Tag Archives: Ohio Bobcats

Show Out Games Must not be Taken Away

A thought-provoking point was brought to our attention through the Facebook post of a student-athlete at Charleston Southern University, last week.

Saturday, the Charleston Southern football program experienced what it’s like to play against the Florida State Seminoles on Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium in front of 75,831 fans.

Tragically, those Buccaneers were without 14 of their teammates next to them because of CSU’s decision to suspend the players in “violation.”  32 players will serve suspensions, in total.

It’s unfortunate and the NCAA and Charleston Southern should be ashamed of themselves, but our Bob McDonald already covered that for us.  I only bring it up to help make a point.

College is all about having an experience.

Athlete or not, ages 18-21 are reserved for doing dumb (hopefully harmless) things and coming away mostly unscathed, with the best stories possible.

Going into a big-time program’s backyard and expecting to compete, let alone pull out a victory can often be classified as a dumb move.

Still, these games serve many purposes.  Power 5 teams get a “week off,” or so they think.  Small schools that struggle to support all their sports teams get their bills paid.

Best of all, the players on these underdog teams have a chance to show a national TV audience what they can do.

There were so many of these matchups in last Saturday, some dubbed it “Weak 2.”  Instead, it turned out to be quite an exhilarating day of college football.

I love the small school show out games.

Nicholls State took #9 Georgia to the brink “between the hedges,” as if that means anything anymore.  The Colonels out-scored the Dawgs 10-0 in the fourth quarter, time expiring on them still trailing, 26-24.

Controversially or not, Central Michigan upset #22 Oklahoma State, on the road, 30-27.  Look, that’s a rough way to lose a game but when you trail for extended periods and repeatedly fail to put a team away, I don’t have much sympathy.

Wyoming hung around with Nebraska until the Huskers exploded for a 28-point fourth quarter.

Ohio hit the road and thrashed a Power 5 team, even if it was pitiful Kansas.

FCS Illinois State kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired in its game at Northwestern.

Troy gave #2 Clemson much more than it bargained for.  Eventually, the Trojans ran out of gas and lost, 30-24.

Arkansas, though certainly not a small school, was not given much chance by too many at #15 TCU.  This was an absolutely unreal game, by the way.

So, yes, while mandating that Power 5 schools play only each other in early season non-conference games would create more of a buzz similar to what we saw in Week 1, it would also take away most of the David vs. Goliath magic that makes college sports far superior to the professional ranks.

Eliminating cupcake matchups denies student-athletes a unique experience that goes beyond wins and losses.

They’re not sexy, they don’t draw the same audiences, and more times than not they’re effectively over by halftime, but these games have their place.

I love watching guys with something to prove raise their game and have fun while doing it.  I enjoy seeing guys who won’t play on Sundays have career days against teams that never would’ve recruited them.  That doesn’t happen nearly as much if you take away these show out games.

I say, continue to schedule these matchups and enjoy watching smaller schools go up against the bluebloods.  Give these kids who weren’t highly recruited a taste of what it’s like playing top-tier college football.

As we saw in “Weak 2,” there’s a decent chance they’ll take advantage of their opportunity.

Tweet @GreatGatzke or e-mail Mitch at [email protected].

Photo: Wikimedia Commmons

The Battle at Bristol Lived up to the Hype

I am one of the crazy fans that had been excited about the Battle at Bristol ever since the day it was first announced that this game would actually be happening. That was three years ago. Those three years left a lot of time for the hype around this game to build to astronomical heights. Let me tell you, using my experience on Saturday and the football game itself, why this game was not a letdown.

Battle at Bristol

Look at that. It is a sight to see. That many people are all in one stadium for a college football game. In case you missed the official number, the attendance ended up being a whopping 156,990 people. No venue in college football could accomplish that feat, but Bristol Motor Speedway did. Every single person at that game is now a part of college football history.

I’ve seen fans from pretty much every other team I know saying how terrible this venue was and how they’d never want to go to a game like this. Right. If this were your team you would be just as excited to make history as all those Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers fans were. And this may be hard to believe, but I actually could see the game just fine from my seats. I only used the Collosus TV board to watch replays. I didn’t even bring binoculars. There was actually no need for them. So no, it wasn’t just like watching the game at home on a big screen TV. Plus, there’s that electric atmosphere that was absolutely unbeatable.

