Tag Archives: Mid-American Conference Football

The Big Ten Does Its Best MAC Impression

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Big Ten’s recent adoption of Friday football is exactly that.

Last week, the conference announced the inclusion of six Friday night contests in its 2017 television partnership with FOX. “All things considered we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water,” said Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner.

Sure Big Ten, it’s fine to dip your toe in the water, but understand this: there’s a big, blood-thirsty shark lurking in that water. That shark? The #MACtion.

The Big Ten can conceal its jealousy for the Mid-American Conference no longer. After years of watching weekday football from the outside looking in, Delany and the Big Ten finally caved to their better instincts. The only way for the Big Ten to solidify itself as a premier college football conference is to follow in the MAC’s footsteps.

After all, what does the Big Ten have that the MAC doesn’t? The MAC’s best team is ranked above ten teams in the Big Ten and defeated two of those teams. You can’t tell me watching Purdue on a Saturday is that much more valuable than watching Miami University on a Friday.

Let’s not even consider the fact that weekday games are a terrible idea for the Big Ten. Let’s not even consider the horrific effects it’ll have on recruiting for benchmark programs like Penn State and Michigan. Let’s simply evaluate how pathetic it is that the Big Ten is stooping to the MAC’s level.

By adding weekday games, the Big Ten is admitting it cannot compete within the traditional Saturday slate. Maybe Ohio State and Wisconsin can. But Illinois? Iowa? Rutgers? Maryland? Not so much. Moving to a weekday sends the clear message that those teams are effectively as hapless as MAC members when it comes to generating television revenue. It also sends the message that attendance at those games are so bad already that moving to Fridays – where they’ll presumably lose ticket sales – won’t really matter.

The Big Ten has never looked stronger in recent history, which is why the decision to relegate their product to Friday evenings is so peculiar. Perhaps the Big Ten brass understand that action needs to be taken in order to salvage the lagging members of the conference.

Or maybe they’re just paying homage to their conference from another mother. Looking at you, MAC. Never change.

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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The Oversaturation Killing the NFL is Good for College Football

All this time, the NFL has seemed so bullet-proof, but we’re seeing vulnerability in the armor. People aren’t watching as much, and they don’t like the way the product is being dispersed.

What plagues the professional game actually seems to aid college football. While we understand Saturday remains the best day to see the best games, we don’t feel like the occasional Thursday or Friday games are scheduled to do us dirty.

You want to play one of these games on the moon at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday, College Football fans will adjust. Just tell them when/where the tailgate is, and they’re cool.

Tell an NFL fan that Sunday Ticket is only offering a game that his antenna won’t in the late spot on Sunday, and they’re livid with London and Thursday Night Football. The presentation of the NFL game is too clean for fans to adapt to these random game-time windows.

College Football fans see Thursday, and now also Tuesday and Wednesday, as an opportunity to showcase a game that might be buried on ESPNU or some dreaded streaming option at noon on Saturday.

Western Michigan is the “Other” Team

Last Tuesday, the nation’s “other” unbeaten team had the undivided attention of the College Football diehards in Muncie. Maybe a 32-point win over Ball State isn’t that sexy on paper, but did you see what Corey Davis did?

Do you feel anything was flukey about Western Michigan’s 9-0 start? Maybe you understand the pecking order, and where the Mid-American Conference gets pecked. Maybe there’s an obligation to qualify the two road wins over the Big Ten by reminding everyone that Illinois was one of those wins. Maybe you wonder if the MAC juggernaut deserves to be on the field with a mid-major darling like Boise State.

Friday night, by the way, a nationwide audience was given a chance to watch the other Broncos bounce back from their first loss of the season, which happened on October 29.

Remember the 80s?

Just for kicks, you could have watched games involving Oklahoma and Colorado last Thursday. Maybe something like that would have excited you more 25-30 years ago, but those games affect the outcome of the Big 12 and Pac-12, because the present is weird.

You love it, and it takes nothing away from Saturday afternoon or evening.

