BOWLING GREEN — With the start of spring football this week, the quarterback competition will be wide open at Bowling Green State University.
The Falcons will hold the first of 15 spring practices Thursday with six quarterbacks on the roster.
Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler revealed in a press conference Monday that last year’s starting QB Matt McDonald was fighting through an injury and underwent shoulder surgery in January.
The other five signal-callers will all get increased reps this spring.
“This will be an incredible opportunity to finally build that room and make it super competitive,” Loeffler said.
The list of potential starters includes former Syracuse backup Drew Gunther, who transferred to BG in August, and former Whitmer standout Riley Keller. The other QBs on the roster are Tucker Melton, LaBronz Davis, and Kody Sparks.
“This is a great opportunity to get these guys a lot of reps — the Tuckers, the Rileys, the Drew Gunthers of the world a ton of reps,” Loeffler said. “The plan is to get a No. 1 out of this spring between that group of guys. It will be a 1-2 type of thing. And then we’ll [have] the summer and training camp … we will let McDonald and whoever comes out of spring football compete.”
The young Falcons are coming off an 0-5 year in which they were out-scored 225-57 in a truncated 2020 season. Bowling Green never had a lead in any game.
McDonald completed 54 of 123 passes for 712 yards with one touchdown and threw six interceptions. Loeffler said McDonald went through a lot last fall physically.
“He knows he didn’t play well,” Loeffler said. “He needs to play better. Do I think he has the capability of playing better? Absolutely, I do.”
McDonald will not be allowed to throw a ball until May 1 at the earliest.
“He should have probably had the surgery at the beginning of the season,” Loeffler said. “He had major, major issues. He gutted it out.”
Gunther, who was a preferred walk-on at Syracuse, entered the transfer portal last August. He redshirted last season at Syracuse and did not appear in a game. In high school, Gunther attended Malvern Prep outside of Philadelphia. Gunther went 22-3 as a starter and set school records for touchdown passes (54) and passing yards (4,947).
Keller was a four-year starter at Whitmer and earned All-Ohio honors in his last three seasons. The Three Rivers Athletic Conference player of the year in 2017, Keller led the Panthers to a combined record of 39-9 over four years and threw for more than 6,000 yards.
Keller did not play last season, and Davis got into two games, completing no passes.
“It will be a very competitive spring and summer,” Loeffler said. “I’ll let everyone compete this fall. Tucker Melton and Riley Keller will be able to get in there and compete. Drew Gunther will be in the fray. And obviously LaBronz, as well. It’s going to be a great time in that room this spring.”
Keller is one of 12 players on the roster from northwest Ohio.
”I just think it’s really important for the foundation of your program to come from this area of the country,” he said. “You want guys that are prideful and you want a bunch of guys that want to be here.”
He said it helps to build great relationships with the players’ families when they are less than four hours away from campus.
Eighty-two percent of the most recent recruiting class comes from that footprint.
“When you are four hours away from home it’s a little harder to transfer,” Loeffler said. “The chances of them staying in your program are high. That wasn’t the case when we entered the program. It was very down and it wasn’t the four-hour radius. That is the formula here. You have to stick to that formula and build the locker room with a bunch of people that have great pride and want to be at Bowling Green. The next thing you know, you have a talented football team.”
Loeffler said during the last two months of offseason training, the entire team has gotten bigger and stronger with significant gains, especially on the offensive line.
He said the Falcons will again be incredibly young. But team chemistry continues to develop.
Loeffler listed his goals during spring football, which include continuing to improve strength through proper nutrition and training.
He said the Falcons will be smarter and more disciplined this fall. Loeffler added the team will need to execute better, especially in the fundamentals. He said blocking and tackling will be points of emphasis this spring. And specifically the offense must get in the end zone more often and the defensive secondary must improve.
Loeffler also addressed the growing trend of players entering the transfer portal across all of college football.
He said he supports the rule. But he also said the grass is not always greener for many players that leave programs. He said that it often does not make sense for a player to go to a bigger school to only become a role player.
“There are 2,500 kids in the portal and there are roughly 150 Division I scholarships left. Where are they going? They are sacrificing their scholarships and it makes no sense to me. People are rolling bones,” he said. “I’m always on the side of caution — let’s have all the rules of engagement before we make such a huge decision in a young man’s career.”
Loeffler said another main goal will be to continue to build on the culture, including togetherness and grit. He also that new leaders must emerge.
“They’ve embraced that. They’ve locked arms together,” Loeffler said.