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2013 MAC blogger roundtable, week 1

August 28, 2013

It’s time for the return of the MAC Blogger Roundtable. Each week one of the bloggers covering the MAC (links are on the right sidebar) poses several questions, to be answered by the others. Leading off this week is Tim Riordan of the Buffalo blog, Bull Run.

1. There is a definite perception that the MAC has gotten over the slump that set in halfway through the last decade. NIU crashed the BCS party, several MAC teams were ranked at different points in the season, and a spell of respectable out-of-conference wins. Does what happened in 2012 have some staying power?

There’s staying power in perception only if there’s staying power on the field. In 2013, it’s a what-have-you-done-lately world, and you’re only as good as your most recent showing. Notre Dame was undefeated in the regular season last year, but after getting shellacked by ‘Bama in the BCSNCG 42-14, they start this fall down at #14 in the AP poll.
The MAC’s slump is certainly broken, but Northern Illinois’s 31-10 Orange Bowl loss didn’t particularly help the MAC with that whole “respect” thing. Ultimately, the top MAC teams are going to have to put up some non-conference wins. What if, instead of losing by 1 to Iowa, Northern Illinois had defeated them last year, or if Toledo had been able to finish off Arizona? Going back another year, imagine if the Huskies had held on against Kansas, if Toledo had held on against Ohio State. And remember this?

Put a few of those what-ifs together and you have something that starts to look serious. You have NIU ending back-to-back seasons ranked, and probably have Toledo achieving mid-season rankings in back-to-back years as well.

Instead, we had a Northern Illinois team that lost to 4-8 Iowa and, for their signature non-conference win, beat 1-11 Kansas. We had a Kent State squad that beat Big East Co-Champions, but lost to Kentucky, and ended the season with a pair of close losses on the national stage.

If this looks like I’m blaming the good MAC teams…well, to an extent I am. The SEC is perceived as the best conference in football based on the top several teams (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, etc.). Those top teams have done so well that few fans care that Kentucky and Auburn combined for three FBS wins. In other words, EMU, Akron, and UMass can continue to struggle, but the conference can be respected if the top teams do just a little more.

2. On the bowl picture, the MAC looks to have four bowls knotted up (Boise, Mobile, Montgomery, and the Bahamas). There are rumors that a fifth bowl, likely the replacement to the Little Caesars Bowl, will be coming out soon.  How has the MAC front office done?

We’ve had significant improvement in the bowl situation since Temple got left home with an 8-4 record in 2010. In 2011, the only bowl-eligible MAC team passed over was 6-6 Ball State (EMU was 6-6 but not eligible because two of those wins were over FCS teams — only one such win can be counted toward bowl eligibility), and in 2012 all seven bowl-eligible teams got bids. The  expansion to four — and possibly five — primary bowl tie-ins only strengthens that.

The next frontier for the MAC office is to improve the league’s television contracts. Money matters, and TV is money in while bowls are usually money out.

3. OK, on to football: Which MAC team has the best shot at a meaningful upset this week? Which MAC team is most likely to suffer a shameful loss? Why?

The first step toward answering that question is, of course, identifying potential upsets and shameful losses. Wins by Akron over Central Florida, Western Michigan over Michigan State, Buffalo over Ohio State, Massachusetts over Wisconsin, Toledo over Florida, Central Michigan over Michigan, and Ohio over Louisville would all be meaningful upsets; losses by Kent State to Liberty, Ball State to Illinois State, and Eastern Michigan to Howard would be shameful. Northern Illinois at Iowa and Miami at Marshall should be reasonably balanced.

Of the meaningful upsets, I think Ohio over Louisville may be the most likely. The Cardinals are a fairly one-dimensional team (Teddy Bridgewater) and possibly a bit overrated at #9, and they lost to two mid-Big East teams last year, only defeating a single ranked team. On the other side, Ohio under Frank Solich always seems to start their season strong. As for losses, Liberty finished 2012 strong, winning six of their final seven games, and Turner Gill certainly knows how to win games against MAC teams. Illinois State is also a dangerous FCS team, but I have a good amount of confidence in Pete Lembo to have his team ready — much more than I have in Paul Haynes.

4. Aside from your team what is the game of the week and why?
Two MAC games this weekend stand head and shoulders above the rest: Northern Illinois at Iowa and Ohio at Louisville. In my estimation, each one is a winnable game that could clear the way for a MAC team to run the table and become a potential BCS buster in the final year of that system. Northern Illinois at Iowa is a more likely win, but coming on a moderately crowded Thursday night (17 games) and against a relatively weak opponent (Iowa finished at the bottom of the Leaders Division last year, and is expected to be about the same this year. On the other hand, Ohio at Louisville is one of just two games this Sunday, the only game in its time slot, and the only game featuring a top-25 team, but the Cardinals will certainly make a much tougher opponent than the Hawkeyes. In the end, although they’ll both be big games, I have to go with Northern Illinois. Iowa is not a great team, but Kinnick Stadium is always a tough venue to visit.

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