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.
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?
The Mid-American Conference Tournament must have started, because the Akron Zips men’s basketball team is on its way to Cleveland.
This year, however, they had some work to do on their home floor first. Akron took care of business in an easy fashion on Monday night at the James A. Rhodes Arena, defeating Northern Illinois 76-52 in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
“I think this game was a harder game than any game we will play in Cleveland from the pressure perspective, from our program’s perspective,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “If you would have asked people in the league who would win the game, I think it would have been difficult to say. I think this game took a little pressure off us.”
If there was any pressure, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it from talking to Akron freshman point guard Antino Jackson. Jackson has started the last seven games with Noah Robotham first ill and then injured and the speedy guard ran the offense again Monday night, scoring 10 points and dishing out five assists.
“From the get go, we already had it in our mind that we were going to come out and win tonight and there wasn’t nothing to it,” Jackson said. “It started on defense. We wanted to win tonight.”
Akron will need more play like it got Monday night if the Zips want to make a run through the MAC Tournament and earn their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in seven years. The Zips will need to win four games in four days and five games in six days (counting Monday’s win) if they are going to hoist that championship trophy at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.
Just having to play on Monday night was a strange thing for the Zips, who normally would have at least one bye in the tournament, if not multiple byes. But this season has not been a normal season for Dambrot and Akron. They have faced many challenges from the start and are still trying to come together as a unit.
“For me, mostly it’s just beating myself up because I don’t really like being in this position,” Dambrot said. “I am proud. I am used to having a great program. So I am used to getting that bye. But considering what’s happened to us, I have to be realistic enough to know we have hit a lot of obstacles.”
That doesn’t mean that Dambrot doesn’t have faith that his team will figure it out. After all, the Zips played in the MAC Tournament championship game every season from 2007 until 2013.
“I do believe this and I may be wrong – nobody wants to play us this time of the year,” Dambrot said. “They would rather play some other people than us. We went seven years in a row to the championship game so we have been tournament tested. This group hasn’t been, but we’re still a tough out.”
That confidence has extended down to his players as well.
“We have to go thinking we’re going to win the whole thing,” Akron junior Reggie McAdams said. “We’re going to pack for five days. We have to believe.”
After all, this is still a proud program. One that knows how to win when the chips are down, especially in Cleveland. The seasons may change, but the program remains the same.
“We’re still the Akron Zips,” Dambrot said. “We’re still a tough out.”
One thing is for certain – if Dambrot says it in March, you should probably listen.
Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.
Photo Credit: Jeff Hartwell, University of Akron Athletics
Damien (@damienbowman) sat down with FalconBlog’s BJ Fischer (@orangeandbrown) to discuss the most recent college football playoff rankings, Bowling Green’s second-consecutive appearance in the MAC Football Championship game, and of course Bowling Green Basketball.
Bet it all on red, or bet it all on black. Either way, it works for Northern Illinois, as they travel west to take on UNLV in non-conference play this weekend. For the Huskies, being undefeated and dismissing any Big Ten foe that dare invite them to play in September has become old hat, but the rules tend to change when they venture into Pacific time.
Never mind a pair of victories in Moscow, Idaho since 2007; traveling west has been a hit and miss deal, at best, since I’ve become acquainted with the Northern Illinois football program over the last decade. They’d just as soon forget about the 37-7 loss to TCU at the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, but their 7-point loss to Utah State in their return to Qualcomm Stadium for the Poinsettia’s 2014 chapter still has to linger.
After the program’s first undefeated regular season in Division I, only Bowling Green stood between the Huskies and their second consecutive BCS bid last December. Their loss to BG in the conference championship was the letdown, and if you subscribe to the Alabama fan school of thought on bowl defeats, you could mitigate the worse-than-the-final-score-might-indicate loss to Utah State as a game the players couldn’t care enough about. I don’t know if I necessarily buy that, but it does tell you a little bit about where the NIU football program is, and just how far they’ve come in a short period of time.
In 2003, a team that featured future-NFL running back Michael Turner began the season 7-0, with notable wins over Maryland and Alabama. They’d lose to Bowling Green to spoil their perfect season, and then again to Toledo later in the season, but there would be no bowl for this 10-2 team. The next season, Maryland would return the favor, handing the Huskies a 23-20 loss in College Park in the 2004 opener, but Turner and company would survive losses to Iowa State and Toledo (always Toledo!) for a 9-3 finish and a trip to San Jose for the Silicon Valley Classic.
This was a big deal, the school’s first post-season action since their 1983 California Bowl victory over Cal State Fullerton. Especially after being denied a bonus game the previous year, it was something for the student body in DeKalb to be excited about. In a torrential Northern California downpour, one that led to mudslides, they ran away with a win over the Trojans from Troy, an essentially unknown mid-major program from Alabama.
These days, the Huskie faithful are disappointed when their small, yet prominent, teams struggle with Big Ten programs like Purdue and Northwestern. Frankly, they expected a better showing from their eventual Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch and the team in a loss to Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl. It’s worth noting that Florida State team still hasn’t lost a game since before their 31-10 win over the MAC’s only BCS party crasher in 16 seasons.
That brings us to this weekend, where a Runnin’ Rebel program that, to put it bluntly, isn’t very good awaits them. Granted, we only have a small sample size to go on in 2014, but UNLV squeaked by FCS program Northern Colorado at home last week and didn’t appear to be anything special in shellacking at the hands of Arizona in Tucson to start the season.
