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2019 State Of The Program: Bowling Green Falcons

The Falcons are pressing the reset button once again. This time, it feels like they're going somewhere.

Illustration: James H. Jimenez | Photo: Mike DiNovo (USA Today)

What a roller coaster of emotions for Bowling Green State Falcon fans.

One moment, the proud fan base was enjoying seeing Dave Clawson and Dino Babers tag team to make back-to back-to-back trips to Detroit for the MAC championship, while winning two out of the three.

The next moment, Mike Jinks would have the Falcons amongst the worst programs not just in the MAC, but in college football, with seven wins in three seasons.

There may have been worse Falcon teams than the 2018 version, but it is unlikely that any resulted in a lower morale from the fan base.

The firing of Jinks after a 42-35 loss at home vs. Western Michigan seemed merciful. It meant that the Falcons could begin the healing process and building back towards dominance.

BG responded to the firing by winning back-to-back games in weeks 10 and 11, and the hiring of Scot Loeffler has seemed to return optimism to the Plains.

Here is a comprehensive review of the Falcon program.


History

The Falcons are a proud program, accustomed to success.

The program has an all-time winning record, and 12 MAC titles.

In 1959, BGSU won the College Division National Title.

Before the Mike Jinks debacle, BGSU had made eight bowl games between 2003 and 2015.

It is a program which played in three straight MAC title games and won two of them in 2013 and 2015.

It is easy to forget that Bowling Green was a ten-win team and reigning MAC champions at the time their previous athletic director Googled the best offenses in college football, settled on Texas Tech and hired the first Red Raiders assistants they could afford.

In fact, Jinks became the first Falcon head coach to end his career with a losing record since Moe Ankney, whose run ended in 1990. His .226 winning percentage is the worst for a Falcon coach in the modern era. You have to go all the way back to John Stitt and Walter Jean in 1919 and 1920, respectively, to find a worse winning percentage.

Bowling Green in recent years has been over matched by the rival Toledo Rockets. Toledo has won nine straight entering 2019. Even with those nine straight victories, UT now leads the all-time series by just one game 40-39-4.

A win this season at home, during Bowling Green’s 100th year celebration, would be monumental.

Against fellow rival Kent State, playing for the Anniversary Award, last year’s defeat to the Golden Flashes was their first loss since 2012 when Dri Archer was a member of the Flashes. Kent State should be tough again this year as Coach Sean Lewis has the Golden Flashes looking better positioned than any time in recent memory for a bowl run.

A 3-9 mark in 2018 was actually better than the 2-10 mark from 2017. However, the Falcons three wins came against football championship subdivision Eastern Kentucky, downtrodden MAC foes Central Michigan and Akron. The back to back win’s vs CMU and the Zips came after coach Jinks was fired.

A year ago, the Falcons were besieged by a porous defense which allowed 40 points per game. They held just two teams under 30 points.

The Falcon offense had its bright spots but the offensive line became burdened by so many pass sets, and the sacks piled up. Incumbent starting QB Jarret Doege left for West Virginia following the spring.

Bowling Green led in numerous games including vs Oregon of the PAC 12, against Maryland of the Big Ten, vs Western Michigan in Jinks' final game, vs Ohio, and vs. rival Kent State. They would all wind up as loses, which has prompted some fans to speculate about the conditioning and heart of last years team.


Coaching

Like most Mid-American Conference schools, Bowling Green has a rich coaching tradition.

Doyt Perry, for whom the stadium is named after, spent ten years at BGSU winning five conference titles. He was also a very close friend to both Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

Don Nehlan, for whom West Virginia’s stadium is named, spent nine seasons as head coach of the Falcons before going to West Virginia by way of Michigan.

Urban Meyer began his head coaching career here in 2001, spending two seasons with the Falcons before going to Utah.

Dave Clawson spent five seasons, with one MAC title before going to Wake Forest.

Dino Babers brought the “Falcon Fast” offense to life for two seasons, winning one MAC title before going to Syracuse, where his Orange are a current dark horse in the ACC.

Scot Loeffler will hope to join those before him as successes.

The 44-year-old is in his first season as a head coach, coming over from Boston College. Loeffler will receive $525,000 annually ($2.6 overall) across five seasons.

For a man younger than 45, he is well traveled with stops at Michigan (where he coached Tom Brady), Central Michigan, the Detroit Lions, Florida and as a coordinator at Temple, Auburn, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Along the way he has served apprenticeships under a whose who of coaches: Lloyd Carr, Urban Meyer, Frank Beamer, Stave Addazio and others.

