Week Ten Preview: Heading into the Homestretch Print E-mail
Written by Dave Ruthenberg   
Thursday, October 30 2008
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ImageWith just one month left in the regular season, several MAC teams are gearing up for the stretch run with divisional title and bowl implications on the line.

Three MAC squads have already reached the magical number of six wins to reach bowl eligibility but several others are still in the mix and aiming to make some postseason noise.

This week we take a quick glance at the MAC's bowl landscape, give our slant on who are the MAC's top contenders for Coach of the Year and of course offer our preview and picks for this week's contests.

Bowl Chatter
Well, here we go. Its college footballs silly season as websites, blogs, self-appointed experts and fans everywhere try to project who will be playing where and in what bowl game. It makes for great fodder and debate but frankly, most of it is pure conjecture at this point.
MAC Bowl Tie-Ins
December 26, 2008
January 3, 2009
January 6, 2009
Most projections are about as accurate as putting up a map of the bowl games, putting on a blindfold and throwing darts at the map.
So, at this stage, what should be on the early bowl radar of MAC fans?
First, lets get some hard numbers out of the way. This season there are 34 bowl games which means that 68 teams will go bowling. There are no at-large slots available, in other words, every bowl game has a tie-in but some bowls will be looking outside of their tie-ins when everything shakes out at the end of the season.
It is important to remember that a team must finish at least 6-6 to be bowl eligible and it is equally important to understand that a bowl must fill, if it is forced to look outside its tie-ins, at teams with records of 7-5 or better before turning to available 6-6 teams to fill any openings.
The MAC is set right now with its three bowl tie-ins (Motor City Bowl, GMAC Bowl and International Bowl) with Ball State (8-0), Central Michigan (6-2) and Western Michigan (6-2) all bowl eligible. With Northern Illinois (5-3) one win away from bowl eligibility and Akron (4-4) and Buffalo (4-4) within striking distance of becoming bowl eligible, the MAC could have a couple of more teams hoping to go bowling. But will there be any available slots for them?

As of this writing, there are 72 teams in the NCAA FBS that are at .500 or better on the season so there could be some interesting competition for what will likely be only a couple of potential open bowl slots that will be available if some conferences cant fill their tie-ins.
Which conferences should the MAC be watching? There are three that bear watching: ACC, Conference USA and the PAC-10.
The ACC has nine bowl tie-ins this season and MAC fans should watch the ACC standings closely. The ACC has never had nine bowl eligible teams but the new EagleBank Bowl in Washington, DC is currently set up to pit the ACCs #9 team against Navy. The ACC right now has ten teams above .500 and four that have reached the magical number of six victories to reach bowl eligibility but with Wake Forest and Duke at 4-3 with tough conference games remaining neither is necessarily a lock at this point. Meanwhile the EagleBank Bowls invitation to Navy looks to be a foregone conclusion with the Middies sitting at 5-3 and with four games still remaining, the Midshipmen look to be in good shape for a bowl bid.
The more promising place to look for the MAC to potentially steal a bowl bid or two is Conference USA. C-USA has six bowl tie-ins but currently only one team (Tulsa, 8-0) has reached bowl eligibility. Outside of the Golden Hurricane, only Rice (5-3) and East Carolina (4-3) currently sit above .500 with Marshall (4-4) and Houston (4-4) at the break-even mark after eight games. Seven of C-USAs twelve teams have losing records at this point. Bowls that could open for at-large teams may include the New Orleans Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl, the new St. Petersburg Bowl and Texas Bowl.
The PAC-10 meanwhile is having a down year and may miss out on filling one of its bowls slots which could open up a spot in the Hawaii Bowl. Currently the PAC-10 has two bowl eligible teams, USC (6-1) and Oregon (6-2) with four more teams at .500 or better.
Want to really see a monkey wrench thrown into the works? If Ball State runs the table and finishes 13-0 the Cardinals could very well be BCS Bowl bound but we arent even going to try to sort that out at this early stage.
