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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 101: Bowling Green

It’s a good thing that Dave Clawson knows a thing or two about rebuilding: he’s won where few before him had won before, taking Fordham and Richmond from the cellar to the F.C.S. playoffs on his way up the coaching ladder. Unfortunately, those who thought Clawson’s rebuilding days were behind him received a rude awakening in 2010, when the Falcons slipped from the school record books to a three-way tie at the bottom of the MAC East division. One change: Fordham and Richmond were bad before Clawson arrived and were bad when he arrived, while Bowling Green wasn’t terrible when he arrived, was pretty good his first season but nosedived in year two. So that’s new.

Conference
MAC, East

Location
Bowling Green, Oh.

Nickname
Falcons

Returning starters
12 (6 offense, 6 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 89

2010 record
(2-10, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 109

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    at Idaho
  • Sept. 10
    Morgan St.
  • Sept. 17
    Wyoming
  • Sept. 24
    at Miami (Ohio)
  • Oct. 1
    at West Virginia
  • Oct. 8
    at W. Michigan
  • Oct. 15
    Toledo
  • Oct. 22
    Temple
  • Oct. 29
    at Kent St.
  • Nov. 8
    Northern Illinois
  • Nov. 16
    Ohio
  • Nov. 25
    at Buffalo

Last year’s prediction

This will be a rebuilding year for Clawson and the Falcons. This is not a surprise: programs like Florida and U.S.C. might be able to reload after losing so much talent, but programs like Bowling Green — with all due respect — cannot. In a worse-case scenario, the Falcons suffer through the worst season in recent program history. I don’t many would be surprised. In the best case, B.G.S.U. improves upon last season’s output, thanks to the experience gained during Clawson’s debut season. I’m more inclined to believe the latter more likely of occurring — not to say I believe it actually will occur, mind you. But I don’t think we’re going to see the Falcons completely off the map in the MAC: there is still enough talent here to finish around .500 in conference action, though the non-conference schedule will give Bowling Green some problems. If Clawson can win with this team, he deserves to be mentioned among the best coaches in the MAC. It’s more likely that this is his one down season; next year should be better.

2010 recap

In a nutshell Blame Gregg Brandon, or blame Clawson. Your choice. You can lay blame on Clawson’s predecessor, bemoaning the state in which he left the program after his dismissal in 2008. If you do take that tack, however, remember to credit Brandon for recruiting the players Clawson used to win seven games in 2009. So it’s a sticky situation. Let’s just not blame anyone, alright? And let’s turn the page on last season’s 2-10 mess, focusing only on the fact that Bowling Green hung around in some games it lost. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that the Falcons tied for last in the MAC East with two of the worst teams in the country in Buffalo and Akron. So, in a sense, it’s not a stretch to say that Bowling Green was likewise one of the nation’s worst in 2010.

High point Only have two options. Central Michigan won three games, Marshall five, so let’s go with the Thundering Herd. The Falcons dropped 44 points that Saturday behind a season-high 292 yards passing.

Low point Ten options. Four were close — Troy, Tulsa, Temple and Miami (Ohio) — so they’re out of the running. A few were ugly, but you can’t count a loss to Michigan, as disappointing as the Wolverines were, as a low point. The clear choice is Buffalo, which notched its only win over an F.B.S. opponent when it sneaked past Bowling Green on the road, 28-26.

Tidbit Bowling Green might have the youngest coaching staff in the country. No one position coach or coordinator graduated from college earlier than 1988, and four earned their respective degrees from 1999-2003. Running backs coach John Hunter — a holdover from the previous staff — and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Warren Ruggiero are the elder statesmen of the group, having graduated in 1988; that makes them, if my math is correct, about 46.

Tidbit (10-loss edition) Heading into last season, Bowling Green was one of three MAC programs to have never lost more than nine games in a season. So much for that. Now make it two: Central Michigan and Toledo. The Chippewas came mighty close in 2010, however, and the outlook looks equally bleak in 2011.

Former players in the N.F.L.

4 LB Diyral Briggs (Green Bay), OG Kory Lichtensteiger (Washington), C Scott Mruczkowski (San Diego), K Shaun Suisham (Pittsburgh).

Arbitrary top five list

My favorite Greens
1. Darrell, cornerback.
2. Al, singer.
3. Hugh, linebacker.
4. A.C., forward.
5. Ahman, running back.

