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2023 MAC Football Week 1 Game Preview: Bowling Green Falcons at Liberty Flames

The Falcons look to keep improving after a promising 2022, facing Liberty to start 2023. Boca Raton Bowl - Liberty v Toledo Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Bowling Green’s wait is over, as their 2023 season is getting ready to gear up. They look to get off to a good start as they travel to Lynchburg, VA.

They face the Liberty Flames, who now have a home in Conference USA amidst all the conference realignment. Believe it or not, the Falcons and the Flames have a one-game history. Liberty was then in Division I-AA (the current FCS) at the time. traveling to Northwest Ohio to face the likes of Josh Harris, PJ Pope, Cole Magner, Janssen Patton, Keon Newson, TJ Carswell, and Shaun Suisham (just to name a few studs on that ‘03 Bowling Green team).

Fast forward almost 20 years, it’s like an alternate universe. Liberty is now a strong FBS competitor, and Bowling Green is in a rebuilding stage. Bowling Green is looking to keep building the program up, while Liberty is looking for a fresh start under former Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell.

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 2nd at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: CBS Sports Network
  • Location: Williams Stadium - Lynchburg, VA
  • Spread: Liberty, -9.5
  • Over/under: 49.5
  • All-time series: Bowling Green leads, 1-0
  • Last meeting: Bowling Green 62, Liberty 3 — September 13, 2003
  • Current streak: Bowling Green, 1 (2003)

Bowling Green Falcons outlook

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Toledo at Bowling Green Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bowling Green saw their highest win total since 2015, finishing second in the MAC East. They also got to their first bowl game since then. What will we see from the 2023 Bowling Green Falcons? As many have mentioned in our preseason “Ye Olde Roundtable”, this year could be a regression year for the orange and brown. They sneaked into the bowl season, and almost had a shot at playing in the MAC Championship. In order to return to that, BG will need to step up their game as the quality of MAC opponents continues to rise.

The offense will have a different quarterback slinging the ball after Matt McDonald held the reigns for three years. It is still not known who the starter is, but word around the team is that both Connor Bazelak and Camden Orth complement each other. With this knowledge, we can’t put it past them to use both in many different situations.

As we’ve mentioned before, Bowling Green will need a better rushing attack to compliment the passing game. Terion Stewart (707 yards, nine TDs in career) returns to the team after stepping away from the team last season. We’ve already seen the explosiveness with Stewart, and the Falcons really need him to be a big part in bringing the rushing offense up. 2022’s leading rusher Jaison Patterson and fellow returnees Ta’Ron Keith and Jamal Johnson will also need to step up if BG wants to be better than 11th in the MAC in rushing yards per game.

A huge bright spot for the BGSU offense is the receiving room is simply stacked. Odieu Hiliare (58 receptions, 747 yards, six touchdowns) is returning looking to improve on a great 2022 season. His former teammate at Alabama A&M, Abdul Fatai-Ibrahim, put up over 1,000 receiving yards in 2021. Plus, Austin Osborne is healthy for the start of the season. Don’t sleep on their sophomore tight end Harold Fannin, Jr. Fannin (19 rec, 218 yards, 1 rec TD) is a solid tight end, but has also been used as a fullback (four rush TDs) in those close goal situations.

With the departure of Karl Brooks, the Falcons obviously lose a lot of explosiveness on the d-line. Dontrez Brown, Anthony Hawkins, and Billie Roberts look to fill the shoes of Brooks. It won’t be one person filling those shoes either, Karl Brooks was from another planet. The entire d-line will need to work together to overpower their opponent this year.

The linebacker corps looks really good for the Orange and Brown. Darren Anders and Demetrius Hardamon are back. Those are the two linebackers with the most impact for the Falcons. Charles Rosser and Joseph Sipp, Jr. look to step up for the depth, and future, of the position.

The defensive backfield is crucial for the Falcon defense. The safeties return Trent Simms, and bring up sophomore Darius Lorfils, and transfer Shamoun Duncan-Niusulu into the mix as well. Patrick Day could be used if needed as well, but he is definitely more used on special teams.

The cornerbacks, as mentioned in our defensive backs preview, are probably the deepest returning position for the Falcons. Davon Ferguson, Deshawn Jones, Jalen Burton, and Jordan Oladokun all return for BG. With the addition of veteran Jordan Jackson from Stony Brook, this cornerback group could easily be one of the best in the MAC this year.

Liberty Flames outlook Boca Raton Bowl - Liberty v Toledo Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Flames 2022 season was a mixed bag of tricks. In the 2022 campaign, eight of 13 games were decided by one possession, with two of those losses to ACC teams by a combined two points. They also lost four straight to end the year, with Hugh Freeze shipping off to Auburn before season’s end.

The Flames had two options that they used at quarterback in 2022. Johnathan Bennett and Kaidon Salter were the top two passers for Liberty last year. It’s up in the air as to who will start as they are both back, but both QBs combined for 2,620 passing yards last season.

Rushing could be an interesting story for Liberty, as their top three running backs from 2022 are not on this years roster. One of the only running backs returning is Malik Caper, and he only ran for 32 yards a year ago. The Flames did bring in Wake Forest transfer Quinton Cooley, the Demon Deacon’s third leading rusher from 2022. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to be the starting halfback.

Liberty receiving leader Demario Douglas went on to the NFL Draft, and was a sixth round pick of the Patriots. The second leading receiver Noah Frith (25 rec, 444 yards) is back and looks to compete for the WR1 position. Bentley Hanshaw (six rec, 117 yards) is back to lead the tight ends in 2023.

The Flames lost their top three tacklers from a year ago. Mike Smith, Jr. (Baylor), Javon Scruggs (graduation), and Ahmad Walker (SMU) combined for 24 percent of the tackles. Defensive tackle Kendy Charles returns after a good season of 5.5 sacks and 60 tackles.

Robert Rahimi led the team last season with five interceptions, but opted into the transfer portal. Look for Kobe Singleton to anchor the cornerbacks, and Quinton Reese to anchor the safety position this year.

Game Prediction

For the Falcons to keep this game close, everything needs to be 100 percent, especially the running game. If the running backs can get loose, the Falcons will be in it all afternoon long. But it’s not just the running backs, the entire offense needs to keep their drives going so the defense can go back out well rested. This doesn’t mean that the Falcons can’t go and win, because they are definitely healthier now than at this point last year going against UCLA. BG has proven they can win games. You have to win the close ones before being able to dominate others.

Even though Liberty lost a lot of pieces from last year’s team, they still have enough pieces to control the game their way. It all starts with their quarterbacks.

This game will be closer than the spread is currently at.

Liberty 27 - Bowling Green 21