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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. 70: Bowling Green

For this exercise, take out anyone associated with Notre Dame and include only those schools currently playing on the F.B.S. level. Under these criteria, which head coach holds the highest winning percentage in college football history? It’s not Barry Switzer, who comes in second; it’s not Tom Osborne, who’s third; it’s not Bud Wilkinson, who comes in seventh. It’s Doyt Perry of Bowling Green – you know him as the guy whose name graces the Falcons’ stadium. Perry lost 11 games over a decade at Bowling Green, from 1955-64, never losing more than two games in a single season, and was such an overwhelming success that it took the university only two years following Perry’s retirement to rename the stadium in his honor. I’m going to guess that you didn’t know that – though technically, Perry’s winning percentage comes in third all-time behind Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy.

Conference
MAC, East

Location
Bowling Green, Oh.

Nickname
Falcons

Returning starters
17 (7 offense, 10 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 101

2011 record
(5-7, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 84

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    at Florida
  • Sept. 8
    Idaho
  • Sept. 15
    at Toledo
  • Sept. 22
    at Virginia Tech
  • Sept. 29
    Rhode Island
  • Oct. 6
    at Akron
  • Oct. 13
    Miami (Ohio)
  • Oct. 20
    at UMass
  • Oct. 27
    Eastern Mich.
  • Nov. 7
    at Ohio
  • Nov. 17
    Kent St.
  • Nov. 23
    Buffalo

Last year’s prediction

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. 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.

2011 recap

In a nutshell Bowling Green could have won eight games. But Bowling Green didn’t, you know, win eight games. This happens all the time. The Falcons controlled Wyoming for two quarters before failing to show up for the following 25 minutes; by the time the Falcons remembered how it took a halftime lead, it was too late – a one-point loss. Bowling Green had momentum against Toledo a month later, first tying the game at 14-14 early in the fourth quarter and then forcing a punt. What followed, in brief: interception, personal foul, ballgame. With Buffalo to close the year, Bowling Green knew that a road win over Ohio on Nov. 16 would cement a second bowl berth in three years. A touchdown with about 11 minutes left gave the Falcons a two-possession lead they couldn’t hold. The final: Ohio 29, Bowling Green 28. The end result? Five wins, just short of bowl play. A young, inexperienced team showed its true colors.

High point A 13-10 win over Temple on Oct. 22, for several reasons. None more important this: Temple was only team worth a damn that the Falcons would beat all season. The remaining four wins came against Idaho, Morgan State, Miami (Ohio) – not terrible, but still a four-win team – and Buffalo.

Low point The three narrow losses mentioned above. Wyoming’s the worst, if only because Bowling Green wasn’t winning the MAC East even with victories over Toledo and Ohio. But the Bobcats’ loss was clearly devastating, seeing that the Falcons were obviously going to beat Buffalo to close the regular season.

Tidbit Bowling Green is 0-12 over the last two years and 4-16 overall under Clawson when allowing more than 390 yards of total offense. It’s not surprising that the program’s lone success when struggling defensively came in 2009, Clawson’s debut, when the passing game set several school records. But the offense’s recent downturn over the last two years has placed undue pressure on this defense, which clearly hasn’t been up to the challenge. Not to place all the blame on the defense in any way: Bowling Green is going to give up points – especially to teams like Western Michigan, which has dominated the recent series – so it’s up to the offense to keep the Falcons in games.

Former players in the N.F.L.

3 WR Kamar Jordan (Minnesota), OG Kory Lichtensteiger (Washington), K Shaun Suisham (Pittsburgh).

Arbitrary top five list

MAC basketball players since 2002
1. Antonio Gates, Kent State.
2. Brandon Hunter, Ohio.
3. Chris Kaman, Central Michigan.
4. Keith McLeod, Bowling Green.
5. David Kool, Western Michigan.

Coaching

Dave Clawson (Williams ’89), 14-23 after three seasons at Bowling Green. After reaching bowl play in his first season, in 2009, Clawson’s teams have missed the postseason in each of the last two years. 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, his 2010 season a disappointment and last fall a predictable struggle, but the real test of Clawson’s rebuilding project comes in the this coming season, when he takes the field with a roster predominately composed of his own players.

