Conference play kicks into high gear this week in the Mid-American Conference and we are starting to get an early idea of which teams are real contenders, which are pretenders and which ones have no realistic shot at even sniffing postseason play.
Ball State and RB MiQuale Lewis (above) have been the MAC's headliners this year
Here's our quick and dirty breakdown of where we see things right now.
Admittedly its early and things can change quickly with a key injury here or there, but with the sixth week of play at hand, teams are starting to show their mettle, or lack thereof.
Ball State (5-0, 2-0, MAC). The Cardinals are the clear favorites in the MAC at this point. Ball State is the only undefeated squad in the conference, has scored at least forty points in all but one game, has registered double-digit margins of victory in all five games and tops the MAC in scoring, passing, total offense, punt return average, pass efficiency. Hell, the Cardinals even top the top MAC in being the least penalized team. Right now we would pencil in the Cards for a date in Detroit for the MAC title tilt.
Bowling Green (2-2, 0-0 MAC). Yeah sure the Falcons are "only" 2-2 and have not registered a MAC win yet (dont worry, they will when they open up conference play against Eastern Michigan Saturday) but the Falcons have played a pretty tough non-conference slate, own a win over the Big East (Pitt) and rolled to a win over Wyoming. If not for their own errors, this team could be 4-0. The Falcons were the preseason pick to win it in the MAC East and right now there is nothing to indicate they still aren't the favorites.
|WMU QB Tim Hiller - The MAC's TD Leader
Central Michigan (3-2, 2-0 MAC). The Chips are still on track for a possible MAC three-peat. We all know the Chips can score points but what should concern opponents now is that the Chippewas appear to have finally found some modicum of defense, holding Purdue and Buffalo in consecutive weeks to less than 100 yards rushing. QB Dan LeFevour may not have the gaudy numbers of last year (yet), but he still tops the MAC in total offense and has an arsenal of dangerous receivers at his disposal.
Western Michigan (4-1, 2-0 MAC). QB Tim Hiller, with the exception of last week at Temple, has been absolutely on fire this season and tops the MAC with fifteen touchdown passes. The Broncos have been an impressively well-balanced squad both on offense and defense this season, ranking in the top three in most team categories across the board and are poised to make a run at their first divisional crown since 2000. By the way, how strong is the MAC West? WMU, CMU and BSU are all tied at the top of the defensive charts with ten sacks this season. The West will be a dogfight right down to the last week.
Not Quite YetMaybe Next Year
Buffalo (2-3, 0-1 MAC). Don't get us wrong. The Bulls, with a couple of breaks, could push for a MAC East title. QB Drew Willy is as solid of a game-manager as you will find in collegiate football and never puts the team in a bad spot. The running game is solid and the receiving corps is efficient. The defense is susceptible to passing attacks and that has hurt them in games against Temple (yeah, we know, but the "Hail Mary" really helped to cover up a disappointing defensive effort against the Owls) and Central Michigan. If you are going to give up 391.4 yards per game you better have an explosive offense to offset it. The Bulls aren't there yet, but stay tunedthese guys will be heard from.
Akron (2-3, 0-1 MAC). Wow. We will admit that we did not expect the kind of season Akron is putting together under JD Brookhart this season. Sure, he tried to tell us that QB Chris Jacquemain was poised to have a great season and that his defense was stout. But that was just coach speak right? Wrong. Jacquemain has been solid, the Zips have a BCS win (Syracuse) under their belt, walloped Army and if they could get their special teams play straightened out, would have had a second BCS win over Cincinnati. We're believers. The Zips cannot be overlooked by anybody, especially within the MAC East and could be the sleeper to watch as the season progresses.
Miami (1-3, 0-0 MAC). Did the RedHawks really claim the MAC East last season? So far the RedHawks have been a major disappointment. Returning most of a defense that was one of the stingiest in the MAC last year and returning several players on offense, Miami has not shown they are anywhere close to being ready to defend their title. It's not over yet of course in the MAC East and don't forget that last season Miami also got out to a 1-3 start, but can they repeat their run from last year? From what we have seen so far, the RedHawks are in trouble.
|Is time running out for "Toledo Tom?"
