Tag Archives: Bowling Green

College Football Playoff Lands MAC on Life Support

Approaching its third year, the College Football Playoff has undoubtedly defibrillated a BCS-weary college football crowd, invigorating the game with a newfound excitement sure to boost competition, TV revenues, and AD expenditures to unprecedented heights. Conferences have realigned to a Power Five structure supporting the best and biggest programs and the playoff committee has coerced teams into streamlining schedules to include more and more top talent, as the NCAA reaps the benefits. For the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the country, vital signs are strong.

The Akron’s and Toledo’s, however, are in critical condition.

Smaller schools in the Mid-American Conference and around the country simply cannot compete with these elevated levels of funding and competition. For better or for worse, the College Football Playoff consolidates both football and financial strength at the top, hyper-commercializing the game and leaving less prolific programs fighting for scraps at the bottom. A case study of the MAC yields all the evidence.

Remember when Mid-American Conference football meant something? Remember when “Mid-American” summarized not just the member schools’ geography, but also their quality of football: average? Think back only a matter of years and memories of MAC studs recall a conference of ages past. Remember a young Ben Roethlisberger rattling off a 4,448 yard passing season in 2003, gunslinging the Miami Redhawks to a 13-1 record? How about Toledo’s 1995 undefeated season led by Wasean Tait (“Little Barry Sanders”), or then-member Marshall catching the ultimate lightning in a bottle: Randy Moss? More recently, how about Jordan Lynch garnering Heisman consideration as Northern Illinois claimed back-to-back MAC championships in 2011 and 2012, culminating in an Orange Bowl appearance? These are the heroes of Mid-American Conference past, establishing the MAC as a watermark of spirited, though average, football.

Passing the contemporary MAC as “average” football is liable to make Bo Schembechler turn over in his grave. Last year, the MAC’s collective out-of-conference record totaled 25-35. Their results against AP Top 25 opponents totaled 1-15 (the sole win being Toledo’s victory over #18 Arkansas). Bottom-feeder Eastern Michigan picked up just one win. Certainly not the pedigree of a thriving conference, to say the least.

Attendance figures mirror these deficiencies. The MAC ranked dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision conference attendance last season, averaging 15,316 fans per game- a number eclipsed by ten FCS schools. Their attendance rate is declining at nearly double the FBS rate, even as teams like Akron have unveiled new stadiums (pictured half-empty above) as recently as 2009. Product on the field is turning south and fans are noticing, opting to spend their Saturdays stationed on the couch watching Power Five heavyweights duke it out with big time TV deals.

Thanks to these deficiencies, MAC athletic departments then face the impossible challenge of spending on par with these heavyweights just to patch together decent seasons. The result? Ludicrous, Enron-esque financial reports that cover their programs’ inherent disadvantages. In 2015, the average MAC program spent $29,361,692 amidst this athletics arm race, turning what appears to be $28,915,830 in revenue. This only tells half the story. The average student subsidy for a MAC program is an incredible 70.3%, meaning students of these universities are forced to pay exorbitant costs for teams already destined to fail given the realities of the game. Schools like Eastern Michigan require even more- an 80.4% subsidy. Clearly these athletic departments are incapable of maintaining reasonable margins with budgets dwarfed by their Power Five big brothers.

Just as it is unreasonable to expect Buffalo to land a spot in the College Football Playoff, it is unreasonable for smaller programs to exhaust funds to keep up with budgets two or three times their size. While football-centric markets like South Bend, Gainesville, or College Station can mount the argument that athletic spending pads enrollment, or inches them that much closer to a national title, Mid-American Conference towns cannot make these arguments. Still, they’re subjected to the ferocious competition of SEC-sized markets.

As the playoff committee continues to place emphasis on strength of schedule, MAC schools will no longer be included as an early-season appetizer for larger schools. Instead, Power Five conferences will inbreed strength and leave smaller, already-suffering schools out in the cold.

Rest assured, MAC football will continue in the short term. But how long will we wait before the playoff stratification is so dramatic so much that these programs literally can’t compete? What’s the answer? Will small programs continue to irresponsibly overspend just to maintain relevance in the Playoff Era? Or will the MAC- and conferences like it- ultimately be removed from life support, left to fend on its own while the rich get richer?

E-mail Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo via Adam Sonnett – Flickr

Akron Zips Use Big First Half Run to Clip Falcons 67-50

by Ryan Isley

First things first for the University of Akron men’s basketball team. Well, first halves first, anyway.

For the second straight home game, Akron took a large lead in the first half. And just like the first time, Akron cruised to a win Wednesday night as the Zips beat Bowling Green 67-50 at the James A. Rhodes Arena.

“I try to stay as even I can be but you can’t lose at home in this league,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “It’s hard to lose at home and win the league.”

Bowling Green (10-4, 2-1 MAC) took an 11-9 lead early before the Zips (11-5, 2-1) went on a track meet and left the Falcons limping in their dust. Akron (11-5, 2-1) scored the next 15 points and ended up with a 27-2 run over a span of 8:03 to take a 36-13 lead.

In that stretch, it was Deji Ibitayo off the bench who gave Akron a spark. After entering the game with 15:30 left in the first half and the teams tied 7-7, Ibitayo scored the next 11 points for Akron, giving them an 18-11 lead after his second straight made 3-pointer.

“I just like to bring as much energy as possible when I get on the court,” Ibitayo said. “I knew we looked a little sluggish so I just tried to give my team an extra boost.”

During Akron’s run, Bowling Green head coach Chris Jans called a timeout after his team fell down 20-11 with 10:17 left in the first half, but it didn’t help. Akron came out of the stoppage and hit the Falcons with back-to-back dunks from Pat Forsythe and Deji Ibitayo to stretch the lead to 13, forcing yet another timeout.

