Friday, October 25, 2002

No. 24 Bowling Green just another unbeaten in MAC

By Rusty Miller
The Associated Press

The Bowling Green Falcons are the nation's most volatile offensive team and have soared to No. 24 in the AP poll.Yet in the Mid-American Conference's West Division, the Falcons aren't in first and aren't even alone in second.

They find themselves tied with archrival Toledo and a half-game behind Northern Illinois heading into Saturday's games, with all three teams taking important midterm exams on the field.

"There's something people don't understand about our conference," Ball State coach Bill Lynch said. "You cannot compete for a championship in our conference and not be a top 25 team. That's how good our conference is."

Right now, Bowling Green is the only ranked team from the MAC, although Marshall is knocking on the door on the fringes of that elite group.

The problem lies in the depth and parity in the MAC.

Bowling Green (6-0 overall, 3-0 in the MAC) hosts dangerous Ball State (3-4, 1-2 West) on Saturday, while Northern Illinois (5-3, 4-0) travels to Western Michigan (2-5, 1-2 West). Ask the Falcons how difficult it is to beat Western - they had to go to overtime at home last weekend to pull out a 48-45 victory. They trailed by two touchdowns three different times in the game.

Toledo (5-2, 3-0) remains in lock step with Bowling Green, a rung below Northern Illinois. The Rockets host Miami of Ohio (5-3, 3-1 East) Saturday.

How good is the MAC? Every one of the contenders has survived at least one close call. Toledo got by Central Florida 28-25 last week.

"That was one of those games, just a close college football game that either team could have one that came down to one or two breaks at the end of the game," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said.

Northern Illinois' season nearly started off on a down note when it failed to score an offensive touchdown but got by Kent State 13-6.

Bowling Green could use a breather but probably won't get one against a Ball State team that is coming off its best game of the season, a 42-17 rout of Eastern Michigan.

The Falcons, looking for their first 7-0 start since the 1985 team won its first 11 games, lead the nation in scoring with 49.3 points per game.

The MAC record is 37.8 points per game set in 1997 by the Randy Moss-led Marshall offense. No MAC team has ever led the nation in scoring.

The Bowling Green attack is driven by junior quarterback Josh Harris who leads the country in scoring at 15.3 points a game. He has run or passed for 25.7 points a game. In addition, he's eighth in the nation in total offense at a shade under 300 yards a game.

Falcons coach Urban Meyer said his team is dependent on Harris - maybe too dependent.

"I sometimes get concerned we're living in that Josh Harris world too much," he said.

The option, however, is to not utilize your best weapon, Meyer conceded.

"When you've got a horse, you throw a saddle on him and you go," he said.

Bowling Green has shown remarkable balance: 250.2 yards a game rushing and 249.2 passing.

Still, the Falcons are only one slip away from watching all their accomplishments drift away in an autumn breeze. They have given up a lot of points - 80 points in the last two games, 101 in the last three - facts that further worry Meyer.

"The last two games, we've not played characteristic defense," he said. "We have always played good defense here and always will. But it's very uncharacteristic and we're living on a fine line."

Ball State won't bow before the Falcons because of their ranking, that's for sure.

"It's not going to take anything to get our kids' attention," Lynch said.

Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said he might have had doubts about his team, but his players haven't.

"Honestly, kids usually think they're better than they are," he said. "It's the coaches who get nervous."

The Huskies are averaging 46 points a game over the last three weeks. Western Michigan has the second-rated defense in the MAC.

Toledo puts its school-record tying 17-game home winning streak on the line against the RedHawks, who are 4-1 on the road this year including a win at North Carolina.

As has been the case around the MAC this season, the game could become a shoot-out.

Miami has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has already passed for 2,173 yards and 16 TDs with eight interceptions. Toledo has first-year starter Brian Jones who has quietly passed for 1,435 yards and 10 TDs with just three interceptions.

A week ago against Central Florida, the Rockets had two freshmen - Astin Martin and Trinity Dawson - each top 100 yards rushing.

In other MAC games Saturday, Marshall (5-1, 3-0 East) is at Central Michigan (3-4, 1-2 West), Kent State (2-5, 0-4 East) visits Buffalo (1-7, 0-4 East) and Akron (1-6, 0-3 East) is at Central Florida (2-4, 1-2 East).

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