Week 8 Preview: Divisional Play Heats Up
Written by Dave Ruthenberg   
Thursday, October 16 2008
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CMU's Kelly/Shorts Stadium: Ground Zero in the MAC West Saturday
Now things really get interesting in MAC play. Five games are on tap Saturday with divisional matchups taking center stage, including a battle between division leaders in the MAC West and a contest in the MAC East between last season's divisional champion and the current leader.

The MAC West battle that is attracting plenty of attention features two-time defending MAC champion Central Michigan (4-2, 3-0 MAC) taking on current West leader Western Michigan (6-1, 4-0 MAC) in their annual grudge match in a game that will give the winner an inside track in the MAC West and a future date with 24th-ranked Ball State (7-0, 3-0 MAC) that could potentially decide the MAC West title.
But not so fast
Northern Illinois (3-3, 2-1 MAC) and Toledo (2-4, 1-1 MAC) could have something to say about the MAC West as well. The Huskies and Rockets collide in DeKalb and whoever remains standing at the end of their contest will have only one loss as well and still could factor into the West division. The Rockets' lone loss however is to Ball State and the Huskies' loss in MAC play came against Western Michigan, so each would need a little help down the road to claim the crown.
In the East, Bowling Green (3-3, 1-1 MAC) has again assumed temporary control of the race with a one-half game lead over a trio of teams (Akron, Buffalo and Ohio). The Falcons will square off this week at home against last season's divisional champs, the struggling Miami RedHawks (1-5, 0-2 MAC) who, despite their problems, are still only one-game out of first and can propel themselves back into contention with a win.
The East is a jumble right now and this weekend's games (including Akron visiting Eastern Michigan) will either begin to clear things up or muck up matters a bit more. Considering the history of the East, we are betting on the latter.
Keep reading our Week 8 Preview for our picks for each of this week's MAC contests or click here to jump directly to our previews/picks.
Award-Winning Week
The MAC received plenty of attention this past week with Toledo's upset victory over Michigan but the attention wasn't limited to just the Rockets when it came time to hand out a pair of weekly awards.
Toledo FS Tyrrell Herbert
WMU TE Branden Ledbetter
Toledo free safety Tyrrell Herbert may need to clear some room on his trophy shelf just to hold this past week's list of accolades.
Following Herbert's performance against Michigan, which featured a 100-yard touchdown return of an interception that provided the game's only touchdown, Herbert was named MAC Report Online's Defensive Player of the Week, the official MAC West Defensive Player of the Week, and his interception return was nominated for the weekly Pontiac Game Changing Moment Award. But that was not all.
Herbert this past week was also named by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) as the winner of the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week Award. Herbert has now also been added to the 2008 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List. The trophy is presented annually to the best defensive player in the nation by the FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club.
Another Rocket garnering some national attention this past week was place kicker Alex Steigerwald who was named as one of the three stars of the week by the Lou Groza Award. Steigerwald connected on 2-3 FG attempts, including a career-best 48 yard FG that turned out to be the game winner.
As we mentioned however, the national accolades weren't limited to the Rockets.

Western Michigan senior tight end Branden Ledbetter was named the John Mackey National Tight End of the Week after Ledbetter caught six passes for 40 yards, including the game-wining touchdown in overtime in Western Michigan's 34-28 victory over Buffalo. Ledbetter, whose 19 career TDs is best all-time among Broncos' tight ends, is the first MAC player to receive the award this season.
Rocket Exhaust
But it wasn't all good news for the Rockets following their victory over Michigan,
Senior wide receiver Nick Moore had a tremendous game against the Wolverines, catching a school and Michigan Stadium record twenty passes (which also tied the MAC record) but may have celebrated a little too much later that night.
Moore was involved in an altercation at a Toledo nightspot late last Saturday night (Sunday morning) and found himself involved in some fisticuffs. Moore was arrested by Toledo police and booked into the local lockup Sunday morning along with teammate, sophomore defensive end Albertson Alexandre. Moore was charged with public intoxification and Alexandre with obstructing official business.
The pair were released and were ordered to appear again in court later this month.
According to an official release from Toledo, both Moore and Alexandre will not be in the staring lineup for the Rockets' game Saturday at Northern Illinois and will both be subject to internal team discipline.
Bain Done For Year after NCAA Ruling Stands
Before the start of the season one of the defensive players that was creating a significant buzz during spring was Akron junior defensive lineman Ryan Bain despite not having played a down of football in two seasons.
