Tag Archives: Mid-American Conference

The Group of 5 Does Not Need its Own College Football Playoff

The debate that has been raging since the inception of the College Football Playoff is whether or not four teams are enough. Some say that four teams are enough. Others say, “not so fast,” we need more than four participants. And there is yet a third opinionated group of voices that tells us that a playoff isn’t needed regardless of the number of teams participating.

And now there is a fourth voice in the argument and its proposal would be the most disruptive of all. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier is leading the charge for the Group of 5 to have its own college football playoff.

Schools that compete in the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt conferences feel like they’re living on the Island of Misfit Toys. The reason that these conferences feel this way is justified, but it’s also not unfair.

Even when schools like Houston and Western Michigan have magical years, they don’t get into the playoff. Houston proved with its 2015 Peach Bowl victory over Florida State that it could not only compete with but beat a Power 5 school. The Cougars followed that up with a 2016 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. Then, as the season progressed, things went down hill for Houston.

As Tom Herman led the Cougars into the October 8 game against Navy, Houston was sitting at 5-0. That unblemished record was highlighted with the win over the Sooners. The team had positioned itself well for playoff consideration. And then Houston lost to Navy. But that wasn’t Houston’s only loss. The Cougars then lost to SMU and Memphis. Game over. Playoff consideration was off the table and rightfully so.

But being shunned by the playoff committee was not the fault of the playoff committee. It was Houston’s fault. Houston took care of Oklahoma but then couldn’t take care of its AAC business. Too bad. Go back to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Having a separate playoff for the Group of 5 will not solve this problem because there isn’t a problem to be solved. All that this proposed second tier playoff will do is create a larger divide between the Group of 5 and Power 5 schools. The perceived difference in quality will grow at an exponential rate.

Frazier believes that the current playoff system is designed to crown a Power 5 champion. He believes that the Group of 5 is being held down and left out at a systemic level. Frazier wants us all to ignore the fact that the highest-ranked Group of 5 team is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year’s 6 bowls. That isn’t the definition of being left out. That isn’t being confined to the Island of Misfit toys no matter what your teams do.

Western Michigan is the 2016 version of the 2015 Houston program. P.J. Fleck and his Broncos rowed the boat all the way to a 13-0 season. The reward is a trip to the Cotton Bowl where the opponent will be the Wisconsin Badgers. Western Michigan had a great season, but don’t be fooled, all 13-0 seasons are not created equal. The Broncos, much to Frazier’s assumed chagrin, do not belong in the playoff. Western Michigan didn’t have its “rightful” spot in the playoff stolen.

P.J. Fleck did go undefeated against the Big Ten this season, but those wins came against a 7-6 Northwestern team and a 3-9 Illinois team. Nope. Sorry/not sorry. The Broncos don’t belong in the playoff. And to be honest, the Broncos are lucky to be in the Cotton Bowl. Thank goodness for negotiated contractual clauses.

2017 has the potential to be an interesting year in terms of playoff consideration if, and only if, Western Michigan can upset Wisconsin. If Western Michigan can manage to do that, it will surely start 2017 off with a high preseason ranking. Package that potential ranking with road games against Southern Cal and Michigan State and the Broncos could be in consideration for the 2017 playoff. But even if the Broncos knock-off Wisconsin, Southern Cal and Michigan State, Fleck will still have to go undefeated in the Mid-American Conference. Sound easy? Just ask Houston about beating schools from the Power 5 only to screw it all up by struggling against its Group of 5 competition.

The Group of 5 is what it is. It’s a collection of good, but not great football programs. There are teams like Houston and Western Michigan that have the potential to be in the same conversation as the Power 5 schools, but teams like the Cougars and Broncos have to build up to a playoff run over the course of multiple seasons. Unlike a Power 5 school, it can’t be done during a single season. Creating a Group of 5 playoff won’t solve this non-problem. If anything, it will be perceived as the Group of 5 creating its own participation trophy.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Pixabay

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College Football Shames Schools With Directional Names

What’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s mostly the name that sells the perception. The name of the state is good, and in most cases, it’s still good when you throw a “State” suffix on the end. In the cases of Alabama and Ohio State, adding or dropping the “State” can mean a serious downgrade to the caliber of football we’re talking about. For the most part, State Name U and State Name State give the book a decent cover, if you’re prepared to judge it that way.

