Harris Powers Prolific Bowling Green Attack

Can the Falcons maintain their success against BCS opponents and end Ohio State's winning streak? We shall see Saturday at Ohio Stadium (noon, ESPN-Plus local syndication).

Mid-major is a term writers use to discuss college basketball teams that aren't from the various "power conferences."

The same basic principle applies in college football, although the terms used should be "haves" for those in Bowl Championship Series conferences and "have-nots" for those from the five Division I-A leagues that aren't in the BCS cartel.

But that hasn't stopped some of the have-nots from raining on the parade of the haves. Already this year, three MAC teams have prevailed in head to head match-ups with BCS teams. Northern Illinois stunned Maryland 20-13 in overtime, Bowling Green edged Purdue 27-26 and, this past weekend, Miami (Ohio) obliterated Northwestern 44-14.

Bowling Green will go for a rare two-fer against the Big Ten in the same season this Saturday (noon, ESPN-Plus local syndication) when it tackles fifth-ranked and defending national champion Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.

Tackling college football's big boys is nothing new for the Falcons (3-0), who have won their last six games against BCS teams since 2001. But they also face the unenviable task of playing Ohio State (3-0), which has a nation's best 17-game winning streak on the line. No Ohio-based MAC team has played the Buckeyes within 10 points in the seven games OSU has played against MAC competition since 1992.

"I just told the team we're about to embark on the biggest week in Bowling Green football history, so buckle ‘em up," said first-year BGSU coach Gregg Brandon.

"Every time we're able to beat a ranked opponent it is great publicity for our league. This is a quality conference with some good teams who can play with just about anybody in the country. We have some good players and good coaches. I think we get slighted in our bowl opportunities, but this is the hand we've been dealt."

Brandon knows his Falcons would get more than "great publicity" if they are able to find a way to pull off an upset of this magnitude. In fact, this won't be his first time on the east sideline at Ohio Stadium. He was an assistant for Gary Barnett at Northwestern from 1992-98. He saw NU teams drop three games in Columbus, including a 49-6 shiner in 1997 after the schools had shared the Big Ten title without playing each other the year before.

"It was awful," Brandon said. "We went there in 1997 and they just kicked the crap out of us. We were coming off our second straight Big Ten championship and they just steamrolled us. We did go there in 1992 or 1993 and did OK. It's just a great venue for college football."

Brandon took over as the BGSU head coach last December after Urban Meyer left after two years for greener pastures at Utah. Brandon, 47, played football for Barnett at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs, Colo. He played collegiate at Mesa State and Northern Colorado before serving as an assistant at Weber State, Wyoming and Utah State. He followed Barnett to Colorado in 1999 before accepting Meyer's offer to be the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at BGSU in 2001.

Now, he's 3-0 in his rookie year as a head coach.

"I've been preparing myself for this for 22 years," Brandon said. "I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of great people in this profession so I feel very comfortable with what we're accomplishing at this time."

Brandon made his debut Aug. 28 as the Falcons blasted Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky 63-13. Then came the Purdue win, followed by a 62-3 win over I-AA Liberty. Those lopsided wins have helped BGSU average 50.6 points (second nationally) and 575 yards total offense (first nationally).

Harris Pilots The Ship

Senior Josh Harris (6-3, 238) is one of several talented quarterbacks in the MAC this year. The Westerville (Ohio) North product has even had his name mentioned in connection with the Heisman Trophy at times. He is 16-3 as a starter for the Falcons, confounding defenses with both the run and the pass.

"He just hates to lose," Brandon said. "If you're playing him in a game of pickup sticks, he'll try to beat you. He's also a great student of the game as far as his film work and really studying what opponents do."

Last year, Harris ran for 737 yards and 20 touchdowns and also threw for 2,425 yards and 19 scores. And, for good measure, he even caught a pair of touchdown passes. Those combined 41 touchdowns were an MAC single-season record for one player.

He has picked up where he left off last year. Against Purdue, he was 22 of 40 passing for 357 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Harris delivered the crowning blow against Purdue on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Charles Sharon with 2:08 left on a fourth-and-14 situation. That was one of two fourth-down conversions for Harris on the game-winning 81-yard drive.

"He is a great competitor," Brandon said. "He has really elevated his game. I have challenged him to throw for more completions and he has done it. He used to have happy feet. If the first guy wasn't open, he would just take off. We have tried to get him out of that."

Harris will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, that is for sure.

"The only schools that wanted me as a quarterback were MAC schools," Harris told USA Today last week. "Other places like Ohio State, Michigan State and Pitt talked about having me play other positions. I thought that was a bit of a slap in the face, because I knew I was capable.

"I went to Ohio State's camp and thought I was as good as the other guys there, including (Michigan State's) Jeff Smoker."

Sophomore P.J. Pope (5-9, 217) and redshirt freshman Raishaun Stover (5-10, 205) have formed a fine tandem at tailback. Pope is coming off a 162-yard effort against Liberty, which put him at 261 yards on the year. Stover debuted in spectacular fashion against Liberty. He finished with 94 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries and also had a 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown as well.