As it applies to brand name programs, and more specifically brand name conferences, the Mountain West opponent won’t jump off the page when you look at NIU’s 2014 schedule. Considering they took it to the Big Ten a week ago and the SEC awaits them next week, the thought of being dominated by the MWC’s runner-up in a December bowl last year will certainly be overlooked by most. However, in the grand scheme of things, they need to win every week they play, given these new lofty expectations hung on them. Style points shouldn’t matter if you win all of your games, but just “getting by” a weak UNLV program will be frowned upon, should the Huskies be nationally relevant, with a zero in the loss column in December, and perhaps January.
So bet on red or bet on black, but be sure to bet on NIU, even though every week has the potential for a letdown.
1-11? Not quite what Western Michigan University administrators had in mind when they signed P.J. Fleck to the head coaching job in the winter of 2013. In fact, my money says behind closed doors there were demands for his head (and job) despite his 5-year, $392,000 contract. This happens to be a cool $17K more than previous Coach Bill Cubit made despite Coach Cubit having a successful tenure at Western Michigan, including the biggest single-season turnaround in MAC history turning a 1-10 record in 2004, into a 7-4 record in 2005 and earning Cubit MAC coach of the year honors. Coach Cubit also led WMU to its first bowl appearance in nearly 20 years in 2006 (1988 previous bowl appearance) which was 1 of 3 bowl appearances under Cubits watch. Coach Cubit amassed a 51-47 career record at WMU including landmark victories over Iowa, Virginia, Illinois, and University of Connecticut. Cubit has since moved on to take the Offensive Coordinator and QB coaching job with the University of Illinois. Those are some big shoes to fill for the 33-year old first-time head coach from Maple Park, Illinois. Moving his wife, son, and daughter from his hometown, where he was the Offensive Coordinator at his alma mater Northern Illinois, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, Fleck signed the largest contract in Western Michigan football history. Fleck becomes the 15th head coach in the 108 year history of WMU football although the hiring left many shaking their heads at the lofty numbers offered to a first-timer with minimal experience. Playing WR for 4-years at N. Illinois followed by a short NFL stint with the S.F. 49ers in 2004-2005, Fleck moved on to be a graduate’s assistant at Ohio St. under head coach Jim Tressel. From their Fleck returned home to his alma mater as the WR’s coach from 2007-2009 under head coach’s Joe Novak and Jerry Kill respectively followed by a 2-year run under now NFL coach Greg Schiano as Rutgers WR’s coach. In a brutal move that had to leave a bitter taste in a lot of mouths Fleck accepted the Offensive Coordinator position again with his alma mater in 2012 because he quote “bleeds for NIU” and “doesn’t belong anywhere else” only to promptly bail the very next day to reunite with Greg Schiano this time with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I can understand the great opportunity the NFL offers but the circumstances and way it all played out leave a smudge in my book of Fleck. My feeling, and that of many college football analysts, is head coach’s have a 3-year window to produce. It takes 3-years to sufficiently instill an offensive and defensive game plan and to get your recruiting class established. First year failure (even epic 1-11 failure) is to be somewhat expected, unless in the rare case the previous coach retired and handed you a contender, and not judged as harshly. The key is showing marked improvement year 2 and by year 3 hypothetically you’ve molded your squad into a fine tuned football machine ready to win championships (or at least finish over.500). Obviously repeated losing seasons and a lack of progression may result in an early termination of a contract while mediocrity may earn you an extra year, one more go at it, but that’s all she wrote. Best of luck, hope you sign with our rivals next season! Fleck wasted no time striving towards getting his own recruiting class involved as his first action as head coach was to rescind all WMU’s football scholarships already offered saying: “I know if it was me I’d be ticked”, “but I also know if it was me I would have showed up at the office of the head football coach telling him I was dying to still be there”. Kind of a harsh move albeit rather bold and possibly highly effective. Those players may or may not have found another school to play for but Fleck’s housecleaning opened up a lot of new positions and recruiting ability for his staff. Now despite the gloomy outlook given of Mr. Fleck so far, there’s actually a lot to excited about in 2014 for Bronco fans. I know, 1-11, worst record in 10 years, 0-7 in the MAC, I get it… not good! To his defense, a flood of injuries, youth of players, and a general inexperience caused big problems in the early part of the season while the Broncos got stronger and showed signs of possibility and improvement late in the year with a thrilling 31-30 victory of UMASS and several close conference match-ups. Sports Illustrated named Fleck “Best New Hire of 2013” and year 2 may just prove them right. Again, having a wide open recruiting board, Fleck and his staff have succeeded in recruiting a highly touted player class for 2014. Analysts say it’s the best WMU recruiting class since 2000, while Rivals.com ranks WMU as “Highest Mid-Major Recruiting Class”. 247sports.com ranks them 36th nationally which is the highest online ranking the Broncos received. Many consider it to be the best recruiting class in WMU history and statistically, it is. It’s a clear #1 class in non-BCS schools. Fleck saw 2 N. Illinois WR’s go to the NFL and will have 3 returning players receiving All-Conference honors including last week’s player spotlight Corey Davis, MAC Freshman of the Year, Travonte Boles, 3rd Team at Defensive Lineman, and Donald Celiscar also 3rd Team at Defensive Back. Being the first MAC school ever to achieve a Top 60 college recruiting rank ever reaching 57th and adding 14 more 3-star recruits, more than twice as many as any other MAC school, has Fleck looking like a genius and poised for a dramatic turnaround in Coach Cubit fashion or possibly better. Despite being picked to finish 5th in the MAC’s West division in the preseason polls, I think a challenge for the division title isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Clearly some player grooming and an understanding of the game plan will take some time but with enough talented athletes on the field, a lot of positive things can happen. I’ll wait until after my team review articles to make a season record prediction but it seems impossible for Fleck to flop again. For now we have to wait to see if P.J. Fleck can “Row his Boat” full of shiny new recruits to the promised land and I know Bronco fans would love nothing more that to see Fleck beat his alma mater for a MAC championship on national television. Stay tuned for more on the Western Michigan University Broncos from out here in MAC land.