Cities are a good bet too, especially if that city is Houston, or perhaps one of the three cities in the ACC that host schools that occupy a spot in this week’s Top 10.  However, there are a few types of school names that create a seed of doubt.  If the word “directional” can be used to describe your favorite university’s title, it automatically means bad news for that school’s football program.

For example, with a win over the San Diego State, the University of South Alabama (USA) picked up their second name-brand win of the season on Saturday. They had previously shocked the College Football world in Week 1, upsetting a school with that Southeastern Conference pedigree, at Mississippi State.

Why is it so shocking, though? South, West, East, and North are great for navigation, but serve as a poor verbiage for the name of a power house.

Southern California Gets Away With Being Directional

Maybe it’s just that it’s easier to use three letters, because University of Southern California is such a mouthful, but you never think of USC as directional California. I guess, at 2-3, there isn’t too much reason to spend time thinking about the Trojans in 2016.

The Battle of Directional Michigan

With all respect due the team that plays on the grey turf in Ypsilanti, the directional Michigan schools did battle in Mount Pleasant on Saturday.

Central Michigan, you might recall, stole that win in Stillwater over Oklahoma State, and hosted Western Michigan on Saturday. PJ Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos came away with the 49-10 road win, improving to 5-0 on the year, building on their Group of Five résumé, which already included wins over Northwestern and Illinois. You may not care about about “a couple of directionals”, but at least one of the coaches involved does.

“I would rather go through eight weeks of chemotherapy radiation again then lose to that team the way we lost tonight. That’s the truth to how I feel.”

-CMU Head Coach/Cancer Survivor John Bonamego

Not Just a Name, But Some Person’s Actual Name

When James Madison upset Virginia Tech in 2014, it was brought to my attention that it’s bad to lose to a school named after a person. You’ll only find first and last names in the FCS ranks and below, but the FBS features strong academic institutions named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, Washington Duke, and R.E.B Baylor.

By their full names, the schools would sound worse than they already are. If Stephen F. Austin was just Austin, I’d respect their name a lot more. It’s just good that Leland Stanford didn’t live to see what happened to the Cardinal in Seattle on Friday.

[Name of City] State Universities Are So Mountain West

You hear about these a lot more in basketball than football. If you think your team is a contender and they’re playing Something State, but the “Something” isn’t the name of the state, your team better win. Four such teams play in the Mountain West.

Before the hiccup at South Alabama, the San Diego State was rolling. At 3-1, with a win over Cal, look for the Aztecs to contend in the Mountain West.

Boise State is the only team in this group that occupies a prestigious spot in the Top 25. They started their Mountain West schedule with a win over Utah State this weekend, and they have two wins over Pac-12 competition in their back pocket. Neither Fresno State, nor San Jose State, have a win over an FBS opponent yet.

The MAC is Directional (So Is the SEC, But Shut Up)

Bowling Green doesn’t use their “State” often, but they’re in the previous group. Having been outscored 249-86 on the year, the Falcons don’t look like promising favorites to return to the MAC Championship for a fourth straight year. Quite frankly, neither does Northern Illinois, who went to Muncie with an 0-4 non-league record.

Ball State, named after the Ball family, fit in the “named after a person” category, as well as the “Not The State…State”.  It’s no wonder they gave Directional Illinois their first win of the season.

The Ampersand, Agriculture, and Mechanical

It’s not like we don’t respect institutions that specialize in Agriculture and Mechanical. Believe me, we do, but it has to be in Texas. We’re not digging the ampersand that comes with their A&M counterparts in Alabama and Florida. As for the Aggies, if they’re truly the SEC West darkhorse we need, they ought to be the ones to expose Tennessee next Saturday, despite the horseshoe Butch Jones’ proctologist has probably been warning him about.

E-mail Jeff at jeff [dot] rich [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter, @byjeffrich
Photo Credit: Gregory Vamum via Wiki

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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College Football 2016 Preview: Group of 5

American Athletic Conference

Prediction: University of Houston (11-1) vs. Temple (9-3)

I think almost everyone expects to see UH come out of the west in the AAC, as it is both coming off a tremendous year, and in the weaker division in the American. They biggest competition in the West is probably Navy, but it won’t be nearly as big of a challenge now that Keenan Reynolds is gone to the NFL.

