Tag Archives: Northern Illinois Huskies

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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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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy David Wilson

The Mountain West’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Mountain West has taken quite the fall from grace. Just ten years ago things looked great, as it was the dominant non-BCS conference. With TCU and Boise State challenging for BCS title appearances, and Utah and BYU very solid programs as well, there were years the MWC was better than some BCS conferences.

Now, Boise State is the only of those four teams still around, and even the Broncos have fallen back to the pack with former coach Chris Petersen now at Washington. It has left a less interesting conference, albeit one that is much more competitive. San Diego State ran away with it in 2015. Will that change this fall? Here are the ten games that will shape the Mountain West in 2016.

10. Fresno State @ Nebraska (Saturday, September 3)

Fresno State wasn’t very good last year, but Nebraska hasn’t exactly been dominating since joining the Big Ten, either. It’s a long shot, but the Bulldogs would earn the Mountain West a huge amount of respect if they can knock off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on the season’s opening weekend.

9. Utah State @ Boise State (Saturday, October 1)

The unfortunate Chuckie Keeton era is over at Utah State, but replacing him won’t be the Aggies biggest issue. Kent Myers played a good chunk of the season last year and finished with 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He’ll lead an offense with eight starters returning against Boise State in a game between two teams competing for a conference title bid.

8. Nevada @ San Jose State (Saturday, October 15)

These were the only two teams besides San Diego State to even finish .500 in their division last year. The winner of this one will later play the Aztecs with a spot in the conference championship game likely on the line.

7. San Diego State @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, September 17)

Northern Illinois has been the class of the MAC recently, and San Diego State rolled through the Mountain West last year. It may not mean much to most of the country, but this game is for bragging rights over the strength of Group of Five conferences.

6. Boise State @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 24)

Boise State, playing its second consecutive Pac-12 team, gets a bye before this one. The Broncos might be favored and will look for a win to provide the team some momentum and confidence heading into its conference slate.

5. California @ San Diego State (Saturday, September 10)

This is one of the bigger non-conference games among Mountain West teams. The Aztecs will bring in the nation’s second-longest winning streak and look to avenge last year’s 35-7 loss to Cal. It will be much easier with departed Cal quarterback Jared Goff playing on Sundays.

4. Washington State @ Boise State (Saturday, September 10)

Boise State hasn’t been the same team in the past few years that it was when Chris Petersen had them rolling, but the Broncos should improve from their four losses a year ago under third-year coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos knocked off the Washington Huskies last year and will look to do the same against the Huskies’ rival.

3. San Diego State @ Fresno State (Saturday, October 15)

This in-state battle for San Diego State is against one of the few teams to play them close in 2015. The Bulldogs played a close-ish 21-7 game against the Aztecs and now get them at home. With SDSU’s defense not as dominant as a year ago, Fresno could pull the upset.

2. Nevada @ Hawaii (Saturday, October 1)

Hawaii was pretty dreadful last year and didn’t notch a conference win. They return 17 starters this year though so that streak should end at some point. Will it here? If a Nevada team looking to compete for a conference title game spot overlooks the Warriors, they could be in for a long trip back from the islands.

1. San Diego State @ Nevada (Saturday, November 12)

San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last year, allowing just 90 points in eight conference games. Nevada should have a good offense, but its defense will have to improve after giving up 320 yards rushing to the Aztecs in this match-up last year.

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Nathan Rupert

Vegas 16 Tournament Recap

While the NCAA Tournament is the goal for every college basketball team heading into the season, not every program is fortunate enough to qualify for the Big Dance. Traditionally, teams that did not earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament only had the NIT as a possible way of gaining postseason experience. However in recent years, other tournaments such as the CBI and CIT have been organized, allowing for more programs to experience postseason play. Postseason tournament play can be a useful way to end the season for any team, giving their respective university national exposure.