The San Francisco 49ers selected safety Jimmie Ward from Northern Illinois University in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The hard-hitting safety is the second highest drafted player in the history of NIU football, not bad for the two-star, undersized recruit from Mobile, Alabama. A three year starter at defensive back, Ward also earned first team all-MAC honors twice in his NIU career. I have seen him play many times and let me tell you, what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in speed. A ball hawk with great hands, Ward was selected as a third team All-American by the Associated Press his senior year. He is such a skilled athlete that, barring injury I would be shocked if he was not great in the NFL.
Ward often played nickel at NIU and this will help him tremendously in San Francisco’s defensive scheme according to ESPN analyst Jon Gruden. Defensive coaches in the NFL love versatility and Ward was probably the most versatile defensive back in the Mid-American Conference this past season. He can play safety, he can play corner and he is a tough competitor who is very coachable. NIU head coach, Rod Carey, has often remarked that Ward is a great listener. On the national level, Ward was one of the best safeties in the 2013 season; as he picked off seven passes (second in the country) and was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.
Yes, he may be undersized for the NFL at 5’10”, but this kid plays with a ton of heart and determination. He also knows how to makes big plays in big games with 14 tackles in the Orange Bowl against FSU and six tackles and an interception in this year’s bowl game versus Utah State. He is just one of those guys who is a game changer; after watching him play it’s clear he has a presence on the field and has the ability to make an impact especially late in close games. His NIU career numbers speak for themselves; 320 tackles, 37 passes defended and 11 interceptions. Ward’s greatest attribute is probably his speed and it will translate well in the NFL.
Ward was also known for his consistent play in college after missing only one game in all four seasons at NIU. He’s a gamer who played hurt for much of his senior year. Ward was also a stud on special teams, earning special teams player of the year his freshman season and he also broke the school record for blocked punts during his career. Coming out of high school in the football Mecca of Mobile, Alabama, Jimmie Ward was not even given a glance from college recruiters. He was overlooked due to his smaller stature and his high school head coach, Fred Riley, had to work hard just to get the ear of mid-major schools like NIU.
Big time SEC schools lost out and whiffed on Ward but it all worked out at NIU, Ward was a great fit for their five-man secondary set and he flourished at the safety position. The Huskies will miss his leadership on defense, Carey has said that Ward’s leadership and play, especially as a senior, was “off the charts”. One of the best safeties to ever play in the Mid-American Conference, the defense will definitely feel the loss of his play in 2014. Look for him to make an immediate impact this coming NFL season with the San Francisco defense. With his ability to play nickel, it would not be out of the question for Jimmie Ward to earn a starting spot on the 49er secondary in his rookie year.
Some say the best thing about the BCS is that it exposed the Big Ten, who allegedly received way too much credit for their strength on the football field over the years. I’ve always rejected that notion, but the past couple of years has made it difficult to argue. I still think it’s more of a recent thing than a historic thing, but we live in the present, and it is what it is.
It’s been somewhat of a running joke, between Damien Bowman and I, that the Big Ten is hardly worth our time, here at the College Football Roundtable. For me, it’s basically just satire, but I think the Big Ten shame is all business with my podcast partner. Look, there’s some merit to it, which goes far beyond Ohio State losing back-to-back National Championships; top to bottom, the Big Ten really doesn’t have it, whatever it may be.
For this conference’s Year-In-Review, we’re going to take a sarcastic or satirical approach, to feed the trolls, if you will. I offer you a brief summary of what happened to each team, how they feed that narrative (that the conference should be relegated to the FCS), and why that assessment just might be wrong. Granted, criticism might be natural in some cases and whoever “they” are, “they” might not be wrong in saying whatever negative things they tend to say about some of these programs.
What happened in 2013? It was a rough first year for Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette. Their lone victory came, and it didn’t come easily in a matchup with in-state FCS rival Indiana State. Indiana State’s only win came over a school named Quincy; I had to look this up, but the Quincy Hawks are a Division II school in Illinois that finished near the bottom of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. A week after holding off a late comeback surge from Indiana State, they lost to Notre Dame by a single touchdown, and then went on to lose to everyone except Illinois by double digits. Their signature moments included the 31-24 loss to Purdue and a 14-0 loss to Michigan State, if that tells you anything about the 2013 Boilermakers.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I had to look up Quincy University to demonstrate how meaningless their win over Indiana State was. They didn’t score a single point between October 12th and November 9th, which was only two games, but still.
That’s wrong, because…it isn’t Purdue’s fault that Indiana State stunk. They did win that game 70-7. And as far as the near-month-long scoring drought is concerned, that was Michigan State, Ohio State, and a bye week, but still.
What happened in 2013? They took down the really bad teams on their schedule, lost to the teams that were heavily favored, and snuck in a few surprises in games that I’d have considered a coin flip. After Cincinnati punished Purdue 42-7 in Week 1, the Illini weren’t ready to let Cincinnati think they were a Big Ten-caliber team, with a 45-17 drubbing of Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats. They had a respectable showing in defeat at Soldier Field, to what we believed to be a pretty good Washington team at the time, losing 34-24. They did what they were supposed to do to Miami, the MAC conference’s bottom feeder, then the Big Ten had their way with them. Tim Beckman is certainly on the hot seat in Champaign, after a week finish that included a 4-point win over hapless Purdue and a loss to a broken Northwestern team at home.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they managed to score 32 points or more in four of their losses, and three of those were by at least 17. It speaks volumes to the level of defense they pretend to play in the Big Ten, when the second worst team in the leauge is putting up video game numbers on offense.