Last week we took a look at some of the leading players contending for postseason awards. This week we look at who may be the top contenders for MAC Coach of the Year. Here are our top three as of today:
Ball State Head Coach Brady Hoke
WMU Head Coach Bill Cubit
Akron Head Coach JD Brookhart
Brady Hoke Ball State
At this point in the season it would be hard to argue against Hoke as the MACs 2008 Coach of the Year. The Cardinals, to this point, have been the talk of the MAC and at 8-0 are one of only eight undefeated teams remaining in the FBS. Currently ranked 16th in the latest BCS Standings the Cardinals are the MACs first ranked team since Bowling Green in 2004. While everyone knew about the Cardinals offensive firepower, Ball State has also been getting it done with one of the MACs top defenses. The team suffered a very difficult blow with the loss of standout WR Dante Love earlier this season which has impacted their offense but the team has hung together and seems to have used Loves injury as a rallying point. Under Hoke the Cards have shown yearly, steady improvement but this years record-shattering squad has helped put the MAC back on the national landscape.
Bill Cubit Western Michigan
The Broncos have rebounded from a disappointing 2007 season and Cubit has the Broncos poised for their second bowl appearance in the past three years. Sometimes the best measure of a good leader is to know when to back off and when to delegate. That seems to have been the case this season with the development of QB Tim Hiller who has flourished since former WMU QB Ryan Cubit (yes, the coachs son) took over QB coaching duties. That has allowed the senior Cubit to focus on other matters which has included adjusting the playbook to suit Hillers skills better. Also the Broncos coaching staff has proven to be very adept at making in-game adjustments this season under Cubit.
JD Brookhart - Akron
Okay, nobody is exactly lighting things up in the MAC East but honestly did anybody see Akron in this position in the preseason? The Zips were pretty much a unanimous pick to finish last in the MAC East heading into this season with so many holes to fill. The hits also kept coming during the season with the Zips rushing attack losing its top performers and a defense that has been hit hard as well but Brookharts Zips have shown both resiliency and some luck this season. Akron has a BCS win over Syracuse and a near-miss against Cincinnati. They needed a little luck in defeating Eastern Michigan on a bizarre play but the Zips currently sit atop the MAC East with Buffalo which potentially sets up a game that could decide the MAC East on November 13 in the final game at the venerable Rubber Bowl. Who woulda thunk it?
Keeping an eye on: Butch Jones, Central Michigan; Jerry Kill, Northern Illinois.

Okay, enough of the preliminaries, let's take a look at Saturday's MAC games:
Saturday, November 1
Central Michigan (6-2, 5-0 MAC) at Indiana (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten, Noon
Site: Memorial Stadium
Series: Indiana leads 3-0. Last meeting: Indiana 20, Central Michigan 13 in 2005.
