The Bowling Green Falcons kick off on Thursday, a couple of days before many of their Mid-American Conference brothers.
For the Falcon faithful, kickoff cannot come soon enough. The 2015 MAC Champions are coming off of the disastrous Mike Jinks era, which saw the Falcons win three games just a season ago.
Their season-opening game comes against FCS foe Morgan State University Bears. The Bears are a historically black university and saw much of their programs successes in the days of segregation, where primier black athletes were not able to play for many other schools. This is the 121st season (since 1898) of Morgan State football.
Morgan State did not spring practice this year due to NCAA sanctions related to academics.
Yes, you read that right… no spring practice.
The Bears were also banned from post-season play, which was not an issue following a 4-7 record with 3 of those wins coming against MEAC competition.
A program in turmoil, MSU hasn’t had a winning season since a 6-5 mark in 2009 as their 7-6 mark in 2014 (complete with a loss in the FCS playoffs) was vacated. It's been a struggle, to say the least.
The Bears and Falcons share several similarities beyond their recent struggles.
Both teams have first year head coaches. Bowling Green enters their first season with Scot Loeffler as head coach. Loeffler was most recently the offensive coordinator at Boston College, while previously serving as Tom Brady’s position coach way back when he was at Michigan. Loeffler hired several fellow former Michigan players and assistants to join him.
One ex-Wolverine that he didn’t have the chance to hire is Tyrone Wheatley. The former Michigan tailback, and later a coach in Ann Arbor, Wheatley joined Morgan State as head coach following his hiring away from the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he served as running backs coach. While this is his first head coaching job, Wheatley is no stranger to the MAC having previously coached half backs at Eastern Michigan in 2009 and reportedly interviewing for several head coaching vacancies within the conference in recent years.
Wheatley and Loeffler were teammates for two seasons in Ann Arbor, but this game was scheduled before either was hired by their new schools.
Wheatley intends to make Detroit somewhat of a recruiting pipeline for the Bears, so a win within a couple hours of Detroit would prove huge.
Both BGSU and Morgan State have had quarterback competitions this spring. Bowling Green is looking to replace transfer Jarrett Doege with returning product Grant Loy, graduate transfer Darius Wade or another transfer in Matt McDonald. All three appear tied on the first depth chart released by Loeffler. Interestingly enough, Loy may have the least familiarity with the the new offensive system, despite being a returnee. That is because both Wade and McDonald spent time in Loeffler’s system in Chestnut Hill, with Wade even starting the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl.
McDonald is waiting NCAA clearance to play, after having his first petition for immediate eligibility denied. Many suspect that if he is cleared to play, that he would be the starter.
Loeffler would likely like to have lead which would allow him to potentially play multiple quarterbacks in the opener.
Bowling Green returns third team all-MAC tailback Andrew Clair, who could see a heavy workload if Loeffler leans on him like he did AJ Dillon for Boston College. Clair was recently named our 25th best player in the MAC. Expect to see powerful Boston College transfer Davon Jones, joined by Bryson Denley, true freshman Trevon Raymore and another transfer in Nigel Sealey in backing up Clair. Loeffler wants to establish the run early and often.
With the MAC’s leading receiver a year ago Scotty Miller, now tearing up the NFL preseason, the Falcons will look to a receiving group highlighted by returning tight end Quintin Morris, who had 42 receptions and seven touchdowns a season ago. Graduate transfer Austin Dorris is an Ohio native who is projected to start at tight end after transferring from the Indiana Hoosiers. MAC sleeper candidate Jordan Wayne-Prather is listed as the starter at wide-out with Julian Ortega-Jones, who redshirted a season ago, as the other receiver. Wayne-Prather will look to improve upon his 18 catches from a year ago.
Despite losing their veteran left tackle to a dismissal during camp, the Falcons have an underrated experienced offensive line unit highlighted by senior captain Jack Kramer at center. Caleb Bright, another senior, moves over to the left tackle position.
The Falcons defense struggled mightily a season ago. If they struggle against Morgan State then there might be a spike in beverage sales at Frickers and Ziggy’s.
