Bowling Green football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Falcons, best players and season prediction.
The bar is see just a wee bit higher now for Bowling Green head coaches.
Okay, a lot higher.
Gary Blackney had a long run – starting out with a few MAC titles – but he started struggling and got bounced out for some Urban Meyer guy. Gregg Brandon stepped in after Meyer left for Utah, came up with six good seasons, got fired after a disappointing 6-6 year, and now he’s the head coach at the Colorado School of Mines.
Dave Clawson turned the gig into the Wake Forest job, and now Dino Babers turned his two seasons into a turn as the Syracuse head coach.
Enter Mike Jinks, who worked his way through the high school coaching world before finally latching on as an assistant at Texas Tech three years ago and as a key assistant last year. Now he’s bringing the high-octane attack to a program that’s been cranking out high-octane numbers for a while.
This is a very, very big risk for the Falcons considering Jinks’ lack of experience. Either this is a meteoric rise to greatness – at least over the last three seasons – or it’s going to be a huge rebuilding job all the way around for a program used to MAC championship success.
The Falcons have gone to bowl games each of the last four years and played in the last three MAC championship games – winning twice. However, Jinks inherits a team that lost star quarterback Matt Johnson and his main man, WR Roger Lewis, off an attack that finished fourth in the nation in total offense. That’s not going to be an excuse, though.
The Falcon offense still has more than enough parts to be very, very good – even if it’s not the machine it was last year – and the defense that was optional throughout the MAC title campaign should be better.
And now it all comes down to Jinks in his first college head coaching job. He knows how to handle an offense, and he’s considered a hot prospect – he had a few other head coaching possibilities on the table – but he’s walking into one of the MAC’s best situations. The pressure is on.
What You Need To Know About The Bowling Green Offense
Same deal, new players – at least for the passing game. The offense that went nutso averaging 547 yards per game and 367 through the air is going to try keeping it all rolling with Jinks hiring Kevin Klimer from Texas Tech to handle the offensive coordinator duties. However, QB Matt Johnson didn’t petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and is done, star WR Roger Lewis bolted early to the NFL, and talented target Gehrig Dieter graduated and is taking his talents to Alabama. Throw in the loss of RB Travis Greene, and there’s lots and lots of work to do. Fortunately, four starters are back on the line, and there are plenty of receivers for likely starting quarterback James Knapke to help shine.
Biggest Key To The Bowling Green Offense
Really, what’s the passing game going to look like? Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter combined to catch 179 passes for 2,577 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. Matt Johnson threw for close to 5,000 yards with 46 touchdowns and eight picks. No, the Bowling Green offense won’t be able to just turn it back on, even with an offensive-minded coach coming in. Can James Knapke handle the work at quarterback again? Will Ronnie Moore be ready to be a No. 1 target? The numbers will be there, but the consistency likely won’t – at least for a while.
What You Need To Know About The Bowling Green Defense
The defense wasn’t all that bad – until it had to deal with dangerous offenses. It did its part to hold serve just enough to roll to a MAC title, but it couldn’t come up with the one big stop needed to get by Memphis, and it couldn’t slow down Toledo or Georgia Southern. This year, UTSA special teams coach Perry Eliano will be in charge of being the defensive coordinator, and he has enough key players back to do a decent job with six starters returning including the top three tacklers and just enough pass rushing production to get by. This won’t be a dominant D by any stretch, but it should be just good enough to be okay if the O does its job.
Biggest Key To The Bowling Green Defense
The pass rush has to be more dangerous and more disruptive. For the most part, the secondary was okay, and it should be again as long as the front four does its job. There were too many games when the defensive front seven went silent, but when it was on – like it was in the key win over Western Michigan and in the MAC title victory over Northern Illinois – it was fantastic. Taylor Royster and his six sacks are gone, and now Taylor Bush and Shannon Smith have to become regulars in the backfield.
Bowling Green will be far better if …
It does everything right. The offense will be fine in time, and the defense might not be all that bad, but the team can’t get away with another year of penalties and mistakes. The Falcons were among the most flagged teams in the country getting tagged close to nine times per game for 80 yards. The offense might have put up a ton of points, but there was no ball control keeping for under 28 minutes a game – that’s not going to change. The kick return game was awful, the defense gave up too many long drives, and the special teams as a whole were just okay outside of punter Joe Davidson. This team won’t be good enough to have so many holes.
Best Bowling Green Offensive Player
OT Jacob Bennett, Sr. – It might not seem right for the best offensive player on a high-octane attack to be an offensive linemen, but with so many skill stars gone, the All-MAC blocker is it – for now. The line should be the strength of the Falcon attack early on, and everything will work around the NFL-sized blocker on the outside.
Best Bowling Green Defensive Player
LB Austin Valdez, Soph. – The team’s leading tackler exploded on the scene with 57 tackles in his first five games after taking over the starting role, and he was in on everything over the back half of the season closing out with an all-star caliber final five games. At 225 pounds he might not be built for the middle, but he can more than handle himself.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB James Knapke, Sr – Or redshirt freshman James Morgan. It would’ve been nice if Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb chose Bowling Green instead of Colorado, but the Falcons have a veteran in Knapke who at least isn’t starting from scratch. Good in 2014 when Matt Johnson was hurt, he can throw, but Morgan has the bigger upside. No matter who gets the starting quarterback gig, a 3,500-yard passing season will be on the low side of what might be needed.
The Bowling Green Season Will Be A Success If …
There’s yet another trip back to the MAC title game. The Falcons won’t be anywhere near as good as they’ve been over the last few seasons, but who in the East has any real shot of taking the division title? Buffalo, Kent State and Miami University are longshots and Akron is totally rebuilding. That’s why …
2015 Bowling Green Fun Stats
– Penalties: Bowling Green 123 for 1,123 yards – Opponents 90 for 883 yards
– Time of Possession: Opponents 32:05 – Bowling Green 27:55
– Punt Return Average: Opponents 18 yards – Bowling Green 6.4 yards