Television: Big Ten Network
Outlook:Is this finally the game that sees Butch Jones and Central Michigan record a win over a BCS squad? It would appear to offer the Chippewas their best chance as they hit the road for their final non-conference game of the season. A less than 100% healthy QB Dan LeFevour returned to action last week against Toledo in the Chips 24-23 squeaker over Toledo. LeFevour passed for two touchdowns and 242 yards in the victory and ranks second in the MAC in total offense, averaging 278.3 yards per game. CMUs receiving tandem of Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown continues to be a dynamic combination, with Anderson third in the MAC averaging 76.9 yards per game and Brown ninth with 60.6 yards per game. The rushing attack saw the re-emergence of Ontario Sneed last week who rushed for 72 yards and the game-winning TD while freshman RB Bryan Schroeder just one week earlier rushed for 106 yards. Meanwhile the Chippewas defense has been showing significant progress all season, and while still susceptible to the pass, allowing 279.5 yards per game, has shown a knack for getting into the oppositions backfield. The Chips lead the MAC with 19 sacks on the season with DL Frank Zombo leading the conference in both sacks and tackles for loss. CMU has held the opposition to 21.7 points over its last three games
and is second in the MAC in rushing defense, allowing only 122.6 yards per game on the groundIndiana snapped a five-game losing streak by defeating 22nd-ranked Northwestern 21-19 last week. Prior to their win, the Hoosiers had given up 42 or more points in four of their previous five games. Hoosiers starting QB Kellen Lewis (who leads IU in rushing and passing) has been sidelined for the last two games with a high-ankle sprain and is questionable for this contest. Last week backup QB sophomore Ben Chappell passed for 219 yards and one touchdown while true freshman WR Tandon Doss caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. The Hoosiers employed a new split-back formation in their win over Northwestern in an effort to kick-start their rushing attack, lining up LB Ian Reeves as a blocking back. RB Marcus Thigpen rushed for 69 yards in the contest. IUs defense forced five turnovers in the win over Northwestern. The Hoosiers are averaging 378.1 yards in offense and giving up an identical 378.1 yards on defense per gameWho starts at QB for Indiana? That will be the key here. Lewis practiced this week and could return to the lineup which gives the Hoosiers a stronger dual-threat. If its Chappell the Chips pressuring defensive line could be the key here especially with Indianas standout left tackle, Rodger Saffold out due to injury. This looks like a real toss-up but were going to go out on a limb a bit here and call this one for CMU, giving the Chips their first win over a Big Ten team since defeating Michigan State in 1992.
Prediction: Central Michigan 31, Indiana 28.
Eastern Michigan (2-7, 1-4 MAC) at Western Michigan (6-2, 4-1 MAC), 2:00 pm
Site: Waldo Stadium
Series: Western Michigan leads 25-16-2. Last meeting: Eastern Michigan 19, Western Michigan 2 in 2007.
Outlook: Eastern Michigan rolls into Kalamazoo on a two-game losing skid following its 38-16 loss to Ball State last week. However QB Andy Schmitt has shown signs over the last two weeks of returning to form. Schmitt passed for a career-high 309 yards last week and has aired it out to the tune of 667 yards in his two most recent outings. WR Jacory Stone has been a steady option all season, recording game-highs in receiving seven times this season and is fifth in the MAC, averaging 67.8 yards per game while fellow WR Tyler Jones had a career day against Ball State, snaring 8 catches for 120 yards. The rushing attack has been slowed however in recent weeks with Terrance Blevins struggling to show his early season form while Dwayne Priest has been hampered with an ankle sprain. The Eagles averaged only 2.3 yards per attempt on the ground against Ball State. The Eagles defense meanwhile has had trouble stopping the run all season, allowing 212.8 yards per game and a league-high 23 touchdowns on the ground while their passing defense has surrendered 14 touchdowns despite giving up only 162.2 yards per gameThe Broncos have had a week off to get over their 38-28 loss to Central Michigan and all indications from Camp Cubit are that it has been a rough two weeks with the team not getting much of a break during the bye. The story around Kalamazoo this season has been the play of QB Tim Hiller who tops the MAC in both passing and total offense and his 25 touchdown passes places him third nationally. Broncos WR Jamarko Simmons tops the MAC averaging over eight receptions per game and RB Brandon West is fourth in the MAC in rushing. WMU also tops the MAC overall in passing offense and ranks right behind Ball State in total offense.This game will also feature two of the hottest TEs in the MAC with WMUs Branden Ledbetter moving up the career receiving ladder at WMU while EMU TE Josh LeDuc has been emerging as a playmaker and recorded 92 yards receiving last weekThe Eagles are eliminated from the MAC West race but take defense of their Michigan MAC Trophy very seriously and point to their games against in-state rivals Western Michigan and Central Michigan as centerpieces of their season and will be fired up for this game. However, the Broncos have had two weeks to prepare for this game and will not be looking past the Eagles, hoping to avenge last seasons 19-2 setback.
Prediction: Western Michigan 34, Eastern Michigan 24.