Defensive ends David Konowalski and Karl Brooks are expected to lead the defense. Brooks came on last season with three and a half sacks as a true freshman. Konowalski, a captain, missed all of last season with an injury but led the team in sacks back in 2017.
The Falcon linebackers are inexperienced with two sophomore starters and a senior starter, who did not play football last season. The three starters combine for a grand total of zero NCAA starts.
Senior defensive back Jerry McBride III returns after having 106 six tackles a season ago. Sophomore Caleb Biggers is projected to start after starting the final four games a season ago. Redshirt senior Jamari Bozeman, a former JUCO transfer, provides experience with Ty Redding also listed as a starter. Redding’s brother Teo had a standout career as a receiver and is now with the Packers.
Specialist’s Nate Needham and Matt Naranjo return as steady options.
Morgan State Bears
Morgan State appears to have decided upon Dion “DJ” Gollatt Jr. as the quarterback over DeAndre Harris. Harris started more games a season ago but Gollatt provided more of a spark and seemed to come into his own. The 6’3, 225 sophomore, had only a 6 to 4 touchdown to interception ratio.
Senior Joshua Chase had three touchdowns a season ago while averaging 4.0 yards per carry for the Bears. Three of the Bears' four available running backs vs. BGSU are freshman.
Other skill position players for to watch Morgan State include the shifty Manasseh Bailey, who had 24 receptions a year ago and Xavier Gravette, a sophomore tight end, who led MSU in receiving a year ago with 425 yards and four TD’s as a true freshman.
Interestingly enough, Morgan State’s two-deep depth chart shows two starting tight ends, which could hint at a more classic power scheme, such as we saw Michigan run during Wheatley’s playing days.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr., the son of the head coach, is the other expected tight end. He is a graduate transfer from Stony Brook, who started his career at…you guessed…the University of Michigan. (Are we allowed to use “the” before University of Michigan or will Brutus the Buckeye get me?)
Morgan State’s offense is anchored by a veteran offensive line but does list a true freshman at right guard on their two deep in Marvin Atuatasi, from Pago Pago, American Samoa. Junior Stefan Touani is a preseason second team all-MEAC while fellow lineman Bruce Trigg was named first team all-MEAC by Phil Steeles college football preview.
Defensively, the Bears are more impressive.
Linebackers Ian McBorrough and Rico Kennedy are preseason first team all-MEAC players and on the watch list for the Black College Player of the Year Award. McBorrough, an all-league selection for academics, had six sacks, 15 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and 79 total tackles. Kennedy, a fellow senior, had 61 total tackles with 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and seven hurries. They are Division I talents who will require attention.
Junior defensive back Donte Small, from the famed Paramus Catholic HS in New Jersey, is another first team all-MEAC selection. Small, who is a fringe NFL Draft prospect, led the MEAC in interceptions a year ago with four, three of which came against Albany. He was seventh in the nation in passes defended with 15 and had 31 tackles, five of which came against Akron.
Other Bear defensive players to watch are defensive back Dominick “DJ” Trigg, another preseason first team all-MEAC selection by Phil Steele, and sophomore defensive tackle Devan Hebron, a preseason third team selection.
Specialists Nicholas O’Shea, a kicker/punter and returner Jordan Cofield are other talented players.
Morgan State was picked to finish eighth in the MEAC this season. Bowling Green leads the all-time series with a victory in 2011.
Both schools had a player drafted last year as Scotty Miller of Bowling Green went in the 6th round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Morgan State lineman Joshua Miles was a 7th round selection of the Cardinals.
It will be interesting to see how Falcon fans turn out for the opener as apathy set in during the Jinks era.
The Falcons enter their opener with numerous question marks, as one of the NCAA’s youngest teams. All eyes will be watching to see who the Falcons start at quarterback and how Loeffler does in his first game as a head coach.
Even with some of the defections from the Bowling Green program, it is hard to imagine the Falcons losing to a FCS school, which did not have any spring practice. Wheatley seems almost over qualified for the job in Morgan State and should have them on the right track soon but they are likely a couple years away, while dealing with numerous cultural issues.
In what could be the only game that the Falcons are favored in this season, they seem well positioned to put coach Loeffler in the win column. Bowling Green should be able to win by multiple scores.