Josh Dobbs

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a “Vol Walk” this absolutely packed before. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs almost blends in with the mass of fans in this picture I took. But that wasn’t all.

Since the Battle at Bristol took place on the eve of the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2011, the event was designed to be especially patriotic. During the National anthem, the fans took part in a “stadium stunt,” creating probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, as far as this kind of stuff goes. I literally had goosebumps.

Battle at Bristol

Even beyond all the pomp and circumstance that came with the event, it was quite the football game to watch live. I’m sure that the Hokie fans in attendance aren’t quite as happy as I am today, but nobody will deny what an incredible experience it was.

In the first quarter, Virginia Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead and its offense seemed unstoppable. At the same time, Tennessee’s offense behind Josh Dobbs seemed pretty pitiful. The hearts of Vol fans were breaking as some of them began murmuring things in the stands about Head Coach Butch Jones. It started to seem almost hopeless.

In the second quarter, Tennessee put its foot on the gas and never looked back. The Vols went into the half with a 24-14 lead after two fumble recoveries, three touchdowns, and a field goal all in the second quarter. I have never seen so many fans deliriously happy while singing “Rocky Top” at the top of their lungs. And everybody loved Butch Jones again.

In the second half, Tennessee did allow a Virginia Tech field goal but that was about it until a late touchdown. The Vols, on the other hand, had three more touchdowns in that half. The final score made the game look like more of a blowout than it truly was, but as a Vol fan I won’t sit here and complain. I’ve learned to take whatever I can get.

Battle at Bristol

That final scoreboard was a thing of beauty for Vol fans, but there are still many questions for the Vols. Next week, they host the Ohio Bobcats at Neyland. The week after that, they open up SEC play at home against the Florida Gators. While they can expect to win that Ohio game regardless (even if Ohio is better than you might think), I won’t say the same for the Florida game.

Tennessee’s defensive line wasn’t containing the Hokies at all in the first quarter, but beyond that the defense did very well. The turnovers say it all.

Unfortunately, Tennessee’s offense was still not too impressive behind the dynamic duo of running backs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, as well as quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs did his part and so did Hurd and Kamara, but without all the short fields from Virginia Tech’s mistakes, the scoreboard may have looked very different.

Now that the offensive line problems seem to be settled, it will be up to the coaching staff to find a way to really turn on the jets against Ohio next week. Tennessee really needs to find a way to get consistent offensive production before they start a brutal stretch of conference play.

The Vols definitely can’t rely on good field position when it comes to the Florida game on the 24th. Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio protects the ball infinitely better than former Gator Treon Harris ever did. Not to mention, the Gators actually intercepted more passes than the Kentucky Wildcats completed in their game on Saturday.

At the end of the day, I do have to say that the Battle at Bristol was a huge success. And hey, I was right about it ultimately not being too much of a battle. As you can tell, I was very happy about that!

Battle at Bristol

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photos: Kristen Botica

Ohio Bobcats will help Kansas Start Another Losing Streak

The Kansas Jayhawks won a game!  Never mind the fact that they needed to bring in the Rhode Island Rams, who compete in the FCS and have won just once each of the last two seasons.  They actually won a game, ending what was the longest active losing streak in the FBS at 15.

Is Charlie Weis still the coach out there in Kansas?  No?  Ahh well, it was fun while it lasted.  Fun, that is, for those of us who weren’t subjected to watching his garbage teams get smacked around the field.  Weis always looked so confused.  Apparently, he was just ahead of the curve.

Need a laugh?  Check out the modest gathering of Jayhawk fans that “rushed” the field to celebrate their team’s first win in over a year.

Please, pardon the shoddy video quality and listen to what the public address announcer says as the initial ankle-wrapping wave of fans comes leaking out onto the field.

This is quite the contradictory choice of celebration for a basketball school that clearly does not support court storming.

It is a problem.  It should be curtailed, if not eliminated altogether.  Still, I find the hypocrisy interesting.

This week, one of my adopted schools will help KU start another losing streak.  The Ohio Bobcats come to Lawrence, Kansas to force-feed the Jayhawks a sour dose of #MACtion.

After twice having the time of my life in Athens, Ohio (#11Fest, #13Fest), Theee Ohio University will always have a special place in my heart.

So yeah, this one’s personal.  I won’t just be pulling for Kansas to lose, as usual.  I’ll also be cheering on my Bobcats.

As the public address announcer so professionally said without laughing in that video, “This is a new era in Kansas football, an era in which you should expect to win.”