That’s wrong, because…they might have been all that terrible after all; they might just need to work on their defense that allowed 60 points to Ohio State and 56 to Wisconsin. The only utter beating they took was 42-3 loss to Michigan State, magnified by the fact that it was not only a home game, but the Homecoming Game.
What happened in 2013? Northwestern came out of the gate at 4-0, with non-conference wins over the Pac-12 and ACC, and then a couple of tune-up games against the MAC and FCS. They were ranked, and deservedly so, with Ohio State coming to town for a game on national TV; Ohio State outlasted them, winning by 10 on a fluke touchdown in the end. Unfortunately, that was the first of seven straight losses the Wildcats, bitten badly by injury, suffered. The losing streak was gut-wrenching, but not as bad as it might sound. Nebraska needed a Hail Mary, and they took Michigan to three overtimes, before losing 27-19 at home in a game they had plenty of opportunities to win. They salvaged the season, to a certain extent, with a season-ending victory at Illinois.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…the Wildcats were ranked, then lost 7 consecutive games. Now, it isn’t Northwestern’s fault they were, perhaps, overrated. Venric Mark was hurt all year, and Kain Colter missed significant time, but a lack of depth in Evanston really cost Pat Fitzgerald a chance at a good season and a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…they didn’t get to play Purdue, which easily could have been a bowl-clinching sixth win for the Cats. People, over time, forgot how close they came against Ohio State. And, it’s okay to dismiss Ohio State as nothing on the national stage, but in Big Ten-speak, they remain the cream of the crop.
What happened in 2013? If you don’t count Michigan in this group, they were probably the best of the bad teams in the Big Ten. They, like Purdue, had a chance to tee off against Indiana State, then lost a close one to Navy, beat eventual MAC champion Bowling Green, and didn’t play dead against SEC runner-up Missouri. Kevin Wilson has them playing offense; they put up 28 against Michigan State and Missouri, and couldn’t quite finish drives at Ohio State, where they had one of the more impressive 28-point losses you’ll ever see.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…nobody respects Bowling Green or Penn State, easily the Hoosiers best two victories of the year. What people will notice is a 51-3 loss at Wisconsin, and maybe even yielding 36 points to Purdue at home to wrap up another season without a bowl in Bloomington.
That’s wrong, because…they aren’t necessarily waiting for the hoops season to start in August any more. Like I said, the offense can do good things, but the defense needs to do what traditional Big Ten fans so desperately miss about this league, and that’s tackling the ball carrier.
What happened in 2013? What always happens in Ann Arbor? When Michigan beats Notre Dame, everyone is ready to hand them the crystal football, and says never mind that they almost lost to Akron and Connecticut. Then, when they poo the bed in Happy Valley, a 4OT loss, and everyone is canceling their flights from Detroit to Pasadena in January. Their only victory after a 63-47 shootout win over Indiana on October 19th was a triple OT miracle at Northwestern. The highlight of their season might have been a 1-point loss/moral victory at home against Ohio State to end the regular season.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I asked, and got a serious answer from Lost Letterman’s Jim Weber (a Michigan guy), how much are they missing Rich Rod in Ann Arbor? Brady Hoke’s days are probably numbered at Michigan. I mean, this is supposed to one of the conference’s banner programs!
That’s wrong, because…Notre Dame! They beat #14 Notre Dame in September, the same Notre Dame that just played for a National Championship in January. The Irish came into the Big House, and they lost 41-30. LOUD NOISES!
What happened in 2013? With no big picture to think about for the next three years, Penn State has the advantage of not carrying that burden of what happens to them in December or January. A 3-point loss to Central Florida at home looked a lot worse when it happened in September than it turned out to be. A 20-point loss at Indiana can probably be taken at face value, ditto for the loss at Minnesota, but the Michigan meltdow in quadruple overtime probably would have served at the season’s best moment, if it weren’t for their stunning upset at Camp Randall over Wisconsin, which ended the season for probationary Penn State.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Jerry Sandusky! The kids! The conference advocates that behavior. It really is no joking matter, what happened under Joe Paterno’s watch at Penn State, but it’s time to move forward. In all seriousness, they probably gave the conference a black eye by shocking Wisconsin in Madison; the Big Ten might have been able to boast about three elite teams otherwise.
That’s wrong, because…this probation is going to hit Penn State harder each year, given the scholarship reductions after surviving the intital set of transfers. Ultimately, probation is what made the departure so easy for Bill O’Brien after 2 seasons, but might lead to an upgrade with James Franklin running things now.
What happened in 2013? Jerry Kill spent some time in the hospital, but what else is new? The Gophers did a decent job keeping the out-of-conference schedule soft, so they could enter league play at 4-0. That meant they’d only need to win two games in conference to qualify for the post-season. After a couple of sound beatings from Iowa and Michigan, you wondered how realistic that was, but they didn’t win two games. They won four, in a row, against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State. They dropped their final three contests, including the Texas Bowl, but you have to think they’d take 8-4 with a December bowl every year in those parts.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they feast on the Mountain West, the WAC orphans, and FCS competition. In Minnesota’s case, guilty as charged; the path to 4-0 went through UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State.
