Tag Archives: Kent State Golden Flashes

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Disgruntled Cleveland State Fan’s Guide to Finding a New Team to Root For

When you take over a program that already had trouble with transfers, not to mention a serious problem with visibility, perhaps it’s not the best plan to, I don’t know, disappear off the planet?

But that appears to be what new Cleveland State basketball coach Dennis Felton has done, though to be fair, it’s not like he exactly had a choice. Without a coaching staff officially in place, Felton has had to scramble around the country trying to secure recruits for the spring signing period.

Of course, Felton may already have former Northern Illinois assistant Lou Dawkins hired. But it’s really hard to know if that’s official, given that the only indication the hire has happened is from a few tweets, most notably from Garfield Heights High School coach Sonny Johnson.

It may not be fair to Felton, but back-to-back 20-loss seasons, a non-existent fan base and a media landscape with the attention span of a newt should have sparked some sense of urgency. The wait-and-see approach was probably not going to be the best plan.

Instead, Cleveland State decided to do what it does every single off-season, as if somebody didn’t get the memo that Gary Waters retired.

So, in effect, the institution that incentivized the heck out of Felton with six figures worth of bonuses if he performs well saddled him with the same game plan that really didn’t excite anybody inside or outside campus. This basically guarantees that nobody will care what happens to the Vikings this season, unless Felton somehow goes rogue and starts promoting out of the circle of apathy he currently finds himself in.

And with Rob Edwards officially deciding to transfer to Arizona State, the glimmer of a true star has faded away, leaving Felton with a gaggle of role players (save for Kash Thomas and, potentially, Shawn Christian), as well as unknown spring signees.

With yet another year’s worth of unknowns concerning the basketball program and a university that has proven itself completely incapable of drawing and sustaining the attention of anybody to its crown jewel, fans may very well be at their wit’s end with Cleveland State.

And that might mean finding another college hoops team to root for, if you’ve gotten to that breaking point. So, as always, I’m here to help. Here are some potential new schools.

Ohio State

I start with the obvious one, mostly because if you’re a Cleveland State student, you’re already paying way more attention to OSU than the school you actually attend. As far as basketball is concerned, though, this may be a trap. The Buckeyes have been pretty mediocre the last few seasons, to the extent that there’s a legitimate debate as to how much longer Thad Matta will remain as coach. That said, you probably own all kinds of Ohio State gear, so you do you.

Youngstown State

Don’t look now, but Youngstown State has decided it cares about men’s basketball. That much was clear when the Penguins tapped Fairmont State’s Jerrod Calhoun as its new head coach. Calhoun, of course, was widely thought to be a favorite for the CSU gig. But since that didn’t happen, Calhoun is making it his mission to convince Northeast Ohio prep stars to forgo downtown Cleveland and make the trek to the Mahoning Valley. And let’s not forget YSU still has All-Horizon League star Cameron Morse, who scores in bunches.

Kent State

Last year was supposed to be a down year for Kent State, and the Golden Flashes still won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rob Senderoff will be looking to expound on his success from this past season. And even better news, if you’re an active reader of Cleveland.com, Kent State will actually get coverage! The only down side is that the MAC Center is kind of a hike and parking is a nightmare.


Like Kent State, Akron benefits from Cleveland.com caring about what the Zips do. And it may be quite a bit, seeing as how longtime head coach Keith Dambrot has left for Duquesne. Replacing him was another name that was tossed about during the Cleveland State coaching search, John Groce. It’s probably going to be a rebuilding year for Akron, but at least it will get people’s attention.

John Carroll

If you’ve had it with Division I basketball, you might as well take a look at one of the most successful Division III schools in the area, John Carroll University. Ask Kentucky’s John Calipari about the Blue Streaks, whose player rotation he emulated a few years back. And while legendary head coach Mike Moran has retired, he is being replaced by assistant coach Pete Moran. As a former player (not to mention Mike’s son), the younger Moran will carry his father’s work forward into the future.