Ohio (1-4, 0-1 MAC). Truthfully, we weren't sure where to classify Ohio. We all know they have had several close losses with three of their losses (Wyoming, CMU & Northwestern) by a combined 12 points and hung in tough with Ohio State, but you still have to win some of these close games. Last week's win over VMI was welcome but did little to prepare the team for the MAC. QB Boo Jackson is still learning after having to take over for Theo Scott. The Bobcats are like so many other teams in the MAC East --- almost good.
Toledo (1-3, 0-1 MAC). The Rockets are a bit perplexing to say the least. After steamrolling EMU and battling back against Fresno State, the Rockets were embarrassed at home by a very ordinary (really, bad) FIU team at home. Toledo seems to have the tools and the personnel. Is it coaching? A lot of Toledo faithful are ready to throw Toledo Tom under the bus (a significant feat) and if the Rockets turn in a third straight losing campaign (a real possibility), there could be a new coach prowling the sidelines next season in the Glass Bowl.
It's A Long Way To The Top.
Temple (1-4, 0-2 MAC). The Owls certainly suffered a tough break with the loss of QB Adam DiMichele for the next few weeks. But his loss also helped to expose how thin Temple's roster is and how much depth still needs to built. Without a passing attack the Owls are in deep trouble. Their running game is non-existent and their defense is being taxed by the offense's inefficiency. Temple is finding out that a move to the MAC is not the automatic cure for its football ills and the task of building up the program is still in progress.
Northern Illinois (2-2, 1-1 MAC). New head coach Jerry Kill has already guided the Huskies to as many wins as they had all of last year. There is talent here and Kill seems to have a knack for getting the most out of what he has available. The Huskies won't contend for a MAC West crown this year but nobody in the MAC better overlook the Huskiesespecially the contenders. In other words, watch out because these dogs appear to be heading back up the charts under Kill -- but not all the way to the topyet.
See You Next Year (Maybe)
Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC). The losses keep piling up for the Flashes who have now lost 11 of their last 12 games with their only win during that time coming against FCS-member Delaware State. The injury to RB Eugene Jarvis has been a significant factor no doubt and so have several other injuries but mistakes and inconsistent play have plagued the Flashes (is this 2007 all over again?) and time could be running out for head coach Doug Martin.
Eastern Michigan (1-4, 0-2 MAC). A season that appeared to hold so much promise has quickly degenerated into a disappointment without even having played a game in October yet. The Eagles have not been seriously competitive in four straight losses, having been outscored by an average count of 43-13 during that time, and now are dealing with significant shoulder injuries to both of its quarterbacks with Kyle McMahon done for the year. Just as Doug Martin is on the spot in Kent, fifth-year head coach Jeff Genyk is also potentially looking over his shoulder in Ypsilanti. Playing in the top-heavy MAC West won't help matters either.
Knockin' on the Door: Ball State continues to move up in the polls. The Cardinals are currently ranked 29th in both the AP and USA Today polls. Last week the Cardinals placed 38th and 36th respectively. Another impressive outing should land the Cards in the Top 25 in short order, but can they climb fast enough to secure a BCS bowl bid if they run the table? A subject for future discussion
Defensive Milestones: Eastern Michigan senior linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw currently ranks as the nation's active career leader in tackles and could own EMU's all-time career tackle mark by season's end. Currently Holtzclaw, a four-year starter, has 376 tackles and would need to average 10.6 tackles over the next seven games to surpass all-time EMU leader Reese McCaskill's 450 career tackles. Holtzclaw has averaged 9.4 tackles per game over the past 3 1/2 seasons.
|EMU LB Daniel Holtzclaw - Closing in on tackle record
Also closing in on a school record is Akron linebacker Kevin Grant, whose 33 career tackles for loss ranks third on the Zips' all-time list, is closing on second place Brion Stokes and Chase Blackburn (38.5 TFL). Akron's all-time leader, and dancer extraordinaire, Jason Taylor holds down the top spot with 41.5 tackles for loss.
They've Got CLASS: Two MAC defensive standouts are among thirty players nominated nationally for the 2008 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award for football. The award is conferred upon a senior FBS player who excels in the areas of the "classroom, character, competition and community."
