Most NFL coaches and general managers will tell you that repeating as Super Bowl champions is harder to do than winning the first one. Contract negotiations, book deals and endorsements are just some of the player distractions that set in the following year.
In college football, the players don't have such monetary diversions...at least not yet. However, complacency can still develop and coaches are constantly fighting to avoid it. Even Nick Saban is battling it at Alabama. Can winning national titles really get old?
In 2013, the Bowling Green Falcons used the league's best defense and a suddenly potent offense to streak to their first Mid Conference championship since 1992. The Falcons put on a dominating performance in the MAC championship game in Detroit, beating Northern Illinois, 47-27.
A few weeks later they traveled back to Ford Field to play Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and lost 30-27 during an uninspired effort. Part of the bowl game performance was due to the fact head coach Dave Clawson announced he was leaving to take the Wake Forest job and did not participate in the practices or games. Not a small distraction for sure!
The Falcons start their 2014 schedule this coming Friday night in a nationally televised game at Western Kentucky University. Touted offensive innovator Dino Babers has taken over the Bowling Green program after two very successful seasons as the head guy at Eastern Illinois University.
The Falcons boast plenty of offensive firepower with eight returning starters, including All-MAC performers Matt Johnson at quarterback and Travis Greene at running back. Babers wants to play the up-tempo style of offense he brings from his days as an assistant at Baylor. BG certainly seems to have the pieces in place to run the new offense but how long will it take for it to totally come together? Babers is on record as saying he doesn't expect the Falcons to really get the offense down until sometime next year. So what we'll see in the interim from the Falcons offense is the $60,000 question that we'll begin to answer starting with this game.
The defense that BG will face in the opener will be an inexperienced group. Only four defensive starters return for the Hilltoppers. Three of those are on the defensive line and they'll have their hands full keeping up with the BG offense that will try to run a play every 15 to 20 seconds. Are the Hilltoppers catching the Falcons at a good time? Without a doubt! This offense could be downright scary by season's end. The Hilltoppers are hoping the Falcons experience some initial bumps in the road adjusting to the new system.
The Hilltoppers have some firepower of their own on offensive side of the ball. They return nine starters on offense, including senior quarterback Brandon Doughty who rewrote the WKU record book last year with 2,857 yards passing while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. The Hilltoppers are also under the direction of a new coach this year. Former Louisville standout signal caller, Jeff Brohm takes over as the head coach after spending last year as the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. Brohm breathed some life into the Hilltoppers offense last year and looks to continue the momentum with all those returning starters. He will have to replace All-American running back Antonio Andrews who ran for more than 1,500 yards last year as a senior.
The Falcons had the number one defense last year in the MAC and they return enough (6) starters this year to set expectations of being among the league's best again this year. The Falcons are strong at linebacker with All-MAC performers D.J. Lynch and Gabe Martin leading the defense. Three new starters will make-up the defensive backfield for BG but the new guys are hardly new. They have played a lot of football over the last few years and should step up without much drop off. The bigger question will be depth and who rounds out the two-deep roster as injuries always happen. This Hilltopper offense should be a good test right off the bat for the BG defense.
Western Kentucky has joined the much reconfigured Conference USA for 2014. There is a lot excitement around this move, and fans are hoping Brohm and the step-up in competition will bring new tradition to Hilltopper football.
A national TV audience will be greeted with a "red out" as Hilltopper fans are being asked to fly the team colors on Friday night. It looks as if Bowling Green will be heading into a hostile environment as they begin their title defense campaign.
This is an intriguing opening match-up and it could go a number of ways. If the offense is at least as good as last year and the defense is stout as expected, the Falcons could roll here. However, if the BG offense struggles and the Hilltoppers can score against the BG defense with its new parts, we might be in for a mild upset in this game.
More likely, I see a close, hard-fought game that features plenty of scoring from both teams. I think the Falcons will take this one somewhere in the neighborhood of 31-21.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network nationally. Check your local listings.