This time last year, the fans of the Bowling Green Falcons were giddy with anticipation for the start of the football season. And who could blame them?
They were coming off a Mid-Northern Illinois Huskies and their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, Jordan Lynch. They had a new head coach who was touted as an offensive genius and whose scheme was going to turn the MAC on its head. And, they had a ton of talent coming back on the offensive side of the ball, including quarterback Matt Johnson, fresh off his MVP performance in that title game at Ford Field in Detroit.Conference Championship Game where they dominated the
However, that optimism for the 2014 season didn't last very long. On the last Friday in August, the Falcons kicked-off the season at the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The Falcons suffered an unthinkable 59-31 defeat in that game, and worse yet, Johnson hobbled off with an injury after a fourth quarter sack. The final blow in this disastrous opening weekend came on Monday morning when Coach Dino Babers announced that Johnson would be lost for the season with a hip injury.
It wasn't even September yet and the Falcons had their porous defense exposed and had lost their starting quarterback for the rest of the year. To their credit, the Falcons still managed to salvage the season, winning the MAC east division and making it back to Detroit for the title game, where the Huskies got a big measure of revenge.
Fast forward to August 2015, and the Falcon faithful are giddy once again, although tempered just a bit as a result of the scars from last season. Optimism has returned because Matt Johnson is healthy again and back under center. He spent all of last season on crutches, unable to put weight on his injured hip. He was cleared for light running in March but didn't participate in spring practices.
Now into Fall Camp, Johnson has been pronounced at 100% and cleared for full go as the team prepares for the season opener in Nashville against the Tennessee Volunteers. If Johnson can get anywhere near the level he was at the end of 2013, the Falcons offense will again be a menace to opposing defenses. The Falcons return all 11 starters on offense and have quality back-ups at most positions.
Just to refresh your memory of how good Johnson was in 2013, let's look at his numbers. He competed 65 percent of his passes on the year, for 3,467 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. He also ran for another 5 touchdowns. He was at his best in that MAC title game against Northern Illinois, going 21 of 27 for 393 yards and a record 5 touchdowns, while being named the game's MVP.
But even with all the optimism around his return this year, Johnson will still have several big questions to answer. Is he healthy enough to be able to lead the team this year? Will he be able to shake off the rust of not having seen live action in a year? Was he able to grasp Babers' offense watching from the sidelines last year?
In the preseason last year, Babers said that the team wouldn't truly figure out his new offense until the second year. In that opener at Western Kentucky, the offense did experience some growing pains. Johnson had a good looking stat line before getting hurt late in that game (25 of 36 for 313 yard and a touchdown with no interceptions), but the offense sputtered and could not keep up with the Hilltoppers, who were scoring on nearly every possession.
In fact it was back-up James Knapke who benefitted from being under center last year and not Johnson. It will be interesting to see if Johnson's year of watching the offense for the sidelines will translate into production on the field this year.
To be expected after having a year off, Johnson hasn't been getting much love from the media and those that put together preseason teams and award watch lists. Those accolades have gone to the likes of Blake Frohnapfel of Massachusetts, Joe Licata of Buffalo, and Zach Terrell of Western Michigan in the MAC.
But if healthy, I think Johnson has a good chance of being the best quarterback in the MAC this year. He seems the perfect fit for Babers' offense as a good decision maker, accurate and strong thrower, with excellent mobility. Add in the fact that the Falcons are absolutely loaded with playmakers at all the skill positons and you may have the best offense in the MAC this season.
Unfortunately, Johnson and the Falcons offense might have to be the best to offset what looks like a young defense that will have trouble stopping other teams again in 2015.