If putting together a list of teams to follow instead of Cleveland State is harsh, particularly to those who continue to preach patience, this is where we’re at. It’s almost as if athletics has decided it’s not worth the work to actively seek out new fans, even though the additional revenue would make it look like the program isn’t cool with sponging off of students.

And you’re not off the hook, either, students. In fact, with every passing year, you look more like suckers. Why? Because you spend more money per year on average on something you don’t care about (athletics) than something you go out of your way to complain about everyday (parking)!

The off-season doesn’t mean CSU get to take April through October off promoting men’s basketball, but from an outsider’s point of view, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Listen to the angry fans, for once. And maybe you can start to right the ship.

Email bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

Welcome to the Cleveland State Youth Movement

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters has always relied on senior leadership throughout his tenure to provide some form of stability to his squad. In years past, you could easy differentiate the successful teams from those that weren’t based on the number of seniors on the roster.

Using that as a measure, it’s rather easy to see that in years where only one senior played a role in the rotation, the Vikings struggled. This was true during the 2012-13 season, Tim Kamczyc’s senior year, and last season, when Vinny Zollo was the lone senior.

So, in a season as critical and as uncertain as this one is for Cleveland State, it’s a bit surprising that only one senior, Demonte Flannigan, is a part of this roster. And for the first two games against Kent State and Canisius, the Vikings didn’t even have him. Prior to the game against the Flashes at Youngstown State’s Beeghly Center, Flannigan was rushed to the hospital due to chest pains.

And he wasn’t cleared to play in the subsequent game versus the Golden Griffins, either, which left Cleveland State down three players, with Flannigan joining juniors Gavin Peppers and Terrelle Hales on the sidelines.

In the opening half of the Kent State game, fans could feel the sense of dread that dogged them all last year creep in. The Vikings were shooting blanks and going down by as much as 21 points with five minutes left in the half. Not helping matters was the fact that fans who couldn’t make the trip to Youngstown found themselves shut out of both the audio and video feeds online for a big chunk of that half.

But a funny thing happened on the way to navel-gazing. Cleveland State finally snapped out of what’s been a nearly year-long funk and did what it usually does when knocked down: fight back. And it was Jamarcus Hairston, the junior-college forward, who tossed in a three-pointer to force overtime against the Flashes.

Even though the Vikings ran out of gas and fell, 79-74, it seemed as if there may be some glimpses of what had been hallmarks of the program in the Waters era. And something else stuck out as noteworthy: The underclassmen, particularly the freshmen and sophomores, played a major role in the comeback.

In years past, Waters has been adamant about not starting freshmen right away. This was even true last year, as Rob Edwards didn’t get his first start until the Rhode Island game and Jibri Blount didn’t get the nod until the January 30th contest against Horizon League foe UIC.

However, it seems that necessity, and perhaps a superstar in the making, has prompted Waters to re-think his original notion. With Peppers out, Waters turned to freshman Kash Thomas to take on the role of floor general. And in the Kent State game, he finished with 13 points and nine assists.

And Flannigan’s absence has spurred on Evan Clayborne’s introduction into the rotation, chipping in four rebounds in 32 minutes against the Flashes.

The youth movement’s next test came on Tuesday night against Canisius, and impressively, the Vikings did something else fans haven’t seen in a while: provide a balanced attack against its foe. Five Cleveland State players, including Edwards, Blount, Thomas, junior Bobby Word and, coming out of nowhere, Derek Sloan, all scored in double figures en route to a 67-64 win.

Without a senior in the rotation at the moment, it appears that the Vikings have made the adjustments needed, making this a potential sign that the 2015-16 disaster will soon be a distant memory. With a very tough UT-Martin squad coming up and nationally-ranked Kentucky on the horizon, wins may be hard to come by in the near-term.

