the Oakville, Ont., native and his Bobcats team visit the University of Buffalo to take on the Bulls Tuesday night in Mid-American Conference NCAA football action on TSN.

Watch the game LIVE on TSN1/4/5, and the TSN App at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt.

Ohio arrives at this game fighting for a chance at the MAC Championship game with a 6-3 record on the season but just 3-2 in their own conference, their latest loss coming last week against archrival Miami of Ohio.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Ohio and its senior quarterback, who by the end of last season was getting legitimate buzz despite playing in a conference not known for producing NFL quarterbacks not named Roethlisberger.

A repeat of his 2022 MAC Player of the Year season would give the 6-foot-5, 231-pound passer a shot to be taken in the 2024 NFL Draft or be signed as a priority free agent.

But with just three games remaining, those prospects appear to have fallen. Rourke’s NFL stock, based on analysts’ rankings, has taken a hit during his team’s disappointing season just one year after the Bobcats went 7-1 in conference play.

One season after throwing for 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions, this season the 23-year-old Rourke has tossed just 10 touchdown passes against five interceptions, three of which occurred in a loss to Northern Illinois, another conference loss.

The website ranks Rourke, at this time, the 32nd best 2024 NFL draft prospect among 69 quarterbacks ranked.

There were 14 quarterbacks selected in the 2023 draft and another 13 signed as priority college free agents last spring, putting Rourke on the bubble of whether or not he will get an NFL opportunity. A strong showing down the final three games of the season would help. 

A big part of the lesson here is, as the great Archie Manning likes to say, quarterbacks are not golfers or tennis stars. They play a team sport and are subject to the strengths and weaknesses of those around them.

And in the case of Ohio this season, that’s meant struggling to run the football and often taking too many penalties, forcing the offence into obvious passing situations. That’s taken much of the guesswork out for opposing defences, which have been able to focus on stopping Rourke.

Last week’s 30-16 loss to Miami was a prime example, as the Bobcats took eight offensive penalties and managed just 50 yards on the ground.

Despite that, Rourke threw for 313 yards and a touchdown without an interception.

“I’m happy with his toughness and finding a way to move the ball without a consistent running game,” Ohio coach Tim Albin said this week. “That’s difficult to do. He’s doing a good job of managing that and not pressing. We want Kurtis to make every throw but it’s just not going to happen.

“I think he’s handled where he is right now very well and we’re going to continue to help him. He’s doing a good job letting guys around him make plays. If he can be consistent, that gives us our best chance.”

Saturday’s performance in the loss to Miami was just Rourke’s second 300-yard passing game of the year, a mark he hit six times a year ago, including one game over 400 yards and another over 500.

But there is context to that as well. From the outset of this season, there was expectation that Rourke’s numbers would come down based on the high quality of the Ohio defence that, as projected, has kept them out of shootout-style games.

It’s also worth noting that Rourke is less than a year removed from tearing his ACL, an injury that delayed him from being named the opening week starter until days before kickoff. Had that injury not occurred, it’s quite possible Rourke might have entered the NCAA football transfer portal in order to earn an opportunity at a Power Five conference.

Due to COVID-19, that opportunity is still available to him after this season due to an extra year of eligibility given to athletes whose seasons were cancelled or reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Rourke has made it known he’s assuming this will be his final season of college football.

The winner in all of this, of course, could be the Canadian Football League which placed Rourke at the No. 1 position in its fall prospect rankings, the first time a quarterback has held that position. That’s notable since Rourke’s older brother, Nathan (now with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars), was an Ohio quarterback of great success as well.

Given the success Nathan enjoyed during his short time in the CFL with the BC Lions, there’s going to be a lot of intrigue about his not-so-little brother come this winter and next spring.

Tonight should be a great preview of what CFL fans may get to see up close as soon as next season.