“We know they came back on Kent State,” Ibitayo, who led the Zips with 15 points, said. “Coach told us they would make a comeback so we had to make sure our momentum stayed high so they wouldn’t have a chance to make a comeback.”

It wasn’t just the offense that propelled Akron to the early lead and subsequent 38-22 halftime lead. The defense did its part as well, holding the Falcons to just 29% (9-for-31) from the floor in the first half. Bowling Green couldn’t finish at the rim and they couldn’t hit from deep, as they made just one of their 10 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.

“We doubled (Richaun) Holmes every time he touched it in the post and I thought that was key because it took him out of the game,” Dambrot said. “We did a good job of staying on the shooters and rotating to the shooters a little harder than the non-shooters.”

Akron never let up in the second half, scoring eight of the first 10 points after the half to keep the momentum, which didn’t allow the Falcons crawl back into the game. The Zips never led by less than 16 in the second half and held a lead of 24 with 8:36 left in the game.

“That’s the biggest aspect in the game,” Ibitayo said. “We try to emphasize the first four minutes when we come back from the half have to be the hardest four minutes ever.”

Akron shot 54.5% (24-for-44) with Noah Robotham scoring 14 points and Forsythe scoring 10 points to join Ibitayo in double figures for the Zips.

Akron will take the floor again when they play host to Central Michigan visits the JAR for a 7 p.m. game.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Photo Credit: Akron Zips Athletics, Jeff Harwell

The Return of the MAC

With 5 weeks in the books, college football ,as always, has been full of surprises, upsets, big plays, and crazy comebacks. The MAC has had it’s fair share of excitement so far as well, and entering the first full week of MAC play teams are hitting there stride and some competitive football is coming our way. Despite a few in conference MAC games already being played, very little has been decided other than a few bottom feeders claiming their territory and a surprise contender or two making some noise.
It’s been an entertaining first month of the season for MAC fans with ups and downs a plenty. The following is a condensed recap of the Highlights (and low-lights) of the season thus far:
Week 1: Starting off the season with a bang, MAC East preseason favorite Bowling Green got manhandled by the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 59-31 in a shocker. Being a relatively quiet tune-up week for most schools not much else thrilling took place week 1 although its noteworthy that in an early conference match-up Ohio defeated Kent St. 17-14 while Eastern Michigan matched their 2013 win total knocking off Morgan St. 31-28.
Week 2: In what proved to be the biggest week of upsets so far, week 2 gave us a little bit of everything. Central Michigan went to Purdue and stunned the Boilermakers 38-17 after Purdue outlasted a scare from Western Michigan last week. Northern Illinois followed suit dismantling in-state rival and fellow Big10 school Northwestern 23-15. Ball St. came within seconds of a MAC trifecta frightening Iowa fans in a heart crushing last second 17-13 loss. U-Mass took Colorado to the brink before falling 41-38 while Toledo couldn’t keep up with #24 Missouri losing 49-24 although it was a much closer game that the score reflects. After getting their fans hopes up week 1, E. Michigan suffered the 2nd largest lopsided defeat of 2014 in an absolute beat down from Florida 65-0 (EMU also has the 3rd largest blowout as you’ll find out later).
Week 3: A rough week for the MAC as tougher schools came calling. The lone bright spot was in yet another Big10 upset as Bowling Green worked out some wrinkles and squeeked past Indiana 45-42. Kent St. didn’t fare as well against the Big10 getting punished by #22 Ohio St. 66-0. C. Michigan’s high from the Purdue win was short lived as Syracuse stomped them 40-3. Buffalo shared a similar fate getting smashed 63-21 at #8 Baylor. Toledo hung around yet again in another shootout but eventually fell 58-34 to Cincinnati. N. Illinois continued to impress taking down UNLV 48-34 albeit UNLV isn’t the major program the others listed are.
Week 4: Yet another rough week for the MAC as the non-conference schedules get tougher and tougher. Bowling Green found out what a “real” Big10 team plays like getting shredded 68-17 by #19 Wisconsin. Helpless E. Michigan received the same Big10 powerhouse thumping at the hands of #11 Michigan St. 73-14 (There it is). C. Michigan continued to struggle through a tough early schedule falling to Kansas 24-10. N. Illinois ran into a team they couldn’t hang with losing to Arkansas in a 52-14 drumming. Continuing their promising start, Toledo had the lone highlight of the week in defeating Ball St. (who’s off to a slow start) 34-23 in Toledo’s MAC opener.
Week 5: Akron flexed some surprise muscle to start week 5 conquering Pittsburgh 21-10 while half of the MAC entered conference play. WMU however, was not one of those teams and after doubling last years win total last week (2), the Bronco’s were brought back down to earth against Virginia Tech losing 35-17 although like Toledo, hung in longer than the score reflects. Sticking with Toledo, they rocketed past C. Michigan 48-28 continuing Centrals early woes and proving again to be a strong contender for the MAC West title. Also playing in conference, Bowling Green righted the ship beating U-Mass 47-42 while surprise Buffalo bullied Miami(OH) 35-27.
Entering the first full week of MAC play, it appears 8 teams have put themselves into my “contender” ranking: Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, N. Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, and W. Michigan. To date, Toledo, N. Illinois, and C. Michigan have played the toughest schedules which is why CMU still gets a nod despite being the only team named under .500. This week will provide us a much clearer view of who’s a real contender, and who’s just been pretending. It’s safe to say we can eliminate 1/2 of the East division from contention with 0-4 Kent St., 0-5 U-Mass, and 0-5 Miami(OH) not convincing anyone otherwise. E. Michigan can be put in this list too despite having a win, they lost their other 3 games a combined 155-17. The biggest surprise team not mentioned yet is Ball St. who despite their 1-3 record I can’t write off just yet but hasn’t earned contender status either. They should’ve beat Iowa and their 3 losses have all been by 10 pts. or less.
Despite some success, the majority of teams will be ready for, and looking forward to conference play. With understandable success against non-major conferences, the MAC still struggles against the major conferences not named Big10. Honestly, 3-8 versus the Big10 isn’t that high of a success rate either, but it’s considerably better that the 2-13 the MAC mustered up against all other major conferences (not including Marshall who is 3-0 vs. the MAC). The MAC is also 0-5 vs. AP Top 25 teams with the majority of the biggest blowouts coming at the hands of such schools. That being said, the MAC is getting better one season at a time as N. Illinois’ undefeated season last year, and P.J. Flecks 36th best recruiting class in the nation is proving in 2014. This week should be highly entertaining as MAC teams collide with eyes on the prize. Every game matters, but there are several marquee matchups on Saturday in the MAC including:
TOL vs WMU logos
A west division showdown between Toledo (3-2)(2-0 MAC) at Western Michigan (2-2)(0-0 MAC) in the Bronco’s MAC opener. The winner of this game gets my vote for MAC West division favorite. In an East vs. West collision, Ohio (3-2)(1-0 MAC) travels to C. Michigan (2-3(0-1 MAC) in whats become a must-win game for the Chippewas. Ohio could emerge with a 2nd MAC win vs. a fellow contender and a little more respect overall. Finally in an East division showdown, Buffalo (3-2)(1-0 MAC) locks horns with Bowling Green (3-2)(1-0 MAC) in a battle to remain on top of the East division. Only one can stay undefeated in conference while Buffalo can prove alot going on the road and earning a W in what would be an upset for the Bulls. All 3 games will be hard played and exciting to watch. I myself am attending the Toledo vs. WMU game and can’t wait to catch some live MAC action! Thanks for reading and be sure to tune in next week for all that is MAC from out here in MAC land!

