Tag Archives: Toledo Rockets

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Oversaturation Killing the NFL is Good for College Football

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

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

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

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

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

Western Michigan is the “Other” Team

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

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

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

Remember the 80s?

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

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

Election Threads and Football on the Diamond

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

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

Does Anyone Get Pac-12 Network?

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

NBC is Glad It’s You, Not Them

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

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

Hurts Donut?

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

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

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The BielemaMeter: Remember to Respect the #MACtion

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one is safe.

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

Week 1: Miami (OH) at #17 Iowa

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

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

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

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

Week 1: Bowling Green at #6 Ohio State

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

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

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

Week 2: Central Michigan at #21 Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

Week 3: Ohio at #9 Tennessee

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

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

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

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

Week 4: Kent State at #1 Alabama

LOL.

BielemaMeter: freshly-tossed salad. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Bret Bielema venturing among leafy greens, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody willing to bet against the Crimson Tide in a shameless, non-conference cakewalk. Remember to respect the #MACtion Bret, or you may be eating spinach and romaine for the remainder of your days.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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

The MAChelorette: Three Schools Courting the AAC

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

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

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

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

Northern Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo

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

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

What’s not to love about the Bulls?

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

Toledo

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Chad Cooper – Flickr

The University of Akron – An Example of MAConsistency

The Akron Zips, mired in a school year that has seen significant backlash towards school president Scott Scarborough and funding cuts almost entirely across the board in athletics, has somehow stayed the course this season and is on the verge of closing out another successful run at the Mid-American Conference East’s top spot. Since Keith Dambrot took over in 2004, the Zips have never lost more than fourteen games in the regular season and have made the NCAA tournament three times. Four regular season titles and three MAC championships aren’t bad, either.

The key to their consistency has been steady defense.  A Dambrot coached defense has never given up more than 70 PA/G in any of his twelve seasons at the helm of Akron’s program. They play a grind it out type of basketball that sees them inching away a lot of close victories. For the 2015-2016, they have a DRtg of 98.3, compared to a ORtg of 111.4.  That is a huge margin of difference. Their grind it out style of basketball that sees them relying on their defense has seen success in a Mid-American Conference that sees all but one of its teams averaging more than 70 PPG in the 2015-2016 season.

Offense has played a huge role as well, to its credit. As stated before, they have an ORtg of 111.4. Their closest two competitors in the conference to that stat? Toledo and Central Michigan, both having an ORtg of 109.28 and 109.34, respectively. But to that point, Toledo and Central Michigan both have a DRtg of 102.43 and 108.20, respectively. What this shows in any case is that Akron is incredibly good at controlling the pace on offense. While we are on the topic of pace, Akron has only had three games this season where they have registered less than ten assists. They are 1-2 in those games. Akron succeeds when they pass the ball effectively, as does any good team.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Akron this season, though. Akron will need to shore up it’s rebounding effort for the upcoming MAC Tournament in March. Their leading rebounder is Isaiah Johnson, who averages 7.4 rebounds per game. Their second leading rebounder? Kwan Cheatham Jr with 4.8 rebounds per game. They are 9th in their conference in rebounds per game overall, a stat that won’t bode well against teams like Toledo and Kent State in the tournament.

Will Akron have a cakewalk to a division title this year? Not necessarily, as Akron at 10-4 only leads Kent State and Ohio by one game in the conference and Buffalo by two games in the conference. It will be a photo finish to end the MAC East’s regular season, one that will almost certainly see Akron succeeding in some capacity yet again.

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl: #24 Temple vs. Toledo

#24 Temple (10-3, 7-1 American) vs. Toledo (9-2, 6-2 MAC)

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl at 7pm on ESPN

Question mark: Will Toledo be the same without head coach Matt Campbell?

Earlier this month Matt Campbell left Toledo to become the head coach at Iowa State.  He chose not to coach the bowl game.  Some guys want to, some guys don’t.  Everyone has their reasons.  But now Jason Candle steps to the forefront.  He has been offensive coordinator since 2012.  Candle has a lot more on his plate now but his main concern is making sure there’s no drop-off with his players.

Game inside the game: Toledo rushing attack vs. Temple run defense

Toledo likes to run the ball.  Temple likes to stop the run.  The Rockets go for 213 per game on the ground.  Temple only allows 126.  Running plays are a battle of will.  Offensive linemen clash with defenders each and every play in an attempt to open up running lanes for ball carriers.  The battle in the trenches between Toledo’s offense and Temple’s defense will go a long way in determining a winner.

