In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Bowling Green Falcons
2014 Record: 8-6 (5-3 in MAC)
Head Coach: Dino Babers (.675)
Returning Starters: 16/24 (10 OFF/4 DEF/2 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 96th
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 5 v. Tennessee (in Nashville)
- Sept. 12 @ Maryland
- Sept. 19 v. Memphis
- Sept. 26 @ Purdue
- Nov. 11 @ Western Michigan
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE FALCONS
Bowling Green has been right near the top of the MAC standings each of the past two years, finishing in the conference championship game both seasons as the East Division champion. That they’ve pulled off the feat under two different head coaches is equally notable. Under former leader Dave Clawson, the Falcons even managed to upset Northern Illinois right out of a BCS spot in the last year of the system before the College Football Playoff took over:
The Falcons have been a consistent contender during their MAC history, winning 11 total conference championships and two more division titles after joining the league in the first waves of realignment and expansion… in 1952. Six decades of stability have positioned Bowling Green as a potential juggernaut in a conference that has already seen NIU, Central Michigan, and Marshall build sustained excellence over the past decade and a half.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE FALCONS IN 2015
Bowling Green returns basically all the parts to an offense that finished in the top 40 in passing, with two quarterbacks — senior Matt Johnson and junior James Knapke — having been starters (Knapke after Johnson’s season ended early with a hip injury) and capable of leading a veteran offense that returns 10 starters and nearly 92 percent of the total yardage from last year’s team. Under Johnson the Falcons boasted a top-30 offense in 2013, and he should get the nod with Knapke spelling him.
The Falcons lost seven starters and more than half the tackles from its 2014 defense — but that could be a blessing in disguise, as new players become more experienced and prove better than their predecessors. (It would be hard to be worse, given that Bowling Green finished 106th in scoring defense and 115th in yards allowed yet still reached the conference title game.) Tennessee, Maryland, and Purdue provide statement opportunities, and a cross-conference showdown against AAC contender Memphis will also boost the Falcons’ schedule strength. That heavy lifting could make the difference if it comes down to a two-loss Bowling Green versus another mid-major conference champion.
WHAT COULD COST THE FALCONS THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
Northern Illinois isn’t getting any worse in the MAC, standing as a clear roadblock. One or even two losses against Power Five opponents won’t be an automatic disqualifier for the Falcons’ chances, but with three SEC or Big Ten teams on the schedule they will have to win at least one. (And if it against Purdue, merely winning probably won’t be convincing enough on its own.) A very green defense will have to emerge dominant in a hurry for Bowling Green to have any chance of pulling off the upsets over Tennessee and/or Maryland, and that is a tall task to ask out the gate.
A MAC division title is within reach, with most of the stronger teams aligned in the West. Once they reach Detroit and the matchup against the other division winner, a MAC championship is also within reach. But 11-2 is the absolute floor allowable for consideration in the Access Bowl pool, and while double digits in the win column is within reach there are a lot of land mines throughout the schedule to get there before the conference title game
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
Tennessee is ascendant in the SEC East, and the neutral-site game in Nashville will hardly provide much of a neutral environment. If anything, LP Field will be a slightly smaller version of Neyland Stadium. There is no respite with Maryland the following Saturday, and the home opener against AAC contender Memphis is a toss-up between two teams contending for the Access Bowl slot. Add on a trip to Indiana to face Purdue, and the best-case scenario for the Falcons is a 2-2 start with wins over Memphis and Purdue; 1-3 is more likely, with the Boilermakers serving as the only vanquished foe of the month.
Buffalo, UMass, Akron, and Kent State should allow Bowling Green to ease into the stretch run with an undefeated October and a 4-0 start in conference play. November is where things get serious for the Falcons, and they’ll have to ace every test just to win the division and make it to Ford Field on the first weekend of December.
First up will be a home game against Ohio, which should be a win to push the record to 6-3. The trip to Western Michigan the following week is a possible preview of the conference championship, and the Broncos return an equally experienced team that skews in favor of the hosts. Toledo’s visit to face the Falcons in the home finale offers another uncertainty, meaning they could be 6-5 — or 8-3 — before the season finale against Ball State. Assume something in between, which could be good enough to stay ahead of the rest of a weak division. That would put them in the MAC title game against either Western Michigan or NIU; the Broncos are the more likely pick, and it would probably end the same way it did at the beginning of November. Bowl season should be more kind, and the Falcons finish just shy of a 10-win season
PREDICTED RECORD: 9-5 (6-2 in MAC)