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All Bowling Green does is surge and collapse, and [looks at watch] it’s time for another surge

In Mike Jinks’ third season, the Falcons should have the pieces for a nice push forward in the MAC East.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

No one rides the MAC roller coaster like Bowling Green. While some teams stall out before the peaks and others throw on the brakes before the valley gets too deep, the Falcons revel in getting as high as possible, knowing that another steep drop is never far away.

It’s been this way for 50 years.

  • Doyt Perry’s last three BGSU teams (1962-64) went 24-4-1. By 1970, the Falcons were 2-6-1.
  • Under Don Nehlen, they rebounded, finding themselves ranked during a 4-0 start (that included a pummeling of Syracuse) in 1973. Nehlen left to take a Michigan assistant job, and BGSU ended up with four straight losing seasons under Dennis Stoltz.
  • Stoltz righted the ship, going to two California Bowls and finishing the 1985 regular season 11-0. Stolz left for San Diego State, and BGSU was 2-8-1 by 1988.
  • Gary Blackney’s tenure began with an explosion: a combined 21-3 record and back-to-back bowls in 1991-92. Blackney was going 3-8 by 1997.
  • Urban Meyer began his head coaching career by taking a team that had averaged four wins per year over six seasons and went 17-6 in 2001-02. When Meyer left for Utah, Gregg Brandon went 20-6 in 2003-04. By 2006, Brandon was going 4-8.
  • Dave Clawson went 2-10 in 2010. He went 10-4 with a MAC title in 2013.
  • Dino Babers was lucky to win eight games in his first year, but there was minimal luck in his 10-4 MAC title run in 2015, one that earned him the Syracuse job. BGSU is 6-18 since he left.

Up, down, up, down. The Falcons are always pointed in one direction or the other, never flat.

If this is true, the rebound should begin pretty quickly, as there’s not much more room for the Falcons to fall.

Jinks’ first two years in charge have been trying. He felt like a bit of a reach of a hire — the Angelo State grad’s entire coaching career had taken place in Texas, first in the high school ranks, then in three seasons as a Texas Tech assistant. He had to learn a new league, and his only head coaching experience was at the high school level.

Recruiting hasn’t been a problem. Despite middling results (worse than that, actually), BGSU signed what was per the 247Sports Composite the No. 2 class in the conference in 2017 and the No. 3 class in 2018. He’s inked 26 three-star recruits in two classes. He’s creating a nice base of talent for the next BGSU rise. We’ll just have to see if he’s the one in charge when said rise occurs.

If it’s going to happen for Jinks in Bowling Green, we’ll know this year. We saw hints of recent recruiting paying off in 2017, even if results didn’t follow.

  • Freshman quarterback Jarret Doege zoomed past incumbent James Morgan on the depth chart, completing 64 percent of his passes, with 12 TDs to three INTs, along the way.
  • Freshman running back Andrew Clair and sophomore Matt Domer combined to rush for 819 yards in 126 carries (6.5 per carry), while veterans Josh Cleveland and Donovan Wilson managed just 969 yards in 196 carries (4.9).
  • Two freshmen (Caleb Bright and Tim Blair) and two sophomores (Lorenzo Taborn and Jack Kramer) combined for 22 of BGSU’s 60 offensive line starts.
  • Sophomore defensive tackles Kyle Junior and Nico Lautanen combined for 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
  • Freshman linebackers Armani Posey and Kholbe Coleman combined for 53.5 tackles and three TFLs.
  • Sophomore cornerback Cameron Jefferies had 32 tackles and seven passes defensed in just nine games.

Jinks has not leaned into the JUCO or transfer options very much, preferring five-year guys. That requires patience, and in theory, should begin to pay off this fall.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Michigan State
Mike Jinks
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

2017 BGSU offensive radar

Doege, younger brother of former Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, was eased into the lineup early, when Morgan struggled. He completed 40 of 63 passes against Northwestern, MTSU, and Akron (albeit for only 387 yards) and appeared ready to officially replace Morgan when he injured his back catching a trick-play pass againstAkron and missed the next three contests.