Election Threads and Football on the Diamond

This coming Tuesday, Eastern Michigan will continue a semi-annual MAC tradition of paying homage to democracy with Election Day uniforms, back in Muncie–for #MACtion. Speaking of everyone’s favorite non-defense-playing conference, you’ll be sure to see Cubs fans from DeKalb to Northern Ohio trolling Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s south side this Wednesday.

It’s football at a baseball stadium. Yeah, Northwestern and Illinois got Wrigley on a Saturday, and GameDay went to Wrigleyville. This next chapter in the great Toledo-Northern Illinois saga might get Roy Philbott, Rocky Boiman, and an ESPN2 production crew to urban Illinois on a school night.

Does Anyone Get Pac-12 Network?

Thursday, we get Utah in the Valley of the Sun, for the FS1 weekend preview. It’s up to the Utes to prove that anyone other than Washington is worth a damn in that conference. This game isn’t being stolen from ABC at 3:30, but more likely from a channel you don’t get, even if you live in Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

NBC is Glad It’s You, Not Them

CBS gave you three games on Saturday, just as they would when they have London and the 1 PM/4 PM doubleheader on Sunday. They got Notre Dame because they have Navy rights. Notre Dame lost again; great moment for Navy. Is College Football worse off for the Irish’s 3-6 campaign?

I doubt CBS or Navy care. They’re going to care about records a lot more in December when they’re selling some lousy SEC East team’s upset potential against Alabama in Atlanta.

Hurts Donut?

Speaking of the Tide, Jalen Hurts may have provided the only offensive spark for Alabama in a 10-0 win in Death Valley at night. There’s a joke to be told including Alabama’s quarterback’s last name and a breakfast food that looks like a zero, but I’m striking out.

The networks are hitting it out of the park though and in doing so, they’ve won us over with quantity over quality. More may mean too much on Sunday, but we love it on Saturday, Thursday, and sometimes Tuesday.

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An Open Letter to Kirby Hocutt (on Behalf of the #MACtion)

Dear College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt,

Sup Kirby? How you been?

I’ve been pretty good myself. As you know, the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings are about to be unveiled, the Big 12 is in shambles, and, if you haven’t noticed, the state of the #MACtion is STRONG. Like, Frank Solich-wrestling-a-bear caliber STRONG. Like, Charlie Strong-when-he-was-still-at-Louisville STRONG.

And that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about Kirby. You see, I love Alabama just as much as the next guy. I’ll concede that they’re a fairly decent football team. Between the two of us, we both know they’re going to be the leader in your rankings.

Then, you’ll fill your rankings with three more undefeated powerhouses. You’ll likely have Clemson second, Michigan third, and you’ll obviously leave that coveted fourth spot to…

…the Western Michigan Broncos.

Now, Kirby, I know what you’re thinking: this is so obvious, why would I even bother saying it? Well, unfortunately, there are those among us who seek to undermine the integrity of the country’s greatest conference.

There is an alarmingly large contingent of college football fans this week that believe the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff should go to the Washington Huskies. That’s right. Washington.

Now, Kirby, I know what you’re thinking (again): is Washington even a state? The answer is no, Kirby, it’s not a state – it’s part of Canada. But that’s beside the point. Regardless of their questionable statehood, they aren’t nearly as ELITE as Western Michigan.

Who has five consecutive victories scoring over 40 points? Western Michigan. Who has not one, but TWO road victories over Big 10 teams? Western Michigan. Who is averaging over 500 yards of offense per game? Western Michigan. Who has one of the best head coaches in college football (and also a candidate for the Dodd Trophy come season end)? Western Michigan.

How is Western Michigan not the clear choice? To be honest Kirby, I’m not sure. Some naysayers cite “strength of schedule” as an excuse to exclude the Broncos, but their vision must be blinded from that Canadian mountain fog.

Sure, the Huskies notched a non-conference win over a Big 10 school, except the win came at home and against Rutgers, so it really doesn’t count. Besides that, they played Idaho and an FCS team. Where’s the strength in that?

Western Michigan scheduled their season to be as challenging as possible. They arranged two series with two Power 5 teams in Northwestern and Illinois. Another one of their opponents, Georgia Southern, swept the Sun Belt last season and another opponent, North Carolina Central, hasn’t lost a game since they lost to WMU. It seems to me Western Michigan played a markedly tougher non-conference schedule, and that’s all a program can really control.

