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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. 89: Bowling Green

Green bowling balls. Get it? Bowling Green? You don't? Ah, whatever, you're stupid.

You want to know who can run a pretty good offense? Dave Clawson, that’s who. Don’t let his miserable one-year stay at Tennessee fool you: Clawson can orchestrate about as well as any coach in college football. Last year showed how. The Falcons did what they wanted — when they wanted to do it — through the air, setting school, conference and national records along the way. Was anyone surprised by Clawson’s success in his debut season at Bowling Green? Perhaps fans in Knoxville were; I sure wasn’t. Clawson has won everywhere he’s been, with Bowling Green joining successful stints on the F.C.S. level at Fordham and Richmond. No one has said it yet, but I’ll say it now: if you can win at Fordham, you can win anywhere.

Conference
MAC, East

Location
Bowling Green, Oh.

Nickname
Falcons

Returning starters
7 (3 offense, 4 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 86

2009 record
(7-6, 6-2)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 62

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    at Troy
  • Sept. 11
    at Tulsa
  • Sept. 18
    Marshall
  • Sept. 25
    at Michigan
  • Oct. 2
    Buffalo
  • Oct. 9
    at Ohio
  • Oct. 16
    at Temple
  • Oct. 23
    Kent St.
  • Oct. 30
    at Central Michigan
  • Nov. 10
    Miami (Ohio)
  • Nov. 17
    at Toledo
  • Nov. 26
    Western Michigan

Last year’s prediction

Looking at its schedule, Bowling Green will be hard-pressed to enter MAC play at 2-2, but if it does, I am confident that the team can repeat last fall’s 6-6 mark. It helps that B.G.S.U.’s road schedule is far from daunting. All told, I think highly of the Bowling Green offense but am somewhat concerned about the defense: I predict another 6-6 mark. It doesn’t help that Clawson is implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball. Still, if B.G.S.U. is able to take three of four on the road in conference play, it could finish with as many as seven wins.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Not that anyone expected Bowling Green to fall off the map. And not that the Falcons were that good in 2009. But last season must be viewed as a success for Clawson and Falcons, who entered the season with question marks on defense and the looming specter of implementing new schemes on both sides of the ball. About that defense: it was very average. The Falcons allowed at least 30 points six times last fall, including three times in a four-game span. The pass defense was mediocre, the run defense poor. Good thing there was this offense. While not the highest-scoring team in program history, the offense — and the offense alone — was responsible for lifting the Falcons back into bowl play after a one-year absence. It was close, however; B.G.S.U. needed one-point victories over Buffalo and Kent State to reach bowl eligibility.

High point A torrid run to reach bowl eligibility. Bowling Green won six of seven from Oct. 10 through the end of the regular season, with a 4-0 November punctuating a superb second half of the season. One game in particular stands out. Trailing by 13 points entering the fourth quarter – and, at 3-5, in dire need of a win to save its bowl hopes – Bowling Green scored the final 14 points to sneak past Buffalo, 30-29.

Low point A 44-37 home loss to Ohio cost Bowling Green at worst a second-place finish in the MAC East. Instead, at 6-2, the Falcons pulled in third behind the Bobcats and Temple.

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, roughly 45-years old. The football offices must be like a frat house!

Tidbit (red zone edition) In only two games last fall did Bowling Green convert less than 57 percent of its red zone opportunities. The Falcons converted one of four attempts against Marshall and one of five against Central Michigan; both were defeats. Bowling Green converted at least two-thirds of its attempts in nine games. That’s what a good coach, a senior quarterback and talented play makers will do for you.

Former players in the N.F.L.

6 WR Freddie Barnes (Chicago), LB Diyral Briggs (San Francisco), OG Kory Lichtensteiger (Washington), C Scott Mruczkowski (San Diego), QB Tyler Sheehan (Houston), K Shaun Suisham (Cleveland).

Arbitrary top five list

Best bowlers of all time
1. Walter Ray.
2. Dick Weber.
3. Earl Anthony.
4. Walter Ray Williams.
5. Pete Weber.

Coaching

Dave Clawson (Williams ’89), 7-6 after one season 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). Clawson inherited losing programs at both stops, but was able to quickly turn each team into a postseason participant. 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 postseason play. Richmond’s 9-4 finish in 2005 marked the greatest single-season turnaround in the program’s history. As an assistant on the F.C.S. level, Clawson has coached at Albany (1989-90), Buffalo (1991-92), Lehigh (1993-95) and Villanova (1996-98), the last stop as offensive coordinator. 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. He illustrated at Fordham and Richmond the ability to take a program and, within two seasons, put it in the position to make multiple postseason appearances. Unlike at his previous two stops, Bowling Green was not that far off from being there already. Clawson’s goal, obviously, is to keep the Falcons in bowl contention on a yearly basis.

Players to watch

All Freddie Barnes did in 2009 was set N.C.A.A. records. Nothing major, just make 155 grabs for 1,770 yards and 19 touchdowns. Remind me again why Barnes was not the Biletnikoff Award winner? Big prediction of the day: no returning receiver will have that kind of season in 2010. And it’s not just Barnes the Falcons need to replace: also gone are Chris Wright — second on the team with 582 yards receiving — and tight end Jimmy Scheidler (27 grabs for 320 yards). Still, while the Falcons won’t completely replace a player like Barnes, solid receiving options do return in 2010. The first is Adrian Hodges, who made 46 catches for 417 yards and a pair of scores last fall. Another is Ray Huston, who chipped in with 26 grabs for 239 yards. Bowling Green will also rely upon Justus Jones, who made 13 receptions in only seven games last fall, while senior Nick Rieke is the likely replacement for Scheidler at tight end. Keep an eye on former JUCO transfer Kamar Jordan, who redshirted a season ago, as well as the potential healthy return of senior Tyrone Pronty.

