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1. Bowling Green is ready
They have been to five bowls in 10 years. They have won at least six games in nine of the last 12. In a conference of extreme parity, the Bowling Green Falcons have, aside from a 2-10 crater in 2010, been rather consistently solid. But they've rarely been the most solid team in the conference. They haven't been to a MAC title game since the epic 2003 shootout between Ben Roethlisberger's No. 14 Miami (Ohio) Redhawks and Josh Harris's No. 20 Falcons, and they haven't secured a conference title since 1992. Even in the Urban Meyer years, they couldn't quite seal the deal.
I don't want to claim that this is the year BGSU's title streak comes to an end. There are plenty of MAC teams with a strong shot at the top spot -- the usual suspects (Northern Illinois, Toledo, Ohio), the upstarts (Central Michigan, Buffalo), the encores (Kent State, Ball State), and the bouncebacks (Western Michigan) might all have roles to play in what should be a really fun race. All I can say for sure, though, is that Bowling Green had one of the best mid-major defenses in the country last season and will bring one of the most experienced FBS two-deeps to the table in 2013.
The offense can expect to improve, and there is a good chance that the defense might retain the form it maintained over the final two-thirds of 2012. And if that happens, Bowling Green might have its best shot at a MAC title since Urban Meyer left. Dave Clawson has overseen the rebuilding of a program that is now quite deep and interesting. And now we get to see just how high his team's ceiling is (or, technically, isn't).
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 67|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||at Florida||14-27||L||28.0 - 32.2||L|
|8-Sep||Idaho||21-13||W||22.9 - 41.1||L|
|15-Sep||at Toledo||15-27||L||22.9 - 32.5||L|
|22-Sep||at Virginia Tech||0-37||L||18.0 - 34.4||L|
|29-Sep||Rhode Island||48-8||W||32.3 - 12.5||W|
|6-Oct||at Akron||24-10||W||31.1 - 18.1||W|
|13-Oct||Miami (Ohio)||37-12||W||33.8 - 16.9||W|
|20-Oct||at Massachusetts||24-0||W||11.9 - 1.3||W|
|27-Oct||Eastern Michigan||24-3||W||20.5 - 13.6||W|
|7-Nov||at Ohio||26-14||W||25.8 - 12.4||W|
|17-Nov||Kent State||24-31||L||27.9 - 32.5||L|
|23-Nov||Buffalo||21-7||W||20.2 - 12.0||W|
|27-Dec||vs. San Jose State||20-29||L||20.2 - 24.4||L|
|Points Per Game||22.9||94||16.8||10|
|Adj. Points Per Game||24.3||98||21.8||18|
2. The lightbulb came on
With a young team and an absolutely brutal September slate that featured trips to Gainesville, Toledo and Blacksburg, Bowling Green struggled early in 2012. Granted, the Falcons were perfectly competitive against Florida (they were tied, 14-14, deep into the third quarter, but that was basically par for the course for Florida) and Toledo, but they also looked iffy in creeping by an awful Idaho team, and they got romped by a mediocre Virginia Tech squad. Through four games, BGSU had shown minimal hints of what was to come on the defensive side of the ball.
Adj. Points per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 35.1, Bowling Green 23.0 (minus-12.1)
Adj. Points per Game (next 6 games): Bowling Green 25.9, Opponent 12.5 (plus-13.4)
Adj. Points per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 23.0, Bowling Green 22.8 (minus-0.2)
The offense faded late, and the defense regressed toward the mean a bit, but the Bowling Green of the final nine games of the season, one that barely lost to Kent State and had a tremendous San Jose State team on the ropes for most of the Military Bowl, was excellent. The offense was never anything better than average, but oh, that defense. BGSU allowed just 118 yards to UMass, 171 to Rhode Island, 178 to Eastern Michigan, 197 to Buffalo, 244 to Ohio, and 256 to Miami (Ohio). Better offenses (i.e. Kent State and San Jose State) figured out ways to move the ball, of course, but Bowling Green's performance against these lesser offenses was above and beyond what most teams managed.