This season, the inaugural “Vegas 16” was added to the postseason schedule. While the original goal for the selection committee was to have sixteen teams participate in the tournament, they were only able to receive accepted invitations from eight. One reason why this might be the case is the tournament’s location, the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Taking a group of Division I college basketball players could be seen as a risk for a program given the distractions Las Vegas, more specifically the famous Las Vegas “Strip” of mammoth hotels, casinos, and nightclubs, has to offer. Nonetheless, the tournament would continue despite the large number of declined invitations.

The teams featured in the tournament’s bracket were Old Dominion, Tennessee Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Northern Illinois, Oakland, Towson, Louisiana Tech, and East Tennessee State. The first round games were sparsely attended, as a majority of Las Vegas patrons were interested in gambling on sporting events occurring that night.

The semifinals saw Old Dominion topping UC Santa Barbara, 64-49 behind a stellar 26 point performance from senior guard Aaron Bacote. In the second semifinal game, senior guard Kay Felder propelled Oakland past East Tennessee State by recording a triple-double. Felder scored 29 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out an equal amount of assists. The Golden Grizzlies also received a terrific shooting effort from senior Max Hooper, who poured in 28 points and shot 8-11 from behind the arc. Ge’Lawn Guyn led the Buccaneers with 18.

This set the stage for a championship game of Old Dominion vs. Oakland, which took place Wednesday night. The championship game of the inaugural “Vegas 16” was without a doubt the most enthralling game of the tournament. Old Dominion was able to withstand a second half surge by the Golden Grizzlies, en route to a 68-67 nailbiter of a win. Senior guard Trey Freeman led the way for the Monarchs, racking up 24 points in his final game in a Monarchs’ uniform. Freeman ranked thirteenth in the country in points per game this season, with 22. Once again, Kay Felder led Oakland with 24 points. However, fellow senior Percy Gibson, who added 13 points, was the only other Golden Grizzly to score in double figures.

Old Dominion brings home the first ever “Vegas 16” tournament title to a newly realigned Conference USA that thoroughly enjoyed conference champion Middle Tennessee’s historic first round upset of Michigan State. Old Dominion finished in fourth place in Conference USA play, posting a 12-6 record, while sporting an overall mark of 25-13. While the “Vegas 16” is far from the NCAA Tournament, seeing two senior-led teams like Oakland and Old Dominion battle for a championship was an exciting way to end each teams’ respective seasons.

Email Alec at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @alec_kwait.

GoDaddy Bowl: Battle of the Birds

Bird is the word in this matchup which pits the MAC against the Sun Belt Conference. Two sets of regal, feathered fowls take flight Wednesday, December 23rd, in Mobile, Alabama’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium. It’s the Bowling Green Falcons vs. the Georgia Southern Eagles. Kickoff is set for 8 PM EST. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Welcome to the BirdFest! Birds vs. Birds and brought to you by Bird. Yes, bird is, most definitely, the word.

But, the question remains, which set of birds will fight more fiercely Wednesday afternoon in the gulf coast city known originally as ‘Fort Louis de la Louisiane’?

The team’s two styles contrast sharply.

Chunk It

Bowling Green (10-3) operates out of a high octane spread offense. They love to sling it around. Quarterback Matt Johnson passed for 4,700 yards in 2015. He connected 68.6 percent of his passes and 43 of those completions went for touchdowns. Gehrig Dieter hauled in 89 of those tosses. Roger Lewis had 82 receptions for 1,476 yards.

Yep! The boys from Bowling Green will let it fly. But, one cannot overlook the run in this offense known as #FalconFast. They can run it. Travis Greene, the leading rusher in school history, rushed for 1,220 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015. He has piled up 3,773 yards on the ground in his career. Greene also pounded the Northern Illinois defense for 183 yards in the MAC Championship game in which the Falcons defeated the Huskies, 34-14.

POUND IT

Georgia Southern (8-4) can lay down a case of the ‘Statesboro Blues’ (I cannot resist an Allman Brothers Band IMG_0502reference as the Eagles hail from Statesboro, GA) on an opponent. “Wake up momma, turn your lamp down low”, and poppa better adjust his jock, ’cause them South Gawja boys gonna pound that rock! ( Ask the Florida Gators, whose defense was bludgeoned for 429 yards at the hands of the Eagles in 2013. Georgia Southern whipped them, 26-20, without completing a pass the entire game. They only attempted three!) “Wake up momma”, indeed!