After serving in the background last fall, senior running back Willie Geter will take on a larger role in 2010. He’ll have to, what with the lost production at receiver and the loss of a four-year starting quarterback, which I’ll touch on below. Geter was solid when called upon a year ago, setting new career bests in carries (176), yards (705) and touchdowns (9). He was particularly strong down the stretch, running for a combined 208 yards and 4 scores over the final two games of last season. Geter will be spelled by sophomore John Pettigrew, a terrifically successful high school running back who earned little action in his rookie campaign.

Though the Falcons lost three starters on the offensive line, they bring back a handful of experienced player ready to make the move full-time into the starting lineup. The two returning starters will help bridge the gap: junior center Ben Bojicic performed well last fall in replacing Kory Lichtensteiger, while senior right tackle Tyler Donahue gives the Falcons a solid anchor on the strong side of the line. The good news is that each of the three potential replacements up front earned significant playing time in 2009. While Scott Lewis will step in at right guard, he made three mid-season starts at left guard; Chip Robinson, penciled at left guard, was a key reserve on the interior of the line; and left tackle Blaec Walker started games against Central Michigan and Buffalo.

Not to say that Bowling Green will rely upon the defense to win games in 2010; things would not be good — no, not good at all — if that were the case. Unlike a year ago, when the group was a question mark, Bowling Green will take its cue on defense from an experienced defensive line. Senior ends Angelo Magnone and Darius Smith will lead the way. Magnone led all B.G.S.U. defensive linemen with 43 tackles (4 for loss) and 2.5 sacks. Smith, though unable to break into the starting lineup, added 36 stops and a sack. Look for those numbers to improve for the talented edge rusher as he earns considerably more snaps. Both of last season’s interior starters return: junior Kevin Alvarado (28 tackles, 4.5 for loss) and sophomore Chris Jones (29 stops, 1 sack). Jordan Roussos and Jarius Campbell will add depth on the inside of the line, though Campbell can double at end.

The back seven lost six starters; the entirety of the linebacker corps must be replaced. The three 2009 starters are linebacker — Cody Basler, James Schneider and Jerett Sanderson — finished one through three on the team in tackles last fall. Last year’s top understudy, Eugene Fells, will take over at one outside spot; he made 44 tackles (3.5 for loss) a year ago, the most of any returning linebacker. While Fells, a senior, will be counted on for experience, the most important cog in this new starting lineup is sophomore Dwayne Woods, a high-profile recruit who impressed in limited duty in 2009. Woods will step in at middle linebacker; he might be an all-MAC pick as a first-year starter. Competition at the second outside spot will be fierce: redshirt freshmen Paul Swan and Alex Thomas are in the mix, as is Ryan Crow and converted safety Tim Moore.

Junior Adrien Spencer returns at cornerback, but Bowling Green must replace three more starters in the secondary. It helps to return Keith Morgan at strong safety; Morgan made 68 tackles, a sack and an interception last fall as the unit’s top reserve. Former JUCO transfer Robert Lorenzi, who played in six games last fall, is the leading contender to take over for Roger Williams at cornerback opposite Spencer. The Falcons could also turn to sophomore Jonathan Davis, the team’s nickel back last fall. There are a handful of options at free safety, including Lane Robilloto and Jovan Leacock.

Position battles to watch

Quarterback Talk about a change. Gone is Tyler Sheehan, who started all four seasons for the Falcons, throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 70 touchdowns along the way. His five potential replacements have combined for 13 attempts on the college level. All of those tries have come from sophomore Aaron Pankratz, who completed 5 of 13 attempts last fall for 53 yards as Sheehan’s backup. For that fact alone, Pankratz has a leg up on his competition. However, it was redshirt freshman Matt Schilz, not Pankratz, who ran the first-team offense for most of the spring. Not to say that Schliz set the world afire with his play; he surely didn’t. In fact, Schilz’s struggles will open this competition up to another redshirt freshman, Kellen Pagel, and incoming freshmen Caleb Watkins and Trent Hurley. The good news is that all five options have the arms and the solid pedigree to step into the starting lineup. Who will win the opportunity to be that guy? It’s still unknown. If the season started today, it would be Schilz; still, look for this battle to continue when Bowling Green returns to the practice field in August.

Game(s) to watch

Mid-season road games against Temple and Ohio. Both will again be atop the MAC East in 2010, and if Bowling Green plans on making noise, it must get at least one victory over the two favorites. It will be a tall task, however.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell 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.

Dream season Forget about the lost talent. Clawson merely reloads, helping the Falcons even improve upon last year’s mark: 8-4, 6-2 in the MAC.

Nightmare season It’s a little worse than a rebuilding year: 3-9, 2-6 in conference play.

In case you were wondering

Where do Bowling 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.”

Up Next

Who is No. 88? Our next university has been the setting for many novels by an author whose Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction was based on a work by Shakespeare.

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Comments

  1. Jack says:

    Is it Iowa State? I seem to recall Jane Smiley being from Iowa and setting some of her books there, including “A Thousand Acres”… and 88 is way too low for the Hawkeyes this season. (I would say either that or Ole Miss due to the Faulkner connection, but I can’t think if any of his two Pulitzer books are based on Shakespeare…)

  2. Mike says:

    FalconBlog is like the grandfather of all MAC blogs:

    http://orangeandbrown.blogspot.com/

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