The path to a fourth straight Eastern Division title just got a lot harder for the Bowling Green Falcons. Standout wide receiver Gehrig Dieter, the team's 2015 receptions leader, has announced his intention to transfer and play for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2016. He will graduate from BGSU in May and be eligible to play immediately for Alabama.
The Falcons have had to say a lot of good-byes in the two months and change since they captured the 2015 Mid-American Conference championship, their second league title in three years.
Dino Babers and his staff were the first to go, as they announced their departure for Syracuse just hours after winning the title. Travis Greene, the Falcons' all-time leading rusher, played his final game for BGSU as a senior in the GoDaddy Bowl. So did quarterback Matt Johnson, who chose not to pursue a sixth year of eligibility. Finally, sophomore wide receiver Roger Lewis chose to forego his final two years of eligibility by declaring for the NFL Draft.
The transfer of Dieter is the latest and perhaps most damaging hurdle that BGSU will have to overcome. The other departures were known or anticipated, but Dieter was expected to return and be the cornerstone for the "Air Raid" offense led by new head coach Mike Jinks.
Dieter, a native of South Bend, IN, was brought to Bowling Green three years ago by then-Falcons' head coach Dave Clawson. He had originally enrolled at SMU, where he caught 10 balls for 168 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman.
He sat out his transfer season of 2013 as a redshirt and watched as Clawson led BGSU to the MAC Championship, then leave for greener pastures at Wake Forest. In 2014 under Babers, he had a strong debut with seven catches for 78 yards against Western Kentucky. However, a combination of injuries and the loss of starting quarterback Matt Johnson helped limit him to just 28 catches for the remainder of the season.
Johnson returned to the field at the start of the 2015 season, and Dieter's fortunes vastly improved. In the season opener against Tennessee, he posted seven catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. He followed that with ten catches for 96 yards in a victory over Purdue, as well as 77 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons' win over Akron.
However, Dieter's moment to shine was late in the season when opponents began to focus heavily on coverage of Lewis. Over his final six games, he had 54 receptions, 555 yards and seven touchdowns. That included a 9-136-2 line against Ohio and 13-103-3 against Toledo.
Those numbers helped Dieter lead the Falcons with 94 catches and rank second behind Lewis with 1,033 yards and ten touchdowns.
The loss of this production is not good news for Jinks. With the loss of Dieter, the Falcons now have to replace more than two-thirds (67.37 percent) of their total offense from 2015. The losses in the passing game are even worse. Of the 5,135 passing yards generated last season, BGSU is losing 3,709 (72.23 percent). They're also losing 291 of the 398 receptions.
In fact, Ronnie Moore is the only returning receiver that posted more than 222 yards or 18 catches last season. Moore earned 72 receptions and 954 yards for the MAC champs. With the additional departures of Greene and Johnson, experience on the BGSU offense will be consolidated almost entirely in Moore and Fred Coppet.
Well, that's not entirely accurate. James Knapke started almost the entire 2014 season, and that should make him the heavy favorite to beat out redshirt freshman James Morgan for the starting nod at quarterback in 2016. That experience, limited as it may be, will be valuable in an offense that has to replenish almost all of its skill position production.
Bowling Green does have some inexperienced talent that can step up, including Teo Redding, Baylor transfer Robbie Rhodes, and sophomore running back Matt Domer. They also have Darrion Landry, a junior college transfer who should play immediately.
In a division that continues to be muddled, the Falcons will have a chance to stay on top despite the loss of Dieter and others. However, the race for the East crown should be much more competitive than it has been recently.
As for Dieter, what lies ahead for him at Alabama? The defending national champions, like BGSU, have to replace their starting quarterback and their (Heisman Trophy-winning) starting running back. However, the Crimson Tide return their top two wide receivers in Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart, as well as O.J. Howard, their starting tight end. Given that Alabama has generally been a run-first team, it will be interesting to see how much playing time and production Dieter will receive.
One thing seems certain -- Dieter has eyes on the NFL and wants more eyes on him as he plays his final college season. While this move will be hard for BGSU to overcome and for Falcon fans to swallow, it will be fascinating to see how one of our own tackles this challenge.