2017 record: 2-10 (2-6 MAC)
Key wins: 37-29 @ Miami (OH), 44-16 @ Kent State
Bad losses: 35-27 vs. South Dakota (FCS), the fact that every single home game was a loss
It's been a difficult two years for Bowling Green. The Falcons experienced sustained excellence from 2013 through 2015, claiming two MAC championships in the time frame. But with winning MAC championships comes coaching changes. Although Bowling Green adjusted smoothly from the Dave Clawson era to the Dino Babers era, there has been a more noticeable drop off in the program after Babers' departure.
The Falcons have spent the first half of these last two seasons learning about their team in order to make the necessary adjustments to finish strong. After nightmare starts to 2016 and 2017, there has been a sense of hope and promise within the young talent on the team once late October arrives.
Each of the last two seasons has been characterized by a midseason quarterback change, and both times, the change has worked out in the Falcons' favor. In the first year of the Mike Jinks regime, Bowling Green trotted out James Knapke on the field, but then-freshman James Morgan received the keys to the offense after a horrific 77-3 loss to the Memphis Tigers.
Morgan finished out the year strong and Bowling Green won three straight to finish 4-8, but the Falcons' struggles resumed once fall rolled around. Bowling Green's embarrassing loss in 2017 was a 35-27 letdown at home to South Dakota of the FCS. After the Falcons dropped a game 49-7 to a talented Northwestern team, Morgan was benched for freshman Jarret Doege. It was at this moment 2017 was beginning to mirror 2016.
Bowling Green steadily improved for the rest of the season, even in its close losses. The Falcons' defense clinched a key win over Miami (OH) thanks to a scoop-and-score on the RedHawks' attempt at a game-winning drive. The brown and orange expectedly torched Kent State in a midweek MACtion game, and the team was finally establishing its offense over the season's final stretch.
Doege and the Falcons dropped 28 on Buffalo, 37 on their hated rival Toledo, and 31 in a three-point loss to a surging Eastern Michigan team. If the team had assembled a slightly better defense, these become winnable games for the Falcons.
That will be the theme going into 2018. The offense has plenty of young talent in Doege and Third Team All-MAC running back Andrew Clair, who will both enter their sophomore seasons next go-around. But it will be Jinks' defense which determines whether Bowling Green finishes 2-10, 6-7, or even contends for a MAC championship next year.
Bowling Green allowed the fifth most yards per game in the FBS, splitting it evenly between the passing (253.3 YPG) and rushing (253.3 YPG) game. It allowed 38 points per game, only averaging 25.3 offensive points per game to counter.
Teo Redding, WR
Redding was the only offensive Bowling Green player to appear on one of the top two All-MAC teams and the senior wideout is clearly gifted with a nice set of hands. He only surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark once this season in an 8-catch, 197-yard day during the win over Miami. Redding led all offensive players on the team with eight touchdowns, and he made plenty of highlight plays like this:
WHAT. A. GRAB.— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 22, 2017
Teo Redding gets @BG_Football within 3 with this incredible catch #MACtion pic.twitter.com/EkyOjP0v0A
TEO. REDDING.— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 16, 2017
Good at catching the football. TD @BG_Football! #MACtion pic.twitter.com/hjn1iJzrNm
We can't forget this:
GET UP, @Teo_Redding. #MACtion #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/190o38tpqn— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 8, 2017
This didn't count, but we'll close with this:
— #MACtion (@MACSports) November 1, 2017
It didn't count but you gotta see this grab by @BG_Football's Teo Redding. #SCTop10 #MACtion pic.twitter.com/qe75szITSA
After watching these highlights, it's obvious how crucial a piece Redding was to this offense. The Michigan native leaves Bowling Green with a 45-catch, 624-yard senior year and has been invited to the SPIRAL Tropical Bowl, a collegiate all-star game in Daytona Beach, Florida. He will play his final game in a Bowling Green helmet on January 14.
Moment of the Year
For a struggling team, the first win is always the sweetest. Bowling Green left the win column blank in September, but it started October on the right foot by upsetting a decent Miami (OH) team in Oxford.
The RedHawks faced a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line with less than two minutes to go, trailing the Falcons by just a point. In the shotgun formation, Miami fumbled the snap, and Bowling Green outside linebacker Brandon Harris scooped the ball up and ran it back 93 yards, untouched to put the Falcons ahead 37-29.