Coaching

Dave Clawson (Williams ’89), 9-16 after two seasons at Bowling Green. Clawson has a very impressive resume on the F.C.S. level, where he coached at Fordham (1999-2003) and Richmond (2004-7). He initially struggled at Fordham, a program coming off 12 consecutive losing seasons, going 3-19 in his first two seasons (1999-2000). The Rams went 0-11 in his first season, tying the 1994 team for the worst finish in school history. The team made a modest climb to 3-8 in 2000 before going 26-10 over his final three years, the best stretch in the program’s 120-year history. That stretch drew the attention of Richmond, another historically mediocre program desperate for a winning season. Again, Clawson’s initial season was a learning experience (3-8 in 2004), but the Spiders finished 26-12 from 2005-7, twice advancing to the F.C.S. playoffs. Clawson’s only F.B.S. experience prior to being hired at Bowling Green came in 2008, when he served a single, much-maligned season as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. As we can all remember, 2008 marked the worst season in recent memory for the Volunteers, and Clawson received much of the blame from fans for the team’s poor play. Regardless of his work at Tennessee, Clawson’s experience on the F.C.S. level qualified him to take the next step at a program like Bowling Green. His first season was a success, last season a disappointment, but the real test of Clawson’s rebuilding project comes in the near future, as he begins adding his own players.

Players to watch

You can’t talk about the offense as a whole without talking about the offensive line, which I’ll do below. So you could hop down to the next section if you’d like, or read through this section and then move on down to the next section, if you’d prefer. It’s up to you. Just know this: the performance of each group hinges on how the offensive line improves, or if it improves at all, so if you choose to read this section and then move to the next section keep that thought in mind. Anyway, the offense was as frustrating in 2010 as it was explosive in 2009, on the ground and through the air, and — you guessed it — injuries, a lack of depth and ineffectiveness along the offensive line was largely to blame.

Freddie Barnes was irreplaceable, but senior Kamar Jorden came close to replacing the lost production at receiver a year ago. He didn’t quite set N.C.A.A. records, but his numbers were more than just satisfactory: 96 catches for 1,109 yards and 4 scores, accounting for about 36, 40 and 33 percent of the team’s overall totals, respectively. That means he’s important to the offense. But he could use some help, especially after the next three-leading receivers were lost to graduation. So receivers Adrian Hodges (20 receptions for 156 yards) and Eugene Cooper (17 for 130) need to step up, and Bowling Green should look to involve tight end Alex Bayer (22 for 298, 13.5 yards per catch) even more in the offense.

Matt Schilz was only a freshman, so the penchant for turnovers can be excused on the grounds of inexperience. The excuses won’t last too much longer, now that Schilz has 10 starts and 377 attempts under his belt. This offense is quarterback-friendly, and Schilz has the ability to be a pretty good MAC quarterback, so keep an eye on his development in 2011 and beyond. Yeah, the system is quarterback-friendly, but not so friendly that the offense can succeed if he doesn’t improve. He’ll be backed up by Trent Hurley, who moved up the depth chart quickly as a true freshman last fall and could see time this fall.

The running game terrible in 2010 — the offensive line, remember? Well, how bad was it? Try 62.8 yards per game, the worst total in the country; 2.1 yards per carry, also worst; and only 752 yards altogether, which means the yardage gap between the Falcons and Georgia Tech, the most prolific running team in the F.B.S., would have been the ninth-most rushing yards by any team in the nation. So it doesn’t help that Willie Geter, the team’s leading rusher last fall and one of the top 10 rushers in school history, has graduated. So it will be a by-committee approach, led by the trio of Jamel Martin, John Pettigrew — who Clawson singled out during the spring — and leading returning rusher Jordan Hopgood (167 yards, 6 scores, 2.2 yards per carry).

The Falcons return four of five starting defensive backs in its 4-2-5, and have a younger piece ready to step and replace rover Calvin Marshall. The new face is Boo Boo Gates — wonderful name — who played plenty as a true freshman, notching 35 tackles and an interception in a reserve role. So he’ll be joining four returning starters: cornerbacks Cameron Truss, a sophomore, and senior Adrien Spencer; and safeties Keith Morgan (91 tackles) and Jovan Leacock (team-best three interceptions),

Look for better play from the secondary in 2011. Truss is a year wiser, and Aunre’ Davis and Tim Moore will add depth. If last year is any indication, Gates will be a good contributor at the rover spot, and the secondary will have three senior starters. These are all good things. Now, a pass rush would really, really help matters. Cue the defensive line.

The line is deep in the middle and weak outside; with such an emphasis on getting to the quarterback, you’d almost rather have the situation swapped. Finding ends was a major goal during the spring and will continue to be of importance come the fall, as the Falcons lost both starters. The Falcons are looking for Ronnie Goble to step up, but he needs to be fully healthy after missing nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury. There are a pair of redshirt freshmen in the mix — Bryan Thomas and Charlie Walker — and while Thomas made some plays during the spring neither has the type of experience you desire from your starting ends.

At least the interior of the line has a number of options. Chris Jones (39 tackles, 11 for loss, 6 sacks) is a disrupter, as those numbers indicate, and the Falcons return his running mate inside in Kevin Alvarado (34 tackles, 2 sacks). More depth comes from Jairus Campbell, Ted Oueller and Darius Gilbert, the latter a redshirt freshman.