But as Waters would likely echo sentiments he’s conveyed in years past: Judge this team in January and February. Perhaps this year, that judgment will be that Cleveland State is back to where it usually is: Within shouting distance of the top of the Horizon League standings.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Penn State Can’t Shake Paterno

Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, won the league title in 1994 with an 8-0 conference record, and hasn’t won an outright title ever since. The program has never achieved the dominance of its new conference home that partisans expected two decades ago, but those same fans have to be looking back wistfully now at those interim years of New Year’s Day bowl games and double-digit victory seasons. It’s been a while.

In fact, it’s been seven years since the Nittany Lions went 11-2 and won the Capital One Bowl after the 2009 season. This decade has been a succession of mediocre campaigns, coaching controversies and Pinstripe Bowls. The cause of the recent mediocrity, of course, is not a mystery.

Five years ago Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of the sordid Jerry Sandusky criminality, rocking the Happy Valley community’s beloved football program to its foundations. It is certainly not my purpose here to rehash that saga. The perpetrator is behind bars and the coaching legend is six feet under. Still, controversy rages, and the football program staggers on.

What made the Sandusky story and the resulting media orgy so unnerving to college football fans at the time was the way dirty, nasty reality had rudely invaded their Saturday afternoon escapism from dirty, nasty reality. How dare it do that?  They reacted much like Paterno reportedly did when, in 1976, he was confronted by witness JohnDoe150 with the story of an early Sandusky abuse, “I don’t want to hear about any of that kind of stuff, I have a football season to worry about”

Then just this past September, the still somewhat deluded Penn State community decided to commemorate Paterno with a halftime ceremony at the Rutgers game, and the media reacted much as they did five years ago…by trying to out-outrage each other. One wonders what the Penn State fan base thought would happen. They’re not over him. Neither is the football team.

Bill O’Brien presided over an 8-4 team in 2012 and a 7-6 team in 2013, both years with a roster severely depleted by NCAA sanctions. O’Brien won nearly universal praise from media types for righting the ship in troubled waters, but over time he grew frustrated with administration politics, and the never-ending battles with the faction he called “the Paterno people”.  He bolted to the NFL’s Houston Texans after 2013, and if my Twitter timeline is a reliable indicator, that has embittered some Nittany Lions fans. As far as I know, his first name does not begin with an “F”.

Franklin does however, and Lions’ 3rd year head coach has not escaped the wrath of a football community impatient for a return to glory. He entered 2016 coming off back-to-back seasons of 7-6. In the eyes of his detractors, the Lions’ non-conference wins over Kent State and Temple this fall aren’t enough to balance out getting drilled 49-10 by Michigan and dropping one to cross-state rival Pitt.

Like the dreaded vote of confidence, the periodic assurances by PSU officials that Franklin “is not on the hot seat” merely reflect the fact that much of the community feels he is right there on it.  

With a 4-2 record going into this weekend’s nationally televised matchup with #2 Ohio State, James Franklin has a chance to back up the predictions of Bill O’Brien and others, who have forecast a return to college football’s elite under his leadership.

After the Buckeyes visit, the remainder of the schedule is not daunting. Penn State avoids the two best teams from the Big Ten West, Wisconsin and Nebraska, and plays Iowa and a flailing Michigan State team at home. The roster is back to a full 85 scholarship players, and a respectable bowl game is well within reach. The administration counsels patience. The coach asks fans to trust the process.

An upset win Saturday could get the program’s fans finally looking forward with optimism rather than back with mixed emotions at the man in the white shirt and the black glasses.  It’s about time.

E-mail Dan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dwismar.

Photo: Wikipedia

Pour One Out for Miami University’s Chuck Martin

This season, for the first time since 2006, alcohol will be sold at Yager Stadium – the home of Miami University football. What they once cited as a security headache, the university now considers a viable option in boosting home attendance.