He returned for the final four games, produced a passer rating of 156.6 (Morgan’s in 2017: 102.6), and that was that. He was the QB of the future, and Morgan was transferring to FIU.

The offense crafted by Jinks and co-coordinators Kevin Kilmer (former Texas Tech graduate assistant) and Andy Padron (former Texas Lutheran offensive coordinator) is basically the Texas Tech offense in orange and brown, so it makes sense that a Texas Tech legacy would fit. He produced his highest passer rating on third downs (his passer rating on third-and-long: 205.1!), and after averaging 20.5 points per game in the first eight contests, BGSU averaged 35.0 when Doege officially seized control of the job.

(The Falcons still went 1-3 in those final four games because the defense also resembled Texas Tech’s. But we’ll get to that.)

Doege established a nice rapport with BGSU’s top two receivers. In those final four games, Scott Miller caught 23 of 28 passes for 272 yards, while Datrin Guyton caught 13 of 22 for 250.

Bowling Green v Michigan State
Datrin Guyton
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The two make for a nice duo: Miller’s a 5’10 possession guy with extreme efficiency potential — of the 92 FBS players with at least 85 targets, Miller’s marginal efficiency of plus-17.8 percent ranked ninth — while the 6’5 Guyton is a burner who averaged nearly 19 yards per catch with what we’ll politely call a minimal success rate (40 percent).

Doege also made liberal use of Clair, who made 10 of his 13 receptions in those final four games.

This is an area where recent recruiting could pay off handsomely. If any of recent three-star recruits like sophomores Matthew Wilcox Jr. and Quintin Morris (combined: 22 catches, 222 yards in 2017) and true freshmen Noah Massey and tight end Jake Papez can carve out a decent niche this year, BGSU might have too many weapons to account for.

That becomes doubly true if either Clair or Domer retain their form. Clair became a breakout star midseason, averaging 122 rushing yards per game (and 8.6 per carry) over a four-game span that included both BGSU wins. Domer, meanwhile, had 17 carries for 102 yards (6 per carry) through five games before sitting the rest of the year with injury. He gained 117 yards in eight carries as a freshman, too. The potential here is off the charts, and star 2018 recruit Rico Frye waits in the wings as well.

Bowling Green v Miami Ohio
Andrew Clair
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s hard to know what to expect from the line just yet. The Falcons ranked a decent 64th in Adj. Line Yards but only 98th in stuff rate and 124th in power success rate, and Doege took sacks on seven percent of his pass attempts, more than you’d like to see from what’s supposed to be an efficiency attack. It also loses by far its two most experienced players in center Tim McAuliffe and left tackle Ryan Hunter. The bar’s not high, but you still have to clear it.

Defense

2017 BGSU defensive radar

Indeed, BGSU’s defense bore a little too strong a resemblance to Texas Tech’s last year. The Falcons scored at least 27 points in a game and lost five times. They ranked 123rd in Def. S&P+ — 114th against the pass and 130th, dead last, against the run.

There was a bend-don’t-break element, and while the Falcons were decent at preventing big plays, they bent far too much.

2017 BGSU defensive efficiency & explosiveness

To address the D, Jinks called in a Pelini.

Carl Pelini spent seven years as his brother Bo’s defensive coordinator — four at Nebraska and three at Youngstown State, sandwiching an ill-fated stint as FAU’s head coach. His time at Nebraska produced three top-20 Def. S&P+ rankings (No. 1 in 2009), though, granted, the talent he inherits at BGSU isn’t quite to the level of Ndamukong Suh or Fabian Washington.

Pelini’s YSU defenses weren’t havoc-heavy, take-your-head-off attacks. Last year’s Penguins boasted a havoc rate (tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles divided by total plays) of just 15.7 percent, which would have ranked 66th at the FBS level. Still, they allowed only 5.1 yards per play and 19.1 points per game. They were a sound, reactive group.

At the very least, he should be able to create some nice competition between a heavy load of upperclassmen and quite a few high-upside youngsters.