That’s wrong, because…they’re Minnesota. They were on the level with Syracuse in the bowl game, but no one will be confusing them with Ohio State or Michigan State anytime soon. It’s when they play a non-conference slate like that, and come away 2-2, that they deserve the knock.
What happened in 2013? THey didn’t play a game away from Lincoln until October 12th, which was a layup against Purdue in West Lafayette. They had a good chance to be 5-0, but they couldn’t capitalize on UCLA sleep-walking through the first half, and had their own 2nd half meltdown, allowing the Bruins to escape the Heartland with a 41-21 win. They would lose their second road contest, a 34-23 game at Minnesota, which would have been more of a black eye, if the Gophers didn’t have the great season (by their standards) that they had. No shame in losing to Michigan State, even at home, but beign humiliated in their regular season finale, at home against Iowa, is a different story altogether. Many, perhaps including Bo Pellini, were surprised that Pellini was permitted to coach another game for Big Red, but he answered the call with TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…everyone was a little too proud that the Big Ten achieved victory against an SEC school’s taxi squad in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day. Nebraska has proven to be very average in the Big Ten, in its first three years since defecting from the Big 12.
That’s wrong, because…Nebraska hadn’t been anything special in the Big 12 for many years either. If anything, the immediate success of Missouri and Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference might suggest that the SEC is more sizzle than substance.c
What happened in 2013? Something had to give with Northern Illinois, who had suffered some heart-breaking losses to the Hawkeyes, both at Soldier Field and Kinnick Stadium, and it finally did in this year’s opener in Iowa City. After that, the Hawks had a very respectable season; losing to the consensus Top 3 teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. They also made the mistake of scheduling the 2013 chapter of Michigan State for their Homecoming, but who saw them coming? They suffered an unfortunate setback in the Outback Bowl, a game they were very much in, when they lost their starting quarterback and ended up losing the game 21-14.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Iowa is its 4th best team. Iowa can only be viewed in one way to support the narrative; they lost to a MAC school that was clobbered in back-to-back games by Bowling Green and Utah State. It’s no wonder they couldn’t handle the SEC in a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…expectations were relatively tapered for the 2013 season. Weisman for Heisman was fun to say, but not realistic. I’m sure they would have rather not lost to Northern Illinois, but the way that game was sold, you’d have almost thought Iowa was the underdog in their season opener, and not the other way around.
What happened in 2013? Forget the 93-0 combined scores of the Badgers’ first two games at home against Who and Who Tech, because BYU and Arizona State make for a decent out of conference lineup. Of course, in traveling to Pac-12 country, Gary Andersen’s team had to deal with Pac-12 officials. They played the Sun Devils pretty evenly in Tempe, but most certainly had 18 seconds taken away from them, 18 seconds that may have afforded them the opportunity to win, but instead they lost. A few weeks later, they lost Ohio State, in a game they were expected to lose. Then, they blew everyone out, except BYU, until Penn State shocked them at home to close out the season. They ran into a very tough South Carolina team in Orlando on New Year’s Day, and dropped a game where they lost their starting quarterback.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Wisconsin didn’t even play Michigan State. Their best win was either at Iowa or at Minnesota, and this is the third best team in the Big Ten. That’s a hand down assessment, isn’t it? Would you really argue with anyone that said this 2013 Badger team was on the same level as the previous two, who lost Rose Bowls?
That’s wrong, because…while I think Michigan State would have beaten them, I think they showed that they could hold their own against South Carolina. And while there are no trophies given for moral victories, if you can hang with Urban Meyer’s and Steve Spurrier’s teams, you could probably hang with every team in the country that didn’t make it to a BCS game. So, this isn’t a ringing endorsement, but how many nice things can you say about a team with these expectations losing to Penn State on Senior Day?
What happened in 2013? Well, the same thing happened with Ohio State in 2013 that happened in 2012; the Buckeyes went 12-0, only this time they were burdened with post-season games. Once again, nobody was blown away by the Buckeyes schedule, both in and out of conference; as it turns out, they got Central Florida a year too soon and the team with the most curb appeal, Cal, in the worst possible year ever. As it turned out, Buffalo and San Diego State both played in a bowl game, the same bowl game, but nobody cares about that. Nobody would have cared about them beating Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and nobody would have cared if they played Nebraska and Minnesota, but since they did not see the Cornhuskers or Golden Gophers, I’m sure someone made a big deal about that. What everyone will remember is the last 3 games, the near-miss in Ann Arbor, and the neutral site whiffs in Indianapolis and Miami, to the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl Champions. Most overrated 24-0 team ever, right?
The Big Ten is terrible, because…TATTOOS, MAURICE CLARETT, RAFFLES AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE! Honestly though, it helps the cause if they regroup from the 34-24 loss in the conference championship and finish against Clemson in a showcase game like the Orange Bowl. If they were the only thing the Big Ten had going for itself, it would be a very sad state of affairs, sadder than it already is.
That’s wrong, because…digging up Tressel era scandals is dumb, and how dare we disrespect Michigan State and Clemson in such ways to suggest the Buckeyes are terrible! Michigan State over Stanford in Pasadena helps their cause; as does Clemson over Georgia in Death Valley, but is there a signature win from any of Ohio State’s other 12 opponents, perhaps one they actually defeated, that gives them a case here?