Last season, the RedHawks average attendance amounted to 15,707 per game – only 708 beyond failing to meet the NCAA’s stated attendance requirement for Division I programs. Faced with the threat of losing that Division I membership, how does Miami University respond? By boozing up college kids.

It isn’t hard to do the math. Currently, the students of Miami University (of which I am one) congregate every Saturday at off-campus bars outfitted with fancy TVs and alcohol of every kind and color. Those students, fittingly, then spend their Sundays congregating over trashcans.

A football game isn’t even on those students’ radars. Miami follows the logic that, if you booze it, they will come.

It’s hard to believe a thriving college town with a Division I football program could display so much apathy towards a biweekly Saturday home game. For fans of the Miami RedHawks, a team with 37 losses over the previous four seasons, apathy is all one can reasonably muster. The team is pitiful, and everybody here knows it.

Entering the season, there was hope. After securing the Mid-American Conference’s third-ranked recruiting class, the RedHawks undoubtedly featured one of the youngest rosters in the nation. Still, they returned a promising signal-caller in sophomore Billy Bahl behind an equally young but equally promising offensive line. And besides, surely a defense that allowed 32 points per game last season couldn’t possibly get worse. At the very least, there was hope.

After an 0-6 start, hope is but a memory. As a loss to an FCS squad confirmed, the team is just pitiful. However, at least from Miami University’s perspective, that’s not the concern. From Miami University’s perspective, here’s the one, major concern:

College football is dead in this town.

Oxford, Ohio has placed the task of reviving college football at one man’s feet. His name is Chuck Martin.

Just about the only place Martin has succeeded is the recruiting trail. Everybody expected Miami to be in for a gargantuan rebuilding process, but nobody expected the third year of that process to look like 0-6. When Don Treadwell began his third season with the RedHawks 0-5, he didn’t even get the chance to go 0-6. It seems like Martin is on borrowed time.

If Chuck Martin doesn’t defeat Kent State in a home game on Saturday, he’ll be fired sooner rather than later. There’s no 5-0 run stored in this team.

Based on his recruiting efforts, I’m inclined to think Martin is a decent coach. Based on Miami’s 8.8 penalties per game, I’m inclined to think he isn’t. Regardless of whether or not he’s decent, Chuck Martin certainly isn’t anything special. Only special coaches are capable of handling the absurd undertakings of a run-down, mid-major program. Not only does he have to completely restock the cupboard with serviceable talent, but Martin has to revolutionize a program detached from its community and its fanbase. Miami University hopes Chuck Martin can elevate MACtion to a lucrative level. That’s simply ludicrous.

This doesn’t just apply to Chuck Martin. This applies to Mike Jinks. This applies to Rod Carey. This applies to any Group of 5 coach at their wits’ end in developing a path forward for stagnant teams and worthless programs. If small athletic departments consistently struggle to even surmise a profit, how are coaches supposed to produce consistent success in a similar space?

So, Miami University will suit up this Saturday against Kent State and probably lose. If the RedHawks are going to win any game this season, you’d think this would be the one. If there is any God, you’d think this would be the one.

Luckily, fans can now drown their sorrows by throwing back a beer…or two, or three. While they’re at it, I implore those fans to consider pouring one out for Chuck Martin. Here’s to Chuck Martin: a likely victim of an impalpable college football culture utterly impossible to build.

Then again – before anybody can buy a beer, somebody has to show up.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

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Cleveland State’s 2016-17 Men’s Road Schedule is Great; Home Schedule Needs Some Work, Again

When the 2016-17 Cleveland State men’s basketball schedule was released, in all honesty, there was very little left to the imagination of fans. That’s because, for the most part, the non-conference opponents had already been laid out, thanks to the active tweeting of the D1 Hoops Schedule Twitter account.

In fact, the only mystery prior to the official CSU schedule release was how many non-Division I opponents the Vikings would face this season. As the slate revealed, the answer is just one: A December 19 game against Division II Lake Erie College at the Wolstein Center. The good news is that it’s less than the two non-D1 foes CSU usually faces every season. The bad news is that in spite of recent correspondence to a fan by athletic director John Parry, there will not be 15 home games, as originally planned.

