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Published: Sunday, 7/1/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Hitting books allows BG to stress hitting

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE COLUMNIST

Now, Dave Clawson can get back to worrying about what other college football coaches worry about. For example, what was his athletic director possibly thinking when he scheduled road games against Florida and Virginia Tech three weeks apart, let alone in the same season?

Bowling Green's Falcons have gone 2-10 and 5-7 the last two seasons with some frustratingly close losses mixed in and, just maybe, it's surprising Clawson's charges did even that well.

When he arrived at BGSU after the 2008 season he inherited a program that compiled a 912 APR score and dipped to a multi-year rolling score of 920. The NCAA reacted to the Falcons' "grade card" that measures academic eligibility and retention by stripping eight scholarships.

Losing 10 percent of your scholarships is a major penalty for any program. In the Falcons' case, it was magnified by losing 22 seniors after Clawson's first season -- BG won seven games and went to a bowl in 2009 -- and the coach had his hands tied behind his back in trying to replace them and build for the future at the same time with a commitment to redshirt as many incoming freshmen as possible.

"We had that senior class, and then, suddenly, we had no numbers," he said. "We took the approach of redshirting and, frankly, that probably added another year to our talent gap. But that was our philosophy for the future."

Clawson knew the situation when he took the job. His detailed strategy to recover from it is one reason he was hired. But even he must have been a bit taken aback by the way the 2010 season played out. Because of the scholarship losses, injuries, and the self-inflicted wound of honoring red-shirts for youngsters, there were a few games when BG suited up barely more than 45 scholarship players.

FBS teams have a normal full complement of 85 scholarship athletes and, factoring injuries, coaches probably have between 70 and 75 available in a given week. You can see how far BG was behind the 8-ball.

Those days are over. The latest APR figures were released by the NCAA 10 days ago, and it represents Clawson's biggest win at Bowling Green. The 2010-11 mark was 970, the best in school history and 22 points higher than the national football average. The multi-year figure was bumped to 951, also a best-ever mark for football.

In Clawson's three years on the job, the Falcons have posted APR scores of 960, 965, and 970. In the four seasons prior to that, a program racked by ineligibilities, defections, and the occasional presence on the police blotter, had scores of 912, 923, 931, and 912, three of which were below the NCAA's cut line of 925.

"The great thing is that this puts an end to that story line," said Clawson, who twice had teams record an APR figure of 992 while head coach at the University of Richmond. "It's over and done with. Our [scholarship] restrictions are over, and we're finally at a point where our focus can be solely on improving as a football team.

"You know, really, there shouldn't be big articles about good APR scores because it should be expected."

Well, not so fast. How did he do it?

"There are three things that define a program, and you can't separate the three if you're going to be a solid team," Clawson said. "The first is academic. You must go to class. There is no compromise. You perform in the classroom or you're not going to play.

"Second, it's no secret there were discipline issues here that had a negative effect on the APR. So our players have an obligation to represent BGSU in a first-class manner. You don't do that, you don't play.

"Only after Nos. 1 and 2 can you focus on No. 3, which is becoming great football players who are part of a great team."

The Falcons will still be young in 2012 -- there will be only 10 seniors -- but Clawson makes it clear he expects significant progress.

"We had 34 freshmen and sophomores last year who played, in some cases started, 10 or 12 games," he said. "We have some talented redshirts coming out. We're low on seniors, but the ones we have are good players and good leaders who bought into what we're trying to do.

"So our numbers are healthy, we have experience, and I'm very optimistic about where we are. I think we have a chance to be very good for a long time."

Foes like Florida and Virginia Tech won't make that easy, but the Falcons already have a big and necessary victory under their belts.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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