What happened in 2013? It took Michigan State a few weeks to hit their stride offensively, what to do without Le’veon Bell in the backfield, and they lost a sluggish contest to Notre Dame, 17-13 in South Bend. They figured out the formula was Jeremy Langford running with a slightly different design to the offense, and they never lost again, like ever. However, it wasn’t until November, after holding Michigan to 6 points, that the intimidating Spartans’ D was anything more than a cool story. Personally, I started talking myself into this team beating Ohio State, something that ended up happening. After taking down the Buckeyes, I was convinced they could take down Stanford, my pre-season pick to be the National Champ. They did that too.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they lost to Notre Dame! Stanford lost to Utah! Ohio State lost to Clemson! Nothing they did means anything; the Rose Bowl trophy, the Big Ten Championship, it all meant nothing! I mean, didn’t Purdue play Notre Dame close? Didn’t Notre Dame lost to Pitt? And, what the hell was up with Max Bullough?
That’s wrong, because…they won without Bullough, against one of the better rushing teams in the country. Even if Stanford lost to Utah, they won what everyone seems to believe is the second-best conference in the country. Even if Ohio State had their quirks, and we admit that they did, they weren’t a bad team for losing to the Spartans and Clemson. In a playoff, they’d have had a crack at Auburn or Florida State, but I’m not going to speculate on the results of the unknown in that case. If you think Michigan State stunk, you don’t have an open mind about things.
The Mid-American Conference – round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows. For now, it has stopped with the Akron Zips alone back on top of the MAC East and in a tie overall in the MAC at 9-3 with their 62-54 win over Northern Illinois on Saturday night.
With Akron missing starter Nick Harney, who is suspended indefinitely, and Reggie McAdams, who is out with mono, the Zips needed someone to step up. As usual, it was forward Demetrius Treadwell who did just that.
“Tree carried us,” Akron head coach Keith Dambrot said. “If we didn’t have him, we probably would have scored about 30 points.”
Treadwell had his ninth double-double in the last 10 games and his 13th overall this season, scoring a career-high 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He was 9-for-12 from the field and hit 7-of-9 free throws on the night.
“It is a mid-season thing, you start hitting your stride and double-doubles are just starting to come,” Treadwell said. “It is just me bringing effort every night.”
Also of importance, Treadwell gave Akron 35 minutes and picked up just two fouls, something they needed with two players out.
“I feel like I am pretty smart so I try to stay away from fouls and not put myself in predicaments where I can get in foul trouble,” Treadwell said. “I still play as hard as I can but try to use my brain at the same time.”
The highlight of the night for Treadwell came with 4:35 left in the game and Akron leading 59-55. Jake Kretzer missed a shot and Treadwell followed with a put back dunk that gave him 23 points and nine rebounds and most importantly gave the Zips a 51-45 lead and started a 6-0 run.
“Jake was driving to his right and most times when people drive to their right, they miss on the left side of the basket, so I tried to do what I do,” Treadwell said. “One of my best attributes is offensive rebounds so I just tried to follow it up and I guess I followed it up with authority.”
As has been the case lately for Akron, this win didn’t come easy.
Northern Illinois got out to a 23-17 lead with 5:40 to play in the first half before Akron roared back with an 11-1 run to take a 28-24 lead before a Travon Baker 3-pointer to end the half pulled Northern Illinois to within one at 28-27.
The second half saw Akron continue their run, scoring 10 of the first 14 points in the half to extend to their largest lead at the time at 38-31. Northern Illinois was able to whittle the margin down to two twice but never tied the game back up. With Akon ahead 43-41, the Zips scored the next six points on a jumper and a layup by Treadwell and a layup by Deji Ibitayo to get it back to a six-point margin. Northern Illinois never got it back within four points after that.
“Every game is going to be like this. We have shown it doesn’t matter who we play, they are all going to be the same,” Dambrot said. “We’ve got enough toughness to be in every game and we just have to make plays when it matters.”
Things turned around in the game when Akron started buckling down on the defensive end. After shooting 40.7% in the first half, Northern Illinois shot just 30.8% in the second half. In fact, they missed seven of their last eight shots in the first half after hitting 10 of their first 19 shots, which helped lead to Akron’s run.
“When we lost Harney, I told the guys we needed to be able to offset it defensively because we aren’t going to be able to offset it offensively,” Dambrot said. “I feel like we played pretty good defensively. Not perfect, but pretty good.”
Despite being short-handed, the Zips were able to hold serve on their home court in another topsy-turvy day in the MAC.
They reclaimed their spot in first place in the MAC East because Ohio beat Buffalo 73-70 earlier in the day, moving them both to 8-4 in the conference. As for the overall MAC lead, Akron tied Toledo and Western Michigan from the MAC West. Western Michigan beat Miami 68-57 on Saturday, while Toledo relinquished their hold on the MAC lead by losing 65-44 to Eastern Michigan.
“Everybody knows Toledo lost today so this game was important for us, it put us back in first place, exactly where we wanted,” Treadwell said. “Every game gets bigger from here on out.”
And now with the MAC title in their sights, the Zips can start to think bigger.
Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.
Some might remember this. The old, suitable for basic cable, censored version of Die Hard changed the catch-phrase to “Yipee ki-ay, Mr. Falcon.”
How ugly is that? Was it as ugly as watching Northern Illinois get handled by the Falcons of Bowling Green in Friday night’s MAC Championship? I don’t know, but I don’t like the instant reaction, even though I can’t aruge against it.
I was more convinced about the legitimacy of the two-time defending Conference Champion this season. They didn’t just hang with a sub-par Iowa team; they went toe-to-toe with the Big Ten’s 4th best team. Their defense was abused at times, but that comes with the territory, when you consider the pace of these MAC games. The whole show went through Jordan Lynch, even if you could make a case for some pieces of the supporting cast, and only one team was able to stop such a one-dimensional gameplan.
