Football Outside of the Big Ten - The MAC

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I'm still not used to the new logo.

From time to time, it's important to look outside the Big Ten and remind ourselves that there is football being played by other teams in other conferences.  The Rivalry, Esq. continues its look at those other conferences with a glance at the Big Ten's little brother: the Mid-American Conference.  Little brother seems to manage at least one upset over the Big Ten each year (and FOUR last year).  Whose number will be up in 2009?

1)      2008 Recap

a.       Who Won the League?

The Buffalo Bulls won the Eastern Division with a 5-3 record.  The Ball State Cardinals won the Western Division, going an unblemished 12-0 (8-0).  The Bulls ended Ball State's unbeaten season with a 42-24 victory in the MAC Championship game.

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b.      Games of Note

Obviously, Buffalo ending Ball State's unbeaten season was huge.  It also put the capstone on the incredible building job that Turner Gill performed (can't call it re-building if it was never built to begin with, can you?).  Buffalo was one of the three worst teams of the first half of the decade.  To win the league and go bowling was an accomplishment of monumental proportions.

Ball State also played in a great Wednesday night game to conclude their season.  The Cardinals managed a 31-24 victory over CMU in the snow.  That game clinched the Cardinals division title.

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The best of the bad weather games didn't involve snow, but rain.  On September 6, 2008, UConn visited Philadelphia to face off against Temple.  A driving rain started about 10 minutes before kickoff and continued for the next four hours.  The game was ugly.  The game was beautiful.  It's all in the eyes of the beholder.  The Huskies won 12-9 in overtime.

c.       Games against the Big Ten

Date MAC Team Score Big Ten Team Score Location
August 30, 2008 Northern Illinois 27 Minnesota 31 Minneapolis, MN
August 30, 2008 Akron 17 Wisconsin 38 Madison, WI
September 6, 2008 Miami (OH) 6 Michigan 16 Ann Arbor, MI
September 6, 2008 Ohio 14 Ohio State 26 Columbus, OH
September 6, 2008 Eastern MIchigan 10 Michigan State 42 East Lansing, MI
September 6, 2008 Bowling Green 17 Minnesota 42 Bowling Green, OH
September 20, 2008 Temple 3 Penn State 45 State College, PA
September 20, 2008 Ohio 8 Northwestern 16 Evanston, IL
September 20, 2008 Central Michigan 25 Purdue 32 West Lafayette, IN
September 20, 2008 Ball State 42 Indiana 20 Bloomington, IN
October 11, 2008 Toledo 13 Michigan 10 Ann Arbor, MI
November 1, 2008 Central Michigan 37 Indiana 34 Bloomington, IN
November 8, 2008 Western MIchigan 23 Illinois 17 Detroit, MI

This was a relatively down year for the MAC as September ended.  In ten games, the conference had managed only one victory against the Big Ten - and that was against the team that was obviously the worst in the league.  And then, the Toledo Rockets did something that no MAC team had ever - EVER - done before.  They knocked off Michigan.   The two wins over Indiana were nice.  And Western MIchigan's victory at Ford Field over the Illini was a nice win (one that would end up sending Northern Illinois to a bowl game instead of Illinois), but Michigan.  MICHIGAN.  Yes,  MICHIGAN!  That was the game that made for a memorable MAC season.

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We can confirm that these are the ugliest blue and gold uniforms to ever win at the Big House.

d.      Bowl Games

The good news was that the MAC sent five teams to bowl games.  The good news ends there.  In order...

Central Michigan lost in the Motor City Bowl to Florida Atlantic.  Northern Illinois lost in the Independence Bowl to Louisiana Tech.  Western Michigan lost in the Texas Bowl to Rice.  Buffalo lost in the International Bowl to UConn.  Ball State lost in the GMAC Bowl to Tulsa.   The worst part for the league was that the two teams in the MAC Championship Game managed to lose their Bowls by a combined count of 83-33.

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At least you got to see Shreveport, men.

2)      2009 Preview

a.       Games of Note

Obviously, many of the games of note for the MAC will be against the Big Ten.  Those games are listed below.  Here are a half dozen games that the MAC teams could win and get some nice things said about the league.  If it's a good year for the league, they beat Troy and two other teams.  An average year would mean Troy and one BCS team.  A bad year would be crapping out on all six contests.