Player to watch: Toledo running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson

Normally, I try to limit the player to watch category to one player, but sometimes exceptions need to be made.  That is the case with these two exceptional Rocket running backs that’ve combined to produce 1,764 yards and 17 touchdowns this fall.  Hunt runs more between the tackles with Swanson coming in for the change of pace.  The combination has been deadly.  Both can carry the load for an entire drive.  Both can catch the ball out of the backfield.  Both should be coming back next year.  Hunt is a junior, Swanson just a sophomore.  Watch these two go to work to familiarize yourself for next season.

X-factor: Toledo offense vs. Temple defense on third downs

If you look at the Owls from a statistical angle it’s hard to figure out how they win.  Sure, they hold opponents to 19 points per game, but how?  It’s simple actually.  The Temple defense makes stops on third down.  They hold opponents to a 31 percent third-down conversion rate, good for fourteenth in the FBS.  Toledo, however, ranks sixteenth in third-down efficiency at 46 percent.  This is where I think the game will be decided.  If the Rockets can pick up first downs and sustain drives the game will swing their way.  If the Owls turn third downs into kicks they’ll be playing their game.

Prediction: Toledo over #24 Temple, 33-27

I think the Rockets, behind Hunt and Swanson, have what it takes to beat the Owls.  That said, it will not be at all easy.  This will be a back-and-forth game.  Toledo will have to make a play late to earn the win.  I believe they will.

Let the MACtion Begin

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

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

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

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

Northern Illinois at #24 Toledo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio at Bowling Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be advised: the biggest games are yet to come.

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

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

Not the Game of the Week: NIU 32 Toledo 27

“I was going to tell you it was low-scoring, but they did just combine for 27 first quarter points.”

I didn’t like the Huskies coming into this one, and the first 15 minutes of play did nothing to alleviate my concerns. Now, I’m not going to make the mistake of comparing the 2015 NIU team with the BCS party-crashers of years’ past. Three losses coming into their Tuesday evening clash with the 7-0 Toledo Rockets is all the explanation I need to offer there, but the Mid-American Conference team that took down Arkansas and Iowa State in consecutive weeks deserves that discussion and comparison.

Despite Boise State and BYU doing the MAC some favors by putting numbers in the “L” column, the battle promised to be of an uphill nature for the Midwest’s1With apologies to Buffalo and UMass other FBS conference. You took down teams from the SEC and Big 12? Well, which ones? Oh…here, have a token spot in our rankings.

Speaking of token spots, the conferences that we haven’t branded “Power 5” get to be the “Group of 5”, and they get a token spot, not in the playoff to determine our National Champion, but to one of the access bowls, or sites that get to be part of the semi-final and National Championship rotation. As if dealing with the Mountain West’s powerhouses weren’t enough, the bastards of the 2012 Big East have been demoted out of Automatic Qualifier status, so the MAC’s best must be better than the top team from what’s now called the American Athletic Conference.

In the inaugural 2015 College Football Playoff Rankings, Matt Campbell’s Toledo program was rewarded with a #24 ranking, 11 spots behind undefeated Memphis, 2 spots behind 1-loss Temple, and a slot above unbeaten Houston2All from the AAC. Toledo was the only other team from the Group of 5 in the rankings, blessed enough to share space with cartel juggernauts, such as UCLA and Northwestern.

On the field, NIU kept catching breaks, like the time when Tommylee Lewis got behind the Toledo secondary for the Huskies first touchdown of the night, or yielding just five yards to Phillip Ely and the Rockets offense after Kenny Golladay fumbled in his own territory after a first down catch-and-run from Drew Hare.   After our first quarter of Tuesday Night #MACtion in 2015, the underdog trailed 17-10, not quite the 21-14 count we got in NIU’s 2011 63-60 victory on the same field. Of course, for all of the breaks Rod Carey’s squad caught, they got broken quite a bit.

Lewis, NIU’s big playmaker early, and starting quarterback Drew Hare both went down in the first half, but backup Ryan Graham proved to be quite capable, despite ESPN’s announcing crew selling it like he’d never played football before. However, it wasn’t just the injury bug hurting the visiting team on Tuesday night.