He reportedly beat out Notre Dame special teams coach Brian Polian for the position, after the Eagles averaged 32 points per game (42nd nationally).

One of Loeffler's early goals was to build the best staff that Bowling Green has ever seen. While, that may be difficult to quantify, he is off to a good start.

Offensive line coach and coordinator Terry Malone joins Loeffler after two years with MAC foe, Western Michigan. He was a member of Michigan’s 1997 National Championship staff and five Big Ten titles while coaching the likes of Jon Jansen, Steve Hutchinson, Chris Perry and Braylon Edwards. He left Michigan to join the New Orleans Saints, winning the Super Bowl in 2009. In 2015, he was offensive coordinator at Purdue until the end of 2016.

Brian VanGorder replaces former interim head coach Carl Pelini as defensive coordinator. It is a position he has held with the Atlanta Falcons from 2007 thru 2011, but also with Central Michigan, Georgia, Auburn, Notre Dame and most recently Louisville. He might want to forget about his tenure in Louisville as the Cardinals became the first power five defense to allow 50 plus points in five straight games.

Associate head coach for linebackers, Steve Morrison, was a stand-out player at Michigan and reaching the NFL. He was last seen coaching linebackers at Syracuse in 2012, when Syracuse won the Big East.

Erik Campbell was a successful wide out at Michigan in the early 1980’s. He was a member of Michigan’s 1997 National Title, and coached three All-Americans in David Terrell, Marquise Walker, and Braylon Edwards. He was also the position coach for Marvin McNutt at Iowa. He joins the staff after a two year run coaching wide outs and serving as the passing game coordinator at Delaware.

Louie Addazio will coach tight ends and is the son of Boston College head coach, Steve Addazio.

Strength and conditioning coach Kevin Tolbert was also at Michigan as well as working with the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and at Stanford.

Another assistant, Jim Herrmann, left for the new XFL.

Also on the staff is Max Warner (Quarterbacks), Chris Hedden (Running backs), Jacob Schoonver (Safeties and special teams), LaMarcus Hicks (Defensive secondary), Julian Campenni (Defensive Line), Brandon Rooze (Offensive GA), Tyler Henderson (Defensive GA), Gus Schwieterman (Defensive GA), and Michael Brewster. Director of Football Operations, Olivia Passy, recently had a feature article on her in the Blade.

The experience of Loeffler’s staff compared to that of the previous Mike Jinks staff is day and night different.

However, one concern could be that members of the staff seem to be on the downside of their careers. Simply meaning, that many of them have been to the NFL, or the power five ranks and now find themselves at the group of five level.

The Falcons are dealing with numerous transfers and dismissals which is common during a coaching and scheme change.

This staff should not be penalized in the eyes of fans based off of what happens on the field this season as they try to mold the roster to their vision.


Fan And School Support

Bowling Green fits what you would expect when you think of a college town. It is an averaged sized town of 30,000 residents, located only 20 miles outside of Toledo. It just feels like a college town and not a city with a college in it.

There are numerous restaurants, which cater to the student population and no shortages of bars for those looking to partake. One popular favorite is Ziggy’s and like many of the shops throughout town its colors are orange and brown just like the University’s.

Elite College Apparel located across the street from Doyt Perry Stadium has perhaps the largest selection of school apparel for a MAC school which isn’t an on campus bookstore.

Arena stores typically do some sort of “Battle For I-75” themed give-away each year, from bobbleheads to ceramic helmets.

The tailgating scene at “The Doyt” can be lively but the lack of recent success and late season, mid-week games hurts.

BGSU, like most MAC schools, could stand to have better student support at the games.

Per Phil Steele’s 2019 College Football Preview, Doyt Perry Stadium averaged out to be only 62 percent at capacity a season ago, which was good for 91st in Division I.

Per the official attendance numbers, Bowling Green did fairly well per game despite having a down year. They had 16,000 for hosting Maryland, over 17,000 for homecoming vs Eastern Kentucky and a low water of 10,518 vs Buffalo in week 12. Obviously, there are ways that athletic departments can cook the numbers to make them seem more impressive and admittedly, the crowd seen on ESPN3 or in photos didn’t seem to always match the reported numbers. Nevertheless, the attendance numbers speaks to a loyal fan base.

Doyt Perry Stadium opened in 1966, but has seen renovations. It is almost unquestionably the windiest stadium in the MAC. The Sebo Athletic Center is fairly new having opened in 2007. It houses the locker room, the training room, weight rooms and offices. BG does not have an indoor field other than Perry Field House.

