Senior quarterback Tyler Sheehan will lead the Falcons offense in 2009 after a fairly impressive season in 2008. Sheehan finished with a 66.8 completion percentage while passing for 2,610 yards and 20 touchdowns. The third year starter's size (6-4 227) is perfect for a pocket quarterback, but he can also get outside the pocket and score on the ground as seen by his 237 rushing yards and 7 rushing TD's in 2008. Without much talent surrounding him, Sheehan was no doubt the most impressive player on offense for Bowling Green last season and this year doesn't seem like it will be much different.
Chris Bullock was the starter at running back for the majority of games in 2008, but carries were split among three or four players throughout the majority of the season. In 2008, the Falcons didn't have anyone rush for more than 400 yards, but 3 players rushed for over 300 yards. With this said, going into 2009 junior Willie Geter seems to have the most promise to be a star. Geter has averaged 6.1 and 6.7 yards per carry in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively, so he could be a big play threat in the game against Mizzou. Another year of spring practice, summer weights and summer practice for the three returning rushers (Geter, Bullock and Eric Ransom) should mean that the running game of the Falcons will be improved.
Four wide receivers from last year's 6-6 team are gone, including two starters. This doesn't sound good for the Falcons because they didn't have much to start out with, and they lost a lot of their experience. One receiver that may have an impact next season is senior Freddie Barnes. He had a great sophomore season (82 receptions, 962 yards, 9 TD's) before battling through a number of injuries in his junior season. If fully healthy in his senior season, Barnes could be one of the top receivers in the MAC. Chris Wright was also very impressive in his sophomore season, but tailed off in 2008, his junior year. Who will show up at wideout as a reliable target for Sheehan this season? There is considerable talent there, but no one has produced in the past so it is pretty much a guessing game. Tight end/H-back is pretty solid with Jimmy Scheidler who caught 7 TD's last season and will be good again inside the red zone this season because of his height (6-4).
The most suspect part of the Falcons' offense will be the offensive line. Only one player, left guard Shane Steffy, will be returning to his 2008 position. Moving from right tackle, Brady Minturn will be the new left tackle in 2009. He is a lightweight compared to most left tackles, weighing in at only 288 pounds, so the new and improved pass rush of the Tigers could find success in this game. One big thing to worry about for the Orange and Brown will be the lack of depth and experience on the line. If the Falcons run into some injury problems, they could have to run with a patchwork offensive line, which can be very devastating.
All 4 starters from the defensive line must be replaced in 2009, which could be a hard task for the Falcons. The biggest losses are former all-MAC DE Diryal Briggs (graduated) and Mike Ream (kicked off team) and there isn't much size to replace them with. Starting at defensive tackle will probably be 257-pound Andrew Johnson and run-stuffer Nick Torresso. Johnson performed pretty well last season in limited time (3 sacks) at his current size, so he could be a stud if he gets bigger and stronger. Defensive ends Darius Smith and Angelo Magnone are ok, but have not produced even average numbers at the college level so far. This is probably the worst unit on the team and a huge Missouri offensive line could dominate them. Blaine Gabbert could gain some much-needed confidence facing this defensive front.
The star of this group is senior Jerrett Sanderson, a former safety who weighs in at 195 pounds (lighter than Missouri kicker Tanner Mills). Despite his lack of size, Sanderson made 68 tackles and 8 pass deflections last season. The other two starters for the Falcons are also seniors. Cody Basier has good size, which will help against the run, but he isn't going to make any incredible plays. He is a solid player, which is what Bowling Green needs. James Schneider had a broken hand last season, but should add much needed raw talent to the linebacking corps. He could be a surprise for the team this season after having a successful junior college career. This group has experience and talent, so the Tigers could have some problems with their speed and athleticism.
Senior safety PJ Mahone is no doubt the star of this entire team. He recorded 95 tackles and 3 interceptions to go along with some punishing hits last season. The other returning starting safety will be Jahmal Brown, a tough-nosed tackler who likes to make a lot of tackles. Starting cornerbacks Roger Williams and Robert Lorenzi are very small and could struggle against Missouri's big receivers Kemp (6-4) and Alexander (6-5). Even though they are seniors, Williams and Lorenzi do not have much experience so Blaine Gabbert could have a field day against this defense.
Once again, I compare this to the Buffalo game of a year ago, a game that the Tigers won 42-21. I look for this game to be the same kind of result as last year, but it will be much more important fort the Tigers because Gabbert and other young players will get to refine their skills against a MAC team.