But back to 2015. Georgia Southern led the FBS in total yards rushing with 4,267 via their option attack. They averaged 355.6 yards per game. Their average per carry was 6.5. The Eagles also took THE Georgia Bulldogs  into overtime before losing, 23-17.

Matt Breida ran for 1,540 of those yards, at an 8.2 yards per carry clip. He scored 16 TD’s. Kevin Ellison, the Eagles’ quarterback, actually ran the ball more than he passed it. He gained 638 yards on 101 carries. Ellison completed only 37 or 84 passes for 532 yards.

Like I said, them South Gawja boys gonna pound that rock!

DEFENSE

They will also play a bit of defense. The Eagles defenders allow a meager 336.1 total yards per game, 132.2 rushing yards per game, and 23.2 points per game. Their leading tackler is is Antwione Williams. He was in on 97 stops with 10.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.

Back to Bowling Green. Their strength, on defense, is creating turnovers. Get this, the Falcons forced 27 turnovers and are first in the MAC with a +14 in that category.

SEGWAY (Subtle, huh?)

Before we close out here, I’d like to point out a little oddity that pertains to the GoDaddy Bowl.

Both schools will be led by interim head coaches.

Brian Ward, BGSU’s defensive coordinator this past season, took over for when Dino Babers took the Syracuse head job.

Willie Fritz departed Georgia Southern to become Tulane’s head coach. Dell McGee,  an Auburn graduate, will lead the Eagles. He held the position of running backs coach and assistant head coach in 2015.

WHO’S GONNA WIN IT?

This could, very well, be an exciting game with a lot of fireworks. Bowling Green is going to throw it. Georgia Southern is going to run it. Points will be scored.

If the Eagles can keep it away from the Falcons, it gives them a good chance to win. But Bowling Green can score quickly and, as noted above, they can cause turnovers. I expect that could be the difference.

Bowling Green is a 7.5 favorite. I like them to win but not to cover.

Prediction. Bowling Green 37, Georgia Southern 31.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs. Northern Illinois

San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium is the setting for this year’s San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. This game features the Mountain West representative, Boise State (8-4), against Mid-American Conference runner-up, Northern Illinois (8-5).

Boise State:

This season marked the second season without school coaching legend Chris Peterson at the helm; still an unusual sight. This season, compared to seasons past, underachieved somewhat. With a loss to Air Force Academy 37-30, the Broncos were eliminated from defending their Mountain West Championship; another such event we aren’t accustomed to seeing.

Bright Spot:

Despite Chris Peterson’s emotional return to the confines of Albertsons field, a place where he dominated as head coach of Boise State for seven seasons, the Broncos found a way to spoil Peterson’s return and pull off an improbable victory over his Washington Huskies, 16-13. The production of running back Jeremy McNichols has been a sight to behold. He was the irreplaceable cog in the Boise State engine. McNichols finished the season with 1,244 yards and tied for fourth in the nation with 18 rushing scores.

Low-Light:

For the first time since 1997, Boise state has suffered consecutive home losses this season, an anomaly of sorts. We aren’t used seeing one of the most winningest programs in the last decade experience such occurrences. Not to mention, this is Boise State’s second eight-win season in the last three years, snapping a streak of seven straight double-digit-win seasons (2006-2012).

Northern Illinois Huskies:

The Northern Illinois Huskies’ season was full of promise until the injury bug came a calling. Junior quarterback Drew Hare went down for the remainder of the season (Achilles) during a crucial game against #24 Toledo. With that loss, NIU back-up Ryan Graham stepped in and helped maintain the ship down the home stretch of the season, finishing 2-3, including the eventual loss to Bowling Green in the MAC Championship.

