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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Season Preview: Bowling Green State Falcons

The still-young Falcons look ready and motivated for Scot Loeffler’s second season at the helm, even with the shortened schedule.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Bowling Green at Akron

Last season kicked off filled with excitement in Bowling Green.

Veteran college football coordinator and former NFL position coach Scot Loeffler got hhis first shot at being the head man, replacing Mike Jinks as the head coach, getting off to a great start with a 46-3 drubbing of FCS Morgan State.

It would ultimately be one of only a few highs for the Falcons in 2019, as BGSU wouldn’t win again until Week 6, when they upset the arch-rival Toledo Rockets for the first time in a decade. The Falcons would win just once more beating Akron, 35-6 in Week 9.

While it was the second straight 3-9 finish for a school that had won three straight division titles as recently as the early 2010’s (with the last title coming in 2015,) this particular campaign felt different than the others. BGSU fans who swallowed the tough losses—and enjoyed the convincing wins—were treated to a program which displayed plenty of promise and motivation, rather than a team mired in its own self-pity and hopelessness.

Entering the offseason, many were excited for a second offseason of work in Loeffler’s system. However, that offseason was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic so few outside of the Falcons program truly knows what to expect this fall in Bowling Green.

Key Returnees:

  • HB Andrew Clair
  • HB Bryson Denley
  • TE Quintin Morris
  • WR Julian Ortega-Jones
  • DE Karl Brooks
  • LB Kholbe Coleman
  • CB Caleb Biggers
  • P Matt Naranjo

Key Departures:

  • QB Darius Wade
  • QB Grant Loy
  • HB Davon Jones
  • WR RB Marlow
  • WR Jordan Wayne-Prather
  • C Jack Kramer
  • G Matt Tanner
  • OT Caleb Bright
  • DE David Konowalski
  • NT Nico Lautanen
  • MLB Brandon Perce
  • S Jamari Bozeman
  • CB Julian Hudson

Loeffler, a renowned quarterbacks coach who once coach Tom Brady, entered last season in a bind at quarterback. Transfer Matt McDonald, who followed Loeffler from Boston College, was ruled ineligible the week of the opener by the NCAA. The Falcons turned to another ex-Eagle in Darius Wade, who was the MAC East Offensive Player of the Week in Week 1 vs. Morgan State. However, Wade’s success was short-lived as he started just the first five games, finishing with a 1-4 record. Grant Loy replaced him and immediately shocked Toledo, but also showed inconsistency after that contest. Wade has since graduated, while Loy is now a transfer at Auburn, seeing time on two point conversions. McDonald sat out the 2019 season due to the NCAA’s decision, and will likely emerge as the favorite to be the starter coming out of camps. McDonald, who has familiarity with Loeffler’s system, last appeared in two games at Boston College during the 2017 season. Highl-regarded freshman Tucker Melton has been slowed by a shoulder injury, while Riley Keller is another impressive recruit from powerhouse high school Toledo Whitmer. Redshirt freshman Labronz Davis and Kody Sparks are also on the roster.

Running back Andrew Clair returns and perhaps most importantly is that he returns to full health. An all-MAC third team selection in 2017 and 2018, he was limited to just four games 244 yards in 2019. He is one of the best all-purpose backs in the MAC when healthy. While power back Davon Jones has graduated, senior Bryson Denley stepped up in Clair’s absence last year with seven starts. His 1,224 all-purpose yards (544 rushing) led the team.

Hybrid tight end and receiver Quintin Morris emerged last season with 55 receptions, and 649 yards, both totals were tops in the MAC for a tight end. He finished as a second-team all-MAC selection and has earned the attention of the Senior Bowl, an all-star NFL draft showcase for the top senior prospects in the nation. Presley Motes sees time when BGSU goes to two tight ends or splits Morris outwide. Freshman tight end Levi Gazarek had some late recruiting interest from Michigan State, and may have wound up there if not for their coaching change in East Lansing.