One of the other surprises that was revealed before Cleveland State’s official schedule announcement was the slate of non-conference opponents that the Vikings would host at Quicken Loans Arena. While the December 7 contest against Western Michigan had already been posted, the second game will be December 3 against Bethune-Cookman.

The scheduling of B-C has likely been a long time coming, given that their head coach is Gravelle Craig, whose resume when he played at Cleveland State was a highly impressive one. However, with the 2015 agreement between Quicken Loans Arena and CSU in mind, the Bethune-Cookman contest would probably had been better suited at the Wolstein Center.

And that may be the one head-scratcher related to the entire schedule. All of the high-profile Viking opponents, including Kentucky, Purdue, Belmont, Kent State and Ohio, are all on the road. In the case of the Bruins and Bobcats, they are return games from when both team visited Cleveland last season. And the Golden Flashes are CSU’s Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer opponent this season at Youngstown State.

The home slate, on the other hand, is one of the thinnest in recent memory. Akron and Toledo, mentioned by head coach Gary Waters on his radio show in February, never materialized. And there was clearly no way that a non-Division I foe would ever make it to the Quicken Loans Arena slate. Finally, the appeal of the Q has still not sufficiently persuaded power-conference schools to sign up to make the trek to Cleveland. All of these factors had to have led to the decision to opt for Bethune-Cookman to be the opponent at the home of the Cavaliers.

One of the chief issues that Cleveland State season ticket holders have expressed in the off-season is the decision by the Cavs to push early renewals, with those signing up late incurring additional fee hikes. Now, it would appear that even early season ticket renewals cost more per game than last year, with only 13 games on the home slate, as opposed to 15.

In addition, the long-running problem the Vikings have had in scheduling opponents that would appeal to the masses still dogs them. Moreover, what exactly is the plan to sell a game like Bethune-Cookman to the masses? While Craig was a great Cleveland State player, the memory of his performances have, in all likelihood, long faded from the casual fan’s memory.

This is to say nothing about scheduling conflicts between CSU and the Cavs that couldn’t be avoided. For instance, the November 15 game between the Vikings and Canisius runs up against the Cavs and Raptors, while the Horizon League opener versus conference tournament champ Green Bay on December 29 will bump up next to the Cavs-Celtics.

From a competitive standpoint, Cleveland State should fare far better than the disastrous 9-23 campaign last season. In fact, it can be argued that the Vikings have a shot in all but the tilts against Kentucky and Purdue during the non-conference schedule, and only Valparaiso, widely regarded as the favorite to win the Horizon League, and possibly Oakland and Green Bay present stumbling blocks for them.

But where is the push to get people, both inside and outside of Cleveland State, excited about this season? What is the plan to generate interest to get people to the games, particularly at the Wolstein Center?

These are questions that haven’t been sufficiently answered in at least the past two seasons (possibly longer) and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of an answer coming for this year.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image courtesy of CSUVikings.com

The BielemaMeter: Remember to Respect the #MACtion

When, I find myself tasked with a difficult situation, I simply ask myself: if Bret Bielema were in this situation, what would Bret Bielema do? Then, once I have determined that answer, I proceed to do the exact opposite of that thing.

Why? Because, you see, Bret Bielema is an idiot.

On a highly-classified list of the MAC’s Ten Most Wanted, Bret Bielema clearly ranks Public Enemy #1. And it all goes back to September 9, 2015, when Bret Bielema unfortunately found himself in front of a microphone.

First off, everybody knows criticizing cupcake schedules is a thankless job reserved for stooges like me who write for college sports blogs. For the head coach of an SEC football team? Way out of bounds. Cool your jets, Bret. Bielema’s jab at a clearly better coach and a clearly better program also contained some hidden commentary. Ohio State’s 2015 schedule featured noteworthy bouts against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois- two of the MAC’s strongest programs. Was Bielema suggesting that the Mid-American Conference isn’t worthy?