Houston will be working hard this season to try and earn a spot in the Big 12, so it will be working for a repeat of the amazing season it had last year. I only have them losing a late season game to Louisville, but the Cougars are definitely the team to beat in the AAC.

In the East Division, the competition is much more of a toss-up, as realistically any of the five teams could take the division. However, the two most likely division champs are USF and Temple. USF’s schedule could pose large problems, however, as it will have to go through the likes of Northern Illinois and FSU early on. With an easier non-conference schedule, I think Temple will be able to win the East by a game. They will only be the last obstacle in UH’s way to a conference championship.

Conference Champion: University of Houston Cougars

Mid-American Conference

Prediction: Ohio University (7-5) vs. Western Michigan University (10-2)

The conference champion will definitely come out of the West division in 2016. The top four teams in the West are all currently ranked above the top ranked East team, Ohio.

Ohio will be able to get enough wins to take the East over the likes of Bowling Green and Akron. The West should be an interesting competition, but I see a breakout season coming from WMU. Their hardest non-conference games are Northwestern and Illinois, two beatable teams for the Broncos. Though they may drop a game against another team in the West, I think they will take at least the Northwestern game and win the West.

Conference Champion: Western Michigan University Broncos

Mountain West

Prediction: Boise State (10-2) vs. San Diego State (11-1)

The Mountain West really looks like a two-team race this year. Except for maybe Air Force, Boise St and SDSU seem like the only two real competitors for the Mountain West crown.

Both should be able to easily win their division, but Boise’s non-conference is much harder than SDSU’s, as it has to face the likes of Oregon State and Washington State. SDSU only really needs to overcome Cal. However, I see them dropping a matchup against NIU the week following, as they will have to travel all the way across the country. SDSU’s lack of difficult out of conference will make them slightly weaker than Boise, despite the better record.

Conference Champion: Boise State University Broncos

Sun Belt

Prediction: Appalachian State (9-3)

In the only of the Group of 5 conference without a title game, Appalachian State will have to battle off the likes of Arkansas State and Georgia Southern for the Sun Belt title. I see this conference really coming down to Appalachian and Arkansas State. Arkansas State has two guaranteed loses in my eyes, to Auburn and a much closer game to Toledo, and maybe even a third loss to Utah State.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State will lose to Tennessee. They have a possible upset against Miami (FL) and then a game against Akron. If Appalachian State manages to come out of its non-conference schedule having only lost to Tennessee and Miami, it will win the Sun Belt.

Conference Champion: Appalachian State Mountaineers

Conference USA

Prediction: Southern Miss (10-2) vs. Marshall (8-4)

Conference USA is very lopsided this year, as Southern Miss is the easy pick out of the West division. The East division, however, is much more up for grabs. Middle Tennessee, Marshall or Western Kentucky could all be the one to face off against Southern Miss, but I think Marshall’s non-conference schedule gives it the edge.

Marshall’s hardest non-conference games are Louisville and Pitt, which are both preferable to WKU’s game against Alabama. None of the non-conference games for MTSU jump off the page, but they are all decent. Vanderbilt, Bowling Green and Missouri are all difficult opponents. For this reason, I have Marshall coming out of the East.

Conference Champion: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Featured Image courtesy of Giovanni Gallucci – Flickr

The MAChelorette: Three Schools Courting the AAC

With news out of the Big 12 re-energizing the tectonics of a precarious college football landscape, America’s two favorite reality shows are upon us once again: conference realignment and the Bachelorette.

The Power 5 may add as many as four schools in this new round of expansion, beginning a domino effect that ultimately lands at the foot of the Mid-American Conference. The American Athletic Conference stands to lose members of its own to the Big 12, meaning it may look to conferences like the MAC to replenish its twelve team structure. Of course, this is all purely speculative, but what else is the preseason for?

Frankly, MAC teams should be desperate to improve their standing in an ever-changing college football world. These programs are desperate to find a loving marriage with a shiny, new conference, much like JoJo in the final episodes of ABC’s hit reality show.

Here we have three Mid-American Conference programs poised to join the ranks of the American Conference, hoping to receive a rose reciprocating their affections. Well, that and a $126 million TV deal.

