Bowling Green Last Year 10-4
7-1 MAC East (1st)
Head Coach: Dino Babers
2014 MAC Media Preseason Poll:
(1st in East and overall champs)
The last time Dino Babers took over a football program, he guided a last place team to a first place finish in one year. He won’t have to pull that off again this time around. Babers, who succeeded Dave Clawson at Bowling Green following the 2013 season, not only is head coach of a defending MAC champion, he inherited a talented squad picked to repeat in 2014.
Babers would appear to be a virtual perfect pick for the Orange and White. His Eastern Illinois team led the nation in several offensive categories and made it to the FCS quarterfinals. Guiding the run on the field was Walter Payton award-winning QB Jimmy Garappalo. Before that, he tutored Robert Griffin III at Baylor.
Now Babers has another outstanding quarterback to execute his dynamic offensive plans. With a relatively favorable schedule, including Indiana at home, can BG take home another MAC title and improve on last season’s 10-4 mark?
Defense has probably the Falcons high card in recent times. However, even before Babers arrived, BG’s offense was on a major up tick. Much of the credit goes to quarterback Matt Johnson.
Johnson might have been flying a little under the radar heading into last season. But after coming off the bench in game one, he started the rest of the way.
Three outstanding quarterbacks from other schools drew All-MAC honors. However, it was Johnson who earned MAC Championship MVP honors after throwing for a career-high 393 yards and five TDs against Northern Illinois in the title game. Between the championship and graduation of the other three, Johnson finds himself squarely in the spotlight this season.
“I still go to practice every single day with the same mindset I had last year,” Johnson said. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
Given Babers’ Falcon Fast uptempo offense, the junior should enjoy a very productive season.
>>> Bowling Green lost its top two receivers with graduation, but there is confidence in the replacements. Heath Jackson (5-11, 187, Sr) is the leading returnee. He hauled in 32 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Burbrink, (30 catches, 477 yards, two TDs) and Ronnie Moore (28 receptions, 547 yards, team-high seven TDs) are also back. Several newcomers could also make an impact.
There are some questions at tight end, where returnees totaled just four catches (88 yards, one TD) – all by Chris Pohlman.
>>> Complimenting the BG passing attack is a stable of runners. Travis Green, who finished 2013 with a school record 1,594 rushing yards, leads the group. He, along with William Houston, accounted for 22 of the Falcons 30 TDs in the ground game. Houston was the primary short-yardage option. Andre Givens and Fred Coppet are back after registering 45 and 46 carries, respectively. Givens had three TDs.
>>> Bowling Green lost two good ones up front in All-MAC First Team members David “Chief” Kekuewa and Dominic Flewellyn. Returning starters are Ben Steward (R-Fr), Ben Steward (R-So) and J.J. Beggan (R-So). Building a physical and effective line is important, according to Babers, who appreciates physical football.
“It’s a game of toughness,” he said “The offensive and defensive lines – that is what is going to be the key to most of these football games. We have some skilled players that can make some plays, but we are really interested … at making sure we are tough in the trenches so that these guys out there on the edge can get the opportunities they deserve.”
The Falcons once again excelled on the defensive side of the ball last season. The Falcons ranked first (MAC) in scoring defense (15.9 ppg) and held a nearly nine-point advantage over Buffalo in second place.
Bowling Green was also first in total defense, first in rushing defense and second in pass defense.
Both defensive ends return, but the Falcons must replace both interior linemen.
DE Bryan Thomas led the D-line in 2013 with 37 tackles, including 7.0 TFL Charlie Walker is at the other end. Zach Colvin and Taylor Royster are among others along the front line.
>>> Two second team All-MAC linebackers anchor the next level. D.J. Lynch led the team in tackles (85, 8.0 TFL, two sacks). Gabe Martin exited 2013 after an injury in game No.8. He had 36 stops before the injury. Paul Senn saw action in all 14 games and notched 37 tackles.
>>> Just one starter returns in the secondary. Among the losses is BooBoo Gates, an All-MAC First Team member who shined in the BG secondary for several years. Cameron Truss and Aaron Foster are also gone.
Ryland Ward should anchor this season’s D-back unit. He finished second on the team with 81 tackles in 2013. He also recorded two interceptions, five pass breakups, seven pass defenses, two recovered fumbles and one forced fumble. Darrell Hunter, who missed all of last season after a fall camp injury, will also be back in the mix. Will Watson gained some valuable experience while filling in for injured players in 2013.
Veteran punter Brian Schmiedebusch is gone, with Joe Davidson likely to fill that role. However, placekicker Tyler Tate returns after scoring 113 points (school record for a kicker) last season. He was 18 of 22 on field goals and 59 of 61 on PATs. Anthony Farinella also returns. He averaged 60.8 yards per kickoff and recorded 29 touchbacks in 2013.
There are quite a few spots to fill on defense, but if BG can find answers on that side of the ball and a couple receivers step up, look out!
Babers is a protégé of Baylor’s Art Briles and it showed – big time – when he became a head coach at Eastern Illinois. With the talented Johnson at QB, if the O-line proves effective, Bowling Green’s offense will be in the fast lane.
“We want to run plays fast, and when we choose not to go fast, we’ll let you know.” Babers said. “For the most part, we want to run 85 snaps a game or more. We want to keep the defense under constant pressure.”
The Falcons ranked third in total offense and defense last year. Both Northern Illinois and Ball State lost very productive quarterbacks, so BG could very well finish at the top.
Ah … the top. Falcon nation enjoyed a view from the top last year. Bowling Green fans have plenty of reason to believe they can enjoy a similar vista in 2014.