Quarterback Omar Jacobs is one of the best players in college football, tailback P.J. Pope is a dynamic multi-dimensional talent and left tackle Rob Warren could be one of the best linemen the Badgers face all year.
2004 by the numbers
Total offense: 506.3 yards per game (No. 2 nationally)
Scoring offense: 44.3 points per game (4)
Passing offense: 338.1 (3)
Passing efficiency: 165.5 (4)
Rushing offense: 168.3 (43)
Touchdowns: 64 – 41 passing, 23 rushing
Third-down conversions: 52 percent; 84 of 162
Field goal kicking: 15 of 21
Kick returns: 18.7 yards per attempt (87)
Punt returns: 13.4 (19)
Omar Jacobs' numbers are awe-inspiring. As a third-year sophomore and first-year starter last year, Jacobs threw for 4,002 yards and 41 touchdowns. He registered a passing efficiency of 167.2 and he completed 67 percent of his passes, connecting on 309 of 462 attempts with just four interceptions. Oh, and he was Bowling Green's third-leading rusher with 300 yards and four touchdowns on 95 attempts.
Jacobs led an offense that set Mid-American Conference records for points and yards per game. He also set MAC records by averaging 358.5 yards total offense per game along with his 41 touchdown passes and 45 total touchdowns responsible for.
And again, he was only a sophomore. His production will always be knocked for coming in a ‘mid-major' conference, but there is only so much water that allegation can hold. Jacobs, if he chooses to forego his senior year, will give USC's Matt Leinart a run for his money as a potential first overall pick in next spring's NFL Draft. Jacobs is currently Scout.com's No. 3 prospect for the 2006 draft, behind Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and Virginia left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
At 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, Jacobs is big and strong. He has a very good arm and can make things happen with his feet, both rushing for positive yards and evading pass rushers.
College football fans are eagerly waiting to see what he can do after a year of experience. Can he match his 2004 numbers? Surpass them?
Bowling Green certainly has the offensive repertoire surrounding Jacobs to give him every opportunity to be successful.
There is little experience behind Jacobs, but redshirt freshman Anthony Turner (6-2, 218) is very talented. In the Falcons' spring game, he completed 17 of 28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. Jacobs, by the way, went 24 of 38 for 441 yards and six touchdowns (though this is also a measure of how far Bowling Green's defense needs to come this fall).
Offensive line analysis
Only two starters return, but they are excellent football players. Left tackle Rob Warren, a 6-foot-6, 296-pound senior, was a first-team All-MAC choice last year and left guard Kory Lichtensteiger (6-3, 300), only a sophomore, was a second-team all-conference pick last year. They form a very formidable left side of the line but will be matched with three new starters.
John Lanning (6-4, 294) is expected to replace All-MAC center Scott Mruczkowski, a four-year starter. Lanning missed all of 2003 with an injury and played in six games last year.
New starting right guard Derrick Markray, a fourth-year junior, is a mammoth, 6-5, 341-pound road grader who played in 11 games last year.
Third-year sophomore Drew Nystrom played in 11 games last season, starting one. The 6-5, 304-pound athlete is expected to develop into a standout on Bowling Green's offensive line and will start at right tackle.
Fifth-year senior Jonathan Culp (6-6, 288) could push for a starting spot at center or right guard. A three-time letter-winner, Culp has played in 32 games, starting three.
The rest of the reserves are very young and inexperienced. Other reserves include sophomores left tackle Kevin Huelsman (6-5, 284) and guards Patrick Watson (6-5, 293) and Edmond Massey (6-3, 289) and redshirt freshmen tackles Aaron Kent (6-6, 265) and Jeffrey Fink (6-5, 278) and guard Julian Shibley (6-7, 260).
Bowling Green starts three wide receivers and will comfortably flex into four-wide sets.
The returning standouts are clearly Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders.
Sharon, a nifty, 6-1, 178-pound fifth-year senior compiled 1,070 yards on 66 receptions last year and caught a school record 15 touchdown passes. He has started 35 games the past two years and boasts 2,422 career receiving yards. Also the team's punt returner, Sharon averaged 11.8 yards per attempt last season and had one touchdown return.
Sanders (6-3, 201), also a fifth-year senior, was second on the team last year with 984 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches and third on the team with 55 receptions.
The Falcons' security blanket, record-setting receiver Cole Magner, exhausted his eligibility last year, after leading the team with 77 receptions. He tallied 746 receiving yards and six touchdowns and finished his career with 215-2,385-18. Magner will be missed, as will two other 2004 seniors, James Hawkins, who was 108-1,483-10 in his career, and Cornelius McGrady (51-515-3).
But Bowling Green has plenty of options in addition to Sanders and Sharon, who should give opposing defenses plenty of headaches themselves.
Upperclassmen Derrick Lett (6-0, 181, Sr.) and Kenneth Brantley (5-11, 196, Jr.) will compete for the third starting spot after each caught one pass in 2004.
Junior Brandon Jones (6-0, 167) will be called upon in four-receiver sets, but promising redshirt freshman Corey Partridge (5-11, 180) and true freshman Luke Alexander (6-0, 170) will push for playing time.
Sophomore Sean O'Drobinak (6-4, 245) will be the starting tight end this season. He played in all 12 games and caught one pass for 13 yards as a reserve last year.
Running backs analysis
P.J. Pope is the ideal running back for Bowling Green's high-octane offense. The 5-foot-10, 216-pound senior has rushed for 2,680 yards and 29 touchdowns on 470 attempts in his first three seasons at BG. He topped the 1,000-yard plateau each of the past two years and also proved to be a dynamic pass catcher. After hauling in 48 receptions for 433 yards as a sophomore, Pope caught 50 passes for 490 yards and six touchdowns last year.
No. 2 tailback B.J. Lane also returns this year. Another senior on this veteran-laden offense, Lane has played in all 38 games the past three seasons, accumulating 188 carries for 1,029 yards and four touchdowns. In 2003 he ran 78 times for 498 yards and a touchdown and caught 15 passes for 101 yards. Last year he went 85-375-2 on the ground and 7-66-0 as a receiver.
Lane is also a kick returner, having averaged 23.1 yards per attempt, including a 93-yard touchdown, last year.
Junior Dan Macon (6-1, 208), sophomore Melvin Cole (5-10, 198) and freshman Martell Mallett (5-11, 197) round out the depth.
Matching up with Wisconsin
This a daunting way for the Badgers to open their 2005 season. Wisconsin will have at least seven new starters on defense come Sept. 3, facing one of the best offenses in the nation. Bowling Green's one area of inexperience — the right side of the offensive line — probably will not be a weakness against a UW team that is breaking in four new starters on its defensive line.
One of the most important matchups of the afternoon will be UW's best defensive lineman, end Jamal Cooper, against Falcon left tackle Rob Warren. Cooper has the athleticism and instincts to develop into an outstanding pass rusher, but Warren may be the best combination pass/run blocker he faces all season. And the Badgers will need to get pressure on Jacobs or it will be a long day for the home crowd.
Wisconsin's linebackers should be athletic enough to contain Pope out of the backfield, but it will be up to the Badgers' green front four to keep BG's offensive line from giving Pope plenty of creases in the running game.
The real challenge for UW, though, will be breaking in three new starters in the secondary against Sharon, Sanders and Jacobs. Potential All-Big Ten cornerback Brett Bell is expected to be back for fall camp; if he his healthy he should be able to substantially slow down one of the Falcons' top options. UW has decent depth and considerable talent in the secondary, but it is largely inexperienced and, heading into the fall, does not match up well with BG's depth in its receiving corps.