Both teams are eviscerating their respective conferences and both teams can play in conference championship games, so I see no advantage there. If anything, one could argue that Western Michigan has it tougher – they’re placed in quite possibly the most lopsided conference division in all of college football.

Plus, just WATCH awesome skill players like Jarvion Franklin, who’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry, or Keion Adams, who has registered 6 sacks, or Corey Davis, who has 11 touchdown catches on the season, or Zach Terrell, who boasts a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20:1. How can you deny a team this dominant?

Spoiler alert: you can’t.

I know we’re on the same page Kirby – Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, then Western Michigan. Unless you wanted to switch Michigan with Western Michigan. I could understand that too.

I suppose Washington will have to wait its turn. Don’t worry, Washington is more than proficient at waiting to be good. They’ve had like a decade of practice.

Of course, I guess there’s a tiny, microscopic chance your committee opts for the Huskies. I won’t be mad if that happens Kirby, just disappointed. The College Football Playoff is supposed to be viable for every FBS program. That’s the beauty: anybody can win.

If you don’t think Western Michigan has what it takes to compete in this year’s playoff…I don’t know what you’re waiting for. The #MACtion can only get so strong. If even this team isn’t good enough, maybe you should rename it to be the “College Football PAYoff” to reflect the fact that only teams that PAY absurd amounts of money for new athletic facilities can get in. Or you can just kick the MAC out of the FBS. That too.

But I know you won’t do that Kirby. I have faith in you. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the MAC, and as William Shakespeare once wrote, “you can’t stop the #MACtion, baby.”

             With kind regards,

              Cole Hankins | Spokesman for the #MakeTheMACGreatAgain Movement

NOTE: If you would have interest in purchasing a “Make the MAC Great Again” Trump-styled trucker hat, please email me at the email address below.

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

Photo courtesy of pickleat – Pixabay

A Bowl Bid, a Forgotten Town, and a Microcosm of America

Right off Interstate 94, wedged just east of pristine Ann Arbor and just southwest of bustling Detroit, there’s a forgotten town of 20,000 called Ypsilanti, Michigan.

If you’ve never heard of Ypsilanti, yes, that’s exactly how it’s spelled. The town’s name derives from one Demetrius Ypsilanti: a Greek war hero immortalized for his service in the War of Independence. Despite all that tradition, as the locals will tell you, natives rarely call it Ypsilanti. Ypsi does just fine.

That’s not all the locals can tell you about Ypsi. In 1960, a little-known pizza shop called Domino’s opened for business there. In 2003, Ypsi’s (in)famous water tower received the honorable designation as the World’s Most Phallic Building. And, in 1986, Ypsilanti saw their home football team secure a Division I bowl victory. That feat hasn’t been achieved since.

Yes, Eastern Michigan University also resides in Ypsi — right beside the penis tower.  To say Eastern Michigan dominates town life would be an understatement; not only do over 35% of Ypsilantians qualify as college-aged (18-24), but EMU is by far Ypsi’s largest employer. It seems that EMU brings a beating heart to an otherwise lifeless city — one burned out on the way things are versus the way they used to be.

There used to be a Ford Auto Plant in Ypsi. In fact, after the plant opened in 1932, Henry Ford supposedly roamed its halls. Today, Henry Ford is dead, and so is his plant in Ypsi.

What began as a 63,000 square-foot hub of industrial, wartime America is now a 715,000 square-foot storage space acknowledged as one of the city’s most dangerous buildings.

You might not be surprised to learn that Ford sold the plant in 2007, two years before the company accepted a $5.9 billion federal loan. What you might be surprised to learn is that, at its height of operations in 1982, the Ford Ypsilanti Plant employed roughly 16 percent of the entire city – about 2,000 people. After the plant folded, those 2,000 people found themselves straight out of work and straight out of luck, which is why Ypsilanti’s population plummeted 34 percent over the last forty years. Over a quarter of Ypsilanti households currently earn less than $15,000 per year, and the Census Bureau reports that 30.4% of people living there do so in poverty.

