As Bowling Green prepares for the bowl season, and the potential for a daily saga of a coaching search, here are some things fans from other schools need to know about the Falcons football program as it prepares to play in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
- BGSU just completed a season in which it won the Mid-American Conference's East Division title, then won the MAC championship. The Falcons enter bowl season with a 10-3 overall record, and they were 7-1 in MAC play.
The Falcons were a pre-season pick to finish second in the MAC East, but instead they won the division title with an impressive finish to the regular season. BG won its last four games by a combined scored of 176-17, including a 24-7 win at Buffalo Nov. 29 to claim the title.
In the MAC championship game at Ford Field Dec. 6 the Falcons knocked off previously unbeaten and 16th-ranked Northern Illinois 47-27. BG amassed 574 yards of total offense, two yards shy of the title game record, split nicely between 181 yards rushing and 393 yards passing. Quarterback Matt Johnson was named game MVP after completing 21-of-27 passes for 393 yards and a game-record five touchdowns -- to five different receivers.
- BG's head coach, Dave Clawson, is putting the wraps on his fifth season as head coach -- as well as a remarkable rebuilding job. Clawson took over the program in 2009 that had a 22-man senior class, and he led that team to a 7-5 regular season record and a 6-2 in MAC play to earn a berth in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl. BG lost that contest to Idaho 43-42 after allowing a touchdown and two-point conversion in the game's final seconds.
In 2010 those seniors graduation, and the Falcons fell to 2-10. Those 10 losses were the most in program history. But in the following seasons BG began a steady rise, improving to 5-7 in 2011. In 2012 the Falcons were 8-4 overall and were 6-2 in MAC play, losing to Kent State in the next-to-last game of the regular season to finish second in the East Division. BG received a bid to the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman, but lost to San Jose State
- Here are two interesting reads about Dave Clawson. Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated wrote this piece entitled, "Dave Clawson and the art of program building." Bucky Gleason of the Buffalo News wrote this piece entitled, "BG's Clawson takes long road home to WNY" about the native of Youngstown, N.Y.
- One reason for the success of the Falcons over the past few years is the longevity of his coaching staff. Clawson is in his fifth season as head coach at BG, and all three of his coordinators -- offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero, defensive coordinator Mike Elko and special teams coordinator Adam Scheier -- have been there for all five years. Click here to read a story I wrote about the continuity of BG's staff.
- Bowling Green returned all but three starters from last season, losing only the team's starting tackles and its starting running back. In both cases, the positions that were a pre-season concern turned out to be no concern at all.
- Quarterback Matt Johnson wasn't the starter in the Falcons season-opening game. But he took over in the third series against Tulsa, had success, and has never looked back. This season Johnson has completed 217-of-337 passes (64.4 percent) for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. He also is second on the team in rushing with 269 yards and five more scores.
- Sophomore running back Travis Greene replaced his former high school teammate as the Falcons starting running back, and Greene produced the most successful season in school history. Greene has rushes for a school-record 1,555 yards with 11 touchdowns. Greene has nine games with at least 100 rushing yards, including five in a row (he had 96 yards in the home loss to Toledo). Greene also has caught 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Click here to read a story I wrote about Greene replacing his close friend as the Falcons starting running back.
- The wide receiver corps has been hurt by injuries, but players have stepped forward. The Falcons lost sophomore Chris Gallon and junior Jared Cohen to season-ending injuries, and Heath Jackson also has missed games because of injury. Shaun Joplin leads the Falcons with 48 catches for 822 yards (17.1 average), and has three TD receptions. Ryan Burbrink and Jackson each have 27 catches, with Burbrink totalling 433 yards and Jackson 286. And freshman Ronnie Moore has 26 catches for 535 yards, and he leads the team with seven TD catches.
- The Falcons have a secret weapon -- or two -- at the tight end position. Actually, the secret probably is out on senior Alex Bayer, who was named All-MAC third team. Bayer has caught 34 passes for 536 yards, both second-best on the team, and has three TD catches. ... Senior Tyler Beck is more of a blocking tight end, but he has caught 10 passes for 177 yards and two scores. And junior Chris Pohlman is used primarily in short-yardage situations but does have four catches for 88 yards and a TD.
- The Falcons offensive line is anchored by its center. Senior center David "Chief" Kekuewa and senior guard Dominic Flewellyn both were named All-MAC first team and are the leaders of the line. Sophomore guard Alex Huettel is a second team All-MAC choice. Both tackles, Jacob Bennett and Logan Dietz, are first-year starters who have played in every game.
