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DETROIT — Bowling Green State University returns 20 starters from last year, when the team came within a game of winning the Mid-American Conference’s East Division title.
So it would not be unreasonable to expect the Falcons would be the preseason pick of MAC media to win the East this season. But it also would have been incorrect to assume that BG was the top choice, as the media voted Ohio as the favorite.
Ohio took 15 of the 25 first-place votes to win the East and had 164 points overall. While the Bobcats received seven more first-place votes than the Falcons, the point difference was a narrow 10 points. Kent State and Buffalo also received a first-place vote and collected 119 and 101 points, respectively, followed by Miami in fifth with 78 points, Akron in sixth with 53, and Massachusetts seventh with 29.
Bowling Green junior rover Gabe Martin said the second-place prediction did not bother him or his teammates.
"Nobody has ever won a championship in the preseason," he said. "I’d rather be postseason champs than preseason champs."
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson agreed, adding, "I worry more about our expectations for ourselves. We can’t let what other people think, whether it’s good or bad, dictate what we think about ourselves.
"We have high expectations for this season, we think they are warranted, and we like that."
But Clawson was quick to add that he didn’t begrudge Ohio, which has earned bowl invitations in each of the last four seasons, receiving the top spot in the poll.
"Ohio’s a great program," he said. "They have been the most consistent program in the conference the past five or six years, and they have a lot of returning players."
Ohio coach Frank Solich seemed to put as little stock in the preseason poll as Clawson and the Falcons did.
"There’s going to be so many factors that determine who will be in the championship game, because a lot of teams are so close," Solich said. "I think it’s going to come down to a play here or there or a game here or there.
"There are a lot of good teams in the MAC. ... A lot of parity."
Last year the Falcons posted an 8-5 overall record and earned a berth in the Military Bowl. BG finished with a 6-2 mark in league play, good for second place in the East.
Clawson hesitated to articulate specific goals, in terms of number of wins, for this season.
"Any time you do that, it comes back to haunt you," he said. "Our goal every year, and this year is no exception, is to come back [to Ford Field] and play in the championship game in early December.
"If we’re not playing here in early December, I think we will be very disappointed."
The Falcons return nine starters on both offense and defense, numbers no other MAC team can match, as well as two on special teams. Among those returnees are seven All-MAC players, second-most behind Ball State.
Still, senior offensive lineman Dominic Flewellyn said the Falcons are not worried they are not the media’s pick to win the East Division.
"We don’t look at the polls — we’re just working to get better every day," he said. "We’ll just see where we go from there.
"It’s nice to have the recognition. We understand there are some expectations there, because we had a good season last year. But right now we’re just working to see how good we can get."