A Look Back at the MAC

miami2003
2003 was an amazing season for the top teams in the Mid-American Conference. It was a season that ended with Miami University pounding on the door of the BCS. The Redhawks ran the table in the MAC and lost only once overall. Bowling Green finished second in the conference, losing to Miami in the title game. The Redhawks finished their dream season with a #10 ranking in the Associated Press poll and won the GMAC Bowl versus University of Louisville. They silenced their critics by thumping the Cardinals by a final score of 49-28. The MAC made a statement to larger schools in 2003: we may not beat you all of the time but we will give you a fight and sometimes our fight will prevail.
Louisville, Northwestern, Purdue, Maryland, Bama, Iowa State and University of Cincinnati all fell victim to either Northern Illinois, Bowling Green or Miami. It still brings a smile to my face when I remember how NIU beat Bama at Bryant-Denny. Perhaps a few crazed Tide fans had to be talked off the ledge on that day. A second bowl victory was also tallied for the Mid-American when Bowling Green beat Northwestern University in the Motor City Bowl. BG quarterback Joshua Harris made a killing in the game and showed why he was one of the conference’s top players in 2003. Both Miami and Bowling Green really put the MAC on the map and NIU chimed in as well by beating Bama, University of Maryland and Iowa State University.
What made 2003 such a special year for the conference? Great coaching played a part but the obvious factor was player talent. Everyone knows about Roethlisberger and Jason Babin, both went on to star in the NFL. Personally, as a female, I am not the biggest fan of Roethlisberger but there is no denying he is probably the best QB ever to come out of the MAC. Babin has also had a long and successful career in the league terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.

Notable Players from the MAC in 2003:

Bruce Gradkowski (University of Toledo)
Joshua Cribbs (Kent State University)
Michael Turner (Northern Illinois University)
Lance Moore ( University of Toledo)
Joe Staley (Central Michigan University)
Shaun Suisham (BGSU)
Charlie Frye (University of Akron)
Nick Kaczur (University of Toledo)
Jacob Bell (Miami University)
Greg Jennings (Western Michigan University)
Joshua Harris (BGSU)
Chase Blackburn (University of Akron)
Atari Bigby (University of Central Florida, no longer in the conference)
A few guys from this list standout in my mind. Bruce Gradkowski, Lance Moore, Joe Staley, Greg Jennings and Chase Blackburn have all enjoyed long careers in the league. All of these guys have reputations for being tough competitors among teammates and coaches in the NFL. They also contributed to the success of the Mid-American in 2003 and made the conference an exciting brand of football to watch for viewers. The 2003 season was just another example of how unfair the BCS system was for mid-major conferences in collegiate football.
Unfortunately, Miami had to experience this unfairness first hand. The MAC had major talent in 2003 and I would be willing to bet that the Redhawks would have been prepared enough from their regular season to face off against any big time school in a BCS bowl. It’s just a shame they never got that chance.

Switch Now, Don’t Wait

You are having the best game in your young college football career, running all over your opponent and then you get a tap on the shoulder and before you know it you are playing defensive end, in a bowl game no less, when you last played defense in high school. Seems strange, well its true just ask James Conner sophomore (then a freshman) at the University of Pittsburgh. The game was the Little Ceaser’s Bowl where Conner broke Tony Dorsett’s bowl game rushing record despite playing some downs on defense.

James Conner

I’m of the opinion that Conner will end up on defense this year coming year but will it happen at the beginning of the season or in the middle when Head Coach Paul Chryst realizes he desperately needs help on defense. Let me point out some factors that I think the coaching staff at Pitt is considering:

1)       Pitt returns just five starters on defense and very importantly they lost they two best defensive lineman (Aaron Donald was a first round pick)

2)      A couple of freshmen, Chris James and Qadree Ollison, will push incumbent Isaac Bennett for carries, so if they pan out like Conner did as a freshman who is getting all the carries

3)      Despite Conner’s bowl game record setting performance, he was very inconsistent throughout the year (i.e. Virginia 27 yards on 15 carries, Georgia Tech 3 yards on 8 carries

4)      Conner sustained a “minor” knee injury early in spring practices subsequently eliminating him from further practicing or workouts. According to coaches he should be ready for summer conditioning but did that injury actually seal his fate

5)      Head Coach Chryst has yet to guarantee Conner that he will stay on offense (at least publicly)

In my view the decision has been made but is it the right decision for Pitt and Conner I guess we will all find out in a few months when Pitt kicks off against Delaware. I just hope that once they make a decision they stick with it one way or the other and also that they have told Conner and have his conditioning program geared toward his new position on defense.

