The Falcons rank No. 114 in Athlon’s Top 130 for 2017
Even though Bowling Green went just 4-8 in head coach Mike Jinks first season, there are reasons to be optimistic about the Falcons. For starters, Bowling Green ended 2016 on a three-game winning streak with victories over MAC East foes. Secondly, several of the players who fueled the late run are back, namely on offense. If the line can come together, the Falcons could be dangerous on offense this fall. The defense also showed signs of late life, but there are considerably more question marks on this side of the ball. A tough schedule could make bowl eligibility unrealistic, but Jinks and company should be able to show more progress in 2017.
Previewing Bowling Green Football’s Offense for 2017
After a brutal 1–8 start in 2016 that featured offensive ineptitude, the Falcons found redemption in a somewhat unfamiliar place. Bowling Green lined up and ran the football. That simple approach produced a three-game winning streak to end the season and an injection of confidence for this unit heading into 2017.
With enough punch in the running game returning, sophomore quarterback James Morgan should operate under less stress than a year ago. Morgan, who started the last seven games and passed for 2,082 yards and 16 touchdowns, should be a confident and comfortable leader. He has his top receiver, junior Scott Miller, back after Miller grabbed 74 balls for 968 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016. Seniors Teo Redding and Hunter Folkertsma and junior Deric Phouthavong also return, and when you add explosive 6'5" transfer Datrin Guyton to the group, the picture brightens further.
Swift senior running back Josh Cleveland averaged 9.3 yards per carry over those three late wins. Bruising senior Donovan Wilson averaged 4.9 yards per carry in that span.
Some smoke and mirrors will be needed up front, where all-conference senior center Tim McAuliffe and senior left tackle Ryan Hunter are the sole starters back. The rapid maturation of the rest of that unit will be essential if the BG offense is to pick up where it left off.
Previewing Bowling Green Football’s Defense for 2017
This unit was shell-shocked in the first month of 2016, allowing an average of 55 points per game and surrendering 77 twice — to Ohio State and then Memphis. On the season, the Falcons allowed 38.3 points and 464.3 yards per game. Improvement is mandatory, and it should come in the form of a vastly improved secondary, a developing linebacker corps and a front line that should be more athletic and disruptive.
A year ago, injuries decimated the pass-coverage corps, and too many inexperienced players were tossed into the fire. This time around, juniors Robert Jackson Jr. and Clint Stephens and sophomore Cameron Jefferies have starting experience on their side at cornerback, while sophomore Jerry McBride and junior Jamari Bozeman are back with some starting time to their credit at the safety posts.
The linebacker group features juniors Brandon Harris and Dorian Hendrix and seniors Nate Locke and Nilijah Ballew. Up front, the Falcons have senior tackle Gus Schwieterman and junior end David Konowalski, who have plenty of experience, while senior Shannon Smith likely earns the start at the other tackle.
Previewing Bowling Green Football’s Specialists for 2017
The Falcons’ top pro prospect is likely 6'7" punter Joseph Davidson, who had the nation’s second-best net punting average at 43.1 yards last season. Davidson had just three touchbacks in 2016 and 19 punts of 50 or more yards. Jake Suder and Nick Fields share the kicking work.
Many felt that Bowling Green’s brain trust really rolled the dice when the school hired Mike Jinks — with no coordinating or head coaching experience at the college level — to lead this program in 2016. But after the 1–8 start, Jinks set things straight, and BG won its final three games. Now a full season, two recruiting classes and two sessions of spring ball into this gig, Jinks and the Falcons seem quite comfortable with each other. Morgan has made seven starts at quarterback, his receiving corps is skilled and deep, and the running game is nasty again. If the offensive line develops and the defense can take a step forward, the Falcons will have an opportunity to make a move in the MAC East. But getting to six wins and bowl eligibility will be a challenge, thanks in part to a non-conference slate that includes trips to Michigan State, Northwestern and underrated Middle Tennessee.
National Ranking: 114
MAC East Prediction: 4
(Scott Miller photo courtesy of www.bgsufalcons.com)