The stadium itself shows its age in some spots but recent pictures show a fresh coat of paint.

Athletic director Bob Moosburgger has been on the job since 2016. He inherited former head coach Mike Jinks so his decision to fire Jinks and to hire Scot Loeffler are his first two real major football decisions.

Bowling Green is not shy at working to bring major conference opponents into town. Indiana, and Maryland are two recent power five schools who have traveled into BG. The athletic department also schedules tough group of five opponents with the likes of Memphis (in 2015 with Paxton Lynch, I was there), Middle Tennessee State and Louisiana Tech this year among strong G5 programs to visit the plains.

Expect Bowling Green’s attendance numbers to get a boost this season by hosting their annual rivalry with Toledo. The Battle of I-75 has seen large crowds since returning to Saturday kickoffs.


Falcons in the pros

The Falcons had their first NFL draft choice since 2013 this spring.

Scotty Miller was drafted in the 6th round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading the league in receptions. He will work to impress coach Bruce Arians for the right to catch passes from Jameis Winston.

Defensive back Montre Gregory, also earned a shot at the NFL, attending rookie mini-camp in Kansas City.

Receiver Te'o Redding is in camp with the Green Bay Packers after serving on their practice squad a year ago.

Fellow receiver Roger Lewis has seen time with New York Giants and Tennessee Titans. He just joined the Indianapolis Colts roster.

Tackle Ryan Hunter is competing with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he is joined by former Falcon transfer WR Gehrig Dieter.

Former defensive tackle Chris Jones is working with former head coach Dave Clawson as a member of Wake Forest’s strength staff following an NFL career.

Perhaps most well-known among Falcon NFL alumni is linebacker Phil Villapiano, who spent 13 seasons with the Raiders and Bills, winning the 1971 AFC defensive rookie of the year and the 1976 Super Bowl.

Falcon fans have been pushing for Villapiano to gain election into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.


Recruiting And The Future

Last season, the Falcons ranked last in the MAC recruiting rankings, by 247Sports, with a league-low seven three-star commitments. Often classes impacted by late coaching changes, like Bowling Green’s, struggle to hold together. This explains the poor class for the Falcons.

The class was highlighted by linebacker Brock Horne, end Anthony Johnson, safety Jordan Anderson, receiver Tyrone Broden, tight end Joey Carroll, end Dawan Martin, and corner Davin Wilson.

By having just twenty commitments, the Falcons were not able to fill all 85 scholarship spots, many of which were opened by transfer and dismissals. The lack of depth on paper could mean the opportunity for early playing time among true freshman, especially with the redshift rules in place.

To add depth, BGSU has added twenty walk-ons to their roster and numerous transfers from Power Five schools like tight end Austin Dorris (Indiana), half back Davon Jones (Boston College), and two quarterbacks with Boston College ties in Darius Wade and Matt McDonald. Receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack (Washington State) is on the roster after transferring in under the previous staff.

For 2020, the Falcons already have 22 commitments. While it is a long way from the first of two signing days, Bowling Green’s 2020 class ranks fourth in the MAC and 70th nationally, per 247Sports.

Three-star quarterback Riley Keller, from up the road at Toledo Whitmer, has been described as a big get for the Falcon program. Any time you can get a player out of your rival’s back yard is a success.

It is unclear how some members of Mike Jink’s recruiting classes will fit in with Loeffler. Numerous players have transferred or been dismissed so BGSU could face a vacuum of young talent or of talent which fits their system.


Conclusion

If BGSU football was a stock market, you would see graphs with it at a high following the 2015 season and then a steady plummet until bottoming out in 2018. You would see the market indicator moving up ever so slightly with each new recruit or transfer signed. You would see it trend upward with each Loeffler press conference and every media mention of his ties to Tom Brady (insert GOAT or eye roll emoji here).

Now it is almost time to play the games, which may make it hard to keep the momentum. The Falcons do have talent in a veteran offensive line, running back Andrew Clair and defensive end David Konowalski.

Loeffler is working to overturn the locker room culture, even if that means losing talented players like tackle Lorenzo Taborn.

It is easy to win during press conference season but another story when your team is projected to be favored in just one game during the season. A step back from last year’s three wins is very possible.

If Loeffler can keep things together and positive during what should be a trying season, while hanging on to recruits, look for the Falcons to be positioned for MAC contention by 2021 at the latest.

The state of the Falcon program is certainly trending up, even if the results might not show it this season.