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Is this the beginning of the end of MAC football?

Bowl previews! Here’s your place to talk about the Heart of Dallas, Quick Lane, and Cactus Bowl. And the demise of Rust Belt football, maybe.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, apparently there are games today. I forgot, and you probably don’t care either, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.

I’d also like to posit that both college expansion and these bowl games have revealed how in danger of falling into irrelevance our friends in the MAC are. Take this year’s bowl games:

Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic Owls 50, Akron Zips 3
Bahamas Bowl: Ohio Bobcats 41, UAB Blazers 6
Potato Bowl: Wyoming Cowboys 37, Central Michigan Chippewas 14
Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State Mountaineers 34, Toledo Rockets 0

There’s just the Northern Illinois-Duke game to go, meaning the MAC will end this season with a losing bowl record. And...potentially worse?

The boatracings received by the conference champions and runners-up (84-3 combined!) at the hands of a very good C-USA team and a Sun Belt contender make what would be reasonable losses...look bad. Very, very bad. Akron was a 22-point dog, so I’m OK with that one, intellectually. But Toledo? To a good-not-great Appalachian State? Not managing a point—the one fucking thing the MAC is supposed to be good for?

For Chrissakes, even the boringest good team in the MAC—the Ohio Bobcats—dropped 41 down in the Bahamas on a feel-good UAB club, Toledo.

But with the Western Michigan Broncos and Buffalo Bulls both reaching bowl-eligibility and not being invited to a bowl, could this be the eventual demise of the MAC? The conference has the tie-ins it does, but with extra bowl teams from P5 and more southern G5 conferences, our Rust Belt friends are not appealing candidates for lower bowls. One or two more years of these snubs, and we’ll see if that effect ripples downward—to coaches, recruiting, and finances.

Hell, we’ve already got one of our own calling for Kent State to mercy kill its football team (or drop down to I-AA). With a couple more Coastal Carolinas, Wichita States, and other Sun Belt-type teams entering FBS football, maybe the 5-6 best MAC teams defect to the C-USA or AAC and the rest of the conference disbands.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

Utah Utes (6-6) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)

12:30pm | ESPN | Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX | Already happening, no one cares.

Is there a more “Oh, he’s still the coach there?” coach than Kyle Whittingham? The Utes’ skipper has been there since 1994 in one capacity or another, racking up a 110-56 record (63-48 in conference play across the MWC and Pac-12) and a 10-1 bowl record.

I don’t count Bill Snyder in this, because you fucking know who that wizard is. The only other candidate I can think of is someone like Frank Solich, though I was surprised to learn that Gary Patterson’s been at TCU since 2000.

ESPN Pick: 63% West-by-God
My Pick: It was West-by-God (11 points confidence). It’s currently 14-3 Utah, so I’ll say this ends 31-28, Mountaineers.

Update: As I watch this, West Virginia has muffed a punt, and the recovering player for Utah ran off the field with the ball while stuffing it up his jersey like he’s pregnant. The Beehive State is a different place, man.

Quick Lane Bowl

Duke Blue Devils (6-6) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (8-4)

4:15pm | ESPN | Ford Field, Detroit-ish, MI
no line?

Why is there no line for the Duke-Northern Illinois game, ESPN? What are you hiding? This means either they’re protecting Stanford Steve and that weird Bear dude from embarrassing themselves, or they’ve secretly dropped $40,000 on NIU -8 and they’re not telling us. I call shenanigans.

Also, this game will end in Northern Illinois beating Duke and earning a transitive Illinois championship once again. There’s something for you all to mock Northwestern for this off-season.

Northwestern and Eastern Michigan played an EMU home game in 2008 at Ford Field. Somehow, exactly 10,000 people were in attendance. I’m pretty sure Northwestern won.

ESPN Pick: 61% Duke
My Pick: Northern Illinois, 27-24 (10 points confidence)

Cactus Bowl

Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) vs. UCLA Bruins (6-6)

8pm | ESPN | Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ
KSU -6.5 | O/U 61.5

Josh Rosen is not only reportedly sitting out the Cactus Bowl, but possibly the NFL Draft, for fear of being drafted by the Cleveland Browns. I love that. Almost as much as I love Northwestern’s big announcement that Clayton Thorson would return for his season season. No fucking shit, you morons.

It’s moments like this that make me miss Peter Mortell and other similarly-humored specialists being in the Big Ten. You know the moment announcements like that were made, Mortell would hold a “press conference” in the Minnesota locker room to announce that he was planning to play in the—well, Minnesota’s not in a bowl game, but let’s use our imaginations.

Anywho, K-State has run the ball nearly twice as much as they’ve passed it this year, and UCLA is 128th (out of 129!) in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 282.7 ypg and 5.65 ypc. Jesus.

ESPN Pick: 65% Kansas State
My Pick: K-State, 27-21 (38 points confidence)

Open thread, if you’re so inclined. Behave.