That defense, by the way, returns all but two players from last year's three-deep.
|Q1 Rk||92||1st Down Rk||79|
|Q2 Rk||120||2nd Down Rk||119|
|Q3 Rk||74||3rd Down Rk||90|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Matt Schilz||6'3, 220||Sr.||*** (5.6)||228||413||2,585||55.2%||14||12||13||3.1%||5.9|
|Matt Johnson||6'0, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||10||28||119||35.7%||1||1||2||6.7%||3.8|
|James Knapke||6'2, 205||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
3. Does experience fix inefficiency?
The offense was the issue in 2012. Bowling Green was reasonably efficient on the ground (and lacking in big-play capability), but the biggest issue at hand was woeful inefficiency through the air. Matt Schilz completed just 55 percent of his passes (at just 11.3 yards per completion) despite minimal pass rush; his options were low-efficiency explosiveness (receivers Chris Gallon and Shaun Joplin 14.5 yards per catch with just a 53 percent catch rate) or sure passes to lesser targets that went nowhere.
The good news is that just about everybody related to the passing game returns: Schilz, the top eight receivers/tight ends, four starters on the line. From a chemistry standpoint, experience is a wonderful thing, and familiarity alone could raise Gallon's and Joplin's catch rates closer to 60 percent. But sometimes new blood is a good thing, too. With a depth chart that takes shape almost exactly like last year's, you've got a lot of known quantities. That's not necessarily a good thing when they are known quantities from a terribly inefficient offense.
|Anthon Samuel||RB||5'11, 188||Jr.||** (5.3)||202||998||4.9||4.9||11||-4.9|
|Jamel Martin||RB||5'10, 194||Jr.||*** (5.6)||39||205||5.3||3.8||0||+0.7|
|Andre Givens||RB||5'9, 190||So.||*** (5.7)||20||134||6.7||10.2||1||+2.5|
|Matt Schilz||QB||6'3, 220||Sr.||*** (5.6)||19||73||3.8||2.3||1||-1.9|
|Jordan Hopgood||RB||5'11, 215||Sr.||** (5.3)||9||74||8.2||3.2||0||+1.1|
|Matt Johnson||QB||6'0, 210||So.||*** (5.5)||6||29||4.8||1.7||0||+0.1|
|Fred Coppet||RB||5'9, 176||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Marcus Levy||RB||5'10, 187||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Brandon English||RB||5'9, 189||Fr.||** (5.4)|
4. A stable of backs
Anthon Samuel has gone through way too much real life for a 19-year-old. He saw his father murdered when he was 7 years old. I can stop the list right there: that's way too much already. But he's also a husband and father. Again, he's only a teenager. Additionally he's grown into a fine football player, winning MAC Freshman of the Year in 2011 and serving as their best offensive player.
The Toledo Blade reported that Samuel didn't enroll for classes this spring in order to spend more time with his wife and child, both who reside in his home state of Florida.
It is really, really easy to root for Anthon Samuel. He is potentially expected back in Bowling Green in time for the fall, but one has to wonder if that is going to happen. One also has to hate following up on his real-world circumstances with "What this means for Bowling Green's depth chart" speculation on the off-chance that Samuel doesn't return to Ohio.
But know this: BGSU is set no matter what happens with Samuel. Behind him last year were two interesting options in Jamel Martin (who was lost for the season to injury after seven games), Andre Givens (who was hobbled on and off in his own right), and veteran Jordan Hopgood (who played a larger role before the emergence of Martin and Givens). Plus, Clawson signed a host of interesting backs, including star recruits Fred Coppet and Marcus Levy. Quite a few backs will see the ball this fall, whether Samuel returns or not.