Date  MAC Team Opponent Location
September 3, 2009 Bowling Green Troy Bowling Green, OH
September 5, 2009 Miami (OH) Kentucky Cincinnati, OH
September 11, 2009 Toledo Colorado Toledo, OH
September 12, 2009 Buffalo Pittsburgh Buffalo, NY
September 19, 2009 Kent State Iowa State Kent, OH
September 26, 2009 Bowling Green Boise State Bowling Green, OH

The Miami (OH)/Kentucky matchup is fascinating.  If it was a basketball game, the 'Cats would travel enough people to sell out the football stadium.  Because it's a football game, Kentucky might travel enough folks to sell out the basketball arena.

b.      Games Against the Big Ten

Date MAC Team Big Ten Team Location
September 5, 2009 Akron Penn State State College, PA
September 5, 2009 Northern Illinois Wisconsin Madison, WI
September 5, 2009 Toledo Purdue West Lafayette, IN
September 5, 2009 Western Michigan Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
September 12, 2009 Central Michigan Michigan State East Lansing, MI
September 12, 2009 Eastern Michigan Northwestern Evanston, IL
September 12, 2009 Western Michigan  Indiana Bloomington, IN
September 19, 2009 Akron Indiana Akron, OH
September 19, 2009 Temple Penn State State College, PA
September 19, 2009 Toledo Ohio State Cleveland, OH
September 19, 2009 Eastern Michigan Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
September 19, 2009 Northern Illinois Purdue West Lafayette, IN
October 10, 2009 Miami (OH) Northwestern Evanston, IL
November 7, 2009 Western MIchigan Michigan State East Lansing, MI

Only one true home game for the MAC, but it does make Akron's game against Indiana a distinct possibility for a victory.   While it may be 25 miles closer to Cleveland, I somehow feel Toledo will be outnumbered in the stands at the Browns' Field. 

c.       Bowl Affiliations

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While the MAC keeps the same three bowl affiliations for 2009,  there is one change.  The GMAC Bowl will no longer pit a MAC team against a member of Conference USA.  Instead, it will be a showdown against the 9th ACC Selection.  This is a win for both conferences.  The MAC gets a shot at a bigger scalp, and an ACC team travels to Mobile instead of Boise.  

3)      2009 Projections

a.       Who will win the League?

For the second straight year, the balance of power in the league will tip west.  I don't see Ball State repeating as division champion - I think that the losses of Coach Brady Hoke and QB Nate Davis will prevent that from happening.  I see the Western Division decided by the October 17 matchup, Central Michigan @ Western Michigan.  It says here  that the Chippewas walk out of Kalamazoo with a win.  The CMU offense should be strong, with Dan LeFevour, the wide receiver corps, and three of the linemen returning.  If the defense can match last year's level, the team looks ready to go.

Out east, Buffalo returns enough from their championship squad (including shockingly, Coach Turner Gill) to be declared the pre-season favorite.  Frankly, I don't see the Bulls repeating.  I declare the East wide open, and think that a 6-2 or 5-3 team will win the division.  I like Kent State as a potential sleeper, but I'm picking Temple.  Seriously, did I just write that?  Sure, why not?  Al Golden has the team pointed in the right direction, and if Buffalo can win the crown, why not the Owls?

In the end, though, the west will best the East.

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b.      Any Wins Against the Big Ten?

Probably.  The MAC has won games against the Big Ten in 10 of the last 15 seasons.  They've beaten bad Big Ten teams (like last year's multiple wins over Indiana); they've beaten mediocre Big Ten Teams (like Western Michigan's win over the 2007 Hawkeyes that kept Iowa from bowling); they've beaten good Big Ten teams (like Miami being the only team to beat the 1995 Northwestern Wildcats during the regular season).

If you're looking to pick games for this year, I'd look to Indiana again.  I bet they drop one of their two MAC matchups.  

c.       Who Goes Bowling?

The MAC has slid extra teams into bowl games over the past couple of seasons, and I'm guessing that they do it again.  I'll guess that Central Michigan stays in Detroit to play a Big Ten team.  I can see Temple going to the International Bowl.  I'll take Western Michigan traveling to Mobile for the GMAC.  And let's guess that Kent State slips into some bowl that can't fill it's assigned slot.

d.       Any MNC Hopes?

No.  If someone can run the table, they'll have a shot at a BCS Bowl, but even that will take a perfect storm.

e.       The Rivalry Notes

This will be a question posed to one of the site's founders that relates the conference at hand with the Big Ten.   This week, Graham Filler does the honor.

Michigan lost to a MAC school for the first time ever last year. It sucks, doesn't it? If you could go back in time and give the 2008 Wolverines one extra win, would you prefer it be against Notre Dame or Toledo (I'm not asking Ohio State - that's too easy)?

Notre Dame. No question. 3 main reasons: A win over Notre Dame (considering we beat Wisconsin), makes us 3-1 at the start of the year and would have given some hope, no matter how fleeting that hope was. Our 2008 record wasn't going to be great anyways, we might as well have saved some face by beating hated Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen's hair. The worst part of 2008 is this: We lost our 4 most important games: ND, MSU, OSU, PSU all by double digits. Not only are those L's, those are "turn the game off in the 3rd quarter" losses...sigh.

So losing the ability to say "Michigan has never lost to a MAC school" didn't mean anything?

You know that patented Michigan arrogance? Arrogance doesn't usually pay attention to what the scrubs are doing. Losing to Toledo simply reinforced the fact that 2008 didn't really "count"...I'm sure the snobbiest of the snobby UM fans loved hating on MAC people for "trying hard" but never succeeding...but the rest of us kind of accepted that 2008 was an aberration and would like to get back to competing against our rivals, something we didn't do in '08.    

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