Northern Illinois

A fringe contender for Big 12 expansion, the Huskies have their hearts set realistically on a romance with the American Athletic Conference. And why wouldn’t they? In the past twelve seasons, Northern Illinois has attended a remarkable 10 bowl games, including a berth in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The program struck gold with Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren, launching the program to a decade of mid-major success unrivaled by any MAC foes. From a purely football standpoint, Northern Illinois is a no-brainer. The problem is with NIU’s other athletic programs, which are, as a whole, consistently subpar.

With that being said, NIU athletic director Sean Frazier adds important credibility to the school’s expansion bid. Frazier, a hotshot AD rumored to be in consideration for recent openings at Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, and Minnesota, among others, should appeal to AAC leaders taking a gamble on programs of lesser prestige.

DeKalb, Illinois is certainly no Houston or Cincinnati, but NIU would stretch the AAC’s footprint further Midwest and towards Chicago. The university announced plans to renovate Huskie Stadium in 2014, expanding seating options and, hopefully for the Huskies, AAC appeal.

Northern Illinois is one of the hottest Group of 5 football programs in the country, but is it hot enough for the American Athletic Conference?

VERDICT: First-impression rose. Don’t overthink this, AAC. NIU is by far the sexiest football program in the room, and they’ve proven it on the gridiron. Don’t listen to the grumbling critics of Rod Carey, don’t worry about NIU’s wrestling team, or anything like that.  Choose the Huskies now, fall in love later.

Buffalo

Being the only MAC program that resides in a major media market, there’s reciprocal benefit to the Bulls joining the American. While Buffalo anticipates expansion beneath the umbrella of a $126 million TV deal, the conference reclaims a revenue-critical section of the Northeast it could be losing with the departure of Connecticut. (Does this sound like Temple? It should sound like Temple.)

Granted, after back-to-back losing seasons, Buffalo’s football pedigree certainly leaves a lot to be desired. But keep in mind, this is a conference featuring UCF, a team that turned in one of the FBS’ two winless seasons last year (looking at you, Kansas). Add that to Buffalo’s MAC championships in both men’s and women’s basketball, and suddenly the Bulls look adequately prepared to compete in an improved conference. Buffalo would also boost the AAC’s academic standing, an addition sure to make the hearts of Tulane and Navy swoon.

What’s not to love about the Bulls?

VERDICT: Buffalo receives a rose. What they lack in name brand and football prowess, they make up for in large-market attraction. College football is a material world.  Who says the American Athletic Conference can’t be a material girl?

Toledo

The Rockets represent a perfect mixture of Buffalo and NIU. Toledo boasts well-rounded athletics with a capable football program, an urban location, and access to Ohio’s fertile recruiting grounds- especially critical if the AAC loses Cincinnati. Their attendance ranked second in the conference last season as the Glass Bowl stands among the MAC’s finest stadiums.

Still, Toledo football hasn’t won a conference title since 2004. While they’ve competed in six bowl games since then- and won four of them-, the American Conference won’t be looking for above average MAC programs. They’ll be looking for the best, which Toledo simply hasn’t been. Furthermore, academics prove to be a struggle for Toledo, ranking near the bottom among current conference members.

Despite their flaws, do the Rockets have the moves to secure a date with the AAC?

VERDICT: No dice. Sorry Toledo, sometimes love hurts. The MAC prides itself on stability, and if it’s any consolation, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a stable girl. Pick yourself up and wipe those tears away- there’s #MACtion to be played.

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

Photo courtesy of Chad Cooper – Flickr

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

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl: Western Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee

When you think of the Bahamas your mind goes to clear water, tasty drinks, and lots of sunshine. College football doesn’t come to mind, but for fans of Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee it’ll be the center of their college football world. However, for fans outside of these two fan bases do they even care about this game?

Why should we care about this game in the first place? That’s a good question.

It was not so long ago that Western Michigan was an afterthought in college football. The program was perhaps the worst in college football. The program was 1-11 under its new head coach P.J. Fleck and it seemed like they were not ready to swim in the deep end of the college football pool. Since then, the program has made a great turnaround by having an offense that has found some “pop” and with a defense that has steadily improved the last couple of seasons.

For the current group of Western Michigan players it has been a frustrating year. They did close out the year beating a very good Toledo team, but with tough games and losses against Michigan State, Ohio State, Bowling Green, and Northern Illinois it created a year where the team didn’t do as much as they thought they would.

This is the seventh bowl game for Western Michigan, but they haven’t won a bowl game yet, so they would like to start a trophy case for their bowl games. How will they win this game?

