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Could this be the year BGSU Football gets back to the top of the MAC?
That's the hope, actually the expectation, as the Falcons program begins Year 5 under Head Coach Dave Clawson.
Even though last year's crew won 8 games and earned a bowl bid, many had been pointing to 2013 as the season when it would likely all come together for Clawson's rebuilding project at "The Doyt".
The Falcons return 41 of the 51 position players listed on the two-deep chart from their Military Bowl appearance, including 23 on defense.
The D was the best in the MAC last year and should be very good again. The only concern is whether the unit can be as good following the departure of MAC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American DT Chris Jones (drafted by Houston Texans).
Gabe Martin (LB) and Boo Boo Gates (S) headline the returnees as both were First Team All-MAC selections in 2012.
Martin will be joined by Paul Swan and D.J. Lynch as returning starters in the 'backer corps so all should be well there. However, there isn't much depth here in so far as experience is concerned and JUCO Paul Senn will be counted upon to contribute quality reps to take a bit of a load off the top three.
Gates and another senior, Cam Truss (3rd team All-MAC), will lead an experienced defensive backfield that will have an aggregate of 99 starts at the four spots.
I don't see any way this defense isn't very strong again. There are proven veterans all over the field and some key players up front should be back from injuries. In my mind this should be the best D in the MAC again.
On offense, BG was underwhelming last year, especially in the pass game. QB Matt Schilz, a third-year starter, posted mediocre numbers as the Falcons ranked 105th in the USA in passing efficiency. The fact that he was dinged up during the season (unbeknownst to those outside the program) also figured into that equation.
While the entirety of the pass game problems can't be laid at the feet of Schilz, as the team featured an inexperienced and inconsistent receiving corps, it's clear he needs to be better for the Falcons to win the MAC East and get to the Championship Game.
Coach Clawson has said that the QB position battle is "open" heading into Fall Camp with Matt Johnson pushing Schilz for the job.
I think Schilz is the better QB and will retain his job. If he stays healthy I predict a big year from him. However, there's no denying that the pressure is on and his reaction to it will play a big role in the team's success in 2013.
The entire WR group is back and has the potential for a breakout year. Both Chris Gallon and Shaun Joplin are big (6'4" and 6'2", respectively) and have shown the ability to dominate at times. If they can maintain that high level of performance on a consistent basis they'll provide a big boost.
There will be a new look to the RB unit as the team's leading rusher the past two seasons, Anthon Samuel, has transferred to FIU and last year's second leading rusher, John Pettigrew, has graduated.
There are high hopes that Andre Givens could be a superstar in waiting. He was a big time recruit out of Youngstown Hubbard HS and ended up at BG when things didn't work out at Pitt. He has all the tools be a difference maker and, after seeing some playing time in 2012, should be fully prepared to be the main man this year.
Jamel Martin is another highly talented RB for BG. He sat out the last half of the season following a knee injury so he's a bit of an unknown coming into this season.
Senior Jordan Hopgood has been injured throughout his career but the former WR is said to be in good health heading into camp. If he stays that way, he gives Offensive Coordinator Warren Ruggiero a veteran back for third down and short yardage situations.
Another former WR, Travis Greene, moved to RB this spring and showed some potential at his new spot. He's ultra-quick and would obviously be a threat as a pass catcher.
The wildcard in the RB situation is incoming freshman Fred Coppett, a three-star recruit from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He starred for a National Championship high school team (St. Thomas Aquinas) and figures to press for playing time.
The offensive line will have to deal with the loss of tackle Jordon Roussos (graduated) but there is a lot of depth and this unit should be strong.
There is also apparently an opening at LT as last year's starter, Fahn Cooper, is not currently listed on the roster.
Senior guard Dom Flewellyn, who was 3rd team All-MAC and has started 33 games, leads the returnees and could move to tackle with the departure of Cooper. Another senior, Chief Kekuewa, is solid at center and and sophomore Alex Huettel has the potential to be an All-MAC performer at right guard.
I also think the Special Teams may be a pleasant surprise this season.
Kicker Tyler Tate finished the season strong and will hopefully provide BG with a consistent FG option, something they haven't had since 2007.
Punter Brian Schmiedebusch (Ottawa Glandorf) slumped a bit after an outstanding 2011 but I'd expect a bounce back senior season.
In the return game Ryan Burbrink is solid with the punts and Boo Boo Gates is a threat every time he fields a kickoff.
Another huge strength for this team and program is the coaching staff. Led by Clawson, this group has remained largely intact the past five years, including coordinators Ruggiero and Mike Elko. This program is set up for a long term run as a MAC contender and Clawson and company have done it the right way. The team is strong in the classroom and the off-field problems have been minimal.
As for our local contingent (in addition to Schmiedebusch), they have a chance to make big contributions this season.
After appearing in nine games last year as a walkon, Lima Central Catholic product Taylor Royster is now on scholarship and will see playing time in the DL rotation.
Fullback/Tight End/Special Teamer Chris Pohlman (Delphos St. Johns) will continue in those roles this year, backing up Tyler Beck on offense. He has earned his playing time through hard work and toughness and I get the feeling that his role will continue to grow as his career progresses. If you looked up "football player" in the dictionary, the illustration should feature this guy's picture.
Finally, this is a pivotal year for Ada grad Heath Jackson. Last year as a reshirt sophomore injuries limited him to one game. He has yet to reach his potential at BG and will have to have an impressive camp and, most importantly, stay healthy if he wants to see the field much in 2013.
I fully expect this team to be the MAC Championship Game in December after winning its first division title since 2003.
The season kicks off on Thursday August 29th when Tulsa visits Doyt Perry Stadium.
For my interview with Coach Clawson from Tuesday's MAC Football Media Day, click here: http://www.1150wima.com/player/?station=WIMA-AM&program_name=podcast&program_id=newssportsxtra.xml&mid=23506593