If you missed Part I of the Bowling Green preview, you can read it here.
Helping me out with Part II is John Wagner, the Bowling Green beat writer for The Toledo Blade, who recently dabbled in a little bit of coaching from the sideline. You can read his Falcons coverage here, read his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.
To the questions …
AB: Quarterback Matt Schilz threw for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, but what will the passing attack look like now that All-MAC selection Kamar Jorden is gone, along with five other senior wide receivers?
JW: “I don’t think you will see big changes in offensive personality here. One subtle change may be more reliance on the running game, thanks to the return of MAC freshman of the year Anthon Samuel and a number of linemen, not to mention all of the receivers who have left. Matt Schilz will have to continue the development he showed last year … and the biggest improvement will have to be on cutting out the turnovers. He is in his third year as a starter, and he is capable of making big plays. The problem last year wasn’t just that there were a number of turnovers — it was that the turnovers were so hurtful. In other words, BG’s turnovers always seemed to lead directly to touchdowns.
“A lot of eyes will be on the receiving corps, which will need to step forward. The hope is that Michigan transfer Je’Ron Stokes, Shaun Joplin and Heath Jackson will do just that. Stokes and Joplin in particular are extremely athletic. There also is a large group of redshirt freshmen who will get a chance to play at wide receiver, most notably Herve Coby, Chris Gallon and Diontre Delk. Two years ago Kamar Jorden came out of nowhere and had a huge season; last season Eugene Cooper stepped out of the shadows for a big season. There will be opportunities here.”
AB: Based on spring performances, it appears an offensive line that returns plenty of players who got experience last year should be improved. How do you think they’ll fare? And do you think the Falcons’ running game that was middle of the pack in the MAC will be better this year as a result?
JW: “Ah, yes, the offensive line. No position, even the wide receivers, has faced greater scrutiny. Two linemen have been lost: one is Ben Bojicic, an All-MAC performer who graduated, and the other is Kyle Bryant, who was dismissed from the team recently. There are some experienced players coming back, and the return of Chip Robinson, Jordon Roussos and Dominic Flewellyn are a good starting point.
“The coaching staff has been excited by some of the younger linemen who redshirted last year, but are expected to step forward this year. Two redshirt freshmen who fit this description are Alex Huettel and Fahn Cooper. But the thing the BG coaches like most is this: They feel they have developed depth at the position. The past two seasons, all it took was ONE lineman to go down before problems started. This year the Falcons feel the quality of depth is such that they can survive one injury. What’s more, competition for playing time should make everyone better.”
AB: With 10 starters back on defense, can this group cut down much on the 406 yards it allowed per game a year ago? Who do you see as players who could stand out?
JW: “This group MUST find a way to lower the rushing yards allowed to be successful. Before last season the Falcons had a young secondary, and the fear was that teams would throw the ball so much that BG wouldn’t be able to stop them. Instead teams beat them into submission on the ground. How bad was it? Even West Virginia, which ranked sixth nationally in passing offense and 92nd nationally in rushing offense, ran for 360 yards against the Falcons. With 10 starters back, there is optimism that the defense against the run will be better.
“In terms of players to watch, the leader of the line is senior DT Chris Jones, a two-time All-MAC pick who really does a good job against both the pass and the run. At linebacker, senior Dwayne Woods (pictured) also is a two-time All-MAC choice who has the ability to make big plays as well as making lots of tackles. Woods finished sixth in the nation in tackles two years ago but had fewer last year when he was surrounded by better players. Another playmaker on defense is junior Jerry “BooBoo” Gates, an all-league kickoff returner who also makes big hits on defense and special teams. A fourth player to watch is sophomore Ryland Ward, who started at strong safety as a freshman and should take a big step forward this fall.”
AB: The MAC seems to be a conference won by experienced teams. The Falcons were young last year but return the majority of the roster. Do you see them making a marked improvement from their 5-7 record a year ago? And how do they fit into the MAC picture?
JW: “I do see the Falcons taking a big step forward this season, to a point where the expectation is to at least become bowl-eligible, if not compete for a division and league title. One reason is the large number of returnees on both sides of the ball. A year’s experience should lead to improvement almost everywhere. Further, BG should be good on special teams thanks to an All-MAC punter, Brian Schmiedebusch, and return games led by Gates. The place-kicking is a concern at this point.
“The second reason for improvement is that Bowling Green faced the toughest schedule in the league last year. There were five bowl teams from the MAC last season, and BG was the only school that faced all five. While the Falcons beat Temple last year, the Owls are a tough team that is being replaced by a lesser team in Massachusetts. And BG didn’t play one MAC East Division team last season: Akron, which was winless in the league. If the team is better and the schedule is easier, shouldn’t that translate into more wins?”
AB: Dave Clawson is a name many Virginians are aware of from his time at Richmond, where he took the Spiders to the FCS semifinals in 2007. How do you think he’ll do at Bowling Green going forward? Can the Falcons reach the heights achieved by Urban Meyer and Gregg Brandon again?
JW: “Dave Clawson has preached patience, even when he took Bowling Green to a bowl game in his first season here. But that team was led by 22 seniors, and the rebuilding began after they left. Further, Clawson had to deal with APR problems that led to scholarship reductions, and at the same time build up a program that had seen recruiting slip in the years before he arrived. And the recruiting before he arrived was so bad, this year’s team includes one recruiting class before Clawson arrived, and only ONE player from that class is on this year’s team (Robinson).
“Two years ago Clawson steadfastly took his lumps and redshirted a class that could have helped avoid a 2-10 record. Last year he against redshirted heavily, but also played a number of underclassman and finished 5-7. This year’s team should be better. MUCH better. And that should show up in the team’s record, even though the Falcons have road game at Florida and at Virginia Tech where they will be decided underdogs.
“And with all due respect to Urban Meyer and Gregg Brandon, the program has the potential to exceed both of them. Meyer was 17-6 in two seasons at BG but never even reached the MAC Championship or a post-season bowl. Brandon was 44-30 in six seasons, reached the MAC Championship game once (where the Falcons lost to Ben Roethlisberger‘s Miami team) and went to three bowl games (two in Brandon’s first two seasons (2003-04) and once in 2007, where the Falcons were clocked by Tulsa 63-7 in the GMAC Bowl).”
So there you haven’t: we’re officially at the one-third mark of the opponent previews. Thanks to John for helping me out with this one.
Bowling Green might be improved, but it shouldn’t give Virginia Tech too much trouble. I’ve seen fans complain about scheduling a game like this, but it’s pretty standard fare for teams from big conferences — yes, even those in the high and mighty SEC — to schedule a few mid- to low-level teams each year. Auburn, for instance, plays Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State and Alabama A&M next year in addition to Clemson. I’d argue that Bowling Green is better than any of those first three.
The Falcons might be improved, but the Hokies have a clear talent advantage and, if focused, should win this one fairly easy in my opinion.