|Chris Gallon||WR-Z||6'4, 221||So.||*** (5.7)||99||54||720||54.5%||7.3||24.4%||49.5%||7.8||78.5|
|Shaun Joplin||WR-X||6'2, 197||Sr.||NR||79||40||639||50.6%||8.1||19.5%||55.7%||8.1||69.6|
|Alex Bayer||TE||6'4, 253||Sr.||** (5.3)||57||36||410||63.2%||7.2||14.1%||56.1%||7.2||44.7|
|Ryan Burbrink||SLOT||5'8, 181||So.||** (5.4)||57||39||351||68.4%||6.2||14.1%||54.4%||6.3||38.3|
|Je`Ron Stokes||SLOT||6'1, 198||Sr.||**** (5.9)||34||15||114||44.1%||3.4||8.4%||58.8%||3.4||12.4|
|Anthon Samuel||RB||5'11, 188||Jr.||** (5.3)||33||22||198||66.7%||6.0||8.1%||66.7%||6.0||21.6|
|Jermal Hosley||WR||5'8, 183||So.||** (5.4)||8||5||62||62.5%||7.8||2.0%||50.0%||8.6||6.8|
|Tyler Beck||FB||6'2, 259||Sr.||** (5.2)||7||5||60||71.4%||8.6||1.7%||71.4%||7.4||6.5|
|Herve Coby||WR-X||5'11, 177||So.||*** (5.6)||6||3||40||50.0%||6.7||1.5%||83.3%||10.1||4.4|
|Jordan Hopgood||RB||5'11, 215||Sr.||** (5.3)||5||5||49||100.0%||9.8||1.2%||40.0%||10.4||5.3|
|Jamel Martin||RB||5'10, 194||Jr.||*** (5.6)||4||3||19||75.0%||4.8||1.0%||50.0%||5.4||2.1|
|Heath Jackson||WR||5'11, 180||Jr.||** (5.3)||3||3||32||100.0%||10.7||0.7%||33.3%||8.8||3.5|
|Logan Larson||TE||6'4, 255||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Teo Redding||WR||6'2, 170||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Mike Rogers||WR||6'1, 190||Fr.||** (5.4)|
5. Watch Chris Gallon
He was perhaps leaned on a bit more than he should have been as a redshirt freshman, but that's what happens when you've got a young receiving corps and other youngsters are dropping like flies -- Jermal Hosley (two games), Herve Coby (four), and Heath Jackson (one) each barely played because of injury. Still, Gallon held his own, managed a reasonable per-target rate of over seven yards (not great, certainly not terrible), and had his moments. He caught six of eight passes for 89 yards against Idaho, caught two touchdown passes against Rhode Island, reeled in a 55-yard touchdown against Ohio (his only catch among four targets), and in his masterpiece, he caught 10 of 16 passes for 213 yards and two scores against a solid Kent State defense. Gallon is a big target, one of many in this receiving corps, and he is a player to watch. It would help if he got a steadier contribution from the slot receivers, but he could thrive regardless.
|Jordon Roussos||RT||32 career starts; 2012 2nd All-MAC|
|Dominic Flewellyn||LG||6'3, 293||Sr.||** (5.3)||33 career starts; 2012 3rd All-MAC|
|Chip Robinson||LG||22 career starts|
|Fahn Cooper||LT||6'4, 300||So.||** (5.4)||13 career starts|
|David "Chief" Kekuewa||C||6'2, 308||Sr.||** (5.4)||13 career starts|
|Alex Huettel||RG||6'3, 291||So.||*** (5.5)||13 career starts|
|Dominique Wharton||RG||10 career starts|
|Darion Delaney||LT||6'3, 303||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Spencer Cairo||C||6'2, 289||So.||NR|
|Christian Piazza||LT||6'7, 281||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Logan Dietz||OL||6'5, 285||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Jacob Bennett||OL||6'4, 307||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Q1 Rk||31||1st Down Rk||35|
|Q2 Rk||64||2nd Down Rk||80|
|Q3 Rk||23||3rd Down Rk||22|
6. The nation's best mid-major defense?
Obviously with Boise State still filling the "mid-major" ranks and Utah State potentially maintaining some semblance of defensive strength despite the loss of its head coach (and BYU still qualifying as a mid-major to many), the title of "Best Mid-Major Defense" is probably indeed taken. But BGSU played at a Boise State (or better) level for most of the last two months of the season, posted outstanding line stats, and managed solid full-year stats overall despite the September struggles, and again, the defense returns almost literally everybody from last year.