This is not a story isolated to Ypsi, Michigan. This story has played out in the lives of everyday people across the country. Cars were luxuries in 1932; now they’re necessities. Factory jobs were commonplace in 1932; now they’re getting shipped overseas by the day. It’s just a fact of life.

Amidst all that misery, you might forget about Greek heroes and pizza chains. You might forget about Henry Ford and penis statues. You might even forget that Ypsilanti is home to a football team too, and as it turns out, the people of Ypsilanti certainly did.

In 2015, the team’s second year under head coach Chris Creighton, the Eagles finished 1-11 while averaging under 5,000 fans per game. Their defense allowed an inconceivable 317 rushing yards per game, and the year before, their offense surmised a mere 4.46 yards per play. Thus, nobody was surprised when the Eagles finished dead last in the 2016 MAC Preseason Media Poll, and rumors began swirling as to whether Eastern Michigan truly had any business participating in FBS football in the first place. The team earned their only FBS bowl invitation in 1987 – history so distant, the Eagles still called the Hurons. This is a program that has endured two winless seasons, a 22-game losing streak, shoddy attendance, perpetual coaching turnover, and, to top it all off, an embarrassing, profanity-laced tirade, even as it begs for a $27.3 million subsidy. So maybe those rumors aren’t just rumors. At that point, maybe you have no business playing FBS football.

But not so fast.

Nobody saw it coming, but the Eagles are currently building one of the strongest seasons in the modern history of the EMU program. What began as one easy victory against an FCS opponent quickly turned to two wins, then three. Add a road win against the defending MAC champion. Four wins. Add a road win against the current leader in the MAC East. Five.

Five wins for a team critics expected to dissolve altogether. It’s miraculous. It’s monumental. But it’s also not quite enough. Five wins in college football don’t mean a goddamn thing.

Eastern Michigan hosts the Miami RedHawks this weekend in search of their sixth win. If they find it, they enter the elusive realm of bowl eligibility.

There’s nothing overly flashy about how the Eagles are winning – they’re just gritty. In fact, they probably won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 3,000-yard passer this season. EMU protects the quarterback at an elite rate, allowing only five sacks on the season. The Eagles convert their red zone changes, going 35-38 inside the 20. And guess what? After allowing a gaudy 317 rushing yards per game last season, they’re currently averaging only 143. In 2016, there is no team in college football more resilient than the Eastern Michigan Eagles, and Ypsi is taking notice.

Rynearson Stadium isn’t going to be averaging under 5,000 fans a game again this season. Something about the Eagles appears to be drawing the city in. Maybe that something is a resilience they both share.

Just five wins ago, this football team and not-so-football town were seemingly lost and forgotten. For decades, people have fled Ypsilanti – just as critics wanted EMU to flee FBS football. In a rapidly evolving world, Ypsi’s blue collar overstayed its welcome – just as, in the college football arms race, EMU’s tiny athletic budget overstayed its welcome.

Now, five wins later, college football has given Ypsi a reason to hope, and if EMU can secure bowl eligibility this weekend, hope will spring eternal.

People are struggling in Ypsilanti just as people are struggling across the country. You can sympathize, rationalize, and politicize that all you want, but do any of those actions mitigate those people’s struggles? At the very least, Eastern Michigan football is giving Ypsilantians a reason to be excited about Ypsilanti, for however brief a moment. You know what? That means something.

So you won’t find EMU’s showdown with Miami broadcasted on national television this weekend, but nonetheless, there isn’t possibly a college football game with higher stakes. Instead of rankings, conference championships, and playoff spots on the line, it’s the spirit of an entire city. Ypsi might be struggling, but you’ll see absolutely no indication of that on Saturday.

And if they win? Well, let’s put it this way: the Eagles are no Greek heroes, but Ypsilanti might want to consider renaming the city after them anyways.

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

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

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PJ Fleck Deserves Better Than the MAC or Purdue

About that Purdue job, just say no. PJ Fleck should just continue to row that boat in Kalamazoo.

