Bowling Green running back Josh Cleveland, right, is one of the players that will be counted on to give the Falcons a more balanced attack offensively. BLADE PHOTO
BOWLING GREEN — It almost is like the Bowling Green Massacre never happened at all.
After a historically bad start to his debut season — an introduction that included the program’s two most lopsided defeats since the silent film era — coach Mike Jinks proved first impressions are overrated.
The Falcons rallied from the abyss of 1-8 to win their final three games last year, then cleaned up on signing day. Jinks landed the second-rated haul in the Mid-American Conference, nabbing more three-star prospects (13) in the 2017 class than former coach Dino Babers did in his two years combined (eight).
Can he keep the good vibes going in Year 2?
Here are our best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Falcons:
Best case: 7-5, 5-3 MAC
The jury is in.
This Jinks guy is just the man for the job!
The Falcons carry their momentum over from a year ago, when a midseason identity crisis — then change — gave way to a flicker of faith.
BG still flings it a little. Quarterback James Morgan tosses for 2,600 yards and 24 touchdowns — half of which are devoured by all-conference receiver Scotty Miller — in a nice encore season.
But after their fresh blueprint, the Falcons opt for balance over straight bombs. Jinks confides one of his biggest mistake last year was foisting the Air Raid offense on a team ill suited for heights. “Square peg into a round hole,” he said. This season, a tougher, more physical group takes full advantage of its veteran line, which clears room for 220-pound smasher Donovan Wilson and 176-pound dasher Josh Cleveland.
The defense, meanwhile, continues its climb from awful to adequate to downright solid.
BG splits its tough nonconference schedule and its first four league games — a run of near-toss-up contests against Akron, Miami, Ohio, and Northern Illinois — then snacks on Kent State and Buffalo.
That clinches a fifth bowl trip in six years and sets up the stunner of the MAC season. As a two-touchdown underdog, Bowling Green ends its eight-year drought against Toledo, spoiling the Rockets’ perfect league season and sending the goalposts on a parade up Wooster Street.
What’s more, BG continues to hoard young talent. With Jinks now able to sell results over sizzle, a 2018 class that already includes eight three-star commits in the fold becomes the top-rated harvest in program history.
You can see the Falcons’ next title contender taking form.
Worst Case: 3-9, 2-6 MAC
1876: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” — William Orton, president of Western Union.
2017: “Bowling Green will win the MAC East.” — Anonymous reporter in MAC preseason media poll.
It is unclear which forecast ages worse.
The greatest tribute to Jinks and his staff last season was they never lost the team, the Falcons saving their best for their bleakest hour.
This year, they again stammer early, thanks in good part to an exhausting schedule. BG is smoked at Michigan State and Northwestern, narrowly loses at bowl regular Middle Tennessee, then drops three of its first four MAC games, all against teams picked to finish in the top half of the league.
But this time, the ball keeps fumbling downhill, the team’s spirit fading as the losses multiply. Not even a Week 9 visit to human get-well-card Kent State extracts Bowling Green from its spiral.
Although Jinks continues to recruit well, he enters Year 3 on a lukewarm seat.