Keep him where he can excel on offense, he could be a force and ease the transition of new starting quarterback Chad Voytik, is a complete new offensive backfield the way to go…no.

Akron Beats Bowling Green, Once Again Controls Destiny

by Ryan Isley

 

When Kent State beat Ohio University on Saturday afternoon, the message for the Akron Zips was clear: win out and you earn the No.4 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament.

Message received – loud and clear.

The Zips took their newly found life and beat Bowling Green 57-47 to improve their conference record to 10-6 and took over the No.4 spot in the MAC by themselves.

“We are very aware of the stuff that is going on in the league, especially if they play before us,” Akron forward Demetrius Treadwell said. “We knew Ohio lost today so we knew we had to go out and control our destiny.”

And after their win, that destiny is fully in Akron’s hands.

The first half was 20 minutes that may have set college basketball back 20 years, as the Zips led 20-18 as the teams headed to the locker rooms. In that half, the teams combined to shoot 27.3% (15-for-55) from the floor. Akron shot just 26.7% (8-for-30), while Bowling Green was a little better at 28% (7-for-25). The biggest difference was that Akron hit four of their nine 3-point attempts while Bowling Green missed all seven of theirs.

While the second half wasn’t exactly a Picasso, it was definitely a work of art for the Zips compared to the first half. The Zips shot 53.6% (15-for-28) from the field in the final 20 minutes, including three of their six 3-pointers.

“The whole first half we played great defense but we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Treadwell said. “I felt like in the second half we came out with a better offensive flow and still kept that same intensity defensively.”

After scoring the first seven points of the game, Akron also scored the first five points of the second half, which gave the Zips a 25-18 lead. It was then another run later in the half that would pretty much seal the deal for the blue and gold.

With the game tied at 34-34 after a layup by Cameron Black with 11:24 to play, Akron went on an 18-4 run over the next 8:41 that gave them what at the time was their largest lead of the game at 52-38.

The run was highlighted by none other than Treadwell, who led Akron with 17 points, nine rebounds and a career-high five assists on the night. Treadwell scored nine out of Akron’s first 12 points in the run, which finally put Akron over the hump at 46-36 with 5:07 to play – the first time Akron had led by double-digits on the night.

Included in those nine points was a basket that gave Treadwell 1,000 points for his Akron career – the 41st player in program history to reach that plateau. As has always been the case with Treadwell, he downplayed the personal accomplishment.

“It doesn’t matter right now,” Treadwell said. “It will matter in 10 years, maybe.”

Quincy Diggs added 13 points on the night, including two 3-pointers that punctuated the 18-4 run.

While the offense showed up in the second half and stole the headlines, it was still the staple of Akron basketball that helped pull out this victory – the defense. The leader of that defensive pressure was none other than point guard Carmelo Betancourt, who had a career-high five steals and added six assists on the night. Betancourt was the first Zip to record five steals in a game since Alex Abreu on February 11, 2012.

“I thought Carmelo Betancourt was terrific, both with the ball passing it and defensively in the second half,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “He changed the game defensively.”

The one thing that Dambrot noticed was that despite the Zips riding a three-game losing streak entering Saturday, the fans still showed up to support their team.

“Good crowd, too, by the way. Really energetic crowd. Really helped us,” Dambrot said. “They showed up after that three-game losing streak, so I have to tell you how much I appreciated that.”

The fans will need to come out again next week, as Akron faces Buffalo on Tuesday and Kent State on Friday, trying to avenge losses to each team from earlier in the season. And wins in those two games would mean that Akron would be the No.4 seed in the MAC Tournament.

Destiny awaits them…

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Big Ten Year-In-Review

Some say the best thing about the BCS is that it exposed the Big Ten, who allegedly received way too much credit for their strength on the football field over the years. I’ve always rejected that notion, but the past couple of years has made it difficult to argue. I still think it’s more of a recent thing than a historic thing, but we live in the present, and it is what it is.

It’s been somewhat of a running joke, between Damien Bowman and I, that the Big Ten is hardly worth our time, here at the College Football Roundtable. For me, it’s basically just satire, but I think the Big Ten shame is all business with my podcast partner. Look, there’s some merit to it, which goes far beyond Ohio State losing back-to-back National Championships; top to bottom, the Big Ten really doesn’t have it, whatever it may be.

For this conference’s Year-In-Review, we’re going to take a sarcastic or satirical approach, to feed the trolls, if you will. I offer you a brief summary of what happened to each team, how they feed that narrative (that the conference should be relegated to the FCS), and why that assessment just might be wrong. Granted, criticism might be natural in some cases and whoever “they” are, “they” might not be wrong in saying whatever negative things they tend to say about some of these programs.

Purdue

What happened in 2013? It was a rough first year for Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette. Their lone victory came, and it didn’t come easily in a matchup with in-state FCS rival Indiana State. Indiana State’s only win came over a school named Quincy; I had to look this up, but the Quincy Hawks are a Division II school in Illinois that finished near the bottom of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. A week after holding off a late comeback surge from Indiana State, they lost to Notre Dame by a single touchdown, and then went on to lose to everyone except Illinois by double digits. Their signature moments included the 31-24 loss to Purdue and a 14-0 loss to Michigan State, if that tells you anything about the 2013 Boilermakers.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…I had to look up Quincy University to demonstrate how meaningless their win over Indiana State was. They didn’t score a single point between October 12th and November 9th, which was only two games, but still.

