DETROIT -- At first glance, being ranked second in the Mid-American Conference's preseason football poll would seem to be a feather in the cap of the Bowling Green State University football team.
Ah, but not so fast. While the Falcons were picked to finish second in the East Division with 91 points, seven more than Miami in third, BG had no chance to catch first-place Ohio. That's because the Bobcats garnered all 17 first-place votes to post a "perfect" score of 119 in the poll of media who cover the league.
"Should we concede the division title to Ohio because the media picked them for first?" Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"[Seriously] I don't think our approach would be different if we were picked first or seventh. This team has a goal and has a focus. We don't post the media vote in the lockerroom.
"Our confidence has to come from what we do, not from what other people think of us."
The media have a fair amount of confidence in the Falcons, thanks in large part to the return of 20 starters from last season's team, which finished 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the league. That returnee total is the highest among the MAC's 13 teams.
But Ohio returns 49 letterwinners -- only Buffalo, which brings back 55, has more in the East Division -- and the Bobcats have played in bowl games in the last three seasons, factors that weren't lost on the poll voters.
"A lot of [the predictions] are based on how you did the year before and how many players you have returning," BG's fourth-year coach said. "On paper, Ohio won the East and has a lot of players back. I'm not surprised they were picked to win it."
Junior quarterback Matt Schilz, who was joined by senior defensive tackle Chris Jones in representing the Falcons at the MAC's media preview held at Ford Field on Tuesday, pointed out that this year's prediction for Bowling Green is far different from the recent past.
"The last two years we weren't picked to do very well, so in that sense we're a team that people are looking out for and trying to beat," Schilz said.
"We have a bunch of players coming back, and that's the reason why we're up there.
"But in this league, it's so competitive, and teams are so equally talented. You need to have discipline, and you have to get better each game."
Jones said the team doesn't need the second-place prediction to be motivated for the coming season.
"As a team, our goal is to win a MAC Championship," he said. "It's nice to see that people are respecting us more.
"But whether we're picked second or seventh, we want to be first. That's what we work for every off-season, in camp, and every week in the season."
The Falcons return 10 defensive starters, several of whom have received national notice for their performances last season. Jones, who led the MAC with 8.5 sacks last season, is on the preseason watch list for the Rotary Lombardi Trophy, which is given annually to the top down lineman in the country.
Senior linebacker Dwayne Woods, who finished seventh in the league with 111 tackles last season, was named to the Lombardi watch list as well as the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's best defensive player.
Both Woods and Jones were All-MAC first team choices last season.
Offensively, Schilz is among seven returning starters after throwing for 3,024 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. Other leading returnees include junior tight end Alex Bayer, who was named to the John Mackey Award, making him a candidate for the best tight end in the nation after he caught 20 passes for 242 yards and a pair of TDs last season. And sophomore Anthon Samuel is on the Doak Walker Award watch list as one of the country's top running backs after running for 844 yards and five TDs in just nine games as a freshman.
Samuel was voted the MAC's freshman of the year last season.
Bowling Green also has a highly regarded special teams performer in punter Brian Schmiedebusch, a first team All-MAC pick last season who is on the Ray Guy Award watch list as college football's top punter.
"I think people look at what we've done in terms of [building] a program, and they see there's a lot of positive momentum going on with Bowling Green football right now," Clawson said.
"We knew we were going to go through two years of low numbers and low experience, and I think right now the program is in great shape.
"We have great numbers and great experience. Our kids have done a great job academically -- our retention rates are high.
"We've been looking forward to this season for a great while."
NOTE: Clawson said BG has lost four players since the end of the school year: TE Zach Steinmetz, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, as well as OL Isaiah Byler, DB Dernard Turner, and WR Michael Allen.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.
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