Seriously, is this what they’re preaching out there in Lawrence nowadays?  Who got to decide this?  I would love to have been at that meeting.

“Alright guys, we all know the team won’t be any good this year.  What are we going to do to drum up some excitement?”

“Oh, oh, I know.  Let’s tell everyone this is a new era for the program.  Maybe that’ll distract the fans.  Maybe they’ll think we’re all of a sudden better than we’ve been and not yet as good as we can be.”

“That’s perfect!  Nobody ever actually watches the games.  They’ll never realize we’re still losing games same as ever.”

A few words of advice for those who consider themselves a part of this “new era in Kansas football”:

Don’t get it twisted.  This isn’t 2007.  You’re still Kansas.  Expecting victories from your football team does nothing but set you up for disappointment.

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

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of CSUVikings.com

The BielemaMeter: Remember to Respect the #MACtion

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one is safe.

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

Week 1: Miami (OH) at #17 Iowa

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

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

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

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

Week 1: Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State

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

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

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

Week 2: Central Michigan at #21 Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

Week 3: Ohio at #9 Tennessee

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

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

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

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

Week 4: Kent State at #1 Alabama

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.

Departure of Ohio Bobcats’ Sprague Readies Bowling Green Falcons to Soar

Over the past decade, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of MAConsistency than the Ohio Bobcats. Frank Solich is the longest tenured coach in the Mid-American Conference (by seven years). Ohio has been bowl eligible in each of the last seven seasons. Year in and year out, there’s a comfort in knowing exactly what to expect from the Bobcats.

Which is why last Wednesday’s news of redshirt senior J.D. Sprague’s departure from the Bobcats– a breach in that crucial MAConsistency- is all the more unsettling for conference title contenders.

Sprague had spent fall camp battling with teammates Greg Windham and Quentin Maxwell in a three-way quarterback competition and with the side-effects of his offseason surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Citing issues with the condition of his collarbone, the former walk-on hung up his cleats for good on Wednesday after determining he couldn’t “perform at the level needed to lead [the Bobcats] to another successful season.”

https://twitter.com/jdsprague3/status/765989715392749568

At the conclusion of fall camp last Friday, Solich declared Windham the team’s starter. While the Bobcats’ run-first attack certainly doesn’t hinge upon having an elite passer at the helm (not that Sprague would be one anyway), Windham’s 53 career attempts pale in comparison to Sprague’s 323.

In Bowling Green, Ohio this offseason, there existed no such quarterback controversy. James Knapke will be under center for the MAC East-favorite Falcons. He has attempted 513 passes.

While stepping into Matt Johnson’s shoes stands no easy task, but it’s nothing Knapke hasn’t handled before. When Johnson missed the near entirety of the 2014 campaign with an early hip injury, Knapke threw for 3,173 yards in his place and managed to achieve something Matt Johnson never could: winning a bowl game.

If Sprague could suit up for the green and white, things might be different. Maybe with Darrius Vick finally finished siphoning his snaps, Sprague could put his accuracy woes to bed with Sebastian Smith Sr. leading one of the MAC’s deeper receiving corps. Maybe Sprague’s experience could streamline their 109th ranked red zone offense enough to keep pace with MAC heavyweights like Western Michigan and, yes, Bowling Green- both of whom shellacked the Bobcats last season in humiliating fashion. Maybe if the Bobcats could maintain consistency at the most critical of positions, they could earn recognition as a formidable MAC East contender. Instead, they’ll be handing the baton to a quarterback with 53 career attempts. Advantage: Falcons.

Sure, there’s twenty-two players on a football field, but just how critical is that quarterback position though? For reference, let’s take a look at how the MAC East shook out last season:

  1. Bowling Green
  2. Ohio
  3. Akron
  4. Buffalo
  5. Kent State
  6. Miami
  7. Massachusetts

Here’s how the MAC East quarterbacks ranked in QBR last season:

  1. Matt Johnson (Bowling Green)
  2. Darrius Vick (Ohio)
  3. Thomas Woodson (Akron)
  4. Joe Licata (Buffalo)
  5. Blake Frohnapfel (Massachusetts)
  6. Billy Bahl (Miami)
  7. Colin Reardon (Kent State)

Notice the two lists are virtually identical (with Bowling Green claiming first in both, Ohio claiming second in both, etc.). Let’s examine the MAC West as well. Yet again, they’re virtually identical.

