BOWLING GREEN - Dave Clawson has brought in some new energy and enthusiasm to Bowling Green State University.
But that's not all the new coach hopes to deliver this fall once the season kicks off on Thursday night when the Falcons play host to Troy University at Perry Stadium.
"I just want to do a great job for Bowling Green and get to the MAC championship game as often as we can and win them," said Clawson, who served as the University of Tennessee offensive coordinator last fall. "I really believe Bowling Green, with our facilities, with our tradition, with our history, with the support we get and where we're located we should be one of the premiere teams in this league.
"We want that to happen as soon as possible."
His wishes would come as a surprise to many in the MAC. The Falcons, coming off a 6-6 campaign under previous coach Gregg Brandon, were predicted to finish fifth in the MAC East division this season based on a poll of the league coaches.
Clawson's team is looking to prove the pollsters wrong.
"Like coach says, 'Nobody rises to low expectations,'•" defensive lineman Kevin Alvarado said. "A winning season is the minimum. The ultimate goal is to win a MAC championship and go to a bowl game.
"We use that [ranking] as motivation, and we work harder. Luckily, the game is not played on paper."
Besides a new coach and coaching staff, plenty of new faces will see action on the field.
BG returns only 11 starters, but eight are on offense. All-MAC quarterback Tyler Sheehan leads the list of players expected to provide production and direction for a team in transition. Sheehan, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, is arguably the most experienced player on the Falcons' roster. He has started 25 straight games.
Despite the coaching changes and a loss of 11 starters from a year ago to graduation, Sheehan isn't counting BG out of the mix for the MAC title.
"Any team can win it, and that's the thing with the MAC conference," said Sheehan, who has thrown for more than 6,000 yards in his career. "The preseason polls you can throw out the window once the first games start because in our conference the ability level is so close.
"It's all about who comes out to play that week and who executes. As far as our conference games, it could go either way."
Under Clawson, the Falcons are expecting to include more running plays in their offensive package. Willie Geter, a 5-8, 175-pound tailback, is expected to play a key role in making opposing defenses think twice about the run game. Geter, who rushed for just over 300 yards in a limited role a year ago, is looking forward to utilizing his quickness out of the backfield in BG's spread attack.
"I love the offense right now," Geter said. "I like the different formations we're running. The offense has us playing in a lot of different positions, and I like running with the ball, of course."
Offensive linemen Shane Steffy (6-3, 290), Ben Bojicic (6-5, 292), and Brady Minturn (6-4, 290) return, giving the Falcons a strong foundation for their passing and running attacks.
Defensively, Clawson is working with a group that has only three returning starters.
But defensive backs P.J. Mahone (5-11, 200) and Jahmal Brown (5-10, 200) and linebacker Jerrett Sanderson (6-0, 203) play with the kind of energy and enthusiasm the coach wants to see on the field.
Mahone is coming off a junior season in which he recorded 95 tackles, tops among all returners.
"I think if we get our assignments down and execute our plays, we should be good," said Sanderson, who produced 68 tackles last fall in his first season at linebacker.
Perhaps the most significant question to answer is how well Clawson, his staff, and the players have pulled together as a team. Clawson admits gaining acceptance from players you didn't recruit can be a challenge.
But he believes the transition has gone well since taking over last winter.
"You adopt them because the second you become the head coach they become your players," Clawson said. "If you wait for a three or four-year cycle where they become all your recruits, that's too long.
"So, I took the job and the first meeting I had with the team I said, 'I didn't recruit you and you didn't choose Bowling Green to play for me, but the only way that this works is I'm going to treat you guys as if I recruited you and you need to treat me and our staff as if these were the coaches you came to play for. And if you do that, this will work.'•"
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