Falcons awed by Rose Bowl, not intimidated

On Saturday, Bowling Green State University will become the first Mid-American Conference school to play at the Rose Bowl since the NCAA Division I FBS era began in 1978.

The Falcons will take on UCLA for the first meeting ever between the two schools, kickoff at 2:30 p.m.

This will also the first time ever UCLA has hosted a MAC school.

The Falcons open a season against a Pac-12 opponent for the first time since heading to Eugene to open the 2018 season against the Oregon Ducks.

In addition, Bowling Green is playing on a grass surface for only the second time in the coach Scot Loeffler era. BGSU also played on grass in the 2021 season opener at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. Saturday marks just the third time in over 51 games that Bowling Green will play on a grass surface.

The grass field may not change too much, but are the Falcons going to be intimidated by the historic stadium and its 92,542-seating capacity? This year, the Rose Bowl is celebrating its 100th year of hosting some of the world’s major events.

“It gives me goosebumps,” Loeffler said. “The hair stands up on your neck and your arms. It’s an unbelievable venue. Always has been, always will be.

“I think it’s my favorite bowl game, hands down. Whenever all the kids that were my age or your age, we were playing football on a New Year’s Day, imagining that we were going to be in the Rose Bowl.

“And that is one special game. And I think our kids are going to have a great, great opportunity to play a very good football team in unbelievable venue,” Loeffler continued.

Loeffler says his players have been in this situation before, playing a power five school in front of tens of thousands of fans.

“I was more concerned about that in all actuality last year and our Notre Dame experience, just because of the amount of youth,” Loeffler said. “Last year in particular, opening up against Tennessee with all 18- and 19-year-old kids. I think this team is much more mature.

“I don’t think a stadium or a crowd or what not is going to phase them one bit whatsoever. They’ve been there, they’ve done it, and we just need to go out there and worry about the important things, worry about what we can control, and play our tails off.”

UCLA finished 8-4 in 2021. Its 6-3 conference record was good for a second-place tie in the Pac-12 South.

BGSU finished last year with a 4-8 overall record and 2-6 mark in the MAC. That included a 14-10 win over Big Ten Conference member Minnesota and a season ending 21-10 win over MAC foe Ohio.

One of the key differences between last year’s team and this year’s is three of five starting linemen are transfers with size and playing experience on their resume.

Even better, Loeffler said, is that the returning linemen have more experience.

“(It’s) very important and all those guys are going to play,” he said. “Guys that played last year are going to have a vital role in this offensive line.

“We had a bunch of freshmen out there last year and sophomores that needed to actually have another year in the weight room.

“This gives us the opportunity to redshirt some and get them stronger. And we knew that for the longevity of this program we needed to do this, and we needed to also not go down the transfer portal last year so we could have some depth, build our lines for the future.

“So, this was imperative to our team, not only for this year but also for longevity,” Loeffler continued.

As a result, Loeffler has more confidence in his offense.

“(It’s) much better, hands down,” he said. “Whenever you’re rebuilding and guys are in and out of the program, I wasn’t a lot of fun, to be quite honest with you.

“Our first two years here, our players laugh about it all the time. The guys that have made it through my tenure here, we laugh. I’m probably a totally different person than I than I was then and now I’m back to being super positive, upbeat.

“I’ll still address problems and still stern in addressing problems, but there was nothing fun about the first two years at all. Nothing. Zero. And I hope to goodness that I never have to go back and experience totally rebuilding a program from absolutely ground up.”

Leading the BGSU defense is preseason All-American linebacker Darren Anders, who was No. 8 in the nation in 2021 with 10.3 tackles per game.

Anders is one of three players in all of FBS over the past two seasons to rank in the top-15 nationally in tackles and the only one who returns to the college football ranks in 2022.

Loeffler has confidence in this year’s defense, simply because they is maturity.

“They’re old, which is good. There’s enough youth in there that has talent to mix with our age. We started this thing a little bit different than regular MAC schools,” Loeffler said.

“We were going to try to build the defense, very similar to what (former BGSU coach Dave) Clawson did. I think our defensive front will be as competitive as anyone in the MAC.

“I like our front seven. I think we’ve got some maturity and some guys that can run in the back end and they’ve got play well. Plain and simple. They are an older group of players and we’re going to expect them to do a lot for us.”