BGSU could not get anything going offensively in its opener and lost, 27-14, at Florida. It bounced back with a 21-13 victory over Idaho, but suffered back-to-back road setbacks at Toledo (27-15) and Virginia Tech (37-0). The Falcons regained their footing the following week with a 48-8 rout of Rhode Island. They gained a reputation as the best defensive team in the conference as they reeled off five more wins in a row by holding Akron, Miami-Ohio, Massachusetts, Eastern Michigan and Ohio to an average of 7.8 points per game. BGSU had a shot at capturing its first league title since 1992, but it came up short in a key bout versus Kent State and fell, 31-24. It closed out its regular season with an easy, 21-7, decision over Buffalo, but San Jose State was too much to handle in the Military Bowl which led to a 29-20 Spartans' win.
The Falcons' early season visits to Florida and Virginia Tech had them tuned up for their run at the MAC Championship. Clawson improved to 16-16 in MAC games for his career, but still has a 22-28 record at the school. He previously coached Fordham (1999-2003) and Richmond (2004-2007) at the FCS level and also served as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008.
OFFENSE: BGSU's excellence on defense made it a wise choice to play conservatively with the ball. It finished just 91st in total offense (365.5 yards per game) and 92nd in scoring offense (22.9 ppg), but had an above average turnover margin (.31). Pounding away with the rushing attack will not be as easy to do this season without Anthon Samuel, who left school for personal reasons before transferring to FIU. Samuel was the 2011 MAC Freshman of the Year and gained 1,842 yards over his two seasons. Of the returners, sophomore Andre Givens and redshirt junior Jamel Martin are the top two candidates to become the primary ball carrier, but true freshmen Marcus Levy and Fred Coppet are both highly regarded recruits who could see action right away.
With the exception of the right tackle position, the rest of the offensive starters from 2012 are back. Senior quarterback Matt Schilz has amassed 7,832 yards and 50 touchdowns in his BGSU career, and is currently on a streak of 32 consecutive starts. Sophomore scrambler Matt Johnson may be called upon if Schilz fails to improve his decision making (39 career INTs).
Chris Gallon (720 yards, 6 TDs, 54 receptions) and Shaun Joplin (639 yards, 4 TDs, 40 receptions) were the two most frequent targets in the passing game for the team in 2012. Senior tight end Alex Bayer (410 yards, three TDs) also got into the mix in the aerial attack.
"The number one thing (that comes with experience) other than the knowledge of the offense and defense is our strength numbers," said Bayer on the high number of returning starters. "There are so many guys who are stronger than I've ever imagined possible on this team. That is going to help us the trenches tremendously. Cohesiveness is going to be really good this season."
Senior guard Dominic Flewellyn earned third-team All-MAC honors last season thanks to his ability to clear running lanes. He is going to be a key player for the offensive line that also brought back three other starters.
DEFENSE: The Falcons' defensive squad that stifled league rivals last season could be just as dominant in 2013 with nine starters returning. Replacing the graduated Chris Jones (12.5 sacks) on the defensive line will not be easy because he was such a big factor as a pass rusher, but defensive ends Charlie Walker and Bryan Thomas have both developed into quality linemen.
Sophomore Gabe Martin was named to the first-team All-MAC in his inaugural campaign as a starting linebacker in 2012. He paced the team with 70 total stops which he accompanied with 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and an interception.
The secondary may have a harder time keeping the opposition covered without Jones's consistent bombardment of the quarterback. It does return all four starters including the team's interception leader, Jude Adjei-Barimah, and senior strong safety Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Falcons were really hurt by a lack of production in the return game last season, but that problem was very possibly solved over the offseason. Coppet will be competing for the starting tailback job, but his speed and elusiveness also make him a valuable asset as a return specialist.
Senior punter Brian Schmiedebusch has a powerful leg with 18 punts that traveled 50 yards or further last season. He also placed 24 of his punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Sophomore kicker Tyler Tate had a decent rookie season in 2012, connecting on seven of his 10 field goal tries and five of his six extra point attempts.
OUTLOOK: BGSU was picked to finish second, behind Ohio, in the East Division at the MAC's annual Football Media Day.
"Regardless of the polls, we have high expectations for our team and our program," Clawson said. "We embrace those expectations and we look forward to playing it out on the field."
The Falcons will not have to duel the Gators and Hokies again, but they only have one FCS opponent lined up for 2013. They will begin their season at home against a very tough Tulsa squad and have a difficult league battle the next week at Kent State. BGSU then exits conference action to matchups at Indiana and versus Murray State before hosting Akron and UMass. It will play its final non-league tilt at Mississippi State and rounds out the schedule with Toledo, Miami-Ohio, Ohio, EMU and Buffalo.
The loss of Samuel on the offensive side of the ball will be easier to address than the void left by Jones's graduation. The Falcons seem to be heading in the right direction under Clawson, whose team may have been underrated at the conference's media day.