- Bowling Green returned all but two starters from last season, but both losses were concerning. The players lost were defensive tackle Chris Jones, the MAC defensive player of the year who now plays for the New England Patriots, and linebacker Dwayne Woods, a three-time All-MAC pick. Jones has been replaced by committee, while Woods has been replaced as the starter by D.J. Lynch, the team's leading tackler this season.
- The defensive line struggled to stay healthy early in the season, but has been healthy -- and more productive -- recently. The leaders of the defensive line are senior tackles Ted Ouellet, who has seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks among his 29 tackles, and Jairus Campbell, who has 26 tackles. Junior defensive end Bryan Thomas has 33 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss.
- The Falcons have had success on defense even though All-MAC rover Gabe Martin was lost for the season because of injury five games ago. The rover spot also saw Justin Ford miss the last three games, with Brian Sutton seeing extensive action. Junior linebacker D.J. Lynch leads the Falcons with 78 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss, while senior Paul Swan is tied for third on the team with 63 tackles, including 4.5 for loss.
- The Falcons have one of the most experienced secondaries in the country, with three seniors and one junior starter along with upperclassmen as the top back-ups. Senior safety Jerry "BooBoo" Gates is tied for third on the team with 63 tackles, while junior safety Ryland Ward is second on the team with 71 stops. Both have a pair of interceptions. BG also has two senior cornerbacks in Cameron Truss (54 tackles, one interception, six passes broken up) and Aaron Foster (45 tackles, one interception, nine passes broken up).
SPECIAL TEAMS OVERVIEW
- Bowling Green returned its starting punter, placekicker, and both return men, but there were questions on special teams entering the season. In most cases, those questions have been answered pretty positively. BG ranks among the top four teams in the MAC in all four statistical categories; the Falcons lead the league in punt returns with 14.3 yards (including two touchdowns) and are fourth in kickoffs coverage (40.7 yards per kick), punting (37.1 yards), and kickoff returns (21.1 yards).
- Sophomore Tyler Tate has solidified the placekicking situation, a position that has caused problems in the past few years. This season Tate leads the Falcons with 104 points, having made 56-of-58 extra points and 16-of-20 field goals. Tate made a career-best 52-yard field goal at Ford Field in the MAC championship game and has made eight of his last nine and 11 of his last 13.
- Senior Brian Schmiedebusch has handled the Falcons punting for the past three seasons, and he is a two-time All-MAC punter. This season Schmiedebusch did not receive All-MAC honors but averaged 39.8 yards per punt, with six covering at least 50 yards and 19 placed inside the opponent's 20. He has just five touchbacks on 44 punts this season.
- The Falcons have several weapons in the punt return game. In the punt return game, Ryan Burbrink was named All-MAC second team as a punt returner, averaging 8.6 yards per return, including a 67-yard return for a touchdown in the opener against Tulsa. The Falcons have blocked two punts this season, including a memorable block by Paul Senn that he returned for a touchdown against Indiana. Click here to see the video of Senn's block against the Hoosiers.
- Sophomore Anthony Farinella has handled BG's kickoff duties well this season. Farinella has 87 kickoffs this season and averages 60.7 yards per kickoff, including 27 touchbacks. Opponents average 20.7 yards per return.
- The Falcons have several players to watch on kickoff returns. One is speedy freshman Ronnie Moore, who averages 20.8 yards per return with a long of 43. The other is senior BooBoo Gates, an All-MAC kickoff return man in years past who this season averages 23.5 yards per return with a long of 28.
- The Falcons had 10 players named to the All-MAC team, tied for third-most (with Northern Illinois) in the league. BG had three All-MAC first team picks in C David "Chief" Kekuewa, OG Dominic Flewellyn and S BooBoo Gates.
- A total of five Falcons were named to the All-MAC second team. Second teamers on offense included OG Alex Huettel and RB Travis Greene, while LB D.J. Lynch, rover Gabe Martin and DT Ted Ouellet made it on defense and Ryan Burbrink was honored as a punt returner.
- The only Falcon to make the third team was senior TE Alex Bayer.
Click here to read the story of the Falcons MAC championship game upset of No. 16 Northern Illinois Friday. ... Click here to read a column by The Blade's Dave Hackenberg from the MAC championship game.
Check back ... soon I will link to more feature stories written about the Falcons from the past season.