  1. Northern Illinois
  2. Western Michigan
  3. Toledo
  4. Central Michigan
  5. Ball State
  6. Eastern Michigan
  1. Zach Terrell (Western Michigan)
  2. Cooper Rush (Central Michigan)
  3. Drew Hare (Northern Illinois)
  4. Phillip Ely (Toledo)
  5. Brogan Roback (Eastern Michigan)
  6. Riley Neal (Ball State)

Folks, breaking news: quarterbacks are important when playing the game of football. (Somebody ought to let Florida know). Clearly the strength of your MAC quarterback directly correlates to the strength of your MAC football team, and as far as these two MAC contenders are concerned, that binary quarterback battle is one Bowling Green wins every week from now until November.

But, in a reversal from previous seasons, Ohio wields the advantage in skill positions. The Bobcats return their leading rusher in A.J. Ouellette and all three of their leading receivers in Jordan Reid, Brandon Cope, and, most notably, Sebastian Smith Sr. On the contrary, Bowling Green loses a 1,300-yard rusher in Travis Greene and two 1,000-yard wide receivers in Gehrig Dieter and Roger Lewis. That leaves an experienced Knapke with younger, less experienced options and an inexperienced Windham with proven, more experienced options. I don’t know about you, but my money will always be on an experienced quarterback.

Bowling Green also benefits tremendously from four returning starters on the MAC’s sturdiest offensive line, acting as a one-two punch with Mike Jinks’ high-octane attack to exhaust opposing defenses. They also retain a healthy majority of their secondary to match pace with equally high-octane attacks. Ohio then boasts the MAC’s sturdiest front sevens in response, making their October 8 showdown with the Falcons even more intriguing.

Then again, Bowling Green dominated the Bobcats to the tune of 62-24 last season. Perhaps it won’t be so intriguing after all. Maybe the MAC East won’t be either. Ohio’s grit simply cannot outshine Bowling Green’s glamour. In the past four seasons, it hasn’t.

Intrigue aside, it’s hard to ignore the irony of the season that lies ahead. On one hand is Mike Jinks, a brand new coach positioned for easy success in college football’s weakest division. On the other hand is Frank Solich, who is being perennially punished by the MAC Gods for reasons unbeknownst to me. With the loss of J.D. Sprague, Solich is staring down the barrel of another close-but-not-quite season. Meanwhile, consistency be damned. Jinks’ Falcons are spreading their wings and soaring sky-high straight toward Ford Field come November.

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

Photo courtesy of Matt Cooper – Flickr

College Football Playoff Lands MAC on Life Support

Approaching its third year, the College Football Playoff has undoubtedly defibrillated a BCS-weary college football crowd, invigorating the game with a newfound excitement sure to boost competition, TV revenues, and AD expenditures to unprecedented heights. Conferences have realigned to a Power Five structure supporting the best and biggest programs and the playoff committee has coerced teams into streamlining schedules to include more and more top talent, as the NCAA reaps the benefits. For the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the country, vital signs are strong.

The Akron’s and Toledo’s, however, are in critical condition.

Smaller schools in the Mid-American Conference and around the country simply cannot compete with these elevated levels of funding and competition. For better or for worse, the College Football Playoff consolidates both football and financial strength at the top, hyper-commercializing the game and leaving less prolific programs fighting for scraps at the bottom. A case study of the MAC yields all the evidence.

Remember when Mid-American Conference football meant something? Remember when “Mid-American” summarized not just the member schools’ geography, but also their quality of football: average? Think back only a matter of years and memories of MAC studs recall a conference of ages past. Remember a young Ben Roethlisberger rattling off a 4,448 yard passing season in 2003, gunslinging the Miami Redhawks to a 13-1 record? How about Toledo’s 1995 undefeated season led by Wasean Tait (“Little Barry Sanders”), or then-member Marshall catching the ultimate lightning in a bottle: Randy Moss? More recently, how about Jordan Lynch garnering Heisman consideration as Northern Illinois claimed back-to-back MAC championships in 2011 and 2012, culminating in an Orange Bowl appearance? These are the heroes of Mid-American Conference past, establishing the MAC as a watermark of spirited, though average, football.

Passing the contemporary MAC as “average” football is liable to make Bo Schembechler turn over in his grave. Last year, the MAC’s collective out-of-conference record totaled 25-35. Their results against AP Top 25 opponents totaled 1-15 (the sole win being Toledo’s victory over #18 Arkansas). Bottom-feeder Eastern Michigan picked up just one win. Certainly not the pedigree of a thriving conference, to say the least.