Miami still trailed by just a single possession and had a chance to tie it up, but the RedHawks would wind up turning the ball over on the Bowling Green 27 during their last gasp in the afternoon.
Why to be excited about 2018
It can only go uphill from here. Seriously, Bowling Green has hit rock bottom in the past two seasons. But the Falcons showed plenty of fight even after bowl eligibility was taken out of the equation in mid-October.
Jarret Doege, who will almost certainly be the starting quarterback after James Morgan elected to transfer, revived Bowling Green's previously dormant passing game and kept a decent touchdown-to-turnover ratio. The freshman tossed 12 scores and only three picks, and he steadily improved during his final few games. In each of Doege's last three outings, albeit losses, he threw for over 250 yards. His completion percentage of 63.8% is a promising number, and Doege could finally bring back shades of the Matt Johnson era on Mike Jinks' pass-happy offense.
But the rushing attack is in good hands too with Andrew Clair. Josh Cleveland and Donovan Wilson are graduating, so the backfield will be bequeathed to #32. At 5-foot-9, Clair is a smaller back, but the quick-footed runner had a great stretch of games around midseason and was additionally acquainted to a receiving role late in the year.
Receivers Scott Miller and Datrin Guyton — an Oregon State transfer — will both return for senior seasons, so there's plenty of veteran presence in the skill positions on this offense.
Also, the team will have six opportunities to win a game at Doyt Perry Stadium in 2018, something the fans have waited to see since November 25, 2016. Hosting Maryland in 2018 will be an interesting, winnable game that Falcons fans can already circle on their calendars (Week 2, September 8).
What needs work for 2018
Punter Joe Davidson is gone. The First Team All-MAC special teamer was incredible as a Falcon, averaging 44 yards per punt on 60 attempts. Davidson often swung field position battles, and his role on the team was incredibly vital throughout the last three years. He will be missed, along with center Tim McAuliffe, the senior who anchored Bowling Green's offensive line in 2017.
Other departing seniors include Redding and Third Team All-MAC inside linebacker Nate Locke — the only Bowling Green defender to appear on any All-MAC team. Earlier, we chronicled some of Bowling Green's defensive struggles, which have prolonged throughout the past two years. So losing the team's centerpiece, Locke, may only hurt the unit going forward.
The Falcons must improve in this area or 2018 could be another disappointing year that ends in November instead of late December. The unit allowed 48 or more points on four occasions this year, adding unnecessary pressure on the offense to score quickly and often in order to compete with opponents.
When the defense plays at a high level and forces turnovers, results like Bowling Green's 44-16 blowout win over Kent State happen, so fielding a strong defense is feasible. Improving performance on this side of the ball is what Jinks' staff must address throughout spring ball. It may even be worth a try deviating from their classic 4-3 scheme and trying new defensive packages because almost anything would be an improvement from the past few seasons.
In my season preview, I predicted the Falcons to go 5-7, citing the defense as the reason the team would miss bowl eligibility for the second-straight year.
Obviously, the team only won two games, but the offense did show some brilliance and promise late in the season. A tough non-conference schedule — which featured road games at two 10-3 Big Ten programs (Michigan State and Northwestern) and the Camellia Bowl champions in Middle Tennessee — derailed Bowling Green from gaining early season momentum. However, the loss to South Dakota in its only simple non-conference matchup was the season defining moment, as no FBS team should ever lose to the FCS. A loss like that is tough to recover from.
Also, the three MAC West teams Bowling Green drew were Toledo, Northern Illinois, and Eastern Michigan. The Falcons hung in the contest with the Eagles but the Rockets and Huskies are tougher teams to compete with, and Bowling Green's defense was torn apart in both losses. The schedule certainly didn't do Bowling Green any favors during its disappointing 2-10 campaign.
This was a forgettable year for a program that's experienced plenty of success this decade alone. A 77-3 loss to Memphis and a 77-10 loss to Ohio State in 2016 didn't really cause the Falcons to enter 2017 with high expectations, and they managed to decrease their win total from four to two.
The team will rely on Doege, Clair, and their slew of offensive weapons to lead the team in 2018. It will be a crucial year for Jinks and plenty of members on the coaching staff, who will be demanded to show signs of visible improvement in their third year in control of Falcons football. Or else, we'll be reviewing the same season three years in a row.