The defending Mid-American Conference champion Bowling Green Falcons have transformed over the last few years from a team in rebuilding mode to one that merely needs to replenish. The Falcons will lose some important players from the team that won the school's first MAC title in 21 years, particularly in the offensive line and defensive backfield. However, former head coach Dave Clawson and new top dog Dino Babers have put together a class that should keep BGSU at the top of the MAC for the foreseeable future.
Including a transfer and two players who enrolled for the spring semester, Bowling Green's haul for 2014 includes 18 players.
|Nilijah Ballew||DB||6'2"||196||Cincinnati, Ohio (Walnut Hills)|
|Trevahn Berry||DB||6'1"||175||Creston, Ohio (Norwayne)|
|Cody Callaway||QB||6'3"||195||Grafton, Ohio (Midview)|
|Jalen Dingle||LB||6'2"||215||Detroit, Mich. (South Lake)|
|Ben Hale||DB||6'2"||187||Columbus, Ohio (St. Charles)|
|Nick Johnson||DB||6'2"||183||Canton, Ohio (Timken Senior)|
|Tyler King||DT||6'2"||285||Lakewood, Ohio (St. Edwards)|
|Austin Labus||OL||6'6"||300||Portage, Mich. (Portage Northern)|
|Roger Lewis||WR||6'3"||200||Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington Central/Jireh Prep)|
|Marcus Milton||DB||6'1"||185||Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington Central/Jireh Prep)|
|Isiah Moore||OL||6'3"||280||Tiffin, Ohio (Tiffin Columbian)|
|Clayton Nicholas||QB||6'3"||205||Abilene, Texas (Abilene Cooper/Texas Tech)|
|Brian Sanders||DL||6'4"||230||Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech)|
|Griff Saunders||LB||6'3"||215||Columbus, Ohio (St. Francis de Sales)|
|Clint Stephens||WR||5'9"||170||West Palm Beach, Fla. (Dwyer)|
|Jack Walz III||DB||6'0"||190||Lakewood, Ohio (St. Edwards)|
|DeAngelo Ware||OL||6'5"||320||Cleveland Heights, Ohio (Cleveland Heights)|
|Chance Weitz||DT||6'3"||250||Elida, Ohio (Elida)|
Here's the positional breakdown for the 18 players:
Quarterbacks: 2, Wide Receivers: 2, Offensive Linemen: 3, Defensive Linemen: 3, Linebackers: 2, Defensive Backs: 6.
As you can see, half of the players signed are for the two areas where the Falcons lost the most talent. Not including quarterbacks, only two offensive skill players were signed, but there's a caveat to that. Bowling Green is bringing back an enormous amount of talent at the running back and wide receiver positions, including players who were redshirted in 2013, so BGSU did not need to focus on those areas in recruiting. As for tight end, the offense that Bowling Green will run under Babers rarely uses a tight end, so that is also not a position of need.
(Bowling Green did have a commitment from a tight end in Pennsylvania, but that player flipped to Bucknell.)
There are six players on this list that I believe are of particular importance to this class -- players who I believe will ultimately make-or-break the group. This list includes both quarterbacks, Cody Callaway and Clayton Nicholas. It also includes the most recent BGSU commitments, Nilijah Ballew and DeAngelo Ware. Finally, the two players who enrolled early, Roger Lewis and Marcus Milton, are particularly important. Let's take a closer look at these players...
Nilijah Ballew is a safety rated three stars by 247Sports.com and four stars by Rivals.com. He is arguably the most highly-regarded recruit signed by the Falcons, but he almost ended up elsewhere. Ballew originally committed to Louisville last year while Charlie Strong was head coach. However, when Strong went to Texas and Louisville hired Bobby Petrino, Ballew reportedly felt unwanted and ignored by the new coaching staff. He decommitted and visited BGSU last weekend.
At Walnut Hills in Cincinnati, Ohio, Ballew was team Most Valuable Player in 2013 and named second-team all-state. He accumulated 93 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery as a senior. Safety is a position of need now for BGSU, so he should have an opportunity to earn early playing time.
Clayton Nicholas is a strong-armed pocket passer from Texas who spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons running the scout team for Texas Tech University. He will miss the 2014 season as a transfer and will have two years of eligibility remaining. Like Ballew, Nicholas was seen as a three-to-four star prospect out of Abilene, Texas. Rivals.com rated him among the 30 best pocket passers in the country. He chose to come to BGSU after the Babers hire and will have a full year to learn the offense, so he bears watching as a real competitor for the starting quarterback job in 2015.
Cody Callaway is a dual threat quarterback from Grafton, Ohio. He's as tall (6'3") as Nicholas but has perhaps a smaller frame. He threw for 7,180 yards and 69 touchdowns in high school and had 8,840 total yards from scrimmage. As a senior, he was named second-team all-Ohio after throwing for 2,496 yards, 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions. It will be interesting to see if he's kept at quarterback or moved elsewhere, given the depth of the position. It could be argued that he might be a more natural fit for Babers' offense than Nicholas. He's given three stars by 247Sports.com, and they rank him as their 35th-best dual threat quarterback.
DeAngelo Ware is a big offensive lineman from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Ware, who stands 6'5" and weighs 320 pounds, was a late verbal commitment. Not much information is available about him at websites such as 247Sports or Rivals, but we do know that he earned two letters and played three varsity seasons at Cleveland Heights. He helped lead his team to a 9-1 record and the second round of the state playoffs as a senior. With the departures of Dominic Flewellyn and "Chief" Kekuewa, Ware should have the opportunity to step in and earn a spot on the Falcons' offensive line. BGSU has recent history of starting young players; two of the five starting linemen in 2013 were freshmen.
The Falcons have two wide receivers in this class, but Roger Lewis has a chance to be a standout player among all of BGSU's 2014 recruits. Lewis is rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com and had interest from big-time programs such as Ohio State and Oregon. However, he found himself in some legal difficulty after finishing four years at Pickerington Central in Pickerington, Ohio. He spent a year at Jireh Prep in North Carolina, and his legal issues are behind him. At Jireh, he caught 35 balls for 900 yards and 13 touchdowns. In Babers' offense, you can never have enough weapons, and Lewis is potentially a huge one.
Lewis is joined on the Falcon roster from Jireh Prep by defensive back Marcus Milton. As a senior at Pickerington Central in 2012, Milton had 78 tackles and hauled in seven interceptions. He also finished fourth in Ohio in the 100-meter dash. As a junior in the state championship game in 2011, he had nine tackles. Milton is listed as a two-star cornerback by 247Sports.com.
Both Lewis and Milton enrolled at BGSU for the 2014 spring semester, which means they will be able to take part in spring practice.
From my vantage point, this is generally a fantastic class for Bowling Green. It addresses the team's biggest needs with players who appear ready to come in and contribute right away. It also begins the team's transformation to truly fit the offense that Dino Babers will employ. Fans ought to be thrilled at the inclusion of players like Callaway, Milton, Lewis and Ballew. If there is anything missing, I would say that the team probably should have signed more players for the defensive line, but needs were greater elsewhere.
There is some risk here, as it doesn't appear that many other schools were in on Ware, and you can never be completely sure about players with histories of legal issues. Also, it's unlikely that much will be seen of the quarterbacks this season (Nicholas not at all). But all that aside, there's nothing here to indicate that Bowling Green will slide back into the middle of the MAC anytime soon.
Official Hustle Belt grade: B+