Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...
Ten years ago, Urban Meyer inherited a team that won two games all season. He turned it around to an enchanted 8-3 mark with memorable wins at Missouri and Northwestern. And in 2011, I still look at this team and hold it to the Meyer standard; they should win eight or nine games every year. Now I know what Notre Dame fans feel like, because a winning record and a championship contender is not a reward and a privilege, not an entitlement.
With every year since 2004, the expectations and demands have slowly declined. We're just about back to the point where a 6-6 season is quite enough with the occasional eight-win miracle every few years and perhaps a bowl game with an exciting finish. (No 56-point losses, please.)
Enter this season with some more hard luck on the schedule. Missing from the slate are three of the MAC's weakest links: EMU, Ball State and Akron. A road game at Buffalo is the easiest FBS matchup on paper, but on electronic paper we're still going to see if they can't scrape together that 6-6 record.
Last Season: Do not be fooled by the 2-10 mark. This team had four-win potential. Last-second losses to Troy, Miami, Buffalo and Temple really threw the W-L for a loop. Here's how close it was to 6-6:
• Troy: tie game. A turnover in the final two minutes resulted in a field-goal winning drive for the Trojans.
• Buffalo: Down 15 in the fourth quarter, the comeback falls short by two points as a 40-yard field goal was shanked.
• Temple: Again down 14 points within seven minutes, BG scores a potential game-tying touchdown as time expired but couldn't land the two-point conversion.
• Miami: Another interception toward the end of the game set up a game-winning field goal, despite all efforts to fog everyone's brains.
But they did have one last-minute win at Central Michigan. So, one out of five.
The more accurate story, however, is that they just weren't good. The other four conference losses were by an average margin of 25.25 points. Clawson was no longer blessed with experienced players he had inherited in his first year at BG. This was your overhaul year, with new faces trying to run an offense; and with defensive players who earned playing time by virtue of showing up to practice.
If his offense is so freaking intricate, then this year may not be one in which they contend so much as they try to become more cohesive. Don't look lost. Don't end up on 4th and 10 after three incompletions. Don't allow 430 yards a game.
Returning Players: Its his third time on the Rimington Trophy watch list, and probably the 82nd injury he's coming off, but center Ben Bojicic is finally in his senior year and his health could be the key to the offensive line's success, especially given the nascent running back corps. Junior linebacker Dwayne Woods led the MAC in tackles, so he's going to have somehow to build on that lest the defensive unit be porous for the 10th straight year. And then Kamar Jorden, of course, is a quarterback's favorite target. He was tops in receptions but only had four touchdowns. Boo Boo Gates (who'se on the Hornung Award watch list) will also look to solidify that secondary that didn't do much last year except the occasional big interception return. Hey, Boo Boo? Please make sure that opposing team PA announcers don't call you "Jerry Gates," even if that is your real name.
New Faces: Redshirt freshman Trent Hurley is in a quarterback battle with last year's starter Matt Schilz. Hurley will tuck-and-run on occasion, so you might see both play this year. I don't think Jordan Hopgood can be the feature back all year so be on the lookout for redshirt freshman Jamel Martin, who did the most work in the spring game. They're going to need some new linebackers as well, and redshirt freshman DJ Lynch just might be the man for the task. The new punter could be a tongue-twister named Brian Schmeidebusch who averaged 42.1 yards per punt in 2009 as a freshman with Division II Findlay.
Game(s) to Circle: Toledo, obviously, is the biggie not only because it's the rivalry game, but also because of the 3Dness that will pervade television sets on ESPN. It's also their first October meeting in quite a while. There will be a touch of revenge in the minds of the Falcons in the opener at Idaho in a rematch of the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl. But the bittersweet home game will be Wyoming. For the first time since being let go as head coach after the '08 season, Gregg Brandon will return as the Cowboys offensive coordinator.
Did You Know: The Falcons' 754 rushing yards (62.8 per game) was 120th in FBS. It's the fewest rushing yards by a MAC team since Kent State finished with a cool 505 yards in 2005. If you stuck BG's total rushing yardage up on the national individual list, it would be 93rd in the country, tied with Terrelle Pryor.
Prediction: By rule I'm not allowed to be more pessimistic than 6-6. That was the best-case for the team last year, so with a few more breaks they're bound to break even. Which six? Let's go with Morgan State, Wyoming, Miami, Toledo, Kent State, Buffalo. Unfortunately, a non-Falcon hopeful would probably portend this team to finish something like 3-9. That's just one unlucky schedule.