That’s wrong, because…it isn’t Purdue’s fault that Indiana State stunk. They did win that game 70-7. And as far as the near-month-long scoring drought is concerned, that was Michigan State, Ohio State, and a bye week, but still.

Illinois

What happened in 2013? They took down the really bad teams on their schedule, lost to the teams that were heavily favored, and snuck in a few surprises in games that I’d have considered a coin flip. After Cincinnati punished Purdue 42-7 in Week 1, the Illini weren’t ready to let Cincinnati think they were a Big Ten-caliber team, with a 45-17 drubbing of Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats. They had a respectable showing in defeat at Soldier Field, to what we believed to be a pretty good Washington team at the time, losing 34-24. They did what they were supposed to do to Miami, the MAC conference’s bottom feeder, then the Big Ten had their way with them. Tim Beckman is certainly on the hot seat in Champaign, after a week finish that included a 4-point win over hapless Purdue and a loss to a broken Northwestern team at home.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…they managed to score 32 points or more in four of their losses, and three of those were by at least 17. It speaks volumes to the level of defense they pretend to play in the Big Ten, when the second worst team in the leauge is putting up video game numbers on offense.

That’s wrong, because…they might have been all that terrible after all; they might just need to work on their defense that allowed 60 points to Ohio State and 56 to Wisconsin. The only utter beating they took was 42-3 loss to Michigan State, magnified by the fact that it was not only a home game, but the Homecoming Game.

Northwestern

What happened in 2013? Northwestern came out of the gate at 4-0, with non-conference wins over the Pac-12 and ACC, and then a couple of tune-up games against the MAC and FCS. They were ranked, and deservedly so, with Ohio State coming to town for a game on national TV; Ohio State outlasted them, winning by 10 on a fluke touchdown in the end. Unfortunately, that was the first of seven straight losses the Wildcats, bitten badly by injury, suffered. The losing streak was gut-wrenching, but not as bad as it might sound. Nebraska needed a Hail Mary, and they took Michigan to three overtimes, before losing 27-19 at home in a game they had plenty of opportunities to win. They salvaged the season, to a certain extent, with a season-ending victory at Illinois.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…the Wildcats were ranked, then lost 7 consecutive games. Now, it isn’t Northwestern’s fault they were, perhaps, overrated. Venric Mark was hurt all year, and Kain Colter missed significant time, but a lack of depth in Evanston really cost Pat Fitzgerald a chance at a good season and a bowl game.

That’s wrong, because…they didn’t get to play Purdue, which easily could have been a bowl-clinching sixth win for the Cats. People, over time, forgot how close they came against Ohio State. And, it’s okay to dismiss Ohio State as nothing on the national stage, but in Big Ten-speak, they remain the cream of the crop.

Indiana

What happened in 2013? If you don’t count Michigan in this group, they were probably the best of the bad teams in the Big Ten. They, like Purdue, had a chance to tee off against Indiana State, then lost a close one to Navy, beat eventual MAC champion Bowling Green, and didn’t play dead against SEC runner-up Missouri. Kevin Wilson has them playing offense; they put up 28 against Michigan State and Missouri, and couldn’t quite finish drives at Ohio State, where they had one of the more impressive 28-point losses you’ll ever see.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…nobody respects Bowling Green or Penn State, easily the Hoosiers best two victories of the year. What people will notice is a 51-3 loss at Wisconsin, and maybe even yielding 36 points to Purdue at home to wrap up another season without a bowl in Bloomington.

That’s wrong, because…they aren’t necessarily waiting for the hoops season to start in August any more. Like I said, the offense can do good things, but the defense needs to do what traditional Big Ten fans so desperately miss about this league, and that’s tackling the ball carrier.

Michigan

What happened in 2013? What always happens in Ann Arbor? When Michigan beats Notre Dame, everyone is ready to hand them the crystal football, and says never mind that they almost lost to Akron and Connecticut. Then, when they poo the bed in Happy Valley, a 4OT loss, and everyone is canceling their flights from Detroit to Pasadena in January. Their only victory after a 63-47 shootout win over Indiana on October 19th was a triple OT miracle at Northwestern. The highlight of their season might have been a 1-point loss/moral victory at home against Ohio State to end the regular season.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…I asked, and got a serious answer from Lost Letterman’s Jim Weber (a Michigan guy), how much are they missing Rich Rod in Ann Arbor? Brady Hoke’s days are probably numbered at Michigan. I mean, this is supposed to one of the conference’s banner programs!

That’s wrong, because…Notre Dame! They beat #14 Notre Dame in September, the same Notre Dame that just played for a National Championship in January. The Irish came into the Big House, and they lost 41-30. LOUD NOISES!

Penn State

What happened in 2013? With no big picture to think about for the next three years, Penn State has the advantage of not carrying that burden of what happens to them in December or January. A 3-point loss to Central Florida at home looked a lot worse when it happened in September than it turned out to be. A 20-point loss at Indiana can probably be taken at face value, ditto for the loss at Minnesota, but the Michigan meltdow in quadruple overtime probably would have served at the season’s best moment, if it weren’t for their stunning upset at Camp Randall over Wisconsin, which ended the season for probationary Penn State.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…Jerry Sandusky! The kids! The conference advocates that behavior. It really is no joking matter, what happened under Joe Paterno’s watch at Penn State, but it’s time to move forward. In all seriousness, they probably gave the conference a black eye by shocking Wisconsin in Madison; the Big Ten might have been able to boast about three elite teams otherwise.