The two losses, however, are noteworthy. First, you've got tackle Chris Jones, the MAC defensive player of the year and a wonderfully disruptive interior force; then, you've got Dwayne Woods, the steady quarterback of an aggressive linebacking corps. Both units in the front seven were deep last year, and are even deeper this year when you look at the experience involved; still, Jones and Woods were probably among BGSU's 3-4 best defensive players, and their departure means it isn't a slam dunk that BGSU maintains the same torrid defensive pace it had last year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ted Ouellet||NT||6'3, 282||Sr.||** (4.9)||13||27.0||4.1%||6||3||0||0||0||0|
|Charlie Walker||DE||6'2, 238||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||26.0||4.0%||6||2.5||0||2||1||0|
|Bryan Thomas||DE||6'2, 260||So.||** (5.2)||13||24.0||3.7%||8||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Colvin||DT||6'2, 268||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||11.0||1.7%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryan Baird||DE||6'3, 237||So.||** (5.4)||11||10.5||1.6%||3||2||0||0||0||1|
|Ronnie Goble||DE||6'2, 247||Sr.||** (5.2)||12||8.5||1.3%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jairus Campbell||DT||6'5, 310||Sr.||** (5.3)||3||3.0||0.5%||1.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Taylor Royster||NT||5'9, 252||So.||NR||9||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mike Minns||DT||5'10, 317||So.||*** (5.5)||3||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shaq Hall||DE||6'3, 256||So.||** (5.2)||3||0.0||0.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darius Holiday||DT||6'5, 260||Fr.||** (5.4)|
7. The Suh Effect
Chris Jones had at least 2.0 tackles for loss in six games last year and finished the season with one of the best TFL totals in the country. He was most certainly not alone in his disruptive ability -- the three other line starters combined for another 20 tackles for loss, and the backups pitched in with another six. Still, anytime you find yourself saying "Sure, they lost their best defensive player, but they should still improve," you should pause and reflect.
With two former three-star recruits among those vying to take some of his playing time, and with the return of nose tackle Ted Ouellet and a host of interesting ends, it is not a guarantee that BGSU will miss Jones a tremendous amount. But losing a difference maker of this caliber is always a red flag.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Gabe Martin||ROV||6'1, 224||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||55.0||8.4%||8.5||4.5||1||5||2||0|
|D.J. Lynch||BUCK||5'11, 242||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||48.0||7.4%||6||2||0||3||0||1|
|Paul Swan||BUCK||6'0, 230||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||48.0||7.4%||6.5||1||0||0||1||0|
|Brian Sutton||ROV||6'0, 190||Jr.||** (5.2)||13||17.5||2.7%||1.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|Trenton Greene||LB||5'9, 195||So.||NR||13||6.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Coy Brown III||MLB||5'11, 214||So.||** (5.4)||7||4.0||0.6%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zac Bartman||LB||5'11, 215||RSFr.||NR|
|Paul Senn||LB||6'1, 230||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Patric Hannon||LB||6'1, 210||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Nate Locke||LB||6'0, 214||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cameron Truss||CB||5'10, 182||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||56.5||8.7%||0.5||0||0||5||1||1|
|Ryland Ward||WS||5'10, 198||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||45.5||7.0%||1||0||0||4||1||0|
|Booboo Gates||SS||5'11, 213||Sr.||** (5.3)||12||37.5||5.8%||1||0||2||1||1||1|
|Josh Pettus||SS||5'9, 203||Sr.||*** (5.5)||11||25.5||3.9%||1.5||0||1||0||1||2|
|Jude Adjei-Barimah||WS||5'10, 205||Jr.||** (5.3)||13||25.5||3.9%||1.5||0||4||7||1||1|
|Darrell Hunter||CB||5'8, 177||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||21.5||3.3%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|DeVon McKoy||CB||5'10, 178||Jr.||** (5.4)||11||18.0||2.8%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Aaron Foster||WS||5'10, 202||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||14.0||2.2%||2.5||2.5||0||6||0||2|
|Victor Osborne||DB||5'10, 182||Jr.||NR||12||11.0||1.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Justin Ford||DB||6'1, 210||Jr.||** (5.4)||8||2.5||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Will Watson||CB||5'11, 175||So.||*** (5.5)||10||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Johnny Joseph||CB||5'7, 169||Jr.||** (5.2)||4||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Mark Mays||DB||5'9, 189||Sr.||** (5.3)||1||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|James Sanford||DB||6'1, 186||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Isaiah Gourdine||DB||6'2, 195||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Aaron Banks||DB||6'3, 200||Fr.||** (5.4)|
8. What does Bowling Green do that others don't?
As the defense began to surge last season, the reasons for the improvement were ... less than satisfying.