That’s not a fair thing to say. Cameron Stingily ran for 1,000 yards, despite having to cede 1,700 yards worth of carries to his sensational quarterback. Tommylee Lewis added a dynamic on Special Teams, and was a bolt of lightning that could either keep defenses honest to something that isn’t Lynch on the draw or get yards in chunks. Juwan Brescasin has done his part, and made a big play or two on Friday, but it just wasn’t enough. Whatever “it” is, the Huskies didn’t have it.
It’s as simple as that; Bowling Green was better. I don’t know if they are better, were just better on Friday, or have been better than Northern Illinois the whole time, but this was the worst case scenario for the MAC and Northern Illinois University. The MAC still stinks, NIU never plays anyone, and undefeated means positively nothing in the Midwest; even if that isn’t really the entire perception, it’s close enough. It was hard to argue that they’ve played anyone, because how do I sell the 4th best team in a conference, when nobody has an inkling of respect for the best team in that very conference?
I don’t know if I can get anyone to understand that Toledo and Ball State are difficult wins, if the masses have already made up their minds that nothing and no one in the MAC mean a damn thing in the grand scheme of things. I understand there isn’t a Michael Turner, Ben Roethlisberger, or Jason Taylor in every NFL Draft, but the MAC makes up a decent portion of the NFL population. Forget it. Why should I bother selling this conference? Do the facts not speak for themselves?
47-27 in a game that would draw more first time viewers, being on a cold December Friday night, was the last statement the 2013 MAC Runner-Up wanted to make. It all screams that they aren’t ready for prime time, and that’s not something I want to concede. If not these Huskies, and if not Brady Hoke’s Ball State team of 2008, it may not happen for the MAC. Knocking off Big Ten teams doesn’t speak the volumes that it used to, and until it’s Ohio State, who’s putting any stock into the quality of those “signature wins”? Maybe we should be grateful that the stars aligned, just once in 16 years, for the MAC to crash the party last year. They made it with a loss, and they’ll be the only mid-major to ever do that.
In Dekalb, there’s no Cinderella to this team. That was 10 years and three Head Coaches ago. They went to Tuscaloosa and knocked off Alabama at Bryant-Denny, but I’m obligated to disclose that it was a different brand of Crimson Tide back then. Maryland came to Dekalb that year too; it’s safe to say the Big Ten patches on their jerseys next year will make them allergic to visiting MAC stadiums, going forward. That 2003 team finished 10-2 and did not get invited to a bowl. In 2004, they won the Silicon Valley Classic verus Troy, and have played in a bowl in 7 of 9 seasons, since being snubbed in 2003. That, of course, includes last year’s Orange Bowl appearance.
That’s all well and good, but we tend to get stuck in this what have you done for me lately? mode. You want them to keep moving forward, but sometimes you’re stuck wondering if a BCS game in 2012 was a little ahead of their actual pace. It’s also possible that Florida State was pretty good in January, before anyone knew what a Jameis was.
Instead of setting up Camp Huskie, right here in North Phoenix, we might be watching them play on a blue field, against a 2014 opponent, 4 days before Christmas. At least it’s not Detroit; when I suggested the idea of the Huskies playing in last year’s Motor City Pizza Bowl to a friend, he joked that the players parents wouldn’t even want to travel to Detroit for a second time on December 26th.
Without the BCS, none of the MAC’s tie-ins help them play “anyone”, which is code for a respected team from the cartel. Technically, Purdue is in the cartel, but the elitists laugh at that quality win for mid-majors, year-in and year-out. Virginia, Rutgers, Navy, or even Michigan and Penn State in down years; it’s never good enough. That argument holds water, whether the naysayers want to hear it or not. Losing to a conference peer, with every single thing on the line, that’s what matters. Says them.
There is a truth to be seen in all of this sorrow, this bitter disappointment that turns a Fiesta into a Humanitarian effort and corn chips to cold unwashed potatoes. This is a program that used to celebrate a chance to playa Sun Belt team in a torrential downpour San Jose downpour, just nine seasons ago. They were honored to accept large sums of money and an invite to play in the Big House and at The Shoe in 2005 and 2006. In fact, after Jerry Kill left them high and dry for the greener pastures of Minnesota, they were ecstatic about winning that stupid Potato Bowl with an interim coach.
And, the fans should be thrilled now. We all know how important that zero on the back half of the win-loss record is, and how that one is so much more pronounced, when it comes this late in the season, but this is still a good season for a good team. I might slip up, and qualify it by saying, “by MAC standards,” but why not? No one thinks these guys belong in the Big Ten or Big XII. I’m not sure anyone can say they’re more worthy of membership in the Big Ten than in-state counterparts Northwestern and Illinois, regardless of who beat how many Big Ten teams this season. They’ve been part of a lot of conversations, those discussions that are usually reserved for the big boys had to include the Huskies, or at least Jordan Lynch, this season.
For it to end like this, in humiliating fashion, and on nothing night from Lynch (345 total yards and 3 touchdowns are pedestrian, 2 interceptions equal the sky falling in Lynch’s world) on this stage, just welcomes a feeling of emptiness. It’s now all gone for not; it’s hard to feel any under way. There will be no New Years Day game, certainly no Heisman and even a trip to New York might be a longshot. This is the neighbor’s dogs eating that Christmas Turkey that Ralphie Parker’s father so badly yearned for, but there might be a silver lining. Could Idaho be a fun-filled day of having the entire staff of an Asian restaurant serenade us with ‘Tis the Season?
At least it couldn’t be worse than the dreadful basic cable dub, aimed at good ol’ Mr. Falcon, except that it was. It was profane, watching these Falcons fly by this Huskie secondary; I mean, Bayer was giving me headaches and Matt Johnson stole Lynch’s star on that night.