Players to watch

Depth has improved nearly across the board, but perhaps nowhere more than along the offensive line. This is the case despite the loss of two starters up front — one to graduation and a second, would-be junior Kyle Bryant, to a violation of team rules. That leaves Bowling Green needing to fill holes at left tackle and center, but Clawson and his staff are confident that the program’s hard work on the recruiting trail will maintain this line’s growth while adding a stouter second level of reserves. This is likely the case.

The only reason for some degree of pessimism is simple: Bowling Green, despite some progression over last season, needs to land vastly improved line play not only in the running game and also in pass protection. This makes finding a new starter at left tackle one of the team’s most pressing tasks when it returns to the field in August. This role was held for much of the spring by redshirt freshman Fahn Cooper, but that’s a lot to throw on a rookie’s plate — even one with Cooper’s obvious upside. Another option for Bowling Green would be to shift senior right tackle Jordan Roussos over to the blind side, but that’s probably not a tenable solution: the team likes Roussos over on the right, for starters, and that move might provide too large a shakeup for a front striving for greater consistency.

So here’s how it’s looking. You can pencil Cooper in at left tackle, though he’ll need to continue fending off other competition in August. He and Roussos will bookend the line. Senior Dominique Wharton and junior Dominic Flewellyn will swap sides, with Wharton moving to right guard and Flewellyn moving into a larger comfort zone on the left side. Senior Chip Robinson will replace Ben Bojicic on a permanent basis after making five starts at center last fall. That’s your starting group. But the bigger story is greater depth, with help from young players coming off redshirt seasons and a JUCO transfer like David Kekuewa. The line will be stronger, though much depends on Cooper’s ability to protect the blind side.

This front will be blocking for a very nice young back in sophomore Anthon Samuel (844 yards and 5 touchdowns), one of the nation’s most productive freshmen backs a season ago. Samuel’s yardage came in nine games, due to injury; included in this action were five 100-yard games, including a season-high 141 yards in his debut against Idaho. Samuel is a very clear all-conference contender who only needs to do a better job handling the pounding that comes with the position.

Depth comes from sophomore Jamel Martin (280 yards), junior Jordan Hopgood (213 yards) and, in a pinch, junior Erique Geiger. Bowling Green also used sophomore Deejay White at running back during the spring, but he may be needed at receiver. If he’s healthy, Samuel is a 1,000-yard back who can provide ample balance to a pass-heavy offense.

The centerpiece on offense is quarterback Matt Schilz, a junior who warrants more recognition even in this quarterback-heavy MAC. What you saw between his freshman and sophomore seasons was one of the great improvements from any quarterback in college football: Schilz made significant progress across the board, making great strides statistically while clearly holding a far greater comfort level not merely in this offense but with the speed of the college game. So what can he do for an encore? After last season’s growth, it’s safe to say that Schilz has as high a ceiling as any quarterback in the MAC; he’ll set school records before he’s gone, but most importantly, Schilz — even if he’s largely underappreciated — has flashed the sort of ability needed to lift this team into bowl play.

Schilz cut down on his mistakes last fall, throwing one fewer interception than in his freshman season in 36 more attempts. He averaged 1.5 more yards per pass attempt, which points to the idea that he was far more comfortable in the pocket; he let plays develop, waiting for receivers to get open and weathering pressure in the backfield. He threw for 20 more touchdowns, tying for second in the MAC with 28 scores. Beyond the numbers, however, Schilz was simply a more polished quarterback. Working with a coach like Clawson has clearly sped up his learning curve. Look for him to continue improving as a junior, earning all-MAC honors despite Bowling Green’s shakeup at wide receiver.

All the experience in the world won’t help Bowling Green unless this defense amends some extremely substandard play against the run. About this experience, however: the Falcons do return 10 starters on defense, losing only one down lineman, and in most cases, bringing back such extensive experience does translate to an improved performance. But Bowling Green doesn’t simply need your typical improvement — this defense needs to take a large step forward across the board, but in no area more than in stopping the opposing running game. Bowling Green treaded water against the run last fall; more of the same will mean, well, more of the same for this program at large.

There’s reason for optimism. The Falcons return nine of their top 10 linemen from a year ago, losing only end Kevin Moore. A good amount of this depth comes inside, where Bowling Green returns the three tackles who started all 24 possible games last fall: senior Chris Jones (47 tackles, 14.0 for loss, 8.5 sacks) and juniors Jairus Campbell (20 tackles) and Ted Ouellet. As those numbers indicate, Jones is the best of the bunch — one of the MAC’s best linemen, if not one of the MAC’s best defenders, period. Additional depth comes from sophomores Hunter Maynard and Darius Gilbert, with Maynard perhaps grabbing a larger role due to his size.