That’s right, folks. Bret Bielema made a critical error. Bret Bielema didn’t respect the #MACtion.

Bret Bielema also paid the price. Just three days after dismissing the MAC as an inferior conference, Toledo stormed their way into Fayetteville and took Bielema to the cleaners, rocketing the Razorbacks straight back to reality. The takeaway? There is one, simple rule when it comes to non-conference #MACtion:

No one is safe.

With that in mind, let’s analyze all five of the MAC’s opportunities to pull off upsets against AP Top 25 teams early this season. I’ll break down each game and then rank the likelihood of an upset based on a super-duper scientific metric known as the BielemaMeter. Essentially, the more Bielema it sounds, the more Bielema it is; the more Bielema it is, the more likely a Power Five team is about to come crashing down.

Week 1: Miami (OH) at #17 Iowa

Last time the RedHawks faced the Hawkeyes, a young Ben Roethlisberger stood under center, throwing four interceptions in a 21-3 thumping at Kinnick Stadium. The RedHawks won every other game in the 2003 season, chalking up the Iowa game as another exercise in what could’ve been.

There will be no one loss seasons for the RedHawks this time around. Miami is still undergoing a Chuck Martin rebuild, leaving them at least another year away from any legitimate contention against a top echelon squad.

Meanwhile, Iowa returns much of the talent that garnered a Rose Bowl big a season ago. The defense returns eight starters, including Jim Thorpe Award-winner Desmond King. The offense also returns eight starters, including quarterback C.J. Beathard and many vital components to 2015’s vibrant rushing attack. In Week 1, Iowa will basically be starting where they left off. Miami? Not so much. There’s still too much work to do in Oxford.

BielemaMeter: a Rose Bowl victory. You can’t get any less Bret Bielema than a Rose Bowl victory. Iowa shouldn’t have any trouble dispatching the RedHawks, so long as Billy Bahl doesn’t morph into Ben Roethlisberger through some fratty, Miami wizardry.

Week 1: Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State

I won’t lie: I think Bowling Green can keep this game interesting for about a quarter. Then, Ohio State’s firepower takes over. It’ll be intriguing to see how Ohio State copes with the departure of twelve draftees, but it won’t be because Bowling Green displays any ability to expose them.

We’ve seen Ohio State slouch down to non-conference competition in seasons past. Remember when Northern Illinois almost caught the 2015 Buckeyes napping? I suspect, with a younger team now hungry to prove themselves, the 2016 Buckeyes won’t follow suit. Bowling Green needs to string together a load of big plays to mount any chance in countering the speed, size, and skill of this Ohio State team. As confident as I am in picking Bowling Green to carry the MAC East, I don’t see nearly enough experience in this team to warrant any expectation for a competitive game.

BielemaMeter: the state of Wisconsin. Bielema flirted with Wisconsin for a few years before defecting to Arkansas. I expect Ohio State to flirt briefly with losing before sending Bowling Green back to the wrong side of Ohio.

Week 2: Central Michigan at #21 Oklahoma State

These are two teams that everybody is sleeping on. In a questionable Big 12, who’s to say the Cowboys can’t claim the conference? And who’s to say Central Michigan can’t create some mischief in a hotly-contested MAC West?

Oklahoma State opens their season tomorrow against Southeastern Louisiana, which certainly isn’t a very inspired choice. Thus, the Chippewas provide Oklahoma State their season with its first real dose of competition. The same was true last year, when the Chippewas opened their season in Stillwater with a 24-13 defeat.