Attendance figures mirror these deficiencies. The MAC ranked dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision conference attendance last season, averaging 15,316 fans per game- a number eclipsed by ten FCS schools. Their attendance rate is declining at nearly double the FBS rate, even as teams like Akron have unveiled new stadiums (pictured half-empty above) as recently as 2009. Product on the field is turning south and fans are noticing, opting to spend their Saturdays stationed on the couch watching Power Five heavyweights duke it out with big time TV deals.

Thanks to these deficiencies, MAC athletic departments then face the impossible challenge of spending on par with these heavyweights just to patch together decent seasons. The result? Ludicrous, Enron-esque financial reports that cover their programs’ inherent disadvantages. In 2015, the average MAC program spent $29,361,692 amidst this athletics arm race, turning what appears to be $28,915,830 in revenue. This only tells half the story. The average student subsidy for a MAC program is an incredible 70.3%, meaning students of these universities are forced to pay exorbitant costs for teams already destined to fail given the realities of the game. Schools like Eastern Michigan require even more- an 80.4% subsidy. Clearly these athletic departments are incapable of maintaining reasonable margins with budgets dwarfed by their Power Five big brothers.

Just as it is unreasonable to expect Buffalo to land a spot in the College Football Playoff, it is unreasonable for smaller programs to exhaust funds to keep up with budgets two or three times their size. While football-centric markets like South Bend, Gainesville, or College Station can mount the argument that athletic spending pads enrollment, or inches them that much closer to a national title, Mid-American Conference towns cannot make these arguments. Still, they’re subjected to the ferocious competition of SEC-sized markets.

As the playoff committee continues to place emphasis on strength of schedule, MAC schools will no longer be included as an early-season appetizer for larger schools. Instead, Power Five conferences will inbreed strength and leave smaller, already-suffering schools out in the cold.

Rest assured, MAC football will continue in the short term. But how long will we wait before the playoff stratification is so dramatic so much that these programs literally can’t compete? What’s the answer? Will small programs continue to irresponsibly overspend just to maintain relevance in the Playoff Era? Or will the MAC- and conferences like it- ultimately be removed from life support, left to fend on its own while the rich get richer?

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

Photo via Adam Sonnett – Flickr

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

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

2016 College Basketball Invitational Advances to Semifinals

The 2016 College Basketball Invitational quarterfinals wrapped up late Monday night. With four games on the docket, the bracket keeps getting smaller and smaller, as the CBI moves on to the semifinals. We have a recap of all of Monday night’s action below.

Duquesne vs. Morehead State

Morehead State led for most of their match against Duquesne as the Eagles defeated the Dukes, 82-72. Brent Arrington had 17 points for Morehead State, including a midcourt shot at the buzzer to put them up, 43-36, at the half. Morehead State never trailed in the second half and never saw their lead get below nine points as they soundly defeated Duquesne. Morehead State moves on to face Ohio on Wednesday.

UNCG vs. Ohio

Ohio rallied back from a 15 point deficit with 7:45 left to play to defeat UNCG, 72-67, on Monday night. Ohio closed the game off with a 25-5 run as UNCG had no answer for Jordan Dartis and Jaaron Simmons in the second half. Dartis and Simmons ended the game with 14 points and 19 points and eight assists respectively. Ohio advances to face Morehead State on Wednesday.

Eastern Washington vs. Nevada

Tyron Criswell and Cameron Oliver scored more than half of Nevada’s 85 points as they lead the Wolfpack to an 85-70 win over Eastern Washington. The Eagles was without star player Venky Jois, who injured his knee in their previous game. Nevada will host Vermont on Wednesday night.

Vermont vs. Seattle

For the second year in a row, the Catamounts will play in the CBI semifinals. In a 73-54 win over Seattle that saw Kurt Steidl lead all scorers with 17 points, Vermont had no problems handling Seattle in this match. The Catamounts never trailed at all in the game and closed it out with a second half scoring surge that included a 12-0 run. Vermont will play Nevada on Wednesday.

The semifinals for the College Basketball Invitational begin on March 23rd at 7:00pm. The rest of the bracket is listed below.

cbi schedule

Bracket courtesy of Gazelle Group

Email Kevin at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @kmcgheee.