MAC players garnering nominations were Northern Illinois DE Larry English and Western Michigan LB Dustin Duclo.
English, who is on the watch lists for the 2008 Lombardi, Nagurski and Ted Hendricks post-season awards, won the Vern Smith Leadership Award in 2007 after leading the MAC in sacks.
Duclo joined the Broncos as a walk-on in 2004 and has started in all 41 games in which he has appeared, earning a full-ride scholarship in 2006. The senior currently carries a 3.55 GPA in computer sciences.
QB Casualties: The list of teams dealing with significant injuries at quarterback continues to grow. Here is the rundown of the QB infirmary report:
Temple QB Adam DiMichele continues to recover from a separated shoulder that will keep him out of action until at least October 21 against Ohio leaving the reigns of the Temple offense potentially in the hands of redshirt freshman QB Chester Stewart who struggled in his first start last week, passing for only 60 yards. Stewart however is also nusing some injuries this week and his status is uncertain.
|Owls' QB Adam DiMichele - on the shelf again
Ohio QB Theo Scott is likely done for the season after suffering a broken collarbone against Ohio State. With Scott out, JUCO transfer Boo Jackson has been forced into duty. Jackson has passed for six touchdowns in five games and is averaging 198 yards per game.
Eastern Michigan QB Kyle McMahon has been lost for the season after suffering a separated shoulder against Northern Illinois that will require surgery and extensive rehab. McMahon was backing up Andy Schmitt who is still recovering from a shoulder injury himself and is far from 100% which potentially means redshirt freshman Jason Williams could be called upon.
Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish continues to be hobbled by a mid-foot sprain and has not been able to participate since injuring his foot in the second game of the season at Western Michigan. Harnish is not expected back for NIU's trip to Tennessee Saturday. The Huskies have however been able to turn to veteran Dan Nicholson and fleet-footed DeMarcus Grady to offset Harnish's loss.
Okay, let's get on with this week's upcoming action:
Saturday, October 4
Akron (2-3, 0-1 MAC) at Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC), Noon
Site: Dix Stadium
Series: Akron leads 28-20-1. Last meeting: Akron 27, Kent State 20 in 2007.
Television: MAC Game of the Week/ESPN Plus
|The Wagon Wheel Trophy
Outlook: It's the renewal of the annual Battle for the Wagon Wheel trophy which was first contested between the schools in 1946. Akron has claimed the last three of four games in the series but Kent State holds a 19-17-2 edge in Wagon Wheel games between the schools which are situated less than twelve miles apartAkron comes into the game after a tough 17-15 loss to Cincinnati. The Zips suffered several special teams' breakdowns in the loss but overall have been a pleasant surprise in the MAC despite losing both of their starting running backs (Alex Allen and Andrew Johnson) and several defensive line performers. The Zips' defense, though ranked last in the MAC in rushing defense, has been opportunistic, registering a nation's best ten forced fumbles. Akron's defense did receive a boost last week from the return of Eric Lively and Deni Odorin to the d-lineKent State will be without RB Eugene Jarvis for the third straight game and enters this contest as losers of 11 of its last 12 games. The Golden Flashes however still top the MAC in rushing, averaging 197.4 yards per game with QB Julian Edelman fifth in the MAC, averaging 74.8 yards per game. But the Flashes' have had serious defensive issues, allowing 31.4 points per game while allowing a MAC-worst 429.2 yards in offense per contest. Meanwhile the teams are on the opposite end of the spectrum in turnover margin with Akron sitting atop the MAC while Kent State ranks last.
Prediction: Akron 28, Kent State 17.
Ohio (1-4, 0-1 MAC) at Western Michigan (4-1, 2-0 MAC), 2:00 pm
Site: Waldo Stadium
Series: Western Michigan leads 29-28-1. Last meeting: Ohio 27, Western Michigan 20 in 2006.