One way Western Michigan has turned things around is keeping their opponents offense off the field. They keep the ball about 35 minutes a game and for opposing offenses who can’t get on the field it makes it tough to beat Western Michigan. The offense is as close to the definition of a ball control offense as you can get.

Western Michigan will try to get the ball to their 100-catch receiver Daniel Braverman who has 103 catches for 1,270 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not to be outdone is their other receiver, Corey Davis who caught 82 passes for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns. Obviously Western Michigan likes to throw the ball around the field, but they can’t do that unless they have a quality quarterback. They do in veteran Zach Terrell who has thrown for more than two touchdowns in 10 of 12 games this season.
What about Middle Tennessee? Middle who? Just like their opponent, Middle Tennessee doesn’t have that name recognition for most college football fans, but they have an offense that should get people interested. What do they do well? They pass the rock.

Middle Tennessee is led by its freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill who has been a blessing in disguise this season. He’s a modest 6’0”, 200-pound quarterback, who has shown he has a good arm, poise in the pocket, and the mental capability of a player who has been coached pretty well. His head coach is his father Rick Stockstill, so this type of play isn’t a shock to him or his dad because he’s been working towards something like this his whole life.

Stockstill has set school records by throwing for 3,678 yards, 27 touchdowns, and this is most impressive, he threw for at least 250 yards in every game except the loss to Alabama. Impressive. It’s not a one man show however.

Who is Brent Stockstill throwing the ball to? He throws the ball to freshman Richie James and senior Ed Marques Batties. Both receivers combined for 177 catches, 2,180 yards, and 19 touchdowns. James is the constant playmaker with 100 catches and Batties is the scorer with 13 touchdowns.

When trying to figure out who wins this game you have to figure that whoever has the ball last will win. That is my thought here. The game should be exciting to watch, with plenty of points scored and plenty of footballs being thrown around the field. Western Michigan does have a better running game, which gives them better balance than Middle Tennessee, so I will pick Western Michigan to win this game. Regardless of the outcome, fans get to watch the game in the Bahamas, so that is a win for everybody.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron vs. Utah State

The 19th annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl features the Zips of Akron against the Aggies of Utah State. Akron enters the bowl season with a record of 7-5, representing the Mid-American Conference. Utah State climbs in the ring with a record of 6-6, representing the Mountain West Conference.

Akron Zips:

Coming off of their first winning season in several years, Akron finished third in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. The Zips were on a tear down the home stretch of the season, winning 4 of their last 5 games. The most decisive and winning-season clinching of those victories was the 20-0 shutout of cross-town rival, Kent State.

Bright Spot:

Defensively, Akron is quite stout. Against the run, Akron gives up only 89 yards per game. The Zips give up a total of 328 yards per game. Defensive stalwart, linebacker Jatavis Brown leads the team and conference in several key statistical categories including: sacks (10.5), tackles for loss (17.5), tackles (108) and forced fumbles (3).

Low-Light:

Offensively, the Zips are very balanced, yet low-churning, yardage wise. Akron averages about 193 yards through the air and 170 yards on the ground. They have some very decisive victories scoring wise throughout the season, but in their defeats, they have suffered just as much.

Utah State Aggies:

The Aggies finished the season on a bit of a tough stretch. Winners of two of their final five games, Utah State is limping into the bowl season having suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of rival BYU, 51-28. This season could be categorized as the season that could have been. Mid-way through the season, senior quarterback, and unquestioned leader of the Aggies, Chuckie Keeton missed several games due to injury. Now, without him, they actually boast a better record (4-2). In his absence, sophomore Kent Myers did more than enough to keep Utah State afloat.

Bright Spot:

As I mentioned earlier, quarterback Kent Myers was a Godsend for the Aggies this season. Without his production, Utah State wouldn’t have been nearly as successful-if at all. Like Akron, Utah state has a very strong and aggressive defense. Giving up only 336 yards per game, they have the ability to keep the games close.

Low-Light:

With an injury to one of their key players, I can say that the biggest hit the Aggies suffered was that of team continuity. Yes, back up Kent Myers did an outstanding job filling for Chuckie Keeton, but who’s to say how the season would have turned out had Keeton not suffered his injury. Of course we can’t play a college football season in a vacuum. Injuries will occur. But, one has to wonder, what if.