Bright Spot:

Although NIU will be without starter Drew Hare, the Huskies have a couple of high-caliber offensive players lining up come bowl time in First team All-MAC running back Joel Bouagnon (1,269 yards and 18 TD’s) and wide receiver Kenny Golladay (71 rec. 1,122 yards  and 10 TD’s). Even though they were stymied during the MAC championship due to injuries to both quarterbacks and having to play a third, hopefully, Ryan Graham will be back to help ignite an offense that at times, looked dominant.

Low-Light:

The Achilles heel (pun unintended) for this Huskies squad is the lack of experience at the quarterback position. Without that veteran leadership, Boise State will have an easier time keying in on Bouagnon and making either Graham or freshman quarterback Tommy Fiedler beat them through the air.

X-Factor:

The determining factor in this game is exactly what I mentioned above. If Ryan Graham is under center, the Huskies stand a better chance of staying in this contest. If Graham is not under center, or at some point is injured during the game, NIU can kiss this game good bye.

Prediction: 

Both teams have solid running backs. It would be in NIU’s best interest to lean on Bouagnon early and often to keep Boise State’s offense on the sidelines. However, in third and long situations, if NIU is unable to convert due to passing inconsistencies, Boise State will jump on those miscues and run away with the game. Though the Broncos have underachieved to a certain degree, I think they can muster enough umph to pull out another win. Broncos win it, 34-24.

Five You Must See: Conference Championship Weekend

Bowling Green (9-3) vs. Northern Illinois (8-4) Friday 8:00pm on ESPN

Question mark: Can Northern Illinois stifle the Bowling Green offense?

Toledo is the only team that’s really been able to slow down #FalconFast this season.  In that game the Rockets were fueled by a couple picks thrown by Matt Johnson.  That’s great news for the Huskies who have at least one interception in every game this year, 19 in all which ties them for fifth in the FBS.  Picking off Johnson a couple times in this one would provide a huge boost.

Game inside the game: BG receiver Roger Lewis vs. NIU defensive back Shawun Lurry

With 1401 receiving yards, Lewis is just fifty shy of the FBS-leader, and Lurry is tied for the FBS-lead in interceptions with eight.  I imagine these two will be lined up across from one another quite a few times throughout this game.

Player to watch: Northern Illinois running back Joel Bouagnon

The MAC’s top rushing offense is led by the conference’s best back.  Of the Huskies’ 213 yards per game on the ground, Bouagnon accounts for 101 of them.  He’s also got 18 rushing scores this fall, tying him with guys like Leo Fournette and Dalvin Cook for fourth in the nation.

X-factor: Red zone efficiency

NIU holds opponents to a field goal as good as any team, and far better than most, at 38 percent.  Even better, they score a touchdown on 75 percent of their red zone possessions.  Bouagnon’s nose for the goal line is a big reason why.  The thing is Bowling Green has more red zone touchdown that anyone this season, and at 74 percent they convert just about as often as NIU.  Whichever team turns their red zone trips into seven points and not three will win this game.

#22 Temple (10-2) at #19 Houston (11-1) Saturday Noon on ABC

Question mark: Which team handles the pressure better?

This game will crown the AAC champion and the Group of Five conferences’ representative in the New Year’s Six.  That makes this the biggest game many of these guys will ever play in.  The team that handles that added pressure will be well on their way to a victory.

Game inside the game: Temple head coach Matt Rhule vs. Houston head coach Tom Herman

Two of the most coveted coaches in college football are squaring off here.  Rhule hasn’t yet committed to staying or going.  He’s got quite a lot on his plate so we’ll give him a pass for now.  Herman, on the other hand, recently inked a new deal with Houston that will double his pay.  He deserves it.  And it’s good to see a guy stay at the “small school” that gave him a shot instead of skipping town to take the first offer from a bigger program.  The strategy behind this game will be as fun to watch as the play on the field.

Player to watch: Tyler Matakevich, Temple linebacker

Matakevich is the active FBS-leader in tackles.  He’s just the seventh player in history to record at least 100 tackles in four straight seasons.  He plays outside linebacker but obviously makes plays all over the field.  Keep a lookout for him.  It shouldn’t be too hard.

