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Published: Wednesday, 11/29/2006

Brandon right from the start; Falcons go 4-8 with 27 freshmen

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Brandon Brandon
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BOWLING GREEN - Gregg Brandon spoke the word "rebuild" about his team in March, and then stayed away from that remark for several months. Caught up in the long hours of Bowling Green State University's season, at one point 3-1 in the Mid-American Conference East, at times he was probably able to forget the prediction.

But the Falcons lost five straight games to end the season, including a pair to two of the worst teams in the country. They finished 4-8 while playing 27 freshmen, fulfilling Brandon's prophecy.

Yesterday Brandon said he knew with the challenge he faced replacing offensive talent, among other things, from 2005 it would be difficult to succeed. So armed with that realization, he would like to start preparing for 2007.

"The negativity that came out of this season as a result of a losing record, I'm not dwelling on it," Brandon said. "There were a lot of good things that we accomplished. I didn't want to go into the season and call it a building year, but that's what it was. I think we were fortunate to win some of those early games, as young as we were."

It was BGSU's first losing season in six years and Brandon's first as head coach. The first-time players (along with the veterans and coaches) were not able to stand up to the pressure of 12 games without a bye and eight games away from Perry Stadium.

"We got exposed," Brandon said. "Will that make us better down the road? Absolutely. They got big-time battle experience."

The Falcons' schedule had its tough points, but they weren't able to take advantage of some teams having down years. According to jhowell.net, a college football historical Web site, BGSU has never played two 11-win teams until this season (Ohio State and Wisconsin). But until this year, the Falcons had also never lost to two 10-loss teams (Temple and Miami).

The Falcons were in the bottom half of the Mid-American Conference in scoring offense and scoring defense as well as passing efficiency. But special teams, an area perhaps taken for granted on other teams, was BGSU's biggest weakness.

The Falcons were ranked last in Division I-A in net punting, averaging 27 yards, and 110th in kickoff returns. Four of Alonso Rojas' punts were blocked, and as the season went on, he shanked nearly as many as he punted cleanly.

Recruiting kicks into full gear now and the Falcons are focusing on running backs, linebackers, and defensive backs. Former running back Bobby Thomas is not expected to return after missing this season because he was academically ineligible. The staff is also looking at junior college kickers to handle kickoffs and give some competition to Sean Ellis.

"We're not even talking about kickoff coverage if our kicker gets the ball into the end zone or out of the back of the end zone," Brandon said.

"Our punter and kicker are going to be good players. I don't want to invest more scholarships in those positions right now. Rojas will develop. I think he'll be OK. Ellis will too. He's just got to grow up, mature, get stronger."

Both kickers, true freshmen, will visit a sports psychologist in the offseason. Brandon will work on reinstilling poise throughout the team.

"This team really lacked confidence, you could see that from week to week," Brandon said. "It's my job to get them confident. It was hard to put them in successful situations this year because a lot of them start, and they weren't ready to start, so they got burned."

Brandon expects a three-way competition in the spring at quarterback, as starter Anthony Turner was inconsistent. He will also look at Tyler Sheehan, who played in four games, and Anthony Glaud.

"Whoever the Bowling Green quarterback is, I'm asking that kid to put us in position to win a championship and go to a bowl game," Brandon said. "In the spring, they're all going to get an opportunity to compete and win a job."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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