Better late to the party than never arriving, as #MACtion belatedly joins the college football proceedings in November. The Bowling Green Falcons embark on Year Two under the guidance of head coach Scot Loeffler, hoping to improve upon their 2019 record of 3-9. One of those three wins in 2019 was a 20-7 home victory over the Toledo Rockets.
Under Loeffler, Bowling Green has embraced the youth movement, with a depth chart featuring nine freshmen and seven redshirt freshmen in the two-deep. He's also hoping that transfer quarter Matt McDonald can help jump-start the Falcons' offense.
McDonald, who arrives at Bowling Green via Boston College, is among the many truly grateful for the mere opportunity to simply play college football this season. When the MAC announced that the conference would play a fall season, McDonald was relieved. "It was nice just hearing it out loud that we're playing, it was nice to get a definitive answer. It was devastating when they said the season was canceled, I actually sat down and started crying in the meeting room when we found out that we weren't playing because so much hard work had been put into this," McDonald said.
Toledo is at the other end of the spectrum, coming off a season of unrealized expectations. A favorite to win the MAC in 2019, the Rockets struggled with offensive inconsistency and inopportune defensive breakdowns and lost their final three games to finish 6-6. That ended a streak of nine consecutive winning seasons and a run of five straight bowl appearances.
Toledo head coach Jason Candle brought in three new coordinators in the offseason. But with no spring practice, and a disjointed summer and fall that limited preparation time, it will be interesting to see if the Rockets are firing on all cylinders on Wednesday night.
Bowling Green at Toledo
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Toledo -19
When Bowling Green Has the Ball
McDonald will get the starting nod at quarterback, and the Falcons desperately need more from the position after averaging 157.3 passing yards per game last season (120th in FBS). The Boston College transfer is sure to look for senior tight end Quintin Morris, who led the team and tied for fifth in the MAC last season with 55 receptions.
Another key for this offense will be the production of junior running back Andrew Clair. After posting 720 rushing yards and averaging 5.2 yards per carry as a freshman, injuries limited Clair to just four games in 2019. When he did play, he wasn't very effective (3.6 ypc), although he did tie for the team lead with four rushing touchdowns. Clair will need help from his offensive line, which returns just two starters.
Regardless of who is throwing the ball or running with it, Bowling Green has plenty of room for improvement on offense. The Falcons averaged 319.1 yards and 16.0 points per game last season. The former placed them 10th in the MAC (and 120th overall) in the MAC, and only two teams in the country scored fewer points (Rutgers, Akron).
When Toledo Has the Ball
Candle has been coy with the identity of the starting quarterback. Eli Peters, a senior, has the edge in experience and started four games last season, going 2-2 in those. Carter Bradley, a sophomore, made two starts (0-2) but showed promise in spurts as he ended up playing in seven games, the most of any of the four Rockets to get snaps at quarterback (Mitchell Guadagni and Dequan Finn the others) in 2019. Finn, a redshirt freshman who saw limited playing time, also is in the mix.
But the strength of Toledo's offense figures to come on the ground with junior Bryant Koback leading the way. A second-team All-MAC honoree, Koback was fourth in the MAC with 1,187 rushing yards last season to go along with 12 touchdowns. Three starters return up front for the Rockets, including center Bryce Harris (All-MAC selection in 2018) and guard Nick Rosi, a freshman All-American in 2019.
Toledo failed to play up to expectations last season but returns plenty of experience (13 starters) from a team hungry to make amends. Bowling Green may show some improvement as the season progresses, but the Falcons still have a ways to go to compete with the Rockets. Look for Toledo to use Wednesday night's opener at home as a springboard to getting back to their customary perch as one of the MAC's better teams.
Prediction: Toledo 28, Bowling Green 10
(Bryant Koback photo courtesy of the University of Toledo)