With offensive weapons like Mason Rudolph, Marcell Ateman, and James Washington, expect Oklahoma State to score many points and throw many passes. Their running game suffered last season, a weakness Central Michigan’s defense might be able to capitalize on. Ultimately, Oklahoma State is going to score a massive amount of points. Either Cooper Rush and Central Michigan reciprocate, or they become just another bullseye in a round of Pistol Pete’s target practice.

BilemaMeter: an SEC championship. Bielema has never won an SEC championship, nor do I ever expect him to. But, if one day every other SEC team vanished out of thin air, there’s at least a slight chance Bielema could win it. Similarly, I don’t expect Central Michigan to beat Oklahoma State, but I’m leaving the window of opportunity cracked slightly open as a member of the Cooper Rush fan club.

Week 3: Ohio at #9 Tennessee

I’m certainly not sold on Butch Jones and the Volunteers this early in the season. After Thursday’s atrocious showing against Appalachian State, nobody is.

Tennessee’s offensive line bordered on disaster last night, which is something they’ll obviously need to correct if they hope to make a run in the SEC. But never mind the SEC, how about the Ohio Bobcats? Ohio features perhaps the stiffest front seven in all the MAC, a battle in the trenches for which Tennessee might not be adequately prepared. Plus, Tennessee’s tilt against the Bobcats serves as a wedge between two very high-profile contests: one at Bristol Speedway against Virginia Tech, one against the Florida Gators that may decide the SEC East.

Ohio certainly lacks the flash you’d expect out of a promising underdog, but the skill pieces are in place for the Bobcats to compete. The Bobcats can out-grind even the grittiest of opponents when Frank Solich has them firing on all cylinders- even those in Bielema’s beloved SEC. Granted, Ohio doesn’t look quite as strong as in years past, and they’ll likely need poise from an inexperienced Greg Windham to secure a fighting chance. But Butch Jones is prone to slow starts, and the climate seems right for another SEC shakeup. When it comes to #MACtion, anything is possible.

BielemaMeter: Jen Bielema. Yes, the wife of the Bretmaster happens to be smoking hot– just like this matchup’s BielemaMeter. Tennessee, beware- the Bobcats are on the prowl. One more disappointing season, and we may forget why we’re even supposed to care about you.

Week 4: Kent State at #1 Alabama


BielemaMeter: freshly-tossed salad. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Bret Bielema venturing among leafy greens, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody willing to bet against the Crimson Tide in a shameless, non-conference cakewalk. Remember to respect the #MACtion Bret, or you may be eating spinach and romaine for the remainder of your days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

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

The Mid-American Conference’s Best Football Games of 2016

Who’s ready for some MACtion? In 2015, the Mid-American conference was basically just a playground for Bowling Green. Quarterback Matt Johnson threw his way to 46 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards, leading the Falcons to a MAC championship and a ranking as the sixth-highest scoring team in the country. With Johnson now off to chase an NFL dream, the MAC should be wide open in 2016. Here are the ten games that will determine who, if anyone, can prevent back-to-back titles for Bowling Green.

10. Kent State @ Penn State (Saturday, September 3)

Kent State was 3-9 last year with two wins coming against UMass and Delaware State. Penn State was a mediocre 7-6 but finished 6-1 at home. Kent State won’t win this one, but with 18 starters back they should put up a good fight. If not, it could be another long year for the Golden Flashes.

9. Miami (OH) @ Ohio (Saturday, October 1)

This rivalry game is known as the Battle of the Bricks, so that’s cool. These teams will be positioning for a run in the MAC East. Miami struggled to a 3-9 season last year but should show improvement with 15 starters back. Ohio brings back just 11 while losing their starting quarterback.

8. Western Michigan @ Georgia Southern (Saturday, September 24)

This is a game the MAC will really want as a conference. Georgia Southern stomped the MAC Champion Falcons of Bowling Green in their bowl game to the tune of 58-27 last year. The game will feature a contrast in styles between Western Michigan’s balanced offensive attack and a Georgia Southern’s triple-option that produced over 4,700 yards rushing last year.

