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How Bowling Green and Northern Illinois Got Here: A Recruiting Perspective

Success on the recruiting trail is a huge reason that NIU and BG are in the MAC Championship game once again.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

College coaches make a living off of winning football games and developing young men into players who can thrive at the FBS level. It is well-known that successful coaches in the Mid-American Conference are a prime target for Power 5 programs looking for a new coach to revive their program. Due to this, both Northern Illinois and Bowling Green have experienced some coaching changes over the past few years with Dave Doeren now coaching at NC State and Dave Clawson now with Wake Forest respectively.

For any FBS coach, recruiting is the key to a program's success. Need to completely rebuild your program? Recruit well. Need to maintain your program's success after inheriting a talented roster? Recruit well. It seems simple yet it obviously is easier said then done.

With the MAC Championship game coming up on Friday, it only seemed fitting to take a look at what the two top teams have been doing on the recruiting trail the past few years and look into what some people were saying about their recruits coming out of high school.  In this article, we'll be highlighting some key players for each team as well as looking at these classes as a whole.

Bowling Green

First let's start off at everyone's favorite position, quarterback. James Knapke was a 3-star prospect in the class of 2012 out of Bishop Leurs High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Knapke was an absolute stud in high school as he broke his school and conference's record for passing yards as well as touchdowns. Knapke is also the only quarterback in Indiana high school history to win a state championship three times. It's been an up and down year for the redshirt sophomore as he was unexpectedly thrust into the starting role when star quarterback Matt Johnson went down for the year.

Travis Greene, an undersized wide receiver from Florida out of high school, was switched to running back prior to the 2013 season. Bowling Green not only converted him to running back, they developed him into a monster all-purpose back. Greene burst onto the scene last year rushing for a school-record 1,594 rushing yards to go with 13 total touchdowns. Greene, like Knapke, possessed no other offers as they both shut down their recruitment rather quickly.

After being committed to Ohio State and Ohio, 4-star wide receiver Roger Lewis found his way to Bowling Green. Lewis had to clear up some legal issues that caused him to attend Jireh Prep for a year before ultimately finding his way to BG as a part of the Falcons' 2014 recruiting class. Lewis is easily the most talented recruit that either Bowling Green or Northern Illinois has landed in a long time so it is no surprise that in his first year he is the leading receiver on a Falcons team that likes to play an up-tempo style of offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, Dino Babers' recruiting efforts have already started to pay off. Freshman cornerback Nick Johnson leads the team in interceptions (five) and is fifth on the team in tackles (65). Johnson was a 2-star guy who did not have much hype surrounding him coming into to Bowling Green. However, once Johnson arrived on campus it was clear that he would contend for playing time and he has not disappointed.

Recent All-MAC second team selection, linebacker Gabe Martin is another example of an under-the-radar guy who has burst onto the scene in a big way. Martin actually chose BG over offers from Akron and Ohio back in 2010. This actually isn't Martin's first time being named to an All-MAC team either, as he was a first team selection in 2012 as well as a second team selection in 2013. Ever since redshirting as a freshman Martin has been a huge reason for Bowling Green's success during his time as a Falcon.

Northern Illinois

Quarterback Drew Hare has been pretty reliable under center for the Huskies during the second half of this year. Hare, a 2-star dual-threat quarterback, was looked over by every FBS school except NIU as they were his only offer. Although Hare received interest from multiple B1G schools, an offer never materialized and he wound up in DeKalb learning behind the best quarterback in NIU history. Fast forward a few years and Hare has led NIU to its fifth consecutive MAC championship game.

The bruising running back that had his breakout season last year, Cameron Stingily, did not even play the position for the Huskies until his Junior year. Stingily was a 3-star linebacker coming out of high school who held offers from Eastern Michigan and Illinois State. Interestingly enough, Stingily was actually recruited to NIU by current Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, who was the wide receivers coach at NIU at the time.

However, Stingily is not the only talented running back the Huskies have. Sophomore Joel Bouagnon has enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign as he looks poised to be step up and be the main option next season. Bouagnon played both running back and linebacker at Aurora Christian High School in Illinois, however he has only been on the offensive side of the ball during his career as a Huskie thus far. Bouagnon flew very much under the radar as NIU was his only offer. Although he is not the featured running back, Bouagnon made some key plays in last week's must win game against Western Michigan and the future looks bright for the young man.

Although Northern Illinois has been known to recruit under-the-radar players, at times they still land some highly touted recruits. Insert Argeros Turner. Turner was an awesome surprise for NIU fans on National Signing Day 2013 as he de-committed from Cincinnati and signed with the Huskies. Turner chose the Huskies over offers from Kentucky, Illinois, Purdue, Tennessee, Toledo, and Washington. With Tommylee Lewis out for the season, Turner has been able to see significant playing time this year and has not disappointed. While being second on the team in receiving yards to go with two touchdowns, Turner has all the tools to be better than Tommy Lee Lewis as well as develop into a star in the MAC.

On the defensive side of the ball, Marlon Moore leads the team in tackles and is tied for interceptions. As a 2-star recruit out of Mobile, Alabama not much was being said about Moore when he signed in 2012. Moore's lone offer came from Northern Illinois, but he has definitely made the most of his opportunity. Rasheen Lemon is another guy who fits the "diamond in the rough" mold. Lemon was a 2-star safety coming out of Proviso West High School in Illinois, however in a few short years the Huskies have developed him into a star linebacker. After serving a brief suspension last year Lemon is back on track and is currently second on the team in tackles (81). NIU was Lemon's only FBS offer, although he held an offer from Illinois State on the FCS level.

Freshman Albert Smalls has made an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball this year in a position where NIU needed someone to step up. Smalls, a 2-star recruit out of Hollywood, Florida, chose the Huskies over offers from Marshall, Akron, Florida Atlantic, and Western Kentucky. Smalls has been nothing short of "small" this year for the Huskies as he is tied for the team lead in interceptions (2).

Comparing the Two: Year By Year

As far as recruiting rankings go, Bowling Green has fared better in the eyes of 247Sports over the last few years. In 2010, Bowling Green had the second best recruiting class in the MAC while NIU's class was ranked eighth. However after looking through the list of commits, Northern Illinois' class has turned out to be much stronger in the long haul. Guys like Jimmy Ward, Cameron Stingily, Da'Ron Brown, Dechane Durante, Mat Sims, Jamaal Bass, and Joe Windsor have all been crucial to NIU's success over the years.

In the class of 2011, Bowling Green loaded up on defense, signing 10 players. However, the signings of Travis Greene and Matt Johnson are what BG fans will remember from this class for a long time. For Northern Illinois, highly touted running backs Jamal Womble and Leighton Settle turned out to be huge busts. Rasheen Lemon, Paris Logan, and Tyler Wedel could be considered the best players to come out of this recruiting class for the Huskies.

It is tough to grade out any further than this as many of these players in the class of 2012 and beyond are still developing and it is too early to fully gauge the success/failures of these recruiting classes. However, one thing that we have seen lately is a trend. Bowling Green and Northern Illinois both have done a great job at finding diamond in the roughs and combining them with a few crowned jewels to make another run at a MAC Championship. Tune in Friday night to find out who will take home the hardware.