X-Factor:

Both teams are quite similar statistically. What it comes down to is offensive play. Both teams have solid defenses, but turnovers will be crucial. The forecast in Boise, Idaho calls for rain so don’t expect either team to sling it around the yard. Solid running, field position, and special teams play will determine the victor in this one.

Prediction:

In just his third game back from injury, I don’t think Chuckie Keeton has enough juice to pull this one out. I see Akron putting the finishing touches on an impressive season. Zips take it, 24-17.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Ohio vs. Appalachian State

September 1, 2007 is the reason that many college football fans became familiar with Appalachian State University.

That day, Armanti Edwards and the Mountaineers took a trip to Ann Arbor, MI and shocked the world with a 34-32 victory over the Michigan Wolverines.

Since then, Appalachian State has been rather quiet on the national level while they have moved from the FCS (formerly 1-AA) level to the FBS level.

This matchup against The Ohio University Bobcats will be their first postseason appearance at the FBS level.

This season ASU finished with a 10-2 record, finishing 7-1 in Sun Belt play. Their losses were by 31 on the road against Clemson and at home by 13 to eventual Sun Belt Champion Arkansas State.

On the other side, The Ohio University Bobcats finished their regular season with a mark of 8-4, good enough for second in the MAC East behind Bowling Green. Losses inside the conference for the Bobcats included Western Michigan, Buffalo, and MAC Champion Bowling Green. The other loss for Ohio was a close defeat on the road at the hands of the Minnesota Gophers.

One thing to watch in this game is how Ohio defends Appalachian State’s seventh-ranked rushing attack. The Mountaineers come in to the game averaging just under 269 yards per game on the ground, and the Bobcats are giving up nearly five yards per carry. Appalachian State should be able to capitalize on the relatively weak front seven from Ohio and move the ball at will.

PICK:

Vegas has the Mountaineers as a seven-point favorite.

Lay the points and take App State.

Let the MACtion Begin

As the calendar flips to its November page we start to realize some things.  Fall is in full-swing, the weather is chillier (supposedly), and college football is nearing the home stretch.  Thanks to the Mid-American Conference, November also means football every single day of the week.

No longer do we have to suffer through the mid-week blues that are caused by having no football to watch on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  The brilliant people of the MAC felt our pain and did something about it.

#MACtion officially began on Tuesday when the Northern Illinois Huskies went to Toledo for a showdown with the West division-leading Rockets.

Less than an hour before kickoff, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee awarded the undefeated Rockets with the twenty fourth spot in their first rankings of the season.  That ranking will go down as the shortest-lived in history.

Northern Illinois at #24 Toledo

(Photo: Jeremy Wadsworth / Toledo Blade)
(Photo: Jeremy Wadsworth / Toledo Blade)

This game was entertaining from the jump.  The Huskies fumbled on their third play from scrimmage and got bailed out by their defense forcing a turnover on downs.  After an NIU punt, the Rockets opened the scoring with a touchdown pass from Phillip Ely to Alonzo Russell who skied to make a great catch in the end zone.

The Huskies answered immediately as Tommylee Lewis flew by the Toledo secondary, caught an easy pass from Drew Hare and waltzed into the end zone untouched.  The game was tied at seven, midway through the first quarter.

Terry Swanson and Kareem Hunt took charge on the Rockets’ next drive.  The running back tandem accounted for all 83 yards on the drive, including a 58-yard dash from Swanson whose crisp spin move will end up on his career highlight reel.  (Speaking of crispy, how bout those all golds Toledo busted out for this one?)  Anyway, Hunt took over in the red zone and punched it in, recapturing the lead for the Rockets.

Then things got a bit sloppy.  Hidden in that sloppiness was an unlikely conversion on third and 39, after an errant snap had pushed the Huskies way behind the sticks.  Three field goals, three turnovers, and four punts later it was halftime, the score 17-16 in favor of Toledo.

Before halftime Northern Illinois suffered two strange and seemingly debilitating injuries to their offensive playmakers.  Quarterback Drew Hare and receiver Tommylee Lewis both went down with non-contact injuries that prevented them from returning.  The odds were stacked against the Huskies as the second half began.

Four consecutive punts opened the third quarter as both teams played conservatively coming out of the locker room.  Then Kareem Hunt took matters into his own hands again, leading the Rockets down the field with a long run and then adding another touchdown.