7. Kent State @ Bowling Green (Tuesday, November 15)

The MAC East is pretty wide open this year, not knowing what to expect from Bowling Green with QB Matt Johnson no longer around. By the time this game rolls around, we’ll know if Kent State has competed at all in the conference. Even if they haven’t, this will be a good chance for an upset against a first-time starting quarterback.

6. Northern Illinois @ Kent State (Friday, November 25)

If there’s a sleeper team in the MAC in 2016, it could be Kent State who returns a nation-high 18 starters this year. The defense was good enough during a 3-9 2015 campaign, but the offense just might need to improve on the paltry 73 points it scored in eight conference games.

5. Western Michigan @ Northwestern (Saturday, September 3)

Western Michigan has a chance to make a statement in this game. Northwestern will have a pretty inexperienced team playing in its season opener against a team it could overlook. Northwestern may have gone 10-3 last year, but was unimpressive in its biggest games. The Broncos are more than capable of putting up points against the Wildcats.

4. Central Michigan @ Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 10)

The Chippewas are unlikely to win this game, but if they play Oklahoma State well on the road it could spell trouble for the rest of the MAC. However unlikely it may be, it is the Mid-American Conference’s best chance to make a statement in the non-conference.

3. Western Michigan @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, October 8)

This is the third of the round-robin of games between the three teams likely to compete for the MAC West divisional crown (Toledo was the fourth to finish 6-2 last year, but returns just ten starters in 2016). Unfortunately for Western Michigan, it plays both games against the other two on the road, back to back.

2. Central Michigan @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, October 15)

Another huge match-up in the MAC West, Central Michigan handed the Huskies one of their two conference losses in 2015. With their starting quarterback returning as well as eight starters on defense, the Chippewas could be on their way to the conference championship game with a road win here.

1. Western Michigan @ Central Michigan (Saturday, October 1)

With Matt Johnson’s time up at Bowling Green, these two rivals will feature the two best quarterbacks in a high-scoring conference. They were also two of the four teams to go 6-2 in the MAC West and will compete again to try and overtake Northern Illinois for a spot in the title game.

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy David Wilson

Kent State Looks to Fend Off Buffalo as Season Ends

Coming off two tough losses at the hands of Buffalo and Miami, Kent State is looking to close out their 2015-2016 regular season with wins against Bowling Green and Akron.

The Golden Flashes could hypothetically claim the second spot in their division when it is all said and done, but right now the focus should be fending off the Bulls in the standings.

Buffalo is coming off a shaky five-game stretch that saw them lose three in a row and go 2-3 overall. The Bulls are led by sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden, who leads the team in scoring at 13.5 PPG. Buffalo won both of their match-ups against Kent State this season, which means they win the tiebreaker if it comes down to it. The Bulls plays the two worst teams in the MAC East to close out the season, while the Flashes faces the top-seeded Zips in the last match of the season.

Kent State had a chance for this to not even be a topic of discussion. They trailed by three at the half in their game against Buffalo on February 23rd, letting Buffalo go on a 14-0 run in the second half and ultimately watching them pull away.

Kent State has struggled to score at times during the season, relying largely on their high offensive rebounding margin to score them some second chance points to make up for it. They will have to bring their A game against Akron, a team that is a top five scoring offense and defense in the MAC.

The Flashes did beat the Zips in their first match-up of the season, using an inside scoring effort to match Akron’s outside shooting. Kent State outscored Akron 48-34 in the paint.

Whether or not the Golden Flashes keeps their place in the standings, they will be a tough out in the MAC tournament next month. They are an elite rebounding team in the MAC and prowl the perimeter on defense, making any match-up with them very tough. They have bigs that can run the floor and guards that can block shots. This unusual dynamic has proved successful for Kent State and will make them a fun show to watch for the coming years.

E-mail Kevin at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @kmcgheee.

Photo courtesy of Stadiumandarenavisits.com