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Way Too Early Football Predictions: Can Bowling Green Win Without Johnson, Lewis and Dieter?

BGSU enters 2016 with a new head coach and uncertainty at several positions. Will the Falcons take a step back this season?

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Bowling Green Falcons have had a glorious four-year run in football. Their record is 36-19 in that span, and they have a pair of ten-win seasons to their name. The Falcons have been to bowl games in four consecutive years and have captured three consecutive division titles. Twice, they have won Mid-American Conference championship.

Unfortunately, football in the MAC seems to be little more than an endless parade of goodbyes. For BGSU, the departures after the 2015 season were particularly painful, as they read like a "Who's Who" of key cogs to that four-year run of excellence.

Head coach Dino Babers? Off to revive the program at Syracuse. Wide receiver Gehrig Dieter? Headed down south to play for Saint Nick at Alabama. Matt Johnson, Travis Greene, Alex Huettel and Roger Lewis? All pursuing professional careers in the National Football League.

In all, Bowling Green will replace ten of their 22 starters from the 2015 season. That includes the five named above plus one more on offense, as well as four on defense.

New head coach Mike Jinks comes from Texas Tech and brings with him the Air Raid offense, which will be run by either James Knapke, who started most of the 2014 season, or lauded redshirt freshman James Morgan. Fred Coppet has plenty of experience and should step into the feature back role, while Ronnie Moore will lead a group of receivers with big shoes to fill. And what to expect of the defense? Well, that's anyone's guess.

What does all of this mean for Bowling Green's prospects in the upcoming season? Let's take a game-by-game look at the schedule to find out.

Saturday, Sept. 3rd -- at Ohio State (2015 Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten, 6-1 home)

Obviously, BGSU faces an uphill climb against the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU is perennially in the conversation for the national championship and hasn't lost to an in-state team in decades. However, the Falcons has twice played OSU tough in the last 15 years and won twice against the Big Ten on the road last season. Ohio State has struggled in the last few seasons against quality MAC teams, and they lost an enormous amount of talent after last season. The biggest question here for BGSU is who will be under center, Knapke or Morgan. That decision will define the season.

Result: Loss, but the Falcons cover.

Saturday, Sept. 10th -- vs. North Dakota (2015 Record: 7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Sky, 3-3 road)

Unlike last season, Bowling Green hosts an FCS team in 2016, as they kick off one of the easiest (on paper) home schedules in recent memory. The North Dakota Fighting Hawks are no push-overs, as they won their final three games and beat Wyoming last season. The Falcons could arrive at this game with varying mindsets depending on what happens in the opener, but they've had little problem with FCS teams during their current run. I wouldn't expect that to change here.

Result: Win

Saturday, Sept. 17th -- vs. Middle Tennessee State (2015 Record: 7-6 overall, 6-2 Conference USA, 2-4 road)

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders struggled against their better opponents in 2015 but managed to make a bowl game, which they lost to Western Michigan. This season could be much better for the Blue Raiders, though. Why? Their starting quarterback and leading receiver were both freshmen in 2015. Brent Stockstill threw for 4,000 yards, 30 touchdowns and just nine picks, while Richie James caught 108 balls for 1,346 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are insane numbers for first-year players, and BGSU's defense will have its hands full with those two.

Result: Toss-Up, but expect video-game like numbers for both offenses.

Saturday, Sept. 24th -- at Memphis (2015 Record: 9-4 overall, 5-3 American, 5-1 home)

If you ask me, the Falcons' game with the Memphis Tigers last season was one of the best of the entire college football season. The 2016 edition will appear quite different, though, as both starting quarterbacks from the 2015 game are gone. The Falcons' offense should have a real grip on their new system by this point, and they'll be looking to exact revenge for last year's loss at home.

Result: Win

Saturday, Oct. 1st -- vs. Eastern Michigan (2015 Record: 1-11 overall, 0-8 MAC, 1-5 road)

BGSU last played the Eastern Michigan Eagles in 2013. BGSU won 58-7 and allowed EMU to complete one pass for four yards in the game. I'm not saying that the 2016 game will be like that; it was just fun to remember that game. With that said, the Falcons have habitually blown out the MAC's lower-rung teams during their four-year run. Even with all they've lost, this should be little different.

