David Briggs: With BG football picked to be worst team in the country, is rebuild still on track?

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Jul. 22—DETROIT — What we see, he sees.

Bowling Green is a bad football team.

In fact, the Falcons might be — as one Mid-American Conference coach dished to Athlon Sports — the "very worst team in college football."

"They're just not good in any way we could see," the anonymous league assistant told the preview magazine.

But what about what we don't see? Scot Loeffler sees that, too.

When I asked him this week if it's time to adjust the timetable for the Falcons' rebuild, the third-year coach stopped me.

"I think we're right on schedule, to be honest," Loeffler said at MAC media day. "We're halfway through the storm. We said that Year 1 and Year 2, we were going to stink, and we stunk. Year 3, we'll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don't know if it's necessarily going to be in wins and losses, but we're going to see the light. Then you're super competitive in your fourth year and you win [the league] in your fifth year."

At least that's the idea, modeled after the blueprint laid by former BG coach Dave Clawson, who deftly shepherded a similarly full-scale rebuild from 2009 to 2013.

In the sequel, does Loeffler have 20-10 vision? Or is he just seeing things?

I have no idea.

That's less than ideal for a columnist to admit in this era of hot-take artistry, but it's the truth. I believe in Loeffler's 30,000-foot vision for reconstructing Bowling Green into a homegrown winner with staying power. Whether he's capable of the on-the-ground execution, only time will tell, with time being the operative word.

When we see the apocalyptic forecasts for this season — Phil Steele ranks the Falcons a cool 130th of 130 FBS teams — it remains worth revisiting the charred-earth landscape Loeffler inherited.

The CliffsNotes version: In December 2015, former athletic director Chris Kingston hired a career Texas high school coach with three years of college experience — none as a coordinator — who had never been to Ohio. That coach, Mike Jinks, then tossed together a staff that included seven first-time Division I coaches, none with Ohio ties, either.

Bowling Green proceeded to win nine games in the worst three-year stretch in program history, and, worse, did so aimlessly. By the end, 30 scholarship players remained from Jinks' three highly-ranked, but slapdash recruiting classes, the last of which counted 13 of 24 recruits from outside of a 450-mile radius.

A fixer upper? No, this was a tear down, with the property missing everything — including the copper wire — but asbestos and a leaking underground oil tank.

"I would never have taken this job unless I had time," said the 46-year-old Loeffler, who in turn promised Bowling Green he would remain there for at least the length of his five-year, $2.6 million deal. "Never. I knew, the university knew, the donors knew exactly where we were at.

"At the end of the day, you can either come in and do this the right way, and you have a chance to build and sustain and keep it going. Or you can go win. You can do what a lot of coaches do. They quick-fix everything, they win, they go make millions of dollars, and the next thing you know, the place is still a mess."

That doesn't mean the cleanup is fun.

"You're going to pull your hair out," Loeffler said.

Last year was especially ugly, alibi or not. The Falcons went 0-5 and were outscored 225-57, a parade of futility lowlighted by a 31-3 loss to Akron, the Zips' lone victory since October 2018.

And this year? They might not be any better.

With more than 70 players carrying freshmen eligibility — remember, last year was a free season — Bowling Green is the youngest team in the nation. And that's even with Loeffler adding seven transfers.

Yes — gasp! — transfers, including senior receiver Austin Osborne (Washington), senior linebacker Bryce Brand (West Virginia), senior cornerback Davon Ferguson (Kansas), and sophomore tight end Tommy Guajardo (Michigan State).

I asked Loeffler what we should make of the veteran arrivals, given his iron-clad commitment to building the program through the recruitment and development of high school players in the immediate region.

Is he losing the faith?

"Not at all," he said. "All the transfers we brought in, we knew inside and out through recruiting. There's only one kid where we didn't know the family and the kid. ... We're still going to build this thing on the high school kid within the four-hour radius and stick to the plan, but you've got to fill your holes. You've just got to bring in the right people."

I get it.

You want your young players to come of age in a competitive culture, and if a few short-term fixes help the Falcons hang around in games this season, that's a long-term benefit.

But, regardless, we'll keep an open mind.

And keep trying to see the forest through the brush of another long autumn.

For now, as the Falcons navigate what we knew all along would be the darkest hour of the rebuild, we can read a little into the results and a lot into the process, the latter of which remains sound.

Loeffler, an Ohio native who had 19 seasons of NFL and Division I coaching experience, pledged to hire a veteran staff with similar credentials and beat a path to high schools within the Bowling Green imprint, and he's followed through on both accounts.

Notably, his first three classes include more than 50 prep recruits from inside of a four-hour radius and, better yet, he said, a lot of prospects who want to be part of something special.

"The mentality isn't even close to where we were at two years ago," Loeffler said. "Whenever I open my [office] drapes, I see guys out there on the field working outside of football time."

Soon enough, he's confident the light will begin to peek through, too.

"At the end of the day, we're going to be trotting 22 dudes out there that have never played," Loeffler said of the coming season. "But there will be moments where you say, 'OK, when those guys get older and we have a couple of more pieces of the puzzle, we're going to be a really good team.' We will see improvement. I don't know if the outside world will, but we're going to."

First Published July 21, 2021, 4:57pm

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