A young, inexperienced Bowling Green State University football team may not have made the best possible choice for an opponent in its season opener.
Instead of facing a team from a lower division, or perhaps a cupcake home game, the Falcons will travel to Alabama to face Troy University. Kickoff at Veterans Memorial Stadium is set for 7 p.m. local time Saturday.
How tough is Troy? The Trojans have won four straight Sun Belt Conference titles. Last year's team posted a 9-3 regular-season record; Troy suffered a season-opening loss at BG, and its other losses came against Southeastern Conference foes Arkansas and Florida.
What's more, the Trojans have won their last 23 home openers.
“Troy is a tough place to play,” Falcon coach Dave Clawson said. “They're a good football program, and good programs play well at home.”
Bowling Green will travel to Alabama with a roster filled with unfamiliar faces, but Troy is in a similar situation. That's especially true on defense, where just three starters are back.
“I know Bowling Green has lost a lot of starters, but all we have to do is look in a mirror to see that,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. “We lost some good players, so I don't even know how some of our new guys will play in the opener.
“I do know that coach Clawson and I are both ready to see a ball game instead of our guys going against each other.”
On offense the Trojans return six starters, including a number of key skill players. Tops on that list is senior wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who last year caught 71 passes for 1,101 yards and four scores while adding 897 yards on kickoff returns. He finished with 2,264 all-purpose yards, an average of 174.2 yards per game.
“Jernigan is electric,” Clawson said. “He's an exciting kick-returner. When he's in the ‘wildcat' at quarterback, he can take an inside zone play and bounce it outside for 50 yards.
“Then they line him up as a slot receiver to match him up with linebackers and safeties. Then they run reverses with him on a speed sweep.”
Jernigan isn't the only quick player on Troy's team; in fact, that quickness allowed the Trojans to score 14 points before the Falcons could recover and claim a 31-14 victory last year.
“The speed is a big part of [what they do],” said senior linebacker Eugene “Champ” Wells. “It's also important to recognize their formations.”
While both offenses feature proficient passing attacks, Blakeney said he doesn't expect the passing to decide the game.
“I believe that whoever can rush the ball best will win,” he said. “Both teams tend to lean towards throwing the ball, and they both have demonstrated that they can.
“I think the key will be who is able to rush the ball better.”
While the focus of many BG fans may be on other early season games — perhaps the Sept. 18 home opener or the contest at Michigan Sept. 25 — Clawson said he has had no problems getting his team to focus on the Trojans.
“Our guys know Troy is really good,” Clawson said. “We made some plays and had some good things happen [last year]. It was never like we had that game in control or we were dominating them physically.
“We found out in the first quarter the speed of their game — it was 14-0 before you could blink an eye. Their speed is hard to prepare for.”
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6481.