Toledo won the game in the trenches early, with both Terry Swanson and Kareem Hunt easily eclipsing the century mark with rushing yardage. Every time it appeared the undefeated Rockets would pull away, NIU would come up with a big stop or a turnover. Despite the fact NIU had problems finding the endzone without the services of 5th-year player Lewis, kicker Christian Hagan kept the wounded Huskies alive with four field goals, which allowed them to chip away at a lead the Rockets held until Graham hit Golladay for the game-winner with two minutes left.

Now, Toledo can kiss their access bowl dreams goodbye, and the MAC’s western division is now a four-team race between them, the Huskies, and two directional Michigan schools3Eastern Michigan need not make travel arrangements for Detroit.

   [ + ]

1. With apologies to Buffalo and UMass
2. All from the AAC
3. Eastern Michigan need not make travel arrangements for Detroit

Leaders of the MAC

Earlier this season I warned you all not to sleep on the Mid-American Conference this fall.  If you didn’t take my advice you missed an interesting first half to the 2015 college football season.

Let’s recap.  Through seven weeks the following has happened:

Toledo and Bowling Green hit the road and beat Arkansas and Maryland in week two.  Northern Illinois went the distance with top-ranked Ohio State in week three, falling to the Buckeyes 20-13 in the ‘Shoe.  In week four, Bowling Green beat Purdue to earn its second road win over a Big Ten team.  The last three weeks have seen #19 Toledo and Bowling Green go undefeated in-conference.

These two Northwest Ohio schools are off to a great start this season.  While the Falcons and particularly the Rockets have enjoyed the bulk of the overall success, just about every team has something to be happy about.  Here are some of the impressive ways that members of the MAC are standing out nationally.

Defensively

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

Toledo is one of 10 teams in the nation that have surrendered less than 100 points this season (Duke, Michigan, Appalachian State, Wisconsin, Boston College, Toledo, Temple, Missouri, Florida State, NC State), and one of only six that’ve allowed fewer than 80.

The Rockets have given up just eight touchdowns this season.  Only Duke has given up fewer.  Of those touchdowns only two have come through the air, tying Toledo with Northwestern for the least in that category.

Kent State is one of only 10 teams that have held opponents under a 50 percent completion rate.  They and Northern Illinois are tied for seventh in the nation with 11 interceptions.

Linebackers Austin Valdez and Trenton Greene of Bowling Green, and Dylan Evans and Jatavis Brown of Akron are the only pairs of teammates in the FBS with at least 60 tackles each.  All four are in the top 20 in tackles.

Offensively

Bowling Green is one of just six teams in the nation that have scored more than 300 points (Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky, Ole Miss, Bowling Green).  The same six are the only ones who’ve scored 40 touchdowns or more.

Northern Illinois has rushed for 21 touchdowns, tied for fifth in the country.  With 13 rushing touchdowns, NIU’s Joel Bouagnon is just one behind FBS-leaders Leonard Fournette and Greg Ward Jr.  Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson is tied for eleventh with 10 rushing scores of his own.

Quarterbacks

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

The MAC has some of the most prolific passers in college football.

With BG’s Matt Johnson, Central’s Cooper Rush, UMass’s Blake Frohnapfel, and Western’s Zach Terrell, the MAC has three of the country’s top 20 passers in terms of completions, completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passing yards per game.

Frohnapfel is a single passing yard shy of being the third MAC QB in the top 20 in that category as well.

Receivers

(Photo: AP)
(Photo: AP)

Somebody’s got to catch those passes for the quarterbacks to be so successful.  The MAC is also home to some of the most statistically impressive receivers.

BG’s Roger Lewis is one of two players in the nation with over a thousand yards receiving.

Tajee Sharpe (UMass) and Daniel Braverman (W. Mich) rank one-two in the FBS in completions, and nine-ten in receiving yards.  Lewis, Sharpe and Braverman are third, sixth and seventh in receiving yards per game.  Sharpe and Braverman are two of only three players who average 10 catches a game.  Lewis comes in ninth with almost eight.

Braverman and Lewis are tied for fourth in the FBS with nine touchdown grabs.

Akron’s Jerome Lane and Toledo’s Cody Thompson are two of six players averaging north of 23 yards per catch.