Outlook: Ohio registered its first win of the season last week in a 51-31 win over VMI after starting the season with four losses by a combined 24 points. Despite giving up 31 points last week to VMI, the Bobcats defense has been a strong point this season and ranks second in the MAC, allowing 338 yards per game while the offense has been showing steady improvement under QB Boo Jackson who passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns last week in only his third career start after taking over for injured starter Theo Scott. The Bobcats' rushing attack was paced last week by a career high 142 yards by Donte Harden against the Keydets but the Bobcats have struggled to gain ground yards this season and are currently averaging only 117.4 yards per game. Ohio was held to an average of 84 yards net rushing in its four losses, including being held to four yards against NorthwesternWestern Michigan returns home with a four-game winning streak intact after last week's 7-3 win over Temple in a defensive battle that saw the Broncos limit the Owls to 60 yards through the air. The Broncos though have been getting it done on both sides of the ball this season, sharing the top spot (with Central Michigan and Ball State) in the MAC with ten sacks, and are second in rushing defense (127.4 ypg) while nearly topping the charts in both total offense and passing offense, placing second in each category as well. A large part of that offensive success can be attributed to the potential career season being turned in by QB Tim Hiller who tops the MAC with fifteen touchdowns and his average of 270 yards passing per game trails only Ball State's Nate Davis. The Broncos' ground attack meanwhile is paced by Brandon West who is averaging 93.4 yards per game while WR Jamarko Simmons tops the MAC averaging seven catches per game.
Prediction: Western Michigan 31, Ohio 20.
Temple (1-4, 0-2 MAC) at Miami (1-3, 0-0 MAC), 3:30 pm
Site: Yager Stadium
Series: Tied 1-1. Last meeting: Temple 24, Miami 17 in 2007.
Televison: ONN/ESPN Game Plan
Outlook: It's been a frustrating season of close-calls so far for Temple with three of their four losses coming by a combined nine points which includes a pair of last-play losses to Connecticut and Buffalo and last week's 7-3 home setback against Western Michigan. The Owls' offense last week was presented with several opportunities deep inside WMU territory but could not generate anything and are averaging a MAC-worst 15.6 points per game and also rank last in both passing offense (160.6 ypg) and total offense (254.2 ypg) and 12th in rush offense (93.6 ypg). Owls' redshirt QB Chester Stewart started his first game last week and struggled in completing 10-20 passes for only 60 yards but Stewart has been unable to practice this week due to injury which could mean that Vaughn Charlton, who started five games last season, may get the starting nod this weekMiami comes in also struggling on offense. The RedHawks own the only rushing offense worse than the Owls' in the MAC, averaging only 77.8 yards (2.5 yards per carry) and rank just above Temple in scoring offense, averaging 19.2 yards per game. The RedHawks are coming off of a bye (Temple's next two opponents, Miami and Central Michigan, both will have had two weeks to prepare for the Owls) after a 45-20 loss to Cincinnati. What has to trouble Miami most about their most recent loss was an inability to get off the field as the Bearcats were not forced into a single punting situation in the contest. The RedHawks also have surrendered nearly 500 yards in passing the past two games, but that should not be an issue against the Owls. QB Dan Raudabaugh has passed for four TD and five picks this season. Bottom line: this game will come down to which offense can get out of its own way
Prediction: Miami 17, Temple 9.
Eastern Michigan (1-4, 0-2 MAC) at Bowling Green (2-2, 0-0 MAC), 4:00 pm
Site: Doyt Perry Stadium
Series: Bowling Green leads 23-10-1. Last meeting: Bowling Green 39, Eastern Michigan 32 in 2007.
Outlook: It's been a quick, slippery downhill ride to the MAC West cellar for Eastern Michigan after only two conference games. The Eagles come into the game on a four-game losing streak and have been blown-out by an average of 30 points in their first two conference games, both at home. EMU is also dealing with injuries issues at quarterback. Sophomore Kyle McMahon, who started in place of injured QB Andy Schmitt last week, will require season-ending shoulder surgery, forcing the Eagles to turn to Schmitt who is still recovering from his own shoulder injury. The Eagles own the MAC's top passing defense but that is a bit deceptive as teams have had tremendous success on the ground, averaging over 200 yards per gameBowling Green finally opens conference play after a challenging non-conference slate that saw them play twice out West (defeating Wyoming and losing to Boise State), down Pitt on the road and lose at home to Minnesota. In their two losses the Falcons were their own worst enemy with costly turnovers and penalties. However after a bye week the Falcons scorched Wyoming 45-16 and appear to be back on track. BG is dealing with a few of its own injury issues with triple threat performers Anthony Turner and Freddie Barnes banged up with shoulder injuries of their own and are each considered day-to-day at this point. The Falcons have won nine straight in the series with EMU's last win against BG coming in 1989.