Dwayne Woods was a second-team all-conference pick last fall, when he led the team and finished third in the conference with 134 tackles (6 for loss, 2.5 sacks). He’ll tackle most things that progress past the first level, which is good, since a lot of plays progress past the first level of the defense. One starter needs to be replaced, with Paul Swan (28 tackles, 2.5 for loss) the second-most experienced returning linebacker.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line This offensive line is a mess. Or it was a year ago, at least, and will be again if Bowling Green can’t do three things: one, identify a clear starting five; two, find at least three reserve linemen capable of being at least serviceable if called upon; and three, remain injury-free. The third thing is out of the team’s hands, but the first two can be achieved — at least the first. Four starters return up front, led by senior center Ben Bojicic, an all-conference candidate. When he’s on the field, I should add; he missed four games a year ago. What’s going on outside of center? Well, Jordan Roussos can start at right tackle, as he did last year. Senior Scott Lewis, when he returns from injury in the fall, could lend a hand on the interior. Dominic Flewellyn and Chip Robinson combined to start most of last season at right and left guard, respectively, and might be better with an added year of experience under their belts. The bottom line, however, is that outside of Bojicic — and he has injury concerns — the line has no answers, only questions, and showed little improvement during the spring. No pressure: only the performance of the offense as a whole depends on the line’s progression as a unit.

Game(s) to watch

That home slate is tough, but Bowling Green could potentially win some games on the road. Keep an eye on those games at Kent State, Idaho and Buffalo.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell If only college teams could trade players — that’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? If it were allowed, perhaps Bowling Green could trade an extra defensive back or two for an offensive lineman, maybe package Trent Hurley and a receiver for another lineman, maybe offer a future recruit — now this is getting out of hand — for a third lineman and so on. The offensive line as it is currently composed is a major cause for concern, as we saw last fall and into the spring, and until the group can protect the quarterback on its own and open up some running lanes the offense will continue to sputter. Now, clearly the line will be better: Bowling Green would be closer to 120 than 100 if the line was due to improve. But the offense remains an enigma, even at spots outside the line, and the defense won’t be good enough to lead the Falcons to anything more than an extra win or two. That’s the bad news, and it is very bad news. The good news is that those with doubts should keep their faith in Clawson, 2008 at Tennessee and 2010 at Bowling Green be damned, as he has illustrated an ability in the past to win not just once but create a program built for the long haul — look at Richmond, for example, which won first under Clawson and has won consistently since. So keep hope alive, even if that one down season I predicted to occur in 2010 turns into a two-year lull.

Dream season So it was a one-year lull after all, as the Falcons bounce back to finish 8-4, 6-2 in the MAC.

Nightmare season From worse to worst: after setting a program-low with 10 losses last fall, Bowling Green drops a step further in a 1-11 finish.

In case you were wondering

Where do Bowling Green fans congregate? Try out Ay-Ziggy-Zoomba.com, the premier place to talk Bowling Green sports. There’s also Falcon Blog, which one reader termed “the grandfather of all MAC blogs.”

Word Count

Through 20 teams 52,301.

Up Next

Who is No. 100? It is said that you can find three kinds of sun in the state whose flagship university drops tomorrow: sunshine, sunflowers and sons-of-bitches.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. John Irons says:

    Josey Wales smells Kansas.

  2. Eksynyt says:

    Kansas Jayhawks tomorrow. Wake Forest, UAB, Washington State, Arkansas State, Colorado, Iowa State, Middle Tennessee, Wyoming, and Utah State will all be coming up soon too.

  3. Burnt Orange says:

    I know you got the statement that Clawson coached Fordham through the best stretch in program history from some Bowling Green media guide or something but one of the Four Horsemen, Jim Crowley, went 53-16 at Fordham against truly top flight competition. The Rams went to a Cotton Bowl and won a Sugar Bowl in back to back seasons in the early forties. They played teams like Alabama and Tennessee while Clawson’s teams were playing St. Peter’s and Fairfield.

    Paul: I don’t just regurgitate data from media guides, for starters. Secondly, the 26 wins over three years was the best stretch in school history; 7-4, 10-3 and 9-3 from 2001-3, with a Patriot League title in 2002. Most wins over a three-year span. Perhaps it would be more fitting to say best stretch of the modern era, but no coach won more games over a three-year span. And how bad Fordham was prior to his arrival makes Clawson’s coaching job all the more impressive.

  4. David says:

    Orange: without looking up opponents, it looks like Frank Cavanaugh (in the 1930s) and Jim Lansing (late 1960s/very early 1970s) also had better stretches than Clawson — but of the four, only Clawson inherited a program that had not had a winning season in the previous 10 years.

  5. Burnt Orange says:

    Anyone interested in what the college game was like in the thirties through the early fifties should read the David Maraniss biography on Vince Lombardi – ‘When Pride Still Mattered’ which devoted several chapters to Lombardi’s years as a player at Fordham and his time as an assistant at Army. That is one of the best football books I’ve read and highly recommend it.

  6. Alex Payne says:

    KU?

  7. Warden Tressel says:

    Ohio State is next

  8. Adam H says:

    I appreciate how honestly imprecise your best and worst case seasons are – it really annoys me when pundits say that the best-case and worst-case scenarios for a team are 1-2 wins apart.

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