Result: Win

Saturday, Oct. 8th -- at Ohio (2015 Record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 MAC, 5-1 home)

The Ohio Bobcats have been division contenders during BGSU's run of dominance over the MAC East, but their last three games with the Falcons have been little short of humiliating. The combined outcome of those three is 142-37, and that includes BGSU wins of 49-0 and 62-24. If ever there were a time for the Bobcats to take that next step, this would be it, but we're in "believe it when we see it" territory.

Result: Win

Saturday, Oct. 15th -- at Toledo (2015 Record: 10-2 overall, 6-2 MAC, 4-2 home)

The Toledo Rockets are the one team that Bowling Green has not conquered. They have lost six straight against their foes to the north, and while they have league titles to boast whereas Toledo doesn't, the losing streak in the Battle of I-75 is an unpleasant reality. Even though UT will have a new QB this season, Falcon nemesis Kareem Hunt is back and likely to be as unstoppable as ever. This is also "believe it when I see it" territory.

Result: Loss

Saturday, Oct. 22nd -- vs. Miami (2015 Record: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MAC, 1-5 road)

The Falcons have not had the pleasure of playing the Miami RedHawks since the 2013 season due to the MAC's imbalanced division format and schedule. That rivalry is renewed this season thanks to the gracious departure of Massachusetts and a return to 12-team normalcy. Miami coach Chuck Martin is working hard to restore football in Oxford to glory, but he's not there yet. BGSU will continue to own this series.

Result: Win

Tuesday, Nov. 1st -- at Northern Illinois (2015 Record: 8-6 overall, 6-2 MAC, 5-1 home)

The Northern Illinois Huskies are generally very good in DeKalb, and Bowling Green hasn't played there in several years. The Falcons also likely will not have the luxury of facing NIU's 20th-string quarterback, either. Despite those disadvantages, the Huskies have more question marks now than they have in several years. I hesitate to call this a preview of a fourth straight MAC title game match-up, but wouldn't that be fun?

Result: Toss-Up

Wednesday, Nov. 9th -- at Akron (2015 Record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 MAC, 3-3 home)

The Falcons' game with the Akron Zips takes place the night after we elect a new President, so we have to wonder if anyone will actually watch this game or if everyone will be preparing to move to Canada. Great joke, right? In all seriousness, this is probably the key game to BGSU's season. At some point, having Terry Bowden as head coach and a swanky stadium has to pay off for Akron. The Falcons have handled the Zips well in the last two games, but like Ohio, it seems as if this is now-or-never time to leap Bowling Green.

Result: Toss-Up

Tuesday, Nov. 15th -- vs. Kent State (2015 Record: 3-9 overall, 2-6 MAC, 1-5 road)

Did you know that the Kent State Golden Flashes are the last team from the MAC East to beat BGSU? It's true. It happened way back in 2012, when Kent State went to the MAC Championship game. Bowling Green has won 17 straight division games since then, while KSU has sunk to the bottom of the league. There's not much to expect from their offense, so there's little reason to expect them to win here.

Result: Win

Friday, Nov. 25th -- vs. Buffalo (2015 Record: 5-7 overall, 3-5 MAC, 3-3 road)

The Buffalo Bulls and BGSU Falcons have made a habit of playing crazy and/or important games throughout the last decade. They have battled head-to-head for the division title several times, including 2008 and 2013. This should be no different, even if it will be played in front of a sparse crowd on the day after Thanksgiving.

Result: Win, but it will be very close.

These picks put BGSU at 7-2 overall with three toss-ups. In the MAC, it's 5-1 with two toss-ups. That will easily be enough for a bowl game, but they will likely have to split (at worst) those road games against NIU and Akron in order to win the division again.

Another ten-win season is not out of the question for this team, particularly if they get solid quarterback play and some improvement from the defense. However, the ultimate outlook here would be for eight wins and a 6-2 record in the MAC. Knapke will take the reigns of the offense at the beginning of the season, but Morgan will be the man by the time November rolls around. The Falcons have enough talent around the quarterbacks to be successful on offense, and the defense will be at least as good as it was in 2015, if not somewhat better.

There is definitely some question as to whether or not the Falcons will win the East for a fourth straight year, but I think one thing is certain -- this season will not be anything like the drop-off from 2009-2010 for BGSU. This is a reloading, not a rebuilding.

What do you think? Vote in the poll and let us know in the comments below.