Prediction: Bowling Green 42, Eastern Michigan 14.
Ball State (5-0, 2-0 MAC) at Toledo (1-3, 1-0 MAC), 7:00 pm
Site: Glass Bowl
Series: Tied 16-16-1. Last meeting: Ball State 41, Toledo 20 in 2007.
Outlook: The Cardinals continue to fly high and are looking for their first 6-0 start since going 9-0 in 1965 which was six years before Ball State moved up to 1A in 1971. Ball State comes in atop the MAC in scoring, passing, total offense and most mentions on the Late Show with David Letterman. QB Nate Davis tops the MAC, passing for 284 yards per game while RB MiQuale Lewis ranks first in the MAC, and ranks seventh nationally, averaging 129 yards rushing per game. The offensive line has allowed only three sacks through BSU's first five games. Defensively the Cardinals have also been dominant, topping the MAC in pass defense efficiency and ranking second in the conference in scoring defenseToledo has lost two straight games at the Glass Bowl after last week's stunning 35-16 setback to previously winless Florida International. The Rockets committed four turnovers in their loss to the Golden Panthers and have allowed 90 points in their past two games and are last in the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 37 points per game. Toledo also ranks near the bottom of the MAC in pass defense efficiency which does not bode well going up against the league's top passing attack. The Cardinals have scored 40 or more points in four out of their five wins this season and have registered double-digit victory margins in every contest. Toledo has allowed no less than 35 points in three of its four games. Those are trends that are hard to ignore.
Prediction: Ball State 44, Toledo 27.
Northern Illinois (2-2, 1-1 MAC) at Tennessee (1-3, 0-2 SEC), 7:00 pm
Site: Neyland Stadium
Series: First Meeting
Outlook: Northern Illinois has won two straight following a 37-0 shutout of Eastern Michigan, the Huskies' first shutout since 2006. The Huskies continue to use a running back by committee approach but last week Me'Co Brown emerged as potentially NIU's top back, rushing for a career-high 111 yards but Brown had to leave the EMU game after injuring his foot. Brown is currently in a walking boot but is still expected to play Saturday against Tennessee. The Huskies are expected again to use a combination of Dan Nicholson and DeMarcus Grady at quarterback for their ground-based offensive attack which ranks fourth in the MAC in rushing despite not having a player in the top ten in rushing in the conference. The Huskies have not allowed a touchdown in their past two gamesMeanwhile it's an angry, frustrated campus in Knoxville where the Vols have lost two straight games, both to ranked opponents, but this is a place not accustomed to losing. One report indicated that the students painted a message on the Vols' campus rock stating "We started payingnow start winning." No subtle overtones there and the fans are starting to call for the head of head coach Phil Fulmer. The Vols had trouble scoring points in their two losses, 14-12 vs. Auburn and 30-6 vs. Florida with QB Jonathan Compton struggling after going 8-28 for 67 yards last week against Auburn. Compton has thrown four interceptions and two touchdowns this season (both TD's coming in the Vols' 35-3 win over UAB - their only win this season). With Compton struggling Fulmer has indicated that he is considering starting sophomore Nick Stephens who has played in only game in his career. The Huskies are collecting a cool $750,000 for the trip and a close contest could prove even more costly to the Vols.
Prediction: Tennessee 34, Northern Illinois 17.
The schedule for the week ahead:
Saturday, October 11
Toledo at Michigan, Noon
Eastern Michigan at Army, 1:00 pm
Ohio at Kent State, 2:00 pm
Western Michigan at Buffalo, 3:30 pm
Miami at Northern Illinois, 4:00 pm
Temple at Central Michigan, 4:00 pm
Bowling Green at Akron, 6:00 pm
Ball State at Western Kentucky, 6:00 pm