That’s wrong, because…this probation is going to hit Penn State harder each year, given the scholarship reductions after surviving the intital set of transfers. Ultimately, probation is what made the departure so easy for Bill O’Brien after 2 seasons, but might lead to an upgrade with James Franklin running things now.

Minnesota

What happened in 2013? Jerry Kill spent some time in the hospital, but what else is new? The Gophers did a decent job keeping the out-of-conference schedule soft, so they could enter league play at 4-0. That meant they’d only need to win two games in conference to qualify for the post-season. After a couple of sound beatings from Iowa and Michigan, you wondered how realistic that was, but they didn’t win two games. They won four, in a row, against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State. They dropped their final three contests, including the Texas Bowl, but you have to think they’d take 8-4 with a December bowl every year in those parts.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…they feast on the Mountain West, the WAC orphans, and FCS competition. In Minnesota’s case, guilty as charged; the path to 4-0 went through UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State.

That’s wrong, because…they’re Minnesota. They were on the level with Syracuse in the bowl game, but no one will be confusing them with Ohio State or Michigan State anytime soon. It’s when they play a non-conference slate like that, and come away 2-2, that they deserve the knock.

Nebraska

What happened in 2013? THey didn’t play a game away from Lincoln until October 12th, which was a layup against Purdue in West Lafayette. They had a good chance to be 5-0, but they couldn’t capitalize on UCLA sleep-walking through the first half, and had their own 2nd half meltdown, allowing the Bruins to escape the Heartland with a 41-21 win. They would lose their second road contest, a 34-23 game at Minnesota, which would have been more of a black eye, if the Gophers didn’t have the great season (by their standards) that they had. No shame in losing to Michigan State, even at home, but beign humiliated in their regular season finale, at home against Iowa, is a different story altogether. Many, perhaps including Bo Pellini, were surprised that Pellini was permitted to coach another game for Big Red, but he answered the call with TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…everyone was a little too proud that the Big Ten achieved victory against an SEC school’s taxi squad in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day. Nebraska has proven to be very average in the Big Ten, in its first three years since defecting from the Big 12.

That’s wrong, because…Nebraska hadn’t been anything special in the Big 12 for many years either. If anything, the immediate success of Missouri and Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference might suggest that the SEC is more sizzle than substance.c

Iowa

What happened in 2013? Something had to give with Northern Illinois, who had suffered some heart-breaking losses to the Hawkeyes, both at Soldier Field and Kinnick Stadium, and it finally did in this year’s opener in Iowa City. After that, the Hawks had a very respectable season; losing to the consensus Top 3 teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. They also made the mistake of scheduling the 2013 chapter of Michigan State for their Homecoming, but who saw them coming? They suffered an unfortunate setback in the Outback Bowl, a game they were very much in, when they lost their starting quarterback and ended up losing the game 21-14.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…Iowa is its 4th best team. Iowa can only be viewed in one way to support the narrative; they lost to a MAC school that was clobbered in back-to-back games by Bowling Green and Utah State. It’s no wonder they couldn’t handle the SEC in a bowl game.

That’s wrong, because…expectations were relatively tapered for the 2013 season. Weisman for Heisman was fun to say, but not realistic. I’m sure they would have rather not lost to Northern Illinois, but the way that game was sold, you’d have almost thought Iowa was the underdog in their season opener, and not the other way around.

Wisconsin

What happened in 2013? Forget the 93-0 combined scores of the Badgers’ first two games at home against Who and Who Tech, because BYU and Arizona State make for a decent out of conference lineup. Of course, in traveling to Pac-12 country, Gary Andersen’s team had to deal with Pac-12 officials. They played the Sun Devils pretty evenly in Tempe, but most certainly had 18 seconds taken away from them, 18 seconds that may have afforded them the opportunity to win, but instead they lost. A few weeks later, they lost Ohio State, in a game they were expected to lose. Then, they blew everyone out, except BYU, until Penn State shocked them at home to close out the season. They ran into a very tough South Carolina team in Orlando on New Year’s Day, and dropped a game where they lost their starting quarterback.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQmNYPOgx40

The Big Ten is terrible, because…Wisconsin didn’t even play Michigan State. Their best win was either at Iowa or at Minnesota, and this is the third best team in the Big Ten. That’s a hand down assessment, isn’t it? Would you really argue with anyone that said this 2013 Badger team was on the same level as the previous two, who lost Rose Bowls?

That’s wrong, because…while I think Michigan State would have beaten them, I think they showed that they could hold their own against South Carolina. And while there are no trophies given for moral victories, if you can hang with Urban Meyer’s and Steve Spurrier’s teams, you could probably hang with every team in the country that didn’t make it to a BCS game. So, this isn’t a ringing endorsement, but how many nice things can you say about a team with these expectations losing to Penn State on Senior Day?

Ohio State

What happened in 2013? Well, the same thing happened with Ohio State in 2013 that happened in 2012; the Buckeyes went 12-0, only this time they were burdened with post-season games. Once again, nobody was blown away by the Buckeyes schedule, both in and out of conference; as it turns out, they got Central Florida a year too soon and the team with the most curb appeal, Cal, in the worst possible year ever. As it turned out, Buffalo and San Diego State both played in a bowl game, the same bowl game, but nobody cares about that. Nobody would have cared about them beating Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and nobody would have cared if they played Nebraska and Minnesota, but since they did not see the Cornhuskers or Golden Gophers, I’m sure someone made a big deal about that. What everyone will remember is the last 3 games, the near-miss in Ann Arbor, and the neutral site whiffs in Indianapolis and Miami, to the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl Champions. Most overrated 24-0 team ever, right?

The Big Ten is terrible, because…TATTOOS, MAURICE CLARETT, RAFFLES AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE! Honestly though, it helps the cause if they regroup from the 34-24 loss in the conference championship and finish against Clemson in a showcase game like the Orange Bowl. If they were the only thing the Big Ten had going for itself, it would be a very sad state of affairs, sadder than it already is.