Kent State (2-6, 1-3 MAC) at Bowling Green (3-5, 1-3 MAC), 2:00 pm
Site: Doyt Perry Stadium
Series: Bowling Green leads 53-16-6. Last meeting: Bowling Green 31, KentState 20 in 2007.
Outlook:Kent State took out about a years worth of frustration on Miami last week, defeating the RedHawks 54-21, a team that earlier this year downed Bowling Green 27-20. The Golden Flashes were led by a defense that forced six turnovers led by the MACs top aerial thief, Brian Lainhart who has five picks on the year. The Flashes offense was quick to capitalize on the RedHawks miscues, led by the return of tailback Eugene Jarvis who rushed for a career high four touchdowns while QB Julian Edelman, the MACs number three rusher, added 265 total yards in a dominating performance. The question now is whether the Flashes can handle success and comeback with another strong effort. Prior to their victory against Miami, the Flashes had lost 13 of their previous 14 games with their only win over that time coming against an FCS squad.Bowling Green has been one of several enigmatic MAC East teams this season. The Falcons also seem to save their worst football for their home fans. The Falcons are 0-3 at home and have given up an average of 31 points in those three losses. BG is coming off of its best defensive effort of the season in a 16-13 loss to Northern Illinois last week and their last three losses have been by a total of 13 pointsThe loser of this game is likely out of the MAC East race and just two weeks ago who would have guessed that we would be projecting that team would be the Falcons.
Prediction: Kent State 28, Bowling Green 23.
Temple (3-5, 2-3 MAC) at Navy (5-3), 3:30 pm
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Stadium
Series: Tied 4-4. Last meeting: Navy 30, Temple 19 in 2007.
Television: CBSCollege Sports
Outlook:The Owls got back into the MAC East race with a comeback 14-10 win over Ohio Oct 21. The game marked the return of QB Adam DiMichele from a separated shoulder injury but DiMichele was ineffective, showing plenty of rust, passing for only 79 yards and was sacked five times. The Owls defense however carried the day, limiting Ohio to 10 first quarter points in a game that the Bobcats led until less than two minutes remained when the Owls scored the winning touchdown after forcing a Bobcats turnover. Freshman RB Kee-ayre Griffin has been a ray of offensive hope the past two weeks for the Owls, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns in the Owls last two contests for an offense that still ranks last in the MAC in scoring, rushing, passing and total offense. On the flipside, the Owls fifth-ranked MAC defense (351.6 yards per game) is led by Junior Galette who is tied with CMUs Frank Zombo for the league lead with 7.5 sacks this season and Terrance Knighton who has had a nose for the ball, recovering three fumbles this season. The Owls top the nation in kickoff returns, averaging 29 yards per returnNavy has won four of its last five games, including last weeks 34-7 win over SMU which brought the Middies to the brink of bowl eligibility and with a win Saturday will receive a formal bid to the inaugural EagleBank Bowl. The Midshipmens offense operates nearly exclusively on the ground, averaging 309.9 yards rushing per game, which ranks second in the nation, but only 62 yards passing per game, which is 118th nationally. The offense is led by Shun White who is averaging 8.7 yards per carry this season and needs 183 yards to hit the 1,000 yard mark. In last weeks win over SMU, Navy limited the Mustangs to 144 yards in total offense, including only 13 yards net rushing. Navy is 24-8 at home over the past six seasons and own a win over then 15th-ranked Wake Forest, 24-17 but one of their three defeats came at the hands of Ball State, 35-23. The Middies are 16-13 all-time against teams from the MAC.
Prediction: Navy 24, Temple 13.
On Tap
The schedule for the week ahead:
Tuesday, November 4
Miami at Buffalo, 7:30 pm (ESPN2)
Wednesday, November 5
Northern Illinois at Ball State, 8:00 pm (ESPN2)
Toledo at Akron, 8:00 pm (ESPNU)
Saturday, November 8
Illinois vs. Western Michigan (at Ford Field, Detroit), Noon (ESPN Plus)
Bowling Green at Ohio, 2:00 pm
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