It’s on this group, this deeper group that has enough young pieces to expect further improvement throughout the season, to take on the lion’s share of responsibility against the run. One thing you know: Bowling Green isn’t going to get much at end. The Falcons return one starter in junior Ronnie Goble (20 tackles, 4.0 for loss) and, in sophomore Charlie Walker, a player with some starting experience, but the team’s ends as a whole lack explosiveness coming off the edge. That’s fine, seeing that an interior lineman like Jones can help bring pressure, but you’d like to see Bowling Green’s ends take advantage of one-on-one situations. One end who could take on a major role is sophomore Bryan Thomas, who played pretty well in the early going last fall before suffering a season-ending injury.

The back seven returns intact in Bowling Green’s 4-2-5 system. The star along the second level is senior Dwayne Woods (111 tackles, 14.0 for loss), a first-team all-MAC pick last fall and the team’s leading tackler in each of the last two years. Woods fits the bill in what Bowling Green wants at linebacker: he can move in space, step up on running downs and disrupt plays in the backfield. He’s joined in the starting lineup by junior Paul Swan (63 tackles), an 11-game starter last fall. As was the case in 2011, depth comes from sophomores D.J. Lynch (43 tackles) and Gabe Martin (25 tackles). Lynch’s value increases thanks to his ability — at times, on passing downs — to move down to end. This a great linebacker corps, likely the MAC’s best, and should be even better in 2012 than it was a season ago. Woods in particular is terrific.

All five defensive backs return; actually, due to some shuffling at cornerback, the Falcons return six players who made at least six starts in the secondary last fall. You’ll see some movement: junior BooBoo Gates — Jerry, technically — will shift from rover to strong safety, where he started the season finale against Buffalo. This move should push junior Aaron Foster (69 tackles) into a reserve role, though Foster could also be an option at Gates’ old role at rover. Other alternatives at rover, which is a hybrid linebacker-safety spot, include Martin and junior Austin Collier, if not a few freshmen. Whether the starter is Foster or Martin, Bowling Green’s crop of safeties is very good — Foster or Martin joins Gates (73 tackles and 2 interceptions) and blossoming all-MAC pick Ryland Ward (69 tackles), a sophomore.

Three cornerbacks shared time in the starting lineup last fall. Well, two shared time; one, junior Cameron Truss (52 tackles) started every game in which he played. That left sophomores DeVon Mckoy (34 tackles) and Darrell Hunter (32 tackles) jostling for time on the other side, and it’s probable that this competition will continue through fall camp and into the season. The loser of the battle steps into a key role as Bowling Green’s primary backup at the position. If last fall was any indication, the third cornerback is going to start two or three games over the span of the season.

The secondary has enough talent to maintain Bowling Green’s status as one of the MAC’s best in defending the pass. Safety play could be terrific, thanks to Gates and Ward, and it’s logical to expect improved play at cornerback. But the front four is again cause for major concern. The hope is that simple experience will help the line do a stronger job against the run. The question: How much better can a player like Jones get? He was terrific in 2011 yet his teammates up front didn’t take advantage of one-on-one situations. Simply put, Bowling Green isn’t a MAC contender unless the run defense improves.

Gates is also a major weapon in the return game; he averaged 25.8 yards per kick return last fall, tied for first in the MAC. That helps flip field position, as does junior punter Brian Schmiedebusch, a reigning first-team all-conference pick. What Bowling Green doesn’t have is a kicker — Stephen Stein — who can make field goals of beyond 40 yards. That hurts this offense.

Position battle(s) to watch

Wide receivers This position wasn’t just dinged by graduation; Bowling Green’s receiver corps has been decimated. The Falcons return only one of last season’s top seven at the position — junior Shaun Joplin (21 receptions for 292 yards). Among the lost production: Kamar Jordan, a two-time all-MAC pick, and Eugene Cooper, the Falcons’ two top targets, as well as two reserves who combined for 27 grabs as seniors. It’s unfortunate: Bowling Green has the quarterback, some young talent in the backfield and a far more experienced offensive line. But this receiver corps is rebuilding on the fly, replacing several key, multiple-year contributors, and Schilz needs weapons to work with in the passing game.

