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July 4, 2014
Better know your foe: Bowling Green
Nobody would confuse Bowling Green with a football powerhouse, but the Wisconsin Badgers would do well to be careful in their matchup against the reigning MAC champions.
With a new head coach and a new offensive system that looks like a good fit for the existing roster, Bowling Green could cause problems for the Badgers if UW's defense isn't up to snuff by week three.
Let's take a look at what the Falcons are bringing to the table, and what you should expect to see from them on Sept. 20.
Bowling Green's recruiting footprint shouldn't surprise you that much, except for maybe the heavy emphasis the Falcons put on Florida under Dave Clawson. Nearly 27 percent of their total offers over the last four years went out to prospects from the Sunshine state, compared to a 34.9 percent mark in their home turf of Ohio.
All in all the Falcons received commitments from about 10 percent of the prospects they have offered in Ohio and Florida. That doesn't sound like a great success rate, but it seems high enough to make their efforts their worthwhile.
You also have to consider that Bowling Green is competing with Ohio State in their home state and a myriad of other teams in Florida, and as such they almost have to cast a wider net than normal to lock up players from those talent-rich states.
Bowling Green has also performed reasonably well in Michigan, too. In all they have signed 10 players from the Wolverine state over the last four seasons, compared to 66 known scholarship offers. That's good enough for a 15 percent success rate, which again seems pretty good when the Falcons have to compete with three Michigan schools in their own conference for recruits, let alone the heavy hitters from the Big Ten.
Playing a reigning conference champion should usually make for an interesting game, but Wisconsin's game against Bowling Green was made more interesting by Dave Clawson's departure and their subsequent hiring of Dino Babers.
Babers has moved around a lot during his coaching career, but it sounds like coaching for Art Briles at Baylor from 2008 to 2011 made a big impression on him. Babers installed a variation of Briles' offensive system at Eastern Illinois in his first stint as a head coach and had success right away: the Panthers scored 438 points in his first season, an increase of nearly 171 percent from their previous season.
As if that weren't enough, the Babers and the Panthers had an even better offensive season in 2013. The team improved from 7-5 in 2012 to 12-2 in 2013, and the offense scored 675 total points in their second year under Babers. That's a 154 percent increase from year one to year two. I will grant that Eastern Illinois' success came against a lower level of competition, but the end result is still impressive.
As if that weren't enough, Babers is inheriting a lot of experienced pieces from an offense that has already had some success. The Falcons finished No. 30 in offensive S&P+ last year; a measure that looks at a team's success rate, explosiveness, and drive efficiency before adjusting for level of competition.
At quarterback the Falcons get Matt Johnson back for another year after he completed 64.2 percent of his passes as a sophomore. They'll have to work with a new crop of receivers after losing last year's top two targets, so we'll see what Babers can do with the crop of former two and three-star receivers Clawson signed over the last few seasons.
Defensively the Falcons have a few more questions to answer. As a unit Bowling Green's defense was fifth in the nation in scoring defense, but some advanced metrics suggest that that might have had more to do with the teams they were playing. S&P+ ranked Bowling Green's defense No. 39 in the country, but they might have a hard time replicating that performance.
Bowling Green returns five total defensive starters, including four of their front seven. That means their defensive backfield could be a trouble spot if new players don't step up next to free safety Ryland Ward. Babers has said that he wants his defense to be as aggressive as his offense, so we'll see if the Falcons can manage that kind of attack in his first year.
In the end transitions are always hard, but to me this looks like a team with potential to avoid a rough first year under a new head coach. If Babers can run the offense the way he wants to this should be an interesting team to watch in the MAC.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.