At 7-0, Western Michigan is in a good position to run the table, and in the conversation to represent the MAC Conference on the New Year’s Six slate. That’s a ways down the road, and there are some other factors to consider before we start getting too excited about any of that.

First, they have to take care of business in the MAC West, where remaining opponents Eastern Michigan, Ball State, and Toledo are a combined 14-6 overall. Toledo’s only slip-up of the year was that wild Friday night in Provo, which wasn’t worth Mack Brown’s time. Should the Broncos get to that game, for just the third time in the game’s 20-year history, they would be gunning for their first MAC crown since 1988.

Problem is, getting to Detroit has been a problem for everyone in the MAC West, except for Northern Illinois. Jerry Kill took the Huskies there in 2010, and NIU has represented the MAC West every year since. In 2011, it was Dave Doeren, and for the last three years, Rod Carey has led NIU into Detroit. That’s three coaches in six seasons.

That’s only a glimpse at the problem. During NIU’s six-year run of making that game, they’ve faced four different schools from the MAC East and seen five different head coaches. Of those five, only Ohio’s Frank Solich remains where he was.

Anyone can make an argument for seeking greener pastures than the Mid-American Conference. They are all very honest about what they are and where they fall in the pecking order. It looks dirty when they take the money and run, but while it’s never a perfect job, it’s always a better job when the money is that much better.

Real Success After MAC Success

Kill and Doeren left DeKalb for promising opportunities in high-major conferences, at Minnesota and North Carolina State, respectively. Kill’s high-major coaching career was cut short due to health, but his legacy lives on through his staff in Gopher Land. Meanwhile, Doeren is doing his best to get NC State on the same plane with the Florida State’s and Clemson’s of the world, in his fourth season in Raleigh.

The grass has been greener for them, and also Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, to name a few. Dave Clawson may only be 11-20 in his third season at Wake Forest, since leaving Bowling Green after their 2013 MAC Championship, but the Demon Deacons are 5-2 this season.

Winning in the MAC Doesn’t Always Translate

On the flip side, there are the guys who have left for Illinois. That wasn’t good.

How about Darrell Hazell? The former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State was hired by Purdue after an 11-1 year and MAC Championship defeat in his second season at Kent State. To win at Kent was something; to win in West Lafayette required something else. It was something Hazell didn’t have, leading the Boilermakers to a 9-33 mark in his three and a half seasons as the Purdue head coach.

At the end of the day, he either wasn’t ready or wasn’t good enough. That does happen; just look at Turner Gill. One minute, Gill is leading Buffalo past an undefeated Ball State team in Detroit. The next, he’s treading water at FCS Liberty after a failed go at Kansas.

Loyalty Eventually Means Losing

At present, Northern Illinois is 1-5, after dropping an overtime thriller to Central Michigan on Saturday. A drop-off was expected for this program, but at least they have a head coach that sticks around for the bowl game after the Conference Championship, but it isn’t unfair to explore the idea that Rod Carey isn’t good enough, even to be a big fish at the bottom of the FBS.

Can we say anyone willing to stay in the MAC, or anyone not good enough to get another offer, just won’t be good enough to sustain success? Now, Fleck happened to attend Northern Illinois, so maybe he’s not too good for the conference. However, his coaching past at his alma mater comes with the type of baggage that makes a reunion far from inevitable, which probably doesn’t change the soft spot he may or may not have for the conference.

PJ Fleck’s Immediate Future

Still, his ceiling is higher than what Western Michigan can ever be. The Big Ten seems like a logical leap for these MAC coaches to remain in the same region, but Fleck to Purdue yields nothing that resembles logic.

There is something about taking the jobs that are available, and you know LSU and Notre Dame aren’t knocking down PJ Fleck’s door. Given the current landscape in the Big Ten, Purdue may have the conference’s only vacancy until at least this time next year or later.

In a world where MAC ADs usually make a choice between a guy that will win and a guy that will stay, PJ Fleck may give Western Michigan a little bit of both…for now.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.
Photo Credit: User TheKuLeR on en.wikipedia (link)

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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Michigan’s Western-Central Rivalry and Getting Together to Have Fun

Michigan’s second biggest in-state rivalry (depending on who you ask) takes place this Saturday night when the Western Michigan Broncos visit the Central Michigan Chippewas in beautiful Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  Every so often this matchup makes for a good game.  This weekend is officially every so often.  In fact, this will be a great game.