Joplin is going to be a major factor, thanks not only to his experience but to the working relationship he has with his quarterback; with no other tested alternatives on the roster, it stands to reason that Schilz is going to lean on Joplin in the early going. But even with Joplin occupying the top spot — whether he can deliver is another question — the opportunity is there for one of several as-yet untested receivers to grab either a starting role or a spot as a key reserve. One, former Michigan transfer Je’Ron Stokes, showed flashes of his top-tier talent during the spring. The bigger story was the solid play from three youngsters: sophomore Heath Jackson and redshirt freshmen Chris Gallon and Herve Coby. Based on the spring, this is your top five at receiver.

What’s important to remember: Schilz is going to find open targets. Therefore, the Falcons don’t need to worry about the receivers carrying the passing game, but rather simply doing their job — getting open, catching the ball with consistency, taking advantage of opportunities. Nevertheless, Bowling Green does need a big year out of Joplin, a former reserve, and needs at least two of those three underclassmen to step into increased roles. You hope that a lack of proven options doesn’t hamper an otherwise improved offense.

Game(s) to watch

Unlike in 2011, it’s highly likely that Bowling Green falls flat out of the gate. The Falcons can prevent an unsteady start by knocking off Toledo on the road on Sept. 15; that would send this team into late September at 2-2, not 1-3. Why is that important? Because the Falcons are going to make a move shortly thereafter, with at least three wins in four games in advance of a home game against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 27. That’s a big game, even if a cross-divisional game, but the year will be defined by the Falcons’ date at Ohio on Nov. 7 — a Wednesday night game. Obviously, Bowling Green isn’t winning the East division without a win over the Bobcats. Six wins is doable. Whether Bowling Green wins more depends on how it fares in home games against E.M.U., Miami (Ohio) and Kent State.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell This is a bowl team. That’s probably enough for the Falcons. Here are two reasons why: Bowling Green desperately needs to return to bowl play after a two-year absence, and this team remains young enough — and is still gaining valuable experience — to think that it remains one year away from reaching its full potential. What you see in 2012 is a team that has several issues to address on both sides of the ball. Begin on defense, where the front’s inability to stop the run prevents the Falcons from being considered one of the top four teams in the MAC. What might help matters, when it comes to stopping the run, is a talented secondary; not only can Bowling Green do a nice job against the pass, but its safeties — Gates and Ward — are capable of coming up and putting another player in the box. Another issue overlooked on this defense is its inability to get pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers. From top to bottom, this group must take a step forward in several areas before being considered strong enough to hang with Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. As for this offense: Bowling Green needs to find some answers at receiver and land steadier play up front. I have tremendous faith in both coming to pass; this offense is going to score enough points to carry the Falcons into bowl play. But can Bowling Green do more? It’s possible, but I still think that the Falcons need one more year of seasoning before cracking into the MAC’s top group. For now, this is a lower-tier bowl team and the second-best team in the MAC East. Not a bad step forward for a program with seven wins over the last two years.

Dream season While Bowling Green goes 2-2 in non-conference play, it turns on the jets against MAC competition. The Falcons go 7-1 in conference action, losing only early to Toledo, and represents the East division in the MAC title game.

Nightmare season The Falcons start slow but hit a nice spot in early October before suffering a four-game losing streak to end the season. Bowling Green takes a step back to 4-8, its third straight bowl-free season.

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.” For newspaper coverage, check out Falcon Fodder, John Wagner’s blog for The Toledo Blade.

Bowling Green’s all-name nominee S BooBoo Gates.

Word Count

Through 55 teams 209,716.

Up Next

Who is No. 69? The wide receivers coach for tomorrow’s program didn’t make any catches during his playing days in the SEC, but he was the holder as a junior and senior, helping his team convert 91 of 93 extra-point tries.

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Comments

  1. WinstonWolf says:

    Arkansas State is next.

    Casey Woods is former Tennessee Holder and current stAte WR coach.

  2. DMK says:

    Meaning that Arky St., Bowling Green, San Diego St., ECU, and San Jose St. are all better than Miami (Fla.).

    Ouch.

  3. Josh H. says:

    I was surprised at first seeing BGSU up so high on the list and ahead of Ball State, but then I looked at both their schedule and last years performance, and this is definitely a team ready to have a break out season. They really shouldn’t be less than 8-4 but then again, this is the MAC and we like to live in a very random world lol.

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