Each team kicked a field goal on their next possession, making it 27-19.

It’s unfortunate to have to say, but the officiating crew left their mark on this game.  A questionable personal foul call on Toledo extended Northern Illinois’ next drive.  The Huskies did what good teams do by taking advantage.

(Photo: Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports)
(Photo: Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports)

Kenny Golladay made an unbelievable one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone that should get some votes for play of the year in college football.  Down by two with less than 10 minutes to play Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey decided to go for the tie.  Toledo snuffed out the option attempt to preserve their narrow lead, 27-25.

After Toledo missed a field goal the Huskies had about five minutes left.  Their offense shifted into another gear.  Stepping up in the absence of Tommylee Lewis, Kenny Golladay made two crucial plays on the drive, one to convert on third down, and the other to get his team into the red zone.  Joel Bouagnon, who had been quiet for the majority of the game, took it from there and then gave the Huskies their first lead of the game with a tick under two minutes to play.

The Northern Illinois defense intercepted Phillip Ely’s first pass on the next drive to put the game on ice.

Toledo’s first loss of the season unseated them from the top of the West division.  That spot now belongs to Western Michigan who is 5-0 in conference play.

Ohio at Bowling Green

The MAC’s Wednesday night follow-up wasn’t nearly as tight as Tuesday’s premier.  Even so, it was nice to have a football game to watch on an otherwise boring Wednesday night.  Plus, it was good for people to see how potent this Bowling Green offense is.  The Falcons took full advantage of a banged up Ohio Bobcat defense that was simply overmatched.

The Falcons got off to a slow start and had to punt on their first drive of the game.  They punted just twice more the rest of the contest.  After the first one, they scored on their next four drives.

The first two scores came on runs from Travis Greene.  Ohio, however, had an answer for both touchdown drives and it was 14-all with ten minutes to play in the half.  Sebastian Smith provided the Bobcats’ highlights, pulling off an amazing leaping catch on the first scoring drive and a tremendous diving grab on the second.

(Photo: Lori King / Toledo Blade)
(Photo: Lori King / Toledo Blade)

Determined not to be outdone, Bowling Green’s Ronnie Moore caught a pass and turned it into a touchdown by looking like the only guy who knew what was going on.  The Falcons had taken the lead for good.

(Photo: Ruben Kappler / BGSU Athletics)
(Photo: Ruben Kappler / BGSU Athletics)

The Falcons’ special teams got in on the action too, blocking a punt on Ohio’s next drive.  That setup Bowling Green with a short field that they were able to take advantage of.  Quarterback Matt Johnson floated a ball into the corner of the end zone perfectly for Gehrig Dieter to run under it and reel it in.  It was 27-14 Falcons at the break.

The second half was all Bowling Green as they pulled away by outscoring Ohio 21-3 in the third frame.

It was one of those nights where everything the Falcons did seemed to be working well, as evidenced by Gehrig Dieter’s circus catch and second touchdown of the night.

Ohio backup quarterback JD Sprague, who had come into the game for the injured Derrius Vick, was not welcomed kindly by the Bowling Green defense.  Dernard Turner intercepted a pass that shouldn’t have been thrown and took it 85 yards the other way for a pick six.  The rout was officially on.

The Falcons’ next drive ended on an easy pitch-and-catch from Johnson to Roger Lewis, something you’ve seen frequently if you’ve watched any of their games this season.  Then, unsatisfied with just two rushing scores, Travis Greene added a third by blazing down the sideline to make it 55-17 midway through the fourth quarter.

On the ensuing possession Maleek Irons delivered punishing blows to multiple Bowling Green defenders on his to the end zone for six pride points.  You have to admire a guy who’s still out there playing like that in a game like this.

Even the Falcons’ backups had some fun.  James Knapke connected with Teo Redding on a screen pass with three and a half minutes to go, closing the scoring at 62-24.

So, what did we learn?  Well, you now know, if you didn’t already, that the MAC offers highly entertaining games in the middle of your dreary work week.

Be advised: the biggest games are yet to come.

Next week’s MACtion includes two games with serious conference championship implications.  Toledo hits the road to face Central Michigan on Tuesday as both try to keep pace in the West.  Then on Wednesday we get to see a possible MAC championship preview when Bowling Green heads to Western Michigan for a clash of undefeated teams.

Stay tuned down the stretch as we follow mid-week MACtion.