"The things people don’t see are their attention to detail and the effort that those guys practice with," Clawson said of the defense. "We present them with preliminary scheme on Sunday and have Monday off.
"The past two years Tuesdays have been a mess. It goes to show how coach-able those guys are. They know the game-plan and they know the checks and they know the offensive formations.
"Those guys have grown up."
I'm sure every word of that was true. But every coach in the country strives for "attention to detail" and "coach-ability" and good practices. But really, the statistics don't point to an answer that is anymore satisfying than that.
Bowling Green was quite efficient on standard downs and steadily leveraged opponents into passing downs. On passing downs, the Falcons minimized big plays through both sure tackling and a good pass rush. Every unit in the defense was quite experienced (and will be even more experienced in 2013), stocked with players who were at least in their second years as contributors, and every unit had disruptive forces -- Jones and the ends up front, four linebackers logging at least 6.0 tackles for loss in the middle, and a foursome of quality safeties capable of either ball-hawking or flying to the line of scrimmage in a given play. With Rovers, WS (weakside safeties) and the like, Clawson and defensive coordinator Mike Elko use the terminology of the old 4-4 defense, one that was predicated on speed and aggressiveness. And with both depth and options, BGSU's defense played like a 4-4 defense as well. It's kind of a boring answer -- "be well-coached, smart and aggressive" -- but it's the only answer I can derive.
|Brian Schmiedebusch||6'3, 226||Sr.||72||40.8||12||10||24||47.2%|
|Anthony Farinella||6'3, 180||So.||54||58.0||7||13.0%|
|Tyler Tate||5'11, 175||So.||5-6||6-8||75.0%||1-2||50.0%|
|Booboo Gates||KR||5'11, 213||Sr.||19||19.4||0|
|Ryan Burbrink||PR||5'8, 181||So.||19||8.9||0|
|Booboo Gates||PR||5'11, 213||Sr.||2||41.0||1|
|Special Teams F/+||95|
|Field Goal Pct||120|
|Kick Returns Avg||90|
|Punt Returns Avg||42|
9. Coverage matters
There wasn't too much to love about BGSU's special teams unit in 2012 -- Ryan Burbrink was a steady punt return man, Booboo Gates hinted at some lovely explosiveness in that regard, and when Tyler Tate was attempting field goals instead of Stephen Stein, that unit was fine. But coverage was an issue. Anthony Farinella couldn't get kickoffs into the end zone with any regularity, and the coverage units were lacking on both kicks and punts. That typically hints at a problem with your depth of athleticism -- since, as much as possible, you're going to be using backups in coverage roles -- but looking ta BGSU's defense, that's not necessarily the problem. Whatever the problem actually was, fixing it could help tremendously. Because of the defense, BGSU still ranked 24th in Field Position Advantage despite the leaks. Tackling the return man more reliably might get them into the Top 15.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||at Kent State||80|
|12-Oct||at Mississippi State||51|
|5-Nov||at Miami (Ohio)||106|
|23-Nov||at Eastern Michigan||118|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||84|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||93|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+4 / +9.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||19 (10, 9)|
10. Guaranteed improvement
Okay, nothing is guaranteed in life or football, but returning 19 starters results in relatively significant improvement a good portion of the time in college football. We tend to overthink when it comes to returning starters, and parsing between the significance of 10 returners versus 12, or 12 versus 13, is not very fruitful.
But the extremes usually mean something. Boise State and Air Force returned almost no starters in 2012 and regressed. Meanwhile, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Bowling Green and Indiana returned a ton of talent and improved a decent amount. (Of course, Boston College and FIU also returned a lot of starters.) Now BGSU returns another batch of experienced talent.
Will they take another hefty step forward, or will the experience just help them shore up last year's gains? The answer to that question could determine whether the Falcons' two-decade conference title drought comes to an end.