Anyone outside of The Mitten probably doesn’t know much about WMU and CMU.  Let me shed just a tiny glimmer of light on them for you.

The Broncos and the Chippewas are a combined 7-1 this fall.  Each of them have disposed of two inferior opponents at home and gone on the road twice to face Power 5 programs.  Western has beaten Northwestern and Illinois, while Central has upset then-ranked #22 Oklahoma State and fallen short against Virginia.  These two MAC West squads are for real.

No matter the quality of the contest on the field, this rivalry is always guaranteed to produce a sizable gathering and a noticeable party atmosphere.  People forget, ignore and deny it, but these are the real party schools in the state of Michigan.  You have to be more creative when you’re not in a true college town like Ann Arbor or East Lansing.  And, since Eastern Michigan is rather anemic in the football department and Northern Michigan is all the way up in the Upper Peninsula without a team, Western and Central are left to battle for directional school supremacy.

I won’t hyperbolize, but the fact that Mount Pleasant features a Native American casino, which anyone over the age of 18 can legally get into, most certainly comes into the decision-making process of prospective Central students.  Meanwhile, Western is known to some, affectionately or not, as ‘Wastern.’  If it takes more than one visit to figure out why, you’re doing it wrong.

Anyway, as MLive’s Mark Tower reports, the police are getting ready for the ‘influx of partiers’ that will flood the streets of Mt. Pleasant this weekend.  Unfortunately, that’s become a totally natural reaction for law enforcement officials to have.  I’m willing to bet there is at least one alcohol-related incident at just about every major sporting event in this country.

Despicably, this is what our nation has become.  When we get together in large enough groups, some of us get too drunk and end up ruining everyone else’s fun.  I say ‘us’ because we’ve all been that guy or gal a time or two.

I was pleasantly (see what I did there?) surprised to see a friend of mine quoted in Tower’s story.  P.J. Lemanski, press secretary for the CMU Student Government Association, and a former Little League teammate of mine, talked about what the Western-Central weekend means to him.

“It’s just about us getting together and having fun,” he said, in reference to his tradition of hanging out with his friends who attend Western.  “It’s never gotten too serious between us.”

I can’t tell you how refreshing this was for me to read.  Too often we hear about what’s wrong and what’s bad about something.  My old buddy P.J. so efficiently summed up the reason why we play, watch, and experience sports and everything that surrounds it.

This is all supposed to be fun.  We forget that.  We get all wrapped up in proving that the team we associate with is better than the one our friend, neighbor, or mortal enemy supports.  We let it control us and we don’t keep it in check well enough.

Why so serious?  If you’re not having fun experiencing sports, then like having to go to Kzoo a second time to figure out the party scene, you’re doing it wrong.

As a somewhat recent graduate who’s still adjusting to a world that’s gotten serious all of a sudden, this was a healthy reminder for me to take a deep breath and enjoy.

Because P.J. said it best.  “It’s just about us getting together and having fun.”

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikipedia

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How Many Games Would Western Michigan Win with a Big Ten Schedule?

Row, row, row your boat ladies and gentlemen- the Western Michigan Broncos are for real.  After convincing victories at Illinois and Northwestern, the Broncos finished 4-0 in regular season non-conference play. Thus far, they’ve amassed just under 2,000 yards of total offense and they’ve possessed the ball over a quarter longer than their opponents. They’re limiting opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per carry and they’re already +7 in turnover margin.

There’s absolutely no reason the Broncos can’t run the table. With Northern Illinois, supposedly Western Michigan’s strongest intradivisional competitor, off to an abysmal 0-4 start, the ceiling is shattered for P.J. Fleck’s squad to gROW h16her.

Why stop there? Sure, Western Michigan is a popular pick in the MAC West. But how about the Big Ten West? After all, they’ve already vanquished two teams in college football’s strongest conference.

Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking: should Illinois count as an FBS football team? Probably not, but last time I checked, they’re still considered one and Western Michigan beat them. Similarly, the best thing to happen to Northwestern football in the last month is a guy named Trevor Semen Siemian. Maybe it isn’t so unrealistic to imagine the Broncos battling with the Big Ten brass week in and week out.

That’s the burning question no other mediocre sports writer has the courage to answer: how many games would Western Michigan win with a Big Ten schedule?

First, we need to provide the Broncos with a Big Ten schedule. Seeing as Western Michigan literally has the word “western” in it, the Big Ten West seems to be a natural fit. Yet, in order to include the Broncos in the West, another team has to be excluded from the West.

In what’s probably the least shocking news you’ve heard all day, we’re excluding Purdue from the Big Ten West. They’re a disgrace to the game of football at the moment. Given that their colors are nearly identical, you could replace the Boilermakers with the Broncos on any given Saturday and the only way their fans would know the difference is that they’d actually be winning a meaningful game for once.

With that, let’s examine just how well Western Michigan would fare playing Purdue’s Big Ten opponents this season. As for how Purdue would fare in the MAC…we’ll save that for a later date.

Home vs. Maryland Terrapins – W

What’s that? A home tilt against a team that won three games last year? Sign me up. Yeah they’re 3-0, but Maryland’s non-conference schedule was downright criminal. I mean, who doesn’t respect premier programs like Howard, FIU, and UCF? Maryland benefitted from both an easy schedule and sheer luck in the turnover department. A turnover hasn’t been allowed by either of these teams this season. The difference is, it makes sense with WMU- they actually have a good coach.

Away @ Illinois Fighting Illini – W

Western Michigan already won this contest in Week 3 of their actual schedule, so chalk this one up as a W.

Home vs. Iowa Hawkeyes – L

To speak in terms fellow MACtion lovers will appreciate, the Iowa Hawkeyes are simply a better version of the Ohio Bobcats. They’re stout, they’re gritty, they’re conservative, and both have coaches older than the ground they walk on. After Iowa’s blunder against North Dakota State, it’s clear the Hawkeyes aren’t the 12-2 world-beaters that earned Kirk Ferentz an eighty bajillion-year contract. They are, however, experienced. With experience up front and on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes wouldn’t allow themselves to falter a second time against a mid-major.

Away @ Nebraska Cornhuskers – L

The way they’re playing at the moment, I’m wary of picking against the Cornhuskers. This hypothetical matchup hinges on a battle within the trenches. Nebraska rushes for 5.1 yards a carry. Western Michigan allows only 3.4 a carry. Nebraska showed enough capability in defending against a spread Oregon attack that I doubt Western Michigan could out-possess or outscore Nebraska.

Home vs. Penn State Nittany Lions – L

I think this is James Franklin’s last season in State College. I’ll give you one good guess as to who I think replaces him. For the purposes of this matchup, I expect Trace McSorley to be a difference maker by the middle of the season. Not like anybody has ever overhyped a Penn State quarterback before…

Away @ Minnesota Golden Gophers – W

I expect P.J. Fleck to revitalize his team after a three-game skid and defeat a ho-hum Minnesota team. Besides that, I’m just going to leave this here:

Home vs. Northwestern Wildcats – W

Western Michigan defeated Northwestern narrowly in Evanston by a 22-21 margin. I’m going to assume a change of scenery to Kalamazoo wouldn’t alter the decision. This is another win for Western Michigan.

Home vs. Wisconsin Badgers – L

This is the only team on this schedule that Western Michigan has no chance of beating. With how swiftly Wisconsin punished Mike D’Antoni Mark Dantonio and Michigan State, even the flashiest of MAC talent simply can’t compete.

Away @ Indiana Hoosiers – W

Indiana just lost to Wake Forest, which is less than ideal. A week before, they only managed a 10-point cushion against Ball State- another MAC member. Once again, it appears all Indiana can do is throw the football. To stop Zach Terrell and Corey Davis, you need to do more than just throw the ball.

Final Record: 9-4 (5-4)

According to my predictions, Western Michigan easily secures a bowl game in the best conference in football. Take that, Purdue.

