This past year, the defenses in the Mid-American Conference had their hands full with the Bowling Green Falcons. BG ranked second in the league in passing offense in 2013, and by the end of the year the Falcons were clicking on all cylinders. The Northern Illinois Huskies can attest to that after being dominated in the MAC championship game in December, 47-27...and it wasn't even that close.
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The news gets worse for MAC defensive units when you consider that BG returns much of its starting offensive unit for 2014, including preseason All-MAC performers in quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene. Then factor in that new head coach Dino Babers replaces the departed Dave Clawson (Wake Forest) and has promised to install an even more wide-open and up-tempo offense, which means most 2014 opponents, Indiana and Wisconsin included, won't be looking forward to facing the Falcons this fall.
Falcons' wide receivers coach Sean Lewis says he and coach Babers have been very happy with the receivers they have inherited. "This is a very talented, hard working group," Lewis told Hustle Belt. "They are learning a new system and they were going 100 miles an hour in spring practice, but we're very excited to be working with this group."
The receiving unit at BG lost its top two producers to graduation from this past year in Shaun Joplin and Alex Bayer, but the cupboard is hardly bare. In fact, you can make the case that BG will have one of the deepest receiving units in the MAC in 2014. Redshirt senior Heath Jackson had the most catches among the returning receivers with 32 this past fall. Jackson filled in admirably when starter Chris Gallon went down in October with a season-ending knee injury. Redshirt junior Ryan Burbrink is a lot like Jackson in that he's a smaller, sure-handed receiver who can make the tough catches that move the chains.
Ronnie Moore had a fantastic freshman season and led the receivers in touchdowns last year with seven, even though he only caught 28 passes. That means the speedster from Sanford, Florida scored every fourth time he caught a pass last year. Moore seemed destined to have a breakout year in 2014 even before the coaching change.
"Ronnie has elite speed that sets him apart so we are now working on him being more consistent," Lewis said.
Gehrig Dieter is now eligible after sitting out this past year after transferring from SMU. At 6 foot 3, Dieter combines size and speed (4.5 second 40-yard dash) and by all reports, dominated in spring practices. Many of the preseason prognosticators have him as an All-MAC performer for 2014, and here at Hustle Belt we had him listed as the 49th best player in the MAC, even though he's never played a down in the conference yet.
Gallon, as mentioned before, missed about half of 2013 after tearing his ACL in October in a game against Mississippi. Gallon led BG in catches (54), yards (720) and touchdowns (6) in 2012. A healthy Gallon in 2014 would add yet another big (6 foot 4), physical receiver to the mix at Bowling Green. However, rumors persist that Gallon has suffered another serious knee injury that could cost him the entire year. As of yet, the BG athletic department is only saying "they are not commenting on roster personnel at this time."
The remainder of the BG receiving corps returning for 2014 includes redshirt junior Herve Colby, redshirt sophomore Jermal Hosley, and redshirt freshman Teo Redding. True freshmen Roger Lewis and Clint Stephens could also be in the mix this year. Lewis, from Pickerington, Ohio enrolled early and participated in spring practice, catching three passes for 92 yards in the Spring Game.
In fact, according to coach Lewis, the younger guys could be at an advantage of sorts in this new offense. "Freshman can play sooner in this system because they get more reps based on how fast we practice," Lewis said. "Also, we'll have four or five receivers on the field at any given time, so keeping fresh bodies out there can create more opportunities for younger guys."
Much has been made about the demise of the tight end position in Babers' spread offense, but coach Lewis says that's not true. "Our tight end at Eastern Illinois last year was a Third Team All-American with more than 700 receiving yards. We'll find ways for the tight end to be involved in this offense."
Last year, BG had an outstanding tight end combination with both players getting invited to NFL camps this past spring; Alex Bayer with the St. Louis Rams, and Tyler Beck with the New England Patriots.
Senior Chris Pohlman is listed as a tight end/fullback, but he was used more as an H-back in the offense this past year, opening holes for the running game. Redshirt sophomore Scott Davis and redshirt freshman Hunter Folkertsma are the other tight ends listed on the BG roster (who could see some playing time?).
The offense BG is installing will also help in the recruiting of future receivers to the program. It's like in the NFL where guys want to play for teams with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at quarterback because they are going to get opportunities. "This offense gives players touches which is what most receivers want," Lewis said. "It also gives them tape that every NFL team and scout wants to see."
That means MAC defenses could be dealing with an offensive juggernaut at BG, not just this year but for the foreseeable future.