The defending MAC champion Bowling Green Falcons are an experienced and talented team, especially on offense. So it's no surprise that a lot of the media and other pundits have them penciled in as the favorites to repeat as MAC champions in 2014.
But there is one question mark on an offense that boasts All-MAC performers in quarterback Matt Johnson, running back Travis Greene and a host of talented receivers. The offensive line.
The offensive line returns just three starters from last year's team. Gone are All-MAC performers Dominic Flewellyn and Chief Kekuewa. Returning is redshirt junior Alex Huettel (6 foot 3, 292 lbs) at center, who was recently named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List for 2014. He's joined by two returning redshirt sophomores that started all 14 games for the Falcons last year at the tackles, Logan Dietz (6 foot 5, 292 lbs) and Jacob Bennett (6 foot 4, 316 lbs).
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Huettel says that losing two veteran players on both sides of him on the line will be a challenge. "Having to replace both guards is tough," Huettel told Hustle Belt at BGSU's Media Day. "Those guys were the leaders of our line last year, but I am confident we'll have guys step up."
Among those fighting for the starting spots at guard are a couple of upperclassmen that have seen the field for the Falcons in the past, redshirt junior Christian Piazza (6 foot 7, 296 lbs) and redshirt senior Clay Rolf (6 foot 6, 285 lbs). Piazza played in nine games last year and Rolf played in all 14 games as the long snapper and backup on the line.
Two redshirt sophomores who saw action last year on the offensive line will also be in the mix for the starting guards positions in Ben Steward (6 foot 5, 289 lbs) and J.J. Beggan (6 foot 2, 285 lbs). Steward played in nine games and Beggan played in 10 games as backups along the line.
Three players that redshirted last year as true freshmen will also be competing for spots during fall camp in Ryan Hunter (6 foot 4, 338 lbs), Tim McAuliffe (6 foot, 265 lbs), and Clark Clancy (6 foot 3, 277 lbs). All three players were part of former coach Dave Clawson's heralded last recruiting class at BG.
Another challenge for this year's offensive line is learning the offense that new head coach Dino Babers is installing. And, it's not just any offense. Babers likes to play a very up-tempo style of offense, running a play every 15 to 20 seconds. That can leave a defense gasping for air but it's all predicated on the linemen keeping up with the skill players on offense.
"Our whole offense starts with the offensive line," says Babers. "We can't snap the ball until the line is ready."
Huettel says the team had a different offseason regime focused on more conditioning rather than pure strength to help them better prepared to play this fast, new offensive system. "We are starting to get used to the tempo of the new offense," says Huettel. "We thought we were going fast during spring practice but we are moving much faster now."
BG's co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Maddox says the system is physically demanding for offensive lineman so they keep things uncomplicated. "We keep the schemes up front simple so our guys can just focus on playing and not thinking as much," says Maddox. "If our guys up front are well conditioned we think that will be an advantage for us at the end of games."
Mattox spent last year with Babers as the offensive line coach at Eastern Illinois so he's very familiar with the system. "We'll run the majority of our sets from the shotgun and change our launch points often," says Maddox. "The number one job of the offensive line in this system is keeping the quarterback upright."
If the Falcons can protect Johnson well in 2014, this will be a very difficult team for defenses to handle.