  • Four of last year’s top five linemen return, but seven recent three-star recruits — sophomore tackle Josh Croslen, plus four redshirt freshmen and two true freshmen — wait in the wings.
  • Linebackers Brandon Harris and Posey are back but could get pushes from Coleman, redshirt freshman Jerry Roberts, two JUCOs (Hassan Belton and Brandon Perce), and three three-star true freshmen.
  • Each of last year’s top eight DBs is scheduled to return, plus a 2016 starter, but three recent three-stars could push for time there, too.

The youth is most intriguing in the front seven, where BGSU needs the help the most. Opponents gained at least five yards on 46.6 percent of their carries in 2017, the third-most in the country, and BGSU made few disruptive plays to counter that.

There’s not a lot of size here — the top three returning ends were listed at an average of 238 pounds last year, the top three tackles 277, and the top five linebackers 206 — and they couldn’t take nearly enough advantage of their potential speed to offset getting pushed around. Some of the youngsters and newcomers could help a little bit (redshirt freshman tackle Caylon May was listed at 306 pounds heading into last season, and incoming star linebacker recruit Deandre Fitz-Henley is a solid 235), but size will likely still be an issue moving forward.

Bowling Green v Ohio State
Brandon Harris
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

You can talk yourself into the secondary. It was the “strength” of the unit last year, and it had to cycle through a lot of different lineups. Only three of last year’s top eight DBs played in all 12 games, and junior safety Jamari Bozeman missed the entire year with injury.

That means that all nine of BGSU’s DBs return — five safeties, four corners — and six of them defensed at least five passes in their last season of action. Pelini can work with that ... at least, if the run defense isn’t a complete abomination.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Ohio State
Marcus Milton
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams

BGSU wasted a good special teams unit. Punter Joseph Davidson was awesome, Jake Suder was nearly automatic on kicks under 40 yards, and the combination of Andrew Clair and Matthew Wilcox Jr. in kick returns bore quite a bit of fruit. (They certainly got plenty of opportunities to return kicks.)

This year, the Falcons have to replace a pair of legs. Davidson’s gone, as is kickoffs guy Nick Fields, but kickoffs were problematic, and in theory, BGSU might be punting less. With Suder, Wilcox, Clair, and punt returner Marcus Milton back, this should be a solid unit again.

2018 outlook

2018 Schedule & Projection Factors

Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
1-Sep at Oregon 23 -20.2 12%
8-Sep Maryland 80 -2.1 45%
15-Sep Eastern Kentucky NR 25.9 93%
22-Sep Miami (Ohio) 82 -1.8 46%
29-Sep at Georgia Tech 53 -12.4 24%
6-Oct at Toledo 49 -12.8 23%
13-Oct Western Michigan 87 -0.1 50%
20-Oct at Ohio 68 -9.0 30%
30-Oct Kent State 127 11.5 75%
10-Nov at Central Michigan 116 3.0 57%
17-Nov at Akron 119 3.7 59%
23-Nov Buffalo 93 1.6 54%
Projected S&P+ Rk 97
Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 76 / 110
Projected wins 5.7
Five-Year S&P+ Rk -2.2 (82)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 88 / 97
2017 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -1 / 0.5
2017 TO Luck/Game -0.6
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 72% (58%, 85%)
2017 Second-order wins (difference) 3.5 (-1.5)

I feel pretty bullish on BGSU this year. My S&P+ projections don’t directly take into account how good Doege looked late in the year — the returning production figures just see BGSU has to replace half its passing production — and still forecast the Falcons to improve into the top 100 and win about six games.

If Doege and Clair form a strong backfield this year, and I suspect they will, then BGSU could overachieve even those semi-optimistic projections. The Falcons have eight games against teams projected 80th or worse and could in theory be dangerous enough to scare one of the four solid road opponents on the schedule (Oregon, Georgia Tech, Toledo, Ohio). I like the Pelini hire and love the offensive potential.

If Jinks doesn’t pull off a big step forward this year, it’s fair to wonder if one will come.

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