Bowling Green welcomes the Virginia Military Institute to town in Week 2. With all do respect to this prestigious academy, I don't see this game being anything more than a tune up for Bowling Green.
Virginia Military Institute 2013 Rewind:
The Virginia Military Institute is the longest running state-supported military college in the nation. However, their football program has struggled to compete in the Big South (FCS) conference, finishing tied for last in 2013 with a 1-4 conference record and a 2-10 overall record. There were not many bright spots in the 2013 season for the Keydets as this program has been in rebuilding mode for quite some time now.
VMI's best finish in recent history was in 2003 in which they finished with a 6-6 record. The Keydets have finished with a sub .500 records every single season since 2003, and have only had more than three wins twice in those years. VMI notched just two home wins last season, as the Keydets were able to defeat conference opponent Gardner Webb 27-9 and Glenville State 34-27. Notable defeats included losses to Robert Morris in double overtime 31-37, and the then No. 25 FCS program Charleston Southern 17-25.
No, a Keydet is not a kangaroo, even though VMI is referred to as the "Keydets," the official mascot for athletic teams at VMI is the kangaroo. The story behind this consists of two VMI cheerleaders wondering why kangaroo's were never used as mascots. These cheerleaders saw a picture of a kangaroo on a magazine and thought it would be a great mascot so they proposed the idea. Once again we are faced with another school where its nickname and mascot have no relation. The original name for this kangaroo was "TD bound," however; it was changed soon after to "Moe" to represent all the athletics programs at VMI. VMI actually has had four live kangaroo's that they have all named "Moe" that served as the campus Mascot.
The Keydets make the move from the Big South to the Southern Conference in the FCS this year. The "SoCon" features another military institute in The Citadel, and other teams such as Wofford, Western Carolina, and Samford. This conference should turn out to be a little easier for the Keydets. The Big South housed a good amount of solid FCS teams in Costal Carolina and Gardner-Webb. The SoCon should have less competition and may be a step in the right direction for the Keydets program as they could barely compete in the Big South.
Foster Stadium is where the Keydets play when they are home. The Athletic Center is connected to the stadium where the Keydets march from the barracks onto the field. Originally built in 1962, the stadium holds about 10,000 people but only cost around $250,000 to build. Foster Stadium has also gone through a series of renovations such as new entrances, concourses, seating and game day locker rooms. The completion of the project was with an all-weather practice facility built behind the Athletic Center.
Sparky Woods will lead the Keydets for the seventh year now, hoping that this new conference move will bring success for the Keydets' program. Prior to coaching at VMI, Woods was most notably a running backs coach for Alabama (2003-2006) and the head coach of South Carolina (1989-1993). Woods has an all-time mark in his coaching career of 67-53-5, but this overall winning record has not transferred over to VMI as of yet.
Woods' rate of retention for recruits has been exceptional since he arrived on post back in 2007. He will have 34 (15 offense, 18 defense, 1 special teams) letterwinners from last year returning, however only 14 of those were starters. In particular, coach Woods will need these five guys to step up if they look to make a mark in their new conference.
Five Key Players:
1. Derrick Ziglar, junior, RB (5'9, 230lbs)
2. Samuel Patterson, junior, WR (6'5, 215lbs)
3. Alex James, junior, DB, (5'11, 196lbs)
4. James Fruehan, senior DB, (5'10, 187lbs)
5. Hayden Alfrod, sophomore QB (6'3, 200lbs)
Stats seem to show that the VMI offense will fall heavily upon the shoulders of junior running back Derrick Ziglar. Ziglar led the Keydet attack last season with 768 yards on the ground, including five touchdowns. As well as being the leading rusher, he was also the Keydets' second leading receiver. Ziglar had 25 receptions for 336 yards and one touchdown, giving him over 1,000 all-purpose yards for the Keydets.
There will also be a new face behind center this season for VMI as redshirt sophomore Hayden Alford looks to take over for Eric Kordenbrock for the 2014 campaign. Alford saw little action last season as he only appeared in four games completing 8-of-14 passes for 98 yards. He will look to his 6-foot-5 junior wide receiver Sam Patterson to be on the connecting end of his passes this season as it looks like he will be the only threat the Keydets have on the outside this season. Patterson had 38 receptions for 646 yards and 8 touchdown last season for VMI and will look to be the main target again this season. I wouldn't expect much out of the Keydets offense this season, look for them to be a run-heavy team and look to try and pull out close and low-scoring games.
The bright spot in this Keydet defense is its secondary that features the teams most experience and its leading tackler. Defensive backs Alex James and James Fruehan ranked one and two on the team in tackles last season. Most of the Keydet secondary will be returning this season including these two anchors. Alex James lead the team with 80 tackles last season (combined assisted and unassisted) while Fruehan had 54 tackles (also combined).
The hole in this VMI defense will come at the linebacker position. The Keydets lost three out of their four starting linebackers, which is extremely inconvenient considering the fact they run a typical 3-4 defense. This Keydet defense that was anything but stellar last season will only face more challenges in 2014 campaign.
Returning kicker Dillon Christopher will do the bulk of special teams work for the Keydets this season. Christopher was 9-16 last season on field goal attempts as well as averaging almost 58 yards per kickoff as VMI's placekicker. The Keydets lost their punter, David Eberhardt, after last season and replacing him this season could be the new quarterback, Hayden Alford. This is quite common to see in smaller D-1 schools that don't have access to many scholarships. Alford averaged about 40 yards a punt last year on five attempts, which was actually two yards more than their everyday punter Eberhardt.
Will Bowling Green make this a day to "pad the stats," or will the starters only play one half? Either way this game could get ugly really quick as Bowling Green has handled FCS teams pretty easily in years past, most recently defeating Murray State 48-7 last season. I'm not going to give the game a score because it really will depend on how long the starters for BG will actually play. Baber's offense cruises in this one, and the victory cannon could run out of gun powder by the time the game is over. BG by a lot.