Am I high on the Broncos? You bet I am. Regardless of my feelings about them, regardless of whether they run the table, regardless of whether they reduce the MAC West to rubble (like Northern Illinois has for years), they’ll never get serious looks as a legitimate contender. That’s a shame for a team as talented as WMU and a coach as talented as Fleck, as well as all other underdogs like them.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, [the Big Ten] is but a dream.

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

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sorry Oklahoma State, You Can’t Stop the MACtion

Last Saturday, Mid-American Conference officials took a major step forward in the effort to Make the MAC Great Again by literally handing a game to Central Michigan.

Fantastic play. There’s only one problem: it never should’ve happened. After Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph purposely incurred an intentional grounding penalty as time expired, the game’s MAC officiating crew awarded Central Michigan an untimed down. Although, as they later discovered, that’s not how football works.

This quickly prompted outrage around college football circles, forcing many (including Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder) to ask the unthinkable. Should the result of a college football game be reversed?

I learned a valuable piece of life advice from the movie Ghostbusters. Don’t cross the streams. It may seem tempting to balance the scales and restore justice to Oklahoma State’s promising season, but that would be an awful idea. Here’s four reasons why.

#1: Reversing a Game Opens Pandora’s Box

This is probably the most obvious point, but it’s an important one. If the NCAA or its officials overturn the result of this game, as easy as it may be, that leaves the door open for botched officiating to jeopardize the results of every game from here on out.

Fans may not like to hear it, especially when their team is involved, but the human element is involved in nearly every aspect of football. Your defensive tackle jumps offsides on a 4th and Goal? Whoops. Your quarterback’s helmet pops off before the last play of the game? Sorry. Your headgear malfunctions on the sideline? Tough luck. If any of those things happen over the course of a football game, the onus is on you to overcome them.

An officiating error is no different. If we set a precedent in allowing officiating error to affect the final score of a football game, every single call can now be grounds to delegitimize a team’s victory. Coaches and fan bases gripe enough about penalties already. Imagine if we gave them a reason to claim that they actually won the game if not for those penalties?

It may seem reasonable to excuse this particular instance because of the special circumstances it presents. It was the last play, an untimed down, and a ridiculous Hail Mary. But the truth is, a football game’s first play is no more or less important than its last, and allowing CMU’s last play to distort the equity and fairness of the game is corrupted form.

#2: Oklahoma State Earned the L

Accept it Cowboys fans. You lost to a MAC team. And, even if the world burns and you somehow get your three-point win, you still lost in spirit. There’s no excuse for a ranked Big 12 school to lose to an above average MAC team. There’s no excuse. This just further cements what I’ve been saying for a while now: the Big 12 sucks.

Okay, maybe this is just a matter of personal annoyance, but I adamantly refuse to allow Oklahoma State to use officiating to shield an underperforming team from the criticism it rightfully deserves. Sure it’s a tough loss, but everybody understands the circumstances. Which leads into a surprisingly forgotten point…

#3: We Have This Thing Called the Playoff Committee

Man, if only college football entrusted its evaluation process to actual human beings who could decide on Oklahoma State’s fate beyond their simple win or loss ranking. Wouldn’t that be great?

The argument that Oklahoma State’s loss cripples their championship hopes is ludicrous for two reasons. First, Oklahoma State never had championship hopes. Second, even if they won, members of the Playoff Committee would still be disapproving of the Cowboys’ lackluster performance. Those committee members can decide Oklahoma’s fate as rational human beings if it reaches that point. I’m not holding my breath.

#4: Last but Not Least, the BielemaMeter

Central Michigan’s hard-fought, if fortunate, victory reinforces a halfhearted prediction I didn’t quite make via the BielemaMeter. What’s important is that the MAC reigns once again, and a Power 5 foe joins the ranks of those Bielema’d.

All that matters is that by a MAC miracle of Ben Roethlisberger proportions, CMU claimed its moment in the limelight, and terrible officiating helped to Make the MAC Great Again. Face it Oklahoma State- you just can’t stop the MACtion.

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

Photo courtesy of Reddit – cinciforthewin

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

LOL.

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.