"He's a young player, but I like the way he performs when we give him the ball," Brandon said of Stover. "He's a tough kid to tackle -- he has a low center of gravity, he runs hard and he packs a wallop."

The leading receiver is junior Cole Magner (6-2, 183), who has 16 catches for 257 yards and four touchdowns already this year. Magner blistered Purdue to the tune of eight catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. Junior James Hawkins (6-1, 220) has 13 grabs for 265 yards and a score on the young season.

The Falcons welcomed back three starters on the offensive line in tackles Jimmy Williams (6-5, 286) and Robert Haley (6-4, 300) and center Scott Mruczkowski (6-4, 315).

"With that crew, we have been able to develop a timely running game," Brandon said. "We aren't a juggernaut, by any stretch, but Josh and P.J. running the ball has allowed us to use the clock effectively and keep their offense off the field."

Junior kicker Shaun Suisham hit field goals of 47 and 37 yards in the win over Purdue.

Getting Defensive

The Falcons boast eight returning starters on defense. That unit held Purdue to 350 yards (95 rushing, 255 passing) in that landmark win.

"From a defensive standpoint, we've had some problems with the big plays," Brandon said. "We have allowed teams to convert on third-and-long. We have worked hard on correcting that."

BGSU starts three sophomores and a freshman up front. Returning starters there include sophomores Mitchell Crossley (6-3, 250) at end and Matt Leininger (6-3, 281) at tackle.

Two linebackers return. They are junior middle linebacker Jovon Burkes (6-1, 234) and senior wideside linebacker Mitch Hewitt (6-1, 213). Hewitt is third on the team with 16 tackles. They are joined by junior Daniel Sayles (5-11,213) at the strongside linebacker spot.

All four members of the secondary return, boasting a combined 73 career starts. That group includes senior safeties Michael Malone (5-10, 195) and Jason Morton (6-0, 200), senior corner Janssen Patton (6-0, 180) and junior corner Keon Newson (6-0, 184). Newson is BGSU's top tackler this year with 26 stops. He had 12 of those, a tackle-for-loss and a forced fumble in the win over Purdue.

"Keon is a great athlete," Brandon said. "I told him all along I think he can be a draftable corner next year, because he's so talented. Keon, at times, is a little undisciplined. That's what gets him. He just needs to bear down on his techniques and not just rely on his athleticism so much."

Sophomore Nate Fry averages nearly 41 yards a punt.

Squib Kicks

* A year ago, Bowling Green won its first eight games under Meyer to get as high as 16th in the coaches poll and 20th in the Associated Press poll. But BGSU dropped three of its last four games, falling at Northern Illinois, South Florida and Toledo to end up 9-3 overall.

Including three wins at the end of the 2001 season, BGSU had an 11-game winning streak.

* Since 2001, BGSU is 6-0 against BCS affiliated schools, including 4-0 on the road. In 2001, BGSU won at Missouri 20-13, at home against Temple 42-23 and at Northwestern 43-42. Last year, the Falcons stopped Missouri 51-28 at home and won 39-16 at Kansas. The string includes this year's win over Purdue.

* BGSU is 3-7 all-time against Big Ten teams, all on the road. The Falcons are 2-0 all-time against Purdue. This year's win over the 16th-ranked Boilermakers was BGSU's first against a ranked team since a 1972 win over then-No. 18 Purdue in 1972. The Northwestern game in 2001 is BGSU's other win over a Big Ten opponent.

The losses came against Michigan State (1981), Minnesota (1986), Ohio State (1992 and 1997), Wisconsin (1992), Penn State (1998) and Michigan (2000).

* OSU defeated Bowling Green 17-6 in 1992, marking OSU's first game against an Ohio opponent since 1934. Raymont Harris rushed for 176 yards in that victory. OSU then blasted BGSU 44-13 in 1997, marking the first of seven straight years OSU has played an MAC opponent.

* OSU is 17-1 all-time against current MAC schools. Akron got the lone win (12-6) over OSU at the 1894 Ohio State Fair in Akron. OSU has five wins against Akron and Ohio U., three wins over Miami (Ohio), two over BGSU and one over both Toledo and Kent State.

The string of Ohio MAC opponents will end next year, although the Buckeyes will host Cincinnati and MAC powerhouse Marshall instead. Miami (Ohio) is booked for 2005.

* A win would give the Buckeyes an 18-game winning streak, making it the second longest in school history. The current string of 17 straight is tied with a similar streak from 1915-1917.

* The Buckeyes will put their 34-game home non-conference winning streak on the line as well. The last home non-conference loss was to USC in 1990.

OSU's 11-game home winning streak, dating to a 2001 loss to Illinois in the home finale, will also be at stake.

* Two members of the BGSU staff have Ohio State ties. Offensive coordinator and line coach Greg Studrawa was a graduate assistant at OSU in 1997. Tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Troy Rothenbuhler was a student assistant at OSU from 1992-96 and a graduate assistant in 1995-96.


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