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The Falcons have not missed a beat since Urban Meyer handed the baton to Gregg Brandon two years ago. The only missing element is a MAC championship. Bowling Green has compiled a 20-6 mark the last two seasons and won back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history. A year ago, Falcon faithful were bemoaning the end of the Josh Harris era until his successor, Omar Jacobs, put together probably the best season of any first-year starting quarterback in MAC history.
BG returns just 12 of 22 starters and lost four All-MAC defenders. Defensive coordinator Tim Beckman called last year's 49-41 loss at Toledo "the worst feeling I have ever had as a coach." In that game, the Falcons blew a 27-7 halftime lead and a chance to go the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green was able to rally, however, and beat Memphis 52-35 in the GMAC Bowl.
With Marshall departing the MAC East Division, Bowling Green has shifted back to the East, setting up a showdown when the Falcons travel to Oxford to tangle with defending division champion Miami in mid-November.
Operating from Bowling Green's one-back system, Jacobs ranked fourth in the nation in passing efficiency last fall, throwing for 4,002 yards and 41 touchdowns. He led the MAC in every passing category and tossed four or more touchdowns in eight of 12 games. Moreover, Jacobs had just four interceptions in 462 pass attempts and captured 2004 MAC Offensive Player of the Year and GMAC Bowl MVP honors.
If you're thinking defenses can key on Jacobs, forget it. Senior P.J. Pope became only the second running back in BG history to register back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and he's back to make it three in a row. Pope scored 15 rushing touchdowns and six receiving.
Two highly effective fifth-year seniors return at wide receiver. Charles Sharon caught 66 passes for 1,070 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Steve Sanders snared 55 balls for 984 yards and six scores a year ago.
The left side of the line is in good shape with the return of All-MAC players Rob Warren and Kory Lichtensteiger. Warren, a first-team tackle, and Lichtensteiger, a freshman All-American, played unheralded roles for the Falcons offense, which averaged mind-boggling totals of 44.3 points and 506.3 yards per game.
Bowling Green usually rotates eight or nine defensive linemen, and that helped limit opponents to 132.4 yards per game on the ground. Three starters return -- nosetackle Mike Thaler, end Devon Parks and Brad Williams, who moved from tackle to end. Senior Monte Cooley has the inside track on a starting position at Williams' old tackle spot.
The Falcons have played six linebackers in recent years. Senior Teddy Piepkow is the lone starter returning. Senior Jamien Johnson and junior Terrel White are the likely starters, with fifth-year senior Lavelle Sharpe pushing for time.
The Falcons led the MAC in pass efficiency defense last season, and they should be strong once again with five seniors roaming the secondary. Corners Jelani Jordan (MAC-high 15 breakups) and Terrill Mayberry both return, and veteran subs Tim Arnold and Mike Crumpler will get the first chance to earn starting spots at free safety and strong safety, respectively.
Fifth-year senior Nate Fry returns to handle the punting chores. Another fifth-year senior, Joe Timchenko, will replace Shaun Suisham, who led the MAC in scoring (for a kicker) last fall with 111 points. B.J. Lane (kickoffs) and Sharon (punts) are established return men.
Circle Tuesday, Nov. 15, on your MAC football calendar because that's day the East Division race probably will be decided. Bowling Green plays at Miami on ESPN2. The Falcons are hungry to win a MAC championship, after a second-half meltdown at Toledo cost them a shot at the title last season. BG has plenty of offensive firepower, including one of college football's most prolific quarterbacks in Jacobs. The right side of the line is the only concern on offense.
Will the Falcons' defense be able to limit big plays and protect the lead? Bowling Green outscored its opponents 184-34 in the first quarter last year. The secondary should be tight with five seniors. The development of the linebacking corps probably will determine the quality of this defense.