Their receiving unit will miss graduates Austin Dorris (tight end), R.B Marlow (WR/RB) and Jordan Wayne-Prather. But they do return target man Julian Ortega-Jones, who started 10 games for BGSU in 2019. Javonte Kinsey, Tyrone Broden, Noah Massey and Jake Rogers could also see time. Expect Denley and Clair to factor heavily into the passing game.

The offensive line wasn’t great a year ago, and will now be tasked with replacing seniors Jack Kramer, Matt Tanner, and Caleb Bright. Derek Downs started all 12 games a season ago, while Tim Tanner-Blair had 11 starts and Sam Neverov played in eight games, starting five. Freshman Jalen Grant lettered for MAC legend Jordan Lynch at Mount Caramel high school. Senior Joe Ware brings experience, and could fight for an open vacancy.

Brian Van Gorder’s Falcon defense was porous a year ago, as the Falcons allowed over 35 points in all but three games. Perhaps not coincidently, those three games they held opponents under 35 points were the three that the Falcons won. This year, they return six starters on defense for a unit which allowed 467 yards per game in 2019.

Veteran leaders David Konowalski and tackle Nico Lautanen will be missed. Junior end Karl Brooks had 4.5 sacks season ago and adds needed pass rush. Redshirt senior Demontae Hagler started six games a year ago. Redshirt junior Walter Haire is expected to step into the lineup after having four starts a season ago. What expects to be a young and inexperienced unit also includes Roland Wilder, Chris Oliver, Blaine Spires, and Andrew Bench. Talented freshmen Billie Roberts of Muskegon is one to keep an eye on.

At linebacker, the Falcons appear better off. In what should be the defense’s strongest unit, Kholbe Coleman was a third team all-MAC selection, while redshirt junior Jerry Roberts had 60 tackles in ten starts. Local Anthony Wayne product Evan Brown is expected to see more time, and the coaches have high hopes for former Washington State receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack to convert to linebacker in camp, after gaining 28 pounds over the course of a year.

The defensive secondary appears solid despite losing Jamari Bozeman to graduation and Julian Hudson to transfer. Redshirt senior Jerry McBride III has been banged up appearing in just four games a year ago after starting 12 in 2018. Junior Caleb Biggers has started the last two season and had his 2019 highlighted by a school record tying 100 yard fumble recovery scoop and score against Central Michigan. Jordan Anderson had seven starts in ten games with 51 tackles a year ago as a freshman. Redshirt senior Ty Redding (brother of former BGSU receiver Teo) and true freshman Deshawn Jones Jr., could also see time.

Both specialists return to the Falcons in 2020, with placekicker Nate Needham (5-of-9 on field goals, 21-of-23 on PAT’s) and punter Matt Naranjo (71 punts, 40.6 yards per net punt average) handling situational duties. The special teams units will miss coverage ace Antonio Sotolongo, who graduated.

The MAC’s youngest team a year ago, projects to be young yet again, as Scot Loeffler and company purge and overhaul the Falcons roster. Loeffler is unafraid of playing freshman (though their reliance on freshmen last year felt more out of necessity at points) as they feature several within their two deep depth chart. It will be fascinating to see how they approach this season from a playing time stand point. 247Sports ranked the Falcons’ 2020 class second in the MAC, with a robust 32 commits.

The Falcons will open the season at arch-rival Toledo, who will be seeking to begin a new streak against the Falcons. It doesn’t get much easier for Loeffler’s bunch, as they play three straight bowl teams from a year ago in Kent State, Buffalo and Ohio before a one week reprieve against Akron before finishing the season against reigning MAC champion Miami University.

On paper, it is hard to see a game where the young Falcons will be favored expect for maybe against Akron, who they beat 35-6 a year ago.

Bowling Green has long been one of the MAC’s most successful programs and has some of the most knowledgeable fans. The wide spread belief is that Loeffler will get the program turned around. He and his staff have worked hard but have had to deal with switching schemes, ridding malcontents off the roster, injuries and just needing an influx of talent. Changing a culture takes time.

The strong recruiting classes and another season in this scheme will help, despite the pandemic. But with such a young roster, it feels as if the Falcons are still a year or two away from seriously challenging in the MAC.