So, we are inside of 3 weeks from the opener, and time to start and do some previewing for the upcoming football season. In this post, I want to look at what I think is the biggest make or break area for the team, and that is offensive production. A big part of that is at QB.
I don't mean this to be critical of James Knapke. He took over in a very difficult position in 2014. The entire team was learning a new offense, and Knapke had never played a signficant down at the college level under any system. Dieter played only 9 games with 35 catches and was never healthy. Travis Greene missed 2 games, Coppet missed 1.
So, with all those disclaimers, Knapke just wasn't great. He was 6th in yards per game, but that's misleading because he had far and away the most attempts. He completed only 58% of his passes, threw only 15 TDs (essentially one per game) and had 12 picks. His QB rating, which assembles all that, was 118.4, which would put him well outside the Top 10 in the MAC.
BG finished 5th in scoring offense. This is also just a deadly offense when you are going 3 and out. BG punted 82 times, 2nd in the MAC...in 2015 BG punted 54 times.
Again, I don't mean to be critical, just to say that BG's offense struggled in 2014 and Knapke was below the average QB in the MAC, factually speaking.
So here are a couple things.
First, Knapke might have improved since then. He had a year of practice as Johnson's backup, Babers always said he was doing better, but you can't tell with that guy. He has also had the Spring and this camp. He might be better than he was in 2014 and in fact I would expect him to be better. The question is how much.
Second thing. It isn't all on him. BG's WR corps was decimated by graduation and transfers. Only one has played significant downs at the D1 level. BG also lost one of the best RBs it has ever had, as well as the #3 man. Even if Knapke is a lot better than he was in 2014, he has a lot more question marks in his supporting cast than he did in 2014.
The total, however, even with the very strong offensive line, adds up to a lot of doubt about BG's offensive performance. In addition, BG is putting in another new offense, and even if it is similar it is still new.
I don't think anyone thinks BG will put up the numbers they did last year. The question is, what will BG do in comparison to the 2014 performance? On paper, you would expect having the #5 offensive unit to be the high end of the expectations. It isn't beyond the realm of possibility it could be lower.
What could happen to change that? We could have a much improved James Knapke. The WR Corps--including JUCO guys--would have to be improved while they are being coached by people who are literally getting on the job training. Fred Coppet would have to stay healthy and productive at RB. And the line has to stay health and be very effective.
What could happen to make it worse? Knapke isn't better, the WRs are just average, and Coppet isn't healthy or BG can't get a running game going because teams are keying on it. That could happen, too.
Now, there's one more question that came to mind when I saw today that JD Sprague will not play for OU this year.
That question is this: could James Knapke be the best QB in the East?
OU has either Greg Windham, who played some last year and was not an effective passer, and Quinton Maxwell, a FR who has not played at all. (OU's QBs don't operate in the same offense most of the MAC does).
Akron starts Thomas Woodson, a junior whose passer ranking was 123 in 2015 and just a little better than Knapke's was in 2014.
Buffalo has a battle at the QB position between a grad transfer from Iowa State and a very tall rFR, so there situation is uncertain.
Kent has a three way competition at QB. The returning starter, George Bollas, was must worse in '15 than Knape was in '14.
Miami has Billy Bahl, who struggled a great deal as a FR. He should improve...but how much?
So, the answer is...yes, he very well could be. Other than maybe Rohach (the Buffalo transfer) or a markedly improved Bahl, it is hard to see anyone who is going to be much better than he is.
Anyway, QB is a vital position and we saw that with Matt Johnson over his two championship seasons and that's why the focus was chosen for this post. BG needs help from a lot of guys on offense, but might find the MAC East forgiving enough.