X-factor: Houston’s third down efficiency

Houston is sixth in the nation, converting just over 50 percent of their third downs.  Getting the Cougars off the field when they have the chance will be essential to an Owls’ victory.

#18 Florida (10-2) vs. #2 Alabama (11-1) Saturday 4:00pm on CBS

Question mark: Can the Gators score?

In the last four games Florida has been lackluster at best.  9-7 over Vandy, 24-14 over South Carolina, 20-14 over Florida Atlantic in overtime, and 27-2 in favor of Florida State.  Again, lackluster, at best.  The kicker is Alabama has a better defense than any team they’ve played all year.

Game inside the game: Alabama running back Derrick Henry vs. Florida’s front seven

Florida has the seventh best run defense in terms of yards per game.  They’ve got their work cut out for them against the FBS leader in rushing yards.  Henry carried the ball an astounding 45 times last week.  Alabama is going to run Henry between the tackles until you stop him no matter who’s lined up on the other side.

Player to watch: Florida defensive back, Vernon Hargreaves

This kid’s a stud.  He’s only a junior, but he’s considered by many a top prospect in this spring’s NFL Draft.  Hargreaves defends the pass, steps up to stop the run and he doesn’t shy away from contact like some defensive backs do.  Watch out for number one.

X-factor: Pass protection

These two teams rank third and fourth in sacks.  Clearly, pressuring the quarterback is a big part of the defensive strategy here.  The Gators’ pass rushers have to get after Jake Coker to make the Tide one-dimensional.  The offensive line needs to give Treon Harris some time to make plays.  If they can’t do both things well then their chances are slim.

#5 Michigan State (11-1) vs. #4 Iowa (12-0) Saturday 8:00pm on Fox

Question mark: Does Iowa belong here?

Sure, they’re undefeated but the Hawkeyes haven’t had to play Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State until now.  Quality wins over Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Northwestern are nice but they’re a far cry from the Big Ten Championship Game against a top five opponent.  We’ll see.

Game inside the game: Iowa’s offense vs. Michigan State’s defense

The Hawkeyes prefer to run the ball.  They’re one of those weird teams that actually average more yards rushing than passing.  That plays right into the Spartans’ game plan.  As evidenced in Columbus a couple weeks ago, the Spartans enjoy stopping the run.  If Iowa can’t find early success on the ground they’re in trouble.

Player to watch: Connor Cook, Michigan State quarterback

Cook was confined to the sideline two weeks ago in Columbus.  Last week he returned to the lineup looking like he hadn’t missed a beat.  He completed 19 of 26 pass attempts for 248 and three touchdowns.  People have been debating all season whether or not Cook has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback at the next level.  Leading his team to victory here would certainly help make his case.

X-factor: Michigan State receiving corps

Dropped passes and inconsistent production on the outside have haunted the Spartans for the past two years.  Hanging onto the ball and making plays when needed will make this a much easier task for the Spartans.

#10 North Carolina (11-1) vs. #1 Clemson (12-0) Saturday 8:00pm on ABC

Question mark: Can UNC’s defense get enough stops?

I have no doubt the Heels can keep up with the Tigers.  My concern is that they won’t be able to get enough stops to actually beat the Tigers.  This one should be a shootout and those always come down to defense.

Game inside the game: Clemson vs. program history

“Clemsoning” – The perennial process during Dabo Swinney’s tenure that sees the Tigers lose games they should win just when we all think they’re home free.  It’s up to the 2015 Tigers to distance themselves from those demons of the past decade.

Player to watch: North Carolina quarterback, Marquise Williams

Meet the best college football player you haven’t heard of.  Williams is the definition of a dual-threat, averaging 65 yards on the ground and 217 through the air.  He keys the offense and therefore the entire North Carolina team.  If the Tarheels are going to win, it’ll take a huge game from Williams.

X-factor: A quick start

In games like this where everyone is giving one team more of a chance than the other, it’s all about the start.  If the Tarheels can match the Tigers’ intensity in the first quarter and keep this close we’re in for a classic.