Bain, a transfer from Iowa, sat out the 2007 campaign under NCAA transfer rules but was the talk of the Zips training camp with his hard-nosed, take no prisoners play. In fact we were so impressed with Bain that we named him to our second-team preseason All-MAC squad.
However Bain has still not suited up for the Zips and his 2008 season is done -- due to a combination of reasons.
Bain was slowed coming out of camp with a stress fracture that required surgery and Bain is now in a protective walking boot for the next six weeks following surgery. However Bain and the team had been hoping that surgery could be put off until the end of the season in the hopes that his foot would mend without invasive surgery and allow him to get back onto the field. That changed though with a recent ruling from the NCAA on another matter.
Under the NCAA's random drug testing/screening, Bain had a positive test for a banned substance that both the team and Bain contend was in an over the counter dietary supplement. Bain contends that he compared the ingredients in the product to the NCAA's list of banned substances.
According to an official release from Akron, the product "contained unapproved food and additives and/or new dietary ingredients that have caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to seize the product."
In that same release, Bain stated:
I had always checked with a strength or athletic training staff member prior to taking a supplement in the past. I did my own due diligence this time, thoroughly comparing the products ingredients to the NCAA banned substance list, and, after the issue arose, the staff has agreed they would have allowed me to take this product based upon the facts and doing their own comparison. While I am disappointed with the NCAAs ruling in my case, I have to accept the responsibility for not taking that added step of having the strength or training staffs compare the list prior to using this product.
The NCAA violation forces Bain to sit out this season regardless of injury. Akron lost its appeal of the NCAA's ruling.
Bain will be eligible to play in 2009 but loses another year of eligibility.
The Man with the Golden Arm
Buffalo QB Drew Willy
Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy, the only four-year starter at QB in the MAC, has made the initial cut for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
The award, given annually to the nation's top senior quarterback, recently pared its initial season watch list of 26 preseason candidates down to ten finalists with the Bulls' signal-caller among the final ten.
Willy has completed 61.3% of his passes this season, has thrown for 1,456 yards and twelve touchdowns and only four picks. He is only the second Bulls' QB to pass for 7,000 career yards and Willy also currently ranks tenth all-time in the MAC with 667 career completions.

Defensive Leaders
As promised last week, here is a quick look at MAC defensive players who rank in the top ten nationally in various individual categories.
KSU LB Derek Burrell
Photo: Jeff Harwell
Total Tackles/Game
5. Derek Burrell
Kent State
9. Joey Hudson
Solo Tackles/Game
6. Joey Hudson
Fumbles Recovered
3. Miguel Graham

Out of Conference Performance
With non-conference games winding down toward a conclusion, here is a quick snapshot of how the eleven FBS conferences have fared this season in non-conference games:

Big 12
Big Ten
Mountain West
Big East
PAC 10
Conference USA
Sun Belt
Source: NCAA
Okay, enough of the preliminaries, let's take a look at this week's MAC games:
Saturday, October 18
Western Michigan (6-1, 4-0 MAC) at Central Michigan (4-2, 3-0 MAC), Noon
Site: Kelly/Shorts Stadium
Series: Western Michigan leads 43-34-2. Last meeting: Central Michigan 34, Western Michigan 31 in 2007.
Television: MAC Game of the Week/ESPN Plus
Outlook:For a game that comes fairly early in the conference season, this game still has significant title implications with both teams unbeaten in MAC play and Western Michigan holding a half-game lead over Central Michigan and Ball StateThe Broncos enter the rivalry game on a six-game winning streak after a stunning 34-28 comeback OT victory over Buffalo last week. The Broncos passing game has been absolutely on fire with QB Tim Hiller passing for eight touchdowns in the last two weeks alone and his 23 TD's rank second in the nation. Hiller tops the MAC, averaging nearly 300 yards passing per game (292.3) and 297.3 yards in total offense per game. Hiller has also been a solid game-manager, throwing only five picks this season. He also has a pair of hot targets as well as WR Jamarko Simmons and TE Branden Ledbetter are 1-2 in the MAC with six and five touchdowns respectively. RB Brandon West ranks third in the MAC in rushing with 90.4 yards per gameCentral Michigan plays its third-straight home game after dispatching Temple 24-14 last week. QB Dan LeFevour left last week's game with an ankle injury but is expected back. LeFevour has not had the audacious numbers of last season but he still ranks second, right behind Hiller, in total offense (280.2 yards) and has thrown for nine touchdowns and rushed for three more. LeFevour is also the team's leading ground gainer. RB Ontario Sneed likewise is not putting up impressive numbers (38.7 yards per game) but the senior tailback has had a nose for the goal-line with five rushing TDs and a pair of receiving TD's. Like the Broncos, the Chips have a pair of dangerous receivers in Bryan Anderson and sophomore Antonio Brown. Combined, the pair have four TD's and are averaging nearly 11 yards per catchThis game will come down to whose defense can make a late stop as both squads possess explosive offenses. The Chips' defense has been improving but is still susceptible to the pass, allowing 258.2 yards per game, which is just slightly worse than WMU's average of 222.7 yards per game. The difference is indeed "slight" between these two but the Broncos appear to have the edge and should avenge last-season's home field loss by returning the favor in front of what is anticipated to be a sold-out Kelly/Shorts Stadium.   