All of it made for a very cold dark night, here in the desert.
In today’s edition of The Campus Corner, we take a sneak peak at America’s favorite conference: the MAC.
The Mid-American Conference jumped into the national scene last year with a couple of surprising and exciting teams.
Out of the gate, Frank Solich and the Ohio University Bobcats were a perfect 7-0- including a much-publicized victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions in Happy Valley- and ranked number 24 in the country, until a costly sack of Bobcats’ QB Tyler Tettleton against the Miami Redhawks resulted in their first loss of the season. From there it was all downhill for the group from Athens, Ohio, as they lost four of their final five regular season games and finished with a 9-4 record on the year.
Meanwhile, the Kent State Golden Flashes and running back Dri Archer were off to a very special start of their own. After losing their second game of the year to the SEC doormat, the Kentucky Wildcats, the Flashes rattled off 10 straight victories, including a big win over the 15th ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Unfortunately, with a BCS bowl-berth on the line, the Flashes fell in double overtime in the MAC title game, went on to lose the GODADDY.com Bowl to the Arkansas State Red Wolves, and finished 11-3 on the year.
Finally, the team that started the season with a loss at Iowa became the best in the MAC and a national storyline. The Northern Illinois Huskies and QB Jordan Lynch put together a brilliant 2012 campaign that included 12-straight wins and an Orange Bowl berth against the Florida State Seminoles. After defeating the 11-1 Kent State team, the Huskies were awarded a trip to the Orange Bowl, much to the chagrin of many national pundits. While they tried to show they belonged in the BCS, Florida State banged around the Huskies in South Florida and took home the Orange Bowl Trophy by a final score of 31-10.
This season may be a little different than the Cinderella 2012 for the MAC. While I wouldn’t call last season a “fluke”, it was certainly not an expected season by any stretch of the imagination and will most likely not happen again this year. That doesn’t mean, however, that America’s darling conference will not be an exciting one to watch.
Of these three teams, which will be the most successful coming in to 2013?
Let’s start with Kent State.
The Flashes were the team to beat for much of the season last year thanks to head coach Darrell Hazell. His vast experiences in big time college football paired with his extraordinary ability to motivate his team helped Kent State to reach their absolute pinnacle. This year, Kent State will be without Hazell who moved on to become the head coach at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. How will the Kent State football program fare without him? How will Paul Haynes aim to emulate his predecessor?
One thing is for certain, the Flashes still have Dri Archer and that will keep them dangerous. In 2012, Archer ran for 1,429 yards on 159 carries, good for 9.0 yards per attempt. He also scored 23 all-purpose touchdowns for the Flashes well on his way to 2013 Heisman Trophy hype.
All that said, as Archer has another tremendous year, but Kent State will falter without Coach Hazell roaming the sidelines.
Then we turn to the “almost” story: the Ohio Bobcats.
The Bobcats were well on their way to a historic season in Athens when things turned awry, but the signs are pointing to a terrific 2013.
Offensively, Tyler Tettleton is back for his senior season and looking to improve on his 2,844 yards and 18 touchdowns from last year. Small and speedy running back, Beau Blakenship, is back as well and is emerging as a star along with his Kent State counterpart, Archer.
In 2012, Blankenship posted 1,604 yards on the ground- more than Archer- but did so on 312 carries- nearly double Archer’s mark. Nevertheless, Blankenship will become a household name this season as the Bobcats look for a MAC title.
The toughest two tasks for Ohio will be their ability to stay healthy along with their ability to beat Louisville.
The ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals are first up for the Bobcats and if Solich can help his Bobcats pull off an upset, a magical season could be in the making. Even if they can’t squeeze by the Bridgewater-gang, the Bobcats have a favorable schedule that could still result in a memorable season.
As for the injuries, the Bobcats battled them all season and are still feeling the effects today. On the list of players coming back from surgery include WR Donte Foster, WR Mario Dovell, WR Landon Smith, TE Tyler Knight, TE Derek Roback, RB Ryan Boykin, OL Sam Johnson, OL John Prior, OL Jon Lechner, OL Ryan McGrath, DE Nic Barber, and S Josh Kristoff. As you can see, the list is extraordinarily extensive and will certainly hold back this team, should they not come back in large quantities.
And then we have the 2012 MAC Champion Northern Illinois Huskies.
Ranked at no. 21 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, there’s pretty much just one thing to say about Northern Illinois and it’s this: as long as Jordan Lynch is at QB, watch out for the Huskies.
Lynch had an unbelievable 2012 during which he and his team burst into the national highlight reels each and every weekend.
As a passer in 2012, Lynch completed 237 of 394 attempts for 3,138 yards and 25 TDs, all while throwing just six interceptions. As a runner, he rushed for 1,815 yards on 294 carries and scored 19 touchdowns.
In case you weren’t counting, that’s 44 all-purpose touchdowns and 4,953 all-purpose yards; one of the best seasons in MAC history.
The Huskies are poised to make another run for the BCS in 2013 and there seems to be nothing in their way, outside of another matchup with Hazell and the Boilermakers.
Northern Illinois is clearly the team to beat in the MAC this season, but watch out for the Bobcats too. Maybe we’ll see another epic MAC Championship game, with the winner heading to a BCS bowl berth.
Look ahead for the full MAC Preview coming in the next couple of weeks and comment on the bottom of this page or on Twitter @MTAFSports.
You can also talk to Hayden about his piece by email: [email protected] or on Twitter: @H_Grove.
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