If it’s possible to sustain momentum over the course of an entire offseason, then Bowling Green is kicking off its season at just the right time.
The 2016 season was a disaster for the Falcons, right up until the final three weeks, that is. After losing seven straight and eight of nine, Bowling Green rattled off three consecutive wins to close the season and give first-year coach Mike Jinks plenty of optimism headed into year two in the program.
Whether any of that momentum actually carries over will be clear Saturday as Bowling Green opens its season with a noon kickoff against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.
“That momentum kind of carried into spring football, we had a good recruiting class and then we’ve had a great fall camp,” Jinks said Monday. “We’ve stayed relatively healthy and that’s always important this time of year, and really just excited about the opportunity to go up to East Lansing. They’re a quality football program and I have the utmost respect for Coach (Mark) Dantonio and what he’s done throughout his career and we look forward to the challenge.”
What makes this challenge unique is the fact both teams are coming off seasons they’re not exactly used to having. Michigan State, of course, went 3-9 a season after reaching the College Football Playoffs. It wasn’t quite as drastic a drop for Bowling Green, but it was far from what the Falcons have come to expect.
Before finishing 4-8 in 2016, Bowling Green had played in four straight bowl games while reaching the MAC championship game three consecutive years and bringing home a pair of conference titles.
But Dino Babers left to take over at Syracuse after the 2015 season and the transition to Jinks and his staff was rocky. However, instead of crumble, the Falcons found a way to turn it around. An awful defense that twice allowed 77 points in a game early in the season started to strengthen and gave up only a total of 26 points over the final two games.
Add in the progress of sophomore quarterback James Morgan, who threw for 335 yards and five touchdowns against Toledo, and the Falcons feel the late surge is a sign of things to come.
“It was a great confidence boost, not just for the kids but the coaches as well,” Jinks said. “Somewhere in that journey we found our identity and who we wanted to be and what fit our particular skill set at that point in time.
“Last year’s finish was huge and we were able to take that momentum into recruiting, spring football and fall camp. I’m excited to see these guys go out and execute.”
Morgan’s progress was a big reason for Bowling Green’s improved play down the stretch. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman and threw for 2,082 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, he did have 15 interceptions, something Jinks puts on himself.
“We really took a lot off his plate late in the season,” Jinks said. “Early on, I take the blame for that for probably asking the kid to do too much. I think in the long run, we and he will benefit from that.
“But at the time, it was a lot that we were asking him, and toward the end of the year we took some of it off. … He was efficient throughout the last few games of the season.”
Bowling Green at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Sept. 2, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Line: Michigan State by 18