That’s wrong, because…digging up Tressel era scandals is dumb, and how dare we disrespect Michigan State and Clemson in such ways to suggest the Buckeyes are terrible! Michigan State over Stanford in Pasadena helps their cause; as does Clemson over Georgia in Death Valley, but is there a signature win from any of Ohio State’s other 12 opponents, perhaps one they actually defeated, that gives them a case here?

Michigan State

What happened in 2013? It took Michigan State a few weeks to hit their stride offensively, what to do without Le’veon Bell in the backfield, and they lost a sluggish contest to Notre Dame, 17-13 in South Bend. They figured out the formula was Jeremy Langford running with a slightly different design to the offense, and they never lost again, like ever. However, it wasn’t until November, after holding Michigan to 6 points, that the intimidating Spartans’ D was anything more than a cool story. Personally, I started talking myself into this team beating Ohio State, something that ended up happening. After taking down the Buckeyes, I was convinced they could take down Stanford, my pre-season pick to be the National Champ. They did that too.

The Big Ten is terrible, because…they lost to Notre Dame! Stanford lost to Utah! Ohio State lost to Clemson! Nothing they did means anything; the Rose Bowl trophy, the Big Ten Championship, it all meant nothing! I mean, didn’t Purdue play Notre Dame close? Didn’t Notre Dame lost to Pitt? And, what the hell was up with Max Bullough?

That’s wrong, because…they won without Bullough, against one of the better rushing teams in the country. Even if Stanford lost to Utah, they won what everyone seems to believe is the second-best conference in the country. Even if Ohio State had their quirks, and we admit that they did, they weren’t a bad team for losing to the Spartans and Clemson. In a playoff, they’d have had a crack at Auburn or Florida State, but I’m not going to speculate on the results of the unknown in that case. If you think Michigan State stunk, you don’t have an open mind about things.

Yippie Ki Yay, Mister Falcon

Some might remember this. The old, suitable for basic cable, censored version of Die Hard changed the catch-phrase to “Yipee ki-ay, Mr. Falcon.”
How ugly is that? Was it as ugly as watching Northern Illinois get handled by the Falcons of Bowling Green in Friday night’s MAC Championship? I don’t know, but I don’t like the instant reaction, even though I can’t aruge against it.
photo credit: USA Today
I was more convinced about the legitimacy of the two-time defending Conference Champion this season. They didn’t just hang with a sub-par Iowa team; they went toe-to-toe with the Big Ten’s 4th best team. Their defense was abused at times, but that comes with the territory, when you consider the pace of these MAC games. The whole show went through Jordan Lynch, even if you could make a case for some pieces of the supporting cast, and only one team was able to stop such a one-dimensional gameplan.
That’s not a fair thing to say. Cameron Stingily ran for 1,000 yards, despite having to cede 1,700 yards worth of carries to his sensational quarterback. Tommylee Lewis added a dynamic on Special Teams, and was a bolt of lightning that could either keep defenses honest to something that isn’t Lynch on the draw or get yards in chunks. Juwan Brescasin has done his part, and made a big play or two on Friday, but it just wasn’t enough. Whatever “it” is, the Huskies didn’t have it.

photo credit: Yahoo
Outstanding one-hand grab by Brescasin for the score.

It’s as simple as that; Bowling Green was better. I don’t know if they are better, were just better on Friday, or have been better than Northern Illinois the whole time, but this was the worst case scenario for the MAC and Northern Illinois University. The MAC still stinks, NIU never plays anyone, and undefeated means positively nothing in the Midwest; even if that isn’t really the entire perception, it’s close enough. It was hard to argue that they’ve played anyone, because how do I sell the 4th best team in a conference, when nobody has an inkling of respect for the best team in that very conference?
Michael Turner is just one name, on a long list of NIU alumni to play on Sundays

I don’t know if I can get anyone to understand that Toledo and Ball State are difficult wins, if the masses have already made up their minds that nothing and no one in the MAC mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of things. I understand there isn’t a Michael Turner, Ben Roethlisberger, or Jason Taylor in every NFL Draft, but the MAC makes up a decent portion of the NFL population. Forget it. Why should I bother selling this conference? Do the facts not speak for themselves?
47-27 in a game that would draw more first time viewers, being on a cold December Friday night, was the last statement the 2013 MAC Runner-Up wanted to make. It all screams that they aren’t ready for prime time, and that’s not something I want to concede. If not these Huskies, and if not Brady Hoke’s Ball State team of 2008, it may not happen for the MAC. Knocking off Big Ten teams doesn’t speak the volumes that it used to, and until it’s Ohio State, who’s putting any stock into the quality of those “signature wins”? Maybe we should be grateful that the stars aligned, just once in 16 years, for the MAC to crash the party last year. They made it with a loss, and they’ll be the only mid-major to ever do that.
In Dekalb, there’s no Cinderella to this team. That was 10 years and three Head Coaches ago. They went to Tuscaloosa and knocked off Alabama at Bryant-Denny, but I’m obligated to disclose that it was a different brand of Crimson Tide back then. Maryland came to Dekalb that year too; it’s safe to say the Big Ten patches on their jerseys next year will make them allergic to visiting MAC stadiums, going forward. That 2003 team finished 10-2 and did not get invited to a bowl. In 2004, they won the Silicon Valley Classic verus Troy, and have played in a bowl in 7 of 9 seasons, since being snubbed in 2003. That, of course, includes last year’s Orange Bowl appearance.
That’s all well and good, but we tend to get stuck in this what have you done for me lately? mode. You want them to keep moving forward, but sometimes you’re stuck wondering if a BCS game in 2012 was a little ahead of their actual pace. It’s also possible that Florida State was pretty good in January, before anyone knew what a Jameis was.
Instead of setting up Camp Huskie, right here in North Phoenix, we might be watching them play on a blue field, against a 2014 opponent, 4 days before Christmas. At least it’s not Detroit; when I suggested the idea of the Huskies playing in last year’s Motor City Pizza Bowl to a friend, he joked that the players parents wouldn’t even want to travel to Detroit for a second time on December 26th.
Without the BCS, none of the MAC’s tie-ins help them play “anyone”, which is code for a respected team from the cartel. Technically, Purdue is in the cartel, but the elitists laugh at that quality win for mid-majors, year-in and year-out. Virginia, Rutgers, Navy, or even Michigan and Penn State in down years; it’s never good enough. That argument holds water, whether the naysayers want to hear it or not. Losing to a conference peer, with every single thing on the line, that’s what matters. Says them.
There is a truth to be seen in all of this sorrow, this bitter disappointment that turns a Fiesta into a Humanitarian effort and corn chips to cold unwashed potatoes. This is a program that used to celebrate a chance to playa Sun Belt team in a torrential downpour San Jose downpour, just nine seasons ago. They were honored to accept large sums of money and an invite to play in the Big House and at The Shoe in 2005 and 2006. In fact, after Jerry Kill left them high and dry for the greener pastures of Minnesota, they were ecstatic about winning that stupid Potato Bowl with an interim coach.
fiesta huskies
it’d be a lot cooler, if they did.

