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BOWLING GREEN -- In the eyes of Bowling Green State University football coach Dave Clawson, his program is about to enter one of the most crucial periods of its development.
After posting a 5-7 record this past season, including a 3-5 mark in Mid-American Conference play, Clawson said preparations for the 2012 season have already begun. What's more, he doesn't want his players to focus on improvement in spring ball or over the summer. Clawson said the Falcons already have started a rigorous strength-training program to help them get stronger next season.
"When you talk about the youth of our team, the biggest piece [of the puzzle] isn't the inexperience of our players," he said. "The biggest piece is the relative strength of our players. When you are a freshman- and sophomore-dominated group, you often are playing against players two or three years older.
"For example, in Ohio's two-deep there was around 25 players in their fourth or fifth year in their program -- they were redshirt juniors or older. Were they more experienced? Yes. But I also think those two extra years in the weight program really becomes key.
"If we can make the strength gains we can make, we can become a more physical team."
Clawson said the Falcons showed the program is headed in the right direction after posting a 2-10 record in 2010, which included a 1-7 mark in MAC play.
"We needed to make a jump, so improving by three wins was a positive," he said. "The offense went from 12th in the conference [in total offense] to sixth in the conference, which is a substantial one-year jump -- and we nearly doubled our rushing production from a year ago.
"The defense had a jump from 12th in the conference to eighth in the conference, which is a significant jump. And I think we improved on special teams: Having Brian Schmiedebusch helped our punt team rank first in the conference most of the year, and our kickoff return team was third."
Clawson said that the return of 21 of the team's 25 starters (including punter, kicker, and long-snapper) is a positive, but there are three questions that must be addressed before the Falcons open the 2012 season at Florida Sept. 1.
"The biggest glaring weakness in our program right now is our inability to take care of the football," he said. "This is two years in a row that we've turned the ball over too much -- 28 turnovers. It's hard to win football games when you do that, especially when you don't create turnovers on defense. We were minus-13 [in turnover margin], and that's a hard obstacle to overcome.
"Our record in close games was not good. ... Certainly the Temple game was a good win, but if you flip the one-point games against Wyoming and Ohio, we're getting ready for a bowl game right now. We were encouraged that we made a substantial jump in wins and close losses. But after winning a lot of close games in 2009, it has been two years in a row where we have struggled in close games. And the other big, glaring weakness is our rushing defense. It's hard to be a good defense when you're giving up more than 200 [rushing] yards per game."
The Falcons will begin spring practice on Thursday, March 15, and those spring drills will conclude with the program's Spring Game on Friday, April 13.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.