Special Teams

Five of the nation’s top 20 kick returners, in terms of yards, play in the MAC.  Freshman defensive backs James Olipahnt (UMass) and Emmitt Thomas (C.Mich), NIU’s Aregeros Turner, Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips and Ball State’s Darian Green have all done an excellent job fielding kicks.

Ball State’s Morgan Hagee has made more kicks than any other freshman in the country.  His 12 made field goals tie him for sixth in the FBS.

Bowling Green’s Tyler Tate is tied for third with 39 made extra points.

Playmakers

Joel Bouagnon, Darius Jackson, Daniel Braverman and Roger Lewis are all in the top twenty in total touchdowns.

Roger Lewis and Darian Green are responsible for at least 1000 all-purpose yards.  They’re two of only fifteen who can say that so far this season.

Cooper Rush is twelfth in the nation in total yards.

Matt Johnson leads all FBS players in total yards and yards per game. He needs two measly yards to get to 3000.

Basically, by not watching MAC football you’re missing out.  Not to worry though, in just a couple weeks we’ll start dedicating Tuesday nights to watching all the aforementioned teams and players go head-to-head.

#MACtion starts Tuesday, November 3 with Northern Illinois at Toledo.  Then two weeks later Toledo heads to Bowling Green for a probable conference championship preview.

You’ve officially been warned, again.

Don’t Sleep on the MAC

Let’s give the MAC just a little bit of the love it deserves.  No, it’s not a Power 5 conference with multiple ranked teams.  No, it isn’t full of can’t miss NFL prospects.  And no, it won’t have two teams facing off in the national game of the week.  But there is some good football being played in the Mid-American Conference.

Last week two MAC teams brought home huge wins that should have the national media showing them more respect.  Bowling Green went to Maryland and smacked the Terrapins right in the face.  Normally you’d see a MAC school beating a Big Ten opponent as an upset.  When the final score is 48-27 it’s hard to call that game an upset.

[Garland: Edsall Needs to Go]

The Falcons dominated the second half, racking up 445 yards.  They put up 28 points in the fourth quarter and outscored the Terps 42-14 in the half.   They were down 10-0 to start and won by 21.  That’s commendable.

Photo: Randy Sartin - USA Today Sports
Photo: Randy Sartin – USA Today Sports

The Falcons were able to do whatever they wanted offensively and their playmakers had monster performances.  Quarterback Matt Johnson completed 65 percent of his passes on his way to 491 yards and six touchdowns.  Running back Fred Coppet carried 15 times for 109 yards, an average of 7.3 per attempt.  Roger Lewis caught 15 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns.  Robbie Rhodes tallied 108 yards and a score on just two catches.  It was a good day to be a Falcon.

It’s not like Maryland is a pushover, either.  This is a team with an explosive offense that’s now in its second year as a Big Ten member.  Not to mention, this game was played on the Terps’ home field.

Bowling Green’s throttling of Maryland proved that the brief scare they gave Tennessee two weeks ago was no fluke.

It got even better for the MAC.

Mark D. Smith - USA Today Sports
Photo: Mark D. Smith – USA Today Sports

The Toledo Rockets, under the cover of a week one bye, snuck up on the 18th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks and somehow squeezed out a 16-12 victory.

Most surprisingly, this was the type of game that Arkansas would’ve asked for against a spread team like the Rockets.  Despite being out-gained by almost 200 yards, having half as many first downs, and possessing the ball for nearly 15 minutes fewer than their opponent, Toledo found a way to win.

Ironically, Bret Bielema criticized Ohio State’s strength of schedule just a few days before dropping a game to the type of team he accused the Buckeyes of always scheduling.  The SEC is the best conference in football like it or not.  A win like this certainly boosts Toledo’s reputation, as well as the MAC’s.

Elsewhere around the MAC

The Ohio Bobcats are 2-0, as are the Northern Illinois Huskies who have a date with the Buckeyes in the ‘Shoe this Saturday.  It’ll take a miracle, but stranger things have happened.

They ended in losses, but Central and Western Michigan both played much better games in week one than many expected they would.  The Chippewas held now-ranked Oklahoma State in check, while the Broncos kept it closer than was comfortable for Michigan State.

There is, in fact, good football being played outside the ‘Power 5’.  The best example of which can be found in the upper Midwest.

Don’t sleep on the MAC.

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