Prediction: Western Michigan 35, Central Michigan 31.
Miami (1-5, 0-2 MAC) at Bowling Green (3-3, 1-1 MAC), Noon
Site: Doyt Perry Stadium
Television: MAC Game of the Week/ESPN Plus
Series: Miami leads 40-19-5. Last meeting: Miami 47, Bowling Green 14 in 2007.
Outlook: It's a matchup between perhaps the MAC's most disappointing team and the MAC's most difficult team to predict. We'll start with the former. Miami, the defending MAC East champion, has been absolutely brutal on offense. The RedHawks continue to bring up the rear in just about every offensive category from points scored (16.7 ppg) to rushing offense (89.5 ypg - the only MAC squad averaging less than 100 ypg) and have scored exactly one offensive touchdown over their past two games. The RedHawks have had a troubling propensity for turning the ball over in their opponents' territory to the point where QB Dan Raudabaugh earned praise for simply not turning the ball over last week in Miami's 17-13 loss to Northern Illinois. Defensively the RedHawks are led by standout LB Joey Hudson whose 68 total tackles this season is the third-highest total nationallyBowling Green meanwhile played through most of last week's game against Akron as if it was still suffering a hangover from the previous week's 24-21 loss to Eastern Michigan until the offense exploded for 23 fourth quarter points in the Falcons' 37-33 victory which put them alone in first place with a very tenuous half-game lead. The Falcons' Anthony Turner continues to demonstrate that he is one of the league's most dangerous multiple-threat performers after rushing for 126 yards, catching five passes for 42 yards and, oh yeah, passing for a five-yard touchdown. Turner will likely continue as the Falcons' featured RB and provides a solid complement to QB Tyler Sheehan who is averaging 241.2 yards passing per game and has tossed nine touchdownsTrends galore here: Miami has lost its last six road games; the Falcons are 0-2 at home; Miami has won 8 of the last 9 in the series with BG winning 7 of the previous 8 games before Miami's stretch of wins. Know what? None of that matters if you can't cross the goal line.
Prediction: Bowling Green 27, Miami 16.
Akron (3-4, 1-2 MAC) at Eastern Michigan (2-5, 1-2 MAC), 1:00 pm
Site: Rynearson Stadium
Series: Akron leads 15-11. Last meeting: Eastern Michigan 42, Akron 34 in 2002.
Outlook:Akron had a chance last week to claim a stronghold on the MAC East but let a 27-14 lead evaporate in the fourth quarter in its 33-27 loss to Bowling Green. The loss overshadowed a tremendous performance by RB Dennis Kennedy who rushed for 182 yards, a career-best and the best rushing performance so far in the MAC. Kennedy and the Zips will be facing an Eastern Michigan team that is giving up 206.7 yards per game which is only slightly better than the Zips' MAC-worst rushing defense of 215.4 yards per game. Last week EMU RB Dwayne Priest rushed for a career high 118 yards against Army in the Eagles 17-13 loss to the Cadets, a team that Akron defeated 22-3 earlier in the season. The Eagles own the MAC's top passing defense, allowing only 143.9 yards per game through the air while Zips' quarterback Chris Jacquemain has tossed a league-high ten interceptions. All signs point to this game being decided by which team can run the ball bestwhich of course means that someone will likely put on an aerial show. The Zips have played tough this season against BCS competition, defeating Syracuse on the road and falling at home in a heartbreaker to Cincinnati. Could the Zips deliver the MAC East's first win of the season over the MAC West? Yep.
