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Thundering Herd awaits unbeaten Bowling Green

The Associated Press

The Bowling Green Falcons, flying high at 3-0, are the biggest early surprise in the Mid-American Conference.

Friday, September 28, 2001

The Bowling Green Falcons, flying high at 3-0, are the biggest early surprise in the Mid-American Conference.

Whether they continue to be will be determined Saturday night.

Despite the energy generated by victories over Missouri, Temple and MAC foe Buffalo, the trip to four-time defending MAC champion Marshall could put a damper on all the turnaround talk.

”I’m new to this conference but I’m not new to watching Marshall play and hearing about them and seeing them on ESPN,” first-year Bowling Green coach Urban Meyer said.

A year ago, in Gary Blackney’s last season as head coach, the Falcons shuffled through a 2-9 disaster. One of the few bright spots was a 20-13 loss to Marshall on a late punt return.

Having already exceeded last year’s win total, there’s an electricity running through the BG campus. Meyer, however, isn’t plugged in just yet.

”Everybody around Bowling Green is so excited,” he said. ”I’m going to make this comment to our players: You can be excited all you want about beating a Temple and you should be because wins in Division I are hard to get. But when you can go down there and compete with Marshall, that’s when you’ve made some strides.”

Marshall (1-1), which is playing its MAC opener, has had a 21-day layoff since its last game, adding an air of the postseason.

”It’s sort of like a bowl game because it’s usually that amount of time in between (games),” said Marshall coach Bob Pruett.

The Thundering Herd and Falcons are at opposite ends of the spectrum, Meyer said.

”Right now Marshall is a program that knows how to win. Bowling Green is a program that’s hopefully starting to learn how to win a little bit,” said the former Notre Dame assistant. ”You look at a school like Marshall, it’s not by accident that those teams win. They are prepared, they expect to win and they play to win.”

Bowling Green stunned Missouri – led by Gary Pinkel, coaching his first game with the Tigers after leaving rival Toledo – in the opener. The Falcons then romped over Buffalo before holding off Temple at home last week.

The challenges mount when it comes to Marshall, although the Falcons are buoyed by their fast start.

”You’re dealing with 18- to 21-year-old guys and a fairly young staff where guys are excited. You just beat a Big 12, a Big East and another conference opponent in Buffalo,” Meyer said. ”And now all of a sudden, you flip on the tape of Marshall. ‘Great! Let’s go play Marshall.’ But you have to realize what you’re getting into – an extremely talented team.”

Pruett said Bowling Green has always played good defense but that this year the Falcons have added some punch.

”There’s a point in time when you just play good defense and the other team gets some breaks and points and you let down a little bit,” Pruett said. ”But they’re feeding off each other: offense, defense, special teams. They’re playing with great enthusiasm and excitement. They have 31 seniors; I counted down through their roster. You travel with 60 and over half of them are seniors, that’s a pretty veteran team.”

Meyer said the Falcons are confident they can win because they haven’t really been able to gauge how good they are yet.

”Any time you get the opportunity to play the best in the conference, there’s a couple reasons why you can get excited. First to show you can compete and second to really find out where you are as far as a measuring stick,” Meyer said. ”Sure, we’ve played well but we have not played the best in our conference yet.”

In other MAC openers Saturday, No. 25 Toledo (3-0) hosts Northern Illinois (2-1), Miami (1-2) is at Ball State (0-3) and Western Michigan (1-2) visits Eastern Michigan (1-2). Elsewhere, Kent State (1-2, 0-0 MAC) is at Akron (1-2, 1-0) and Central Michigan (1-2, 0-0) travels to Buffalo (1-2, 0-1).