Philadelphia, PA – 2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: The only thing that would have made Bowling Green's season better in 2013 was if the Falcons had held on to defeat Pittsburgh in the Little Caesar's Bowl. That aside, the Falcons enjoyed a strong campaign last season that culminated in a double-digit win effort.
Bowling Green finished the season at 10-4 overall, with a Mid-American Conference mark at 7-1. That included a 20-point blowout of the then- undefeated Northern Illinois Huskies, 47-27, in the conference title game. The Falcons wrapped up the 2013 season on a five-game winning streak headed into their bowl game matchup with Pittsburgh.
The Falcons dropped the contest to the Panthers, 30-27, despite entering the fray as six-point favorites. Their all-time bowl game record dropped to 4-7. Still, the Falcons played non-conference opponents tough last year, defeating teams like Tulsa and Murray State. Non-conference losses for Bowling Green included a defeat at Indiana (42-10) and one at Mississippi State (21-20).
Five-year head coach Dave Clawson moved on from Bowling Green prior to the team's 2013 bowl game to become the head coach at Wake Forest. The Falcons hired former Eastern Illinois (FCS) coach Dino Babers in the offseason to lead the program starting in 2014.
OFFENSE: The hiring of Babers as the new head coach will do wonders for an already explosive offense. Bowling Green averaged 34.8 ppg last season after outscoring opponents, 487-222, on the season. The Falcons also racked up an average of 459.4 ypg behind starting sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson and running back Travis Greene.
Those two players return once again for Bowling Green to head the offense. Johnson completed 237-of-369 pass attempts for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdown passes compared to just seven interceptions. Greene carried the ball 279 times for a whopping 1,667 yards and 11 touchdowns. They'll be the go-to players again, along with young standout receivers Ronnie Moore (seven touchdown catches in 2013) and Gehrig Dieter. Chris Gallon re-tore his ACL during summer activities.
Babers spent several years as the wide receivers coach at Baylor, working with players that were catching passes from former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. When he took over at Eastern Illinois, he transformed the offense into the best at the FCS level. His Panthers led the nation in yards per game (589.5) and points per game (48.2) in 2013. He coached quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (a second-round draft choice by the New England Patriots) to the Walter Payton Award - the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy - in 2013 after Garoppolo amassed 53 touchdown passes to just nine interceptions, and 5,050 passing yards.
DEFENSE: The defense will likely be a bit more of a project for the new coaching staff at Bowling Green, but the Falcons do return some key players at important positions for ther 2014 campaign.
Bowling Green gets five starters back from 2013, including the team's top two tacklers. Linebacker D.J. Lynch led the squad with 85 stops, and added six tackles for loss. Safety Ryland Ward registered 81 tackles with five pass breakups and two interceptions. They'll retake their spots on the defensive side of the ball.
Seniors Bryan Thomas and Charlie Walker on the defensive line and Gabe Martin in the linebacking corps help to provide some security. As a unit in 2013, Bowling Green's defense allowed a mere 15.9 ppg to opponents, and just 170.9 passing ypg to opposing quarterbacks.
"We take pride in what we do every day out here trying to perfect our craft, and I think that's what going to help us in the future - continuing to work hard and just understanding that we're a big part of this team," Martin said.
Ward is the only starter returning in the defensive backfield, so there may be a bit of a molding period for players at the other three spots. Still, those vacant positions are expected to be filled by two seniors and a junior, so the Falcons are hoping for minimal friction.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Babers inherits place kicker Tyler Tate, who will be returning for his junior season at Bowling Green. Tate performed well in 2013, hitting 18-of-22 field goal attempts with a long of 52 yards. But Babers will have to replace punter Brian Schmiedebusch, and will likely fill the void with redshirt freshman Joe Davidson. Davidson stands at a tall 6-foot-7, and can also double up as a wide receiver.
OUTLOOK: The Falcons return enough key pieces to make yet another run at the MAC title. They'll get a push from up-and-comer Akron, and also from programs like Ohio and Buffalo in the MAC's East Division. But having had back-to-back winnings seasons, the Falcons will look to keep it rolling.
Northern Illinois, which was Bowling Green's biggest threat a season ago, will be without their sparkplug at quarterback in Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting at the end of the season. It seems the path to a MAC crown is a bit more clear than it was last season.
The Falcons open the season with a matchup against former conference member Western Kentucky, then must face VMI (FCS), Indiana and Wisconsin - two very difficult non-conference matchups. The Falcons launch into conference play with games against Massachusetts (Sept. 27) and Buffalo (Oct. 4). Bowling Green doesn't face Northern Illinois until, perhaps, the championship bout.
"We've still got a long way to go, and just want to keep building, taking it day by day," linebacker D.J. Lynch said. "We're not ready yet, but we still have some time so we're taking it day by day."
The only loss the Falcons sustained in conference last year was against Toledo, which the team plays late in November. With a strong core of returning players, including Johnson and Greene, there's a chance the Falcons could run the table in the conference. A bowl game seems almost certain for Bowling Green for a third straight year.