The top 10 Bowling Green football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. LB Austin Valdez, Soph.
The undersized 6-0, 225-pound hitter might not have the bulk, but he’s a playmaker earning First Team All-MAC honors coming up with 144 tackles with a sack and 11 tackles for loss on the inside. Really, really quick, he’s good in pass coverage and always gets around the ball, making 20 stops against Memphis, 13 against Tennessee, and coming up with a whopping 61 tackles over the final five games – he held up against everyone. The high school quarterback has problems with the bigger, more physical blockers, but when he’s able to get into space he’s as active as any linebacker in the MAC.
2. P Joe Davidson, Jr.
Really, really, really big, the 6-7, 222-pound bomber came off a huge 2014 season – averaging almost 43 yards per punt – by averaging 46 yards per blast putting 16 inside the 20. An athlete as well as a top kicker, he can move. A top pro prospect, he might be the rare punter who can take off a year early to the NFL with tremendous hang-time and improving consistency.
3. OT Jacob Bennett, Sr.
At 6-5 and 319 pounds, Bennett is a big tackle on the left side. However, he has the feet and the athleticism to work as a solid pass protector, too. Going into his fourth year as a starter, he knows what he’s doing and he’s going to be the most talented blocker on a good line that should be terrific. While he’s a fringe NFL talent, he has the pro body and the length to get a long look with a dominant season. At the very least, he should earn All-MAC honors and should be one of the league’s best all-around linemen.
4. WR Ronnie Moore, Sr.
Roger Lewis left early for the NFL, and Gehrig Dieter left for Alabama. QB Matt Johnson, WR Ryan Burbrink and RB Travis Greene are done, too, meaning Moore is the one star skill guy left after last year’s fun. The 5-9, 170-pound deep ball threat averaged over 13 yards per catch coming up with 72 grabs for 954 yards and six scores to go along with 55 yards and a touchdown. Ultra-quick, he came up with 151 yards and two touchdowns against Kent State, and he was a steady No. 3 target the rest of the way. Now he’s the No. 1, and he’s good enough to handle the work.
5. CB Alphonso Mack, Sr.
With six interceptions, Mack was the team’s best ball-hawker coming up with three picks in his last four regular season games including one in the MAC title game. Despite his lack of bulk, he’s a steady tackler, especially in the open field, making 56 stops on the year including a season-high eight against the Huskies. He’s tall, thin, smart and tough, and now he’ll be the team’s top defensive back and needs to be able to stay busy even though passing games are going to stay away from him.
6. LB James Sanford, Sr.
Really more of a safety than a true linebacker, the 6-1, 196-pound hitter was third on the team making 91 tackles with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He played like an extra defensive back, breaking up eight passes to go along with his big plays against the run. With 23 tackles over a two-game span against Buffalo and UMass early on, and against Ohio and Western Michigan in November, he held up and produced.
7. DE Terrance Bush, Sr.
The 6-2, 252-pound end was one of the team’s key pass rushers generating a team-leading six sacks with 68 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He might be built like a linebacker, but he has a quick first step and he’s good at holding up against the run making ten stops against Toledo to go along with his pass rushing skills. Very smart as well as talented, he’s a good leader as well as a steady producer. As long as he’s not keyed on, and as long as he’s not erased by a double team, he’ll be great.
8. RB Fred Coppet, Sr.
The No. 2 back behind Travis Greene, the 5-9, 205-pounder out of Fort Lauderdale did his part for the ground game running for 825 yards and five yards averaging 5.7 yards per pop. He did his best work against Maryland with 109 yards on 15 carries, and ran 11 times for 108 yards and a score against Ball State, and now the veteran will be the key part in the ground attack. Can he be more of a receiver? If he can start making more plays as a short-range receiver, he’ll be exactly what the offense needs.
9. QB James Knapke, Sr.
The veteran passer took the team to the MAC title game in 2014 stepping in for Matt Johnson throwing for 3,173 yards and 15 touchdowns with 12 picks, hitting 58% of his passes. He knows what he’s doing, but can he be consistent enough? That was his problem two years ago, struggling a bit too much in several key games, but he has the mobility and he has the arm to make the offense move. He’ll be pushed and challenged all offseason by James Morgan or others, but he has the experience. However, whoever gets the starting nod instantly becomes one of the team’s top players.
10. OT Logan Dietz, Sr.
A three-year veteran at right tackle, the 6-6, 298-pound Dietz is overdue for all-star honors on the field to go along with the ones he’s earning in the classroom. He’s got a nice frame and is tough to get around, able to work on the left side if needed and with the punch to kick inside if absolutely necessary. With Jacob Bennett on the other side, Dietz should shine again.