Ask a rabid college football fan to name the six Division 1-A schools that have compiled the best records over the past two seasons, and traditional powers Alabama (24-1), Miami (23-1), Florida State (22-3), Texas A&M; (22-3) and Washington (21-3) come to mind. But Bowling Green, Ohio, (21-3)?
Yes, the Falcons (1-1) -- who visit the Naval Academy today -- are bent on repeating their dramatic 22-19 victory in Annapolis in 1991 and strengthening their reputation as one of the best little-known football programs in the country.
Suggest that his team deserves more national attention and coach Gary Blackney, who has led the Falcons to two straight Mid-American Conference titles and a pair of bowl victories, readily agrees.
"Truthfully, we don't get much recognition," said Blackney. "But what I've said all along is that we're situated right between Big Ten powers Michigan and Ohio State. And Notre Dame is only 2 1/2 hours away.
"I think if the Mid-American Conference was in any other geographical location . . . I'm sure we would have more prestige than we enjoy right now."
Bowling Green's quest to "three-peat" as conference champions will depend heavily on how quickly Blackney rebuilds his defense, which lost eight starters from last season's 10-2 team, and the progress of sophomore quarterback Ryan Henry, who JTC replaced league Most Valuable Player Eric White, a late cut by the Indianapolis Colts this summer.
Operating behind a veteran offensive line, Henry tossed a pair of touchdown passes in last week's 21-7 victory over Cincinnati after the Falcons lost their road opener to Virginia Tech, 33-16.
But Henry will be under more pressure today to keep the offense in gear. Blackney suspended nine of his players for breaking team training rules. Six were starters, including senior tailback Zeb Jackson, who had rushed for 164 yards in the first two games.
The other five starters missing the trip are flanker back Dwaylan Alexander, cornerback Darnell Staten, linebacker Chache Leal, strong safety Shane Foster and nose guard Maurice Coles.
Of the Midshipmen's 10 losses in 1991, none was more galling than the one to Bowling Green, which overcame an early 13-0 deficit and won on a 33-yard fourth-quarter pass from White to wide receiver Ronnie Redd.
"It looked like we were on the way to a 26-14 lead early in the fourth quarter when Tom Pritchard caught a long pass and appeared to have a clear path to the goal line," said Navy coach George Chaump. "But their cornerback [Ken Burress] not only caught Pritchard from behind, but also stripped the ball, and Bowling Green recovered. That was the real killer."
Chaump believes that dramatic victory served as a rallying point for Blackney and the Falcons, who had finished 3-5-2 under Moe Ankney the year before.
"I really think they started believing in themselves after they beat us in '91," he said. "Right now, I think their program is capable of competing against anyone in the country -- the kind of team a highly rated school wants to steer clear of."
Chaump believes beating the Falcons would earn the Middies more respect than last week's 31-10 trouncing of Eastern Illinois, Division I-AA school.
"If we can beat them, it will definitely be another step up the ladder for us," he said.