We’ve experienced a long and relatively harsh winter, some snow in the spring, a long hot summer, but after long last, it is here. It’s time for toe to meet leather, put Bobby P. in the rear-view mirror, and kickoff the 2014 football season on the Hill.
The Hilltoppers decided not to go with a cookie cutter opening game (not saying that Kentucky was that a year ago, but Morgan State or Austin Peay or Murray St…well, you get the point) and have opted to bring in a reigning conference champion in the Bowling Green State University Falcons, who are coming off a 10-4 season a year ago, their first conference championship since 1992 – before a majority of the players playing tonight were born – and punched their ticket to the Little Cesar’s Pizza Bowl, where they lost to Pittsburgh. But, it isn’t all hunky dory in Falcon land.
BGSU is playing their first game under a new head coach – former Eastern Illinois head man Dino Barbers – and the road isn’t the most opportune time to play your first game under a new regime. And, while BGSU is returning their quarterback, Matt Johnson (who threw for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns in his sophomore season last year) and leading rusher Travis Greene (279 carries for 1594 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013), the Falcons will be without the services of leading receiver Shaun Joplin, but FalconBlog writer BJ Fischer told us in our blog swap that this year’s group of Falcon receivers might very well be better than last years, and with a depleted WKU linebacking corps and secondary, BGSU might look to exploit that Hilltopper weakness. Both Johnson and Greene were All-MAC performers a season ago.
WKU also comes into the year bringing back their starting QB, Brandon Doughty, who set a record by throwing for 2,857 yards last season, as well as a leading skill position player in wide receiver Willie McNeal, who caught 46 balls for 599 yards and five TD’s last year, but have a lot to replace in losing Antonio Andrews. But, if history is to repeat itself, Leon Allen is in for a big game.
Both teams come in having lost a lot on the defensive side of the ball. For the Tops, they lost Jonathan Dowling and Andrew Jackson to the NFL Draft, and had Xavius Boyd and Derrius Brooks sign as undrafted free agents shortly there-after. The Falcons, who were ranked fifth in the nation in points per game allowed (just a hair under 16 points per outing), lost five starters from that group, but linebacker Gabe Martin, who missed all of last season with an injury, is back and healthy and will look to regain what the Falcons lost.
The three things I’ll be watching for tonight are as follows:
1.) How will the Tops’ young defense fare against Bowling Green’s veteran and potent offense? And, vise versa with the BGSU D and the WKU attack.
2.) How will adjustments WKU makes (or doesn’t make) at halftime play out in the second half?
3.) Will the Tops’ come out flat?
The last two items are in direct response to how WKU has handled big-time non-Saturday games in the past (i.e. Thursday night against MTSU two years ago, and games this past season against ULL and Troy). Mr. Chad Bishop sees a 35-30 Falcon win, while Hustle Belt, the SBNation MAC blog, sees a 31-21 game in favor of BGSU as well. For me? I say the Tops offense over comes the Falcon inexperience on defense, and the WKU defensive inexperience proves to be less costly, and the Tops hang on to win around a 28-21 margin. All in all, these two teams seem very similar – including throwing in the fact that they’re both located in a Bowling Green and this matchup pits the last two Little Caser Pizza Bowl runners-up against one another.
What will you be looking for tonight? Do you have a prediction? Let us know below or on twitter – tweet us @WavetheRedTowel.