Prediction: Akron 28, Eastern Michigan 24.
Army (2-4) at Buffalo (2-4, 1-2 MAC), 3:30 pm
Site: UB Stadium
Series: Tied 1-1. Last meeting: Buffalo 26, Army 19 in 2001
Television: Time Warner Cable Western NY
Outlook:The Bulls conclude their non-conference slate by welcoming Army to UB Stadium. The Bulls are no doubt smarting a bit still after their heart-breaking 34-28 OT loss against Western Michigan Saturday and the Cadets could be just the salve needed to heal their wounds. Buffalo has lost three straight games with their last two losses coming down to the final play, a 27-25 loss to Central Michigan on a missed FG and last week's OT defeat against Western Michigan. The Bulls possess a dangerous passing-receiving combination in senior QB Drew Willy who is third in the MAC averaging 242.7 yards per game and WR Naaman Roosevelt who tops the MAC averaging 93.7 yards receiving per game. The Bulls' James Starks ranks second in the MAC and is one of only two RB's in the MAC averaging better than 100 yards per game (103.0 ypg). The Bulls' second-ranked MAC rushing defense (195 ypg) will be facing an Army squad that runs the triple option offense, and like the cavalry, employs a ground attack. Last week in Army's 17-13 win over Eastern Michigan, the Cadets recorded all 341 yards of offense on the ground, going 0-3 passing. The Cadets have won two straight after starting the season 0-4 and appear to have embraced head coach Stan Brock's newly-introduced option offense. This will be Army's fourth game against a MAC squad this season (lost to Temple 35-7; lost to Akron 22-3). The Cadets rank 111th nationally overall in offense, averaging 288 yards per game and are 100th nationally in turnover margin. While the triple option can be a tricky scheme to defend, Buffalo should get back on the winning track before entering the conference homestretch.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, Army 14.
Toledo (2-4, 1-1 MAC) at Northern Illinois (3-3, 2-1 MAC), 4:00 pm
Site: Huskie Stadium
Series: Toledo leads 28-7. Last meeting: Toledo 70, Northern Illinois 21 in 2007.
Television: CSN Chicago
While the focus of the attention may be on another MAC West match Saturday, this game also has potential divisional title consequences with each team having one loss in conference play. The loser will likely be out of contention already in the top-heavy MAC West. We dont need to recount Toledo's exploits other than to say that the Rockets are coming off of an AWESOME upset win over Michigan last week. But the Rockets' offense has not exactly been humming along and has not crossed the goal line in the past two weeks in games against Michigan and Ball State despite the fact that WR's Stephen Williams and Nick Moore rank 2nd and 3rd in the MAC with 41 and 40 receptions respectively. Making matters tougher this week is the fact that they will be facing a Northern Illinois defense that is number one in the MAC in rushing defense (113.2 ypg), allowing only 3.7 yards per carry and has given up only three rushing TD's this season. The Huskies also own the MAC's top scoring defense, allowing 14.8 points per game; top the league in total defense (they are the only MAC squad allowing less than 300 yards per game), are ranked third in passing defense and have allowed exactly one touchdown over the past four games. Offensively, NIU RB Me'Co Brown is coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts for an offensive unit that is averaging 170.2 yards per game. Redshirt freshman QB Chandler Harnish will get the start this week. Harnish opened the season as the starter before a high-ankle sprain sidelined him until last weekTalk about trends: Toledo has won 14 of the last 15 games in the series, but we go back to what we said in the Miami-BG game: if you can't cross the goal line none of that really matters. Not to take anything away from the Rockets' win over Michigan, but Toledo will be facing a far more complete team than what the Maize-n-Blue offered and the Rockets' performance overall in three of their past four games has been less than impressive. The Huskies' defense prevails as Toledo comes back down to earth.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 24, Toledo 16.
On Tap
The schedule for the week ahead:
Tuesday, October 21
Ohio at Temple, 8:00 pm (ESPN2)
Saturday, October 25
Central Michigan at Toledo, Noon
Eastern Michigan at Ball State, Noon
Bowling Green at Northern Illinois, 3:00 pm
Kent State at Miami, 3:30 pm
Tuesday, October 28
Miami at Buffalo, 7:30 pm (ESPN2)