And, the fans should be thrilled now. We all know how important that zero on the back half of the win-loss record is, and how that one is so much more pronounced, when it comes this late in the season, but this is still a good season for a good team. I might slip up, and qualify it by saying, “by MAC standards,” but why not? No one thinks these guys belong in the Big Ten or Big XII. I’m not sure anyone can say they’re more worthy of membership in the Big Ten than in-state counterparts Northwestern and Illinois, regardless of who beat how many Big Ten teams this season. They’ve been part of a lot of conversations, those discussions that are usually reserved for the big boys had to include the Huskies, or at least Jordan Lynch, this season.
For it to end like this, in humiliating fashion, and on nothing night from Lynch (345 total yards and 3 touchdowns are pedestrian, 2 interceptions equal the sky falling in Lynch’s world) on this stage, just welcomes a feeling of emptiness. It’s now all gone for not; it’s hard to feel any under way. There will be no New Years Day game, certainly no Heisman and even a trip to New York might be a longshot. This is the neighbor’s dogs eating that Christmas Turkey that Ralphie Parker’s father so badly yearned for, but there might be a silver lining. Could Idaho be a fun-filled day of having the entire staff of an Asian restaurant serenade us with ‘Tis the Season?
Fa-rah-rah

At least it couldn’t be worse than the dreadful basic cable dub, aimed at good ol’ Mr. Falcon, except that it was. It was profane, watching these Falcons fly by this Huskie secondary; I mean, Bayer was giving me headaches and Matt Johnson stole Lynch’s star on that night.
All of it made for a very cold dark night, here in the desert.

Akron Zips Bye Their Way Into MAC Tournament

by Ryan Isley

With the way that the Mid-American Conference changed the format of their postseason basketball tournament last season, it is advantageous to earn one of the top-2 seeds because those automatically move a team to the tournament semi-finals.

The Akron Zips have already clinched one of those spots with four games remaining in the MAC regular season by virtue of their 67-50 win over Bowling Green on Saturday in front of a crowd of 5,247 at James A. Rhodes Arena – their third largest crowd of the season.

“Great crowd – it is really nice to see,” head coach Keith Dambrot said.

The Zips and Dambrot are not stranger to the MAC Tournament semi-finals, as they have reached the semis in seven straight years and have posted a record of 6-1 in those years, leading to appearances in six straight MAC championship games.

Saturday’s win was the 17th consecutive victory for Akron – the longest current streak in the nation – and it also ranks as the second-longest streak in the nation this season behind Kansas’ streak of 18 straight. It is also the first time a MAC team has won 17 straight games in a season since the 2001-02 Kent State Golden Flashes – a team that went to the elite eight in the NCAA Tournament.

The Zips’ 12 straight wins in the MAC this season is also the third-longest in MAC single-season history and ties the longest streak to ever start conference play by any team in MAC history.

It should come as no surprise that the Zips have won all of their games this February. Including this season, Akron is now 25-6 in the month of February in the last three-plus seasons and has won 18 of their last 21 games in the year’s shortest month.

With the win, the senior class (Zeke Marshall is the lone four-year member) now has 90 wins which is the seventh time in school history that has happened – six of those classes under the watchful eye of Dambrot.

Add to all of that the fact that the Zips are only one of eight teams to win 20 or more games in each of the last eight seasons, and Akron is just where they want to be for when the MAC tournament starts in four weeks.

As if winning 17 in a row wasn’t enough, the Zips have been welcoming back Chauncey Gilliam into the rotation after knee surgery – giving them another viable option.

“Once (Gilliam) is back in, that gives us 11 strong,” Nick Harney said. “Just with that many people, sky is the limit because everybody on the court is fresh and that makes you play harder initially than taking plays off in the game.”

Despite all of the positives, Dambrot knows they still have some steps to take because of the position this team has put themselves in to be special with the groundwork that has been laid over the past few seasons.

“We have to work even harder now because we have an opportunity to do some things that have never been done here,” Dambrot said. “So we have to ratchet up, make more sacrifice, try to play better and better and better and hold ourselves to a high standard in practice.”

That is the one thing about Dambrot – he never let this team rest on their laurels and will always get after them to keep getting better. That will only help the Zips as they get ready to start their postseason run when they play in the MAC Tournament semi-finals on Friday, March 15th at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

As their motto has been all season – the Zips want to Think Bigger.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]