Last season, Dave Clawson took the Bowling Green Falcons from a dark horse MAC title contender to conference champions with a young nucleus that showed itself to be ahead of schedule. The Falcons took many people by surprise by surging to a 7-1 conference record and then demolishing the previously unbeaten Northern Illinois Huskies 47-27 in the MAC title game to secure the conference crown. The team finished the year 10-4 with plenty of talent returning to make another run in 2014.
But the Falcons will have to do it under new leadership after Clawson took the head coaching job with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons of the ACC. In his place, Bowling Green has hired Dino Babers who spent the last few years turning FCS Eastern Illinois from a doormat to a national title contender. Before that, Babers was one of the minds behind the Baylor Bears‘ up-tempo attack. Now, he’ll try and imprint that same fast-paced, attacking style on the Falcons in 2014.
The offense will once again run through dual-threat quarterback Matt Johnson. The junior got an opportunity last year to seize the starting job and didn’t look back, finishing the year with 3,467 yards passing and 456 yards rushing with 30 total touchdowns and seven interceptions. Johnson will want to try and develop his game a bit this season as he tended to rely on his athleticism a bit too much when he dropped back and ended up getting sacked nearly 10 percent of the time.
At running back, the team welcomes back the MAC’s leading returning rusher in junior Travis Greene. Last season, the talented back finished second in the conference with 1,594 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns. He will be offset in the backfield by big, bruising back William Houston who rushed for 211 yards on 49 attempts as a freshman in 2013 with 11 touchdowns.
The receiving corps takes a bit of a hit as Bowling Green loses their top two receivers from 2013. Luckily, the Falcons did a good job of spreading the ball around and return plenty of experienced options in the passing attack this season. Ronnie Moore is an explosive option on the outside after posting a 19.54 yards per reception average as a freshman in 2013 as he recorded 28 receptions for 547 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. Ryan Burbrink, Heath Jackson, and Chris Gallon each recorded at least 24 receptions a piece last season and form a formidable group of pass catchers.
The defensive line loses some of their beef up the middle but have some experience coming off the edge. Defensive ends Bryan Thomas and Kendall Montgomery come back for their senior season after combining for 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2013. The group will have to find some new defensive tackles up the middle after losing Ted Oullet, who led the team with 6.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. Finding a replacement there should help turn around the run defense which took a step backward in 2013.
At linebacker, the team loses just one contributor in middle linebacker Paul Swan. The rest of the group remains intact led by seniors D.J. Lynch and Gabe Martin. Last season, the pair combined for 94 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks as they served as disruptive playmakers from sideline to sideline. The team will have to find a new leader to man the middle linebacker position, however, to hold together the heart of the defense.
In the secondary, Bowling Green loses some key pieces, including jack of all trades Booboo Gates and cornerbacks Cameron Truss and Aaron Foster, who combined for 15 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. Ryland Ward returns to lead the group in 2014 after leading the team with 67.5 tackles last season. Brian Sutton and Darrell Hunter II will need to step up into the starting lineup and help the Falcons’ pass defense stay strong in 2014.
Bowling Green has a schedule set up for them make a major splash in 2014. They get the Indiana Hoosiers at home early in their non-conference schedule before going on the road to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. They have a favorable conference slate, including getting the Ball State Cardinals at home at the end of the year. Their biggest roadblocks to defending their conference title will be road games against the Ohio Bobcats and Toledo Rockets.
A coaching change often means that a team will take a step back but Bowling Green is in a unique position to find instant success under Babers. With an experienced roster returning with plenty of potential new pieces coming into the mix, the Falcons are in a good spot to defend their MAC Championship. Look for Bowling Green to post another 10 wins this season.