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Mid-major Report: Bowling Green looks to continue strong start against Indiana

Matt JohnsonMatt Johnson (11) and the Falcons have knocked off Tulsa and Kent State this year. (Frank Jansky/ZumaPress.com)

It's been 21 years since Bowling Green last won a MAC championship, but if the Falcons continue to play defense the way they have in their first two games, coach Dave Clawson and company might be poised to make a charge. Bowling Green has held Tulsa and Kent State, both 11-win teams last year, to a combined 29 points and 575 yards in getting off to a 2-0 start.

While the Falcons have yet to prove themselves against a big-time major-conference program, they have rolled impressively through a very important two-game stretch. Fr a team hoping to make major strides under Clawson, the next step is to have a good showing against Indiana, which looked shaky at best in a loss to Navy in Week 2. The Hoosiers' offense is potent under coach Kevin Wilson, but their defense is prone to giving up yards in chunks -- which should mean that there will be opportunities for Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson, who completed 19-of-25 passes for 357 yards and two touchdowns against the Golden Flashes in a 41-22 win last Saturday.

"Matt just executed the offense very well," Clawson said during the MAC teleconference on Monday. "He's made some plays with his feet that have really helped us. That's a dimension I think he's given the offense that maybe we didn't have as much of or what we needed. We're running our offense. We haven't adjusted it much or changed it with him starting."

Indiana's up-tempo attack could cause problems for Clawson's defense, which is better suited up front to face ground-and-pound type offenses. But the MAC is a fast league, and if the Falcons are able to keep the Hoosiers in check, it will bode well for future games against Toledo (Oct. 26) or Ohio (Nov. 12).

The Falcons' schedule sets up well for a run through the conference. The aforementioned games against the Rockets and the Bobcats come at home, and Bowling Green should be favored against MAC rivals Akron, UMass, Miami (Ohio), Eastern Michigan and Buffalo. The Falcons don't need to beat Indiana to prove they're a contender in the MAC, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

"This will be a very big challenge for our defense," Clawson said. "We're going to find out a lot more about our defense this week because this is certainly a different style than we've faced. We're on the road in a Big Ten stadium playing against a Big Ten football team. These guys move the ball against anybody."

Since 2009, with Clawson at the helm, Bowling Green has finished third, fifth, fourth and second in the MAC's East division. A first-place finish in 2013 would round out the deck quite nicely.

Three up

Utah State QB Chuckie KeetonKeeton might not get the chance to make the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony in December, but that doesn't mean he won't put up Heisman-quality numbers anyway. The junior turned in another dazzling performance in 52-20 defeat of Air Force, passing for 360 yards, rushing for 77 more and having a hand in five total touchdowns. In his last seven games, Keeton has completed 72 percent of his passes with a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has also averaged 290 passing yards and 60.5 rushing yards per game.

Keeton has been efficient and explosive, and now he'll have the opportunity to showcase his stuff on national television. The Aggies have games against USC (Sept. 21) and BYU (Oct. 4) before a conference battle against Boise State (Oct. 12) that could end up determining the winner of the MWC's Mountain division.

Ball State: Coach Pete Lembo's team hasn't been challenged thus far, and unless North Texas or Eastern Michigan poses a surprising threat, the Cardinals should stroll into a Sept. 28 home date with Toledo at 4-0. That will begin an important three-game stretch during which Ball State will also play Virginia and Kent State. Those games should reveal a lot about the Cards and whether they're ready to emerge as contenders in the MAC West.

Through two games, Ball State has looked the part, scoring a combined 91 points. Wide receiver Willie Snead (14 catches, 228 yards, two touchdowns) is also on his way to another monster season. Snead finished with 89 catches, 1,148 yards and nine scores in 2012.

UTSA's offense: In Week 1, Mississippi State scored just three points against Oklahoma State after squandering good field position and a number of opportunities. The Roadrunners may not have fared any better against the Cowboys in the win column, but UTSA's offense was far more impressive. Larry Coker's team put up 35 points on Oklahoma State (mostly in the second half) and quarterback Eric Soza threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns. While seemingly of little significance, these types of performances are big for teams like the Roadrunners.

"They're putting points up on everybody," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team plays UTSA this week.

Getting an offense humming against a power-conference foe -- garbage time or not -- pays dividends later in the season. In their first year in C-USA, the Roadrunners are looking to shape up any way they can before conference play kicks off.

Three down

Florida International: When FIU fired coach Mario Cristobal last December and replaced him with former Illinois coach Ron Turner, a lot of people were skeptical. It seemed as though Cristobal was building something despite his 3-9 finish in 2012; FIU had made bowl games in each of the previous two years and won the Sun Belt in 2010. Now in C-USA with a new coach, things aren't looking so great for the Golden Panthers.

FIU has scored 10 points in its first two games and was shut out against UCF on Friday night. The offense is averaging 61 rushing yards and 111 passing yards per game (yes, small sample size), and generally looks lost on the field. FIU draws Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. If the Golden Panthers struggle against a MEAC foe, they could be in for an especially long year.

Georgia State: Why did the Panthers feel the need to move to the FBS? Competition-wise, your guess is as good as mine. The team has lost its last six games to FCS foes and now is staring down the barrel of West Virginia on Saturday. The Sun Belt is a league on the upswing, and Georgia State has a steep learning curve, but losses to Samford and Chattanooga are never a good look -- particularly when the Panthers appeared to be clearly outmatched in both contests.

Central Michigan: It took a field goal with three seconds remaining to keep the Chippewas from starting the season 0-2 with a loss to New Hampshire. They escaped 24-21, but while a win is a win, Central Michigan needs to answer some key questions. Coach Dan Enos still doesn't have a quarterback (he'll be on his third in three weeks on Saturday). The defense, which has allowed an average of 424 yards per game, has been porous. The Chips made the Little Caesars Bowl last season after back-to-back 3-9 finishes, but two games into 2013 last fall is beginning to look as if it were an anomaly -- not the start of a trend.
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