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MAC Blogger Roundtable, week 12

November 18, 2010

The MAC Blogger Roundtable this week is hosted by Falcon Blog, the Bowling Green blog.

1. Northern Illinois is having a nice season and appears to be getting stronger. Do you think NIU is a Top 25 team as of today?

Yes, I’ve considered Northern Illinois a top-25 team for most of the season, and their decisive win over Toledo last week only solidified my opinion. Right now I’d put them at about #20.

2. We talk a lot about skill players, but the game of football is often won and lost on the front line. Evaluate your offensive and defensive fronts, including your best players.

EMU fans have spent a disproportionate time discussing exactly this issue. Before the season started, left tackle Bridger Buche was considered not only the best player in EMU’s o-line, but the most likely offensive player from EMU to make it in the NFL, and I’ve seen nothing that would lead me to change that opinion. Of 8 players on the two-deep for the o-line, five should be back next year, so things should continue to be solid, and that may point toward an improved inside running game in 2011.

The d-line has been more of a problem for EMU the past two years, as evidenced by the pitiful run defense, but again, things should be looking up for next year. EMU’s current starting d-line is a redshirt freshman, a sophomore, and two juniors, so they’ll all be back, and three of the four backups will also be back next year.

While skill players can sometimes come in and make an immediate impact as true freshman, play on the line tends to be more strongly correlated with age. Freshmen and even sophomores just don’t usually have the size and strength to hold up at those positions. EMU has been at a bit of a disadvantage, particularly with this year’s young d-line, but also in that most of the players on the o-line and d-line were recruited by Jeff Genyk. Improved d-line play, in particular, makes me hopeful for next season.

3. Similarly, special teams are an often overlooked part of football. Evaluate your special teams thus far this season and what contribution they have made to winning….or losing.

Special teams are obviously important, and the omission of special teams (except for field goals) is one of the truly salient criticisms of college’s overtime rules. EMU’s special teams have certainly had their ups and downs. Early in the season, the punting game was particularly good. Jay Karutz was briefly one of the top punters in the nation, which, combined with a good story (he was an amateur Australian-rules football player whose family scraped together thousands of dollars to send him to the US to try out for several teams) got him plenty of attention. On the other hand, more recently EMU has given up several touchdowns on kickoff returns. I guess it’s a good thing that the team punts a lot more than they kick off!

4. To date, what is your best memory of this season? And what memory are you currently seeing therapy to block from your memory.

EMU has given fans a lifetime of bad memories in 2009 and 2010. Lowlights from this fall include blowout losses at Rynearson Stadium to Central Michigan and Toledo, the 52-6 loss at Vanderbilt, and frustratingly narrow losses in the first two games (to bowl-eligible teams, no less!).

There have only really been two highlights for EMU this season. The first was the thrilling, back-and-forth season opener against Army with the scoreboard and public-address system inoperable. Even though the Eagles lost the game, it was exciting, there was a good crowd in attendance, and there was something special about just watching the game with no scoreboard and no announcer. The second highlight for EMU was, of course, the comeback from down 21-0 and 28-7 to beat Ball State in overtime. As an EMU fan, there’s no one I’d rather break a losing streak against than the Cardinals. Speaking of which…

5. BG and Toledo have their rivalry game this week, and your team has has one on the schedule somewhere. Do you think rivalries are important to the quality of play in the MAC, or are they a distraction that make it harder to get up for other games.

Rivalries are part of what makes collegiate athletics great. Playing the same opponents, year after year, in multiple sports, adds a dimension that even the most heated professional rivalries can never have. I actually feel like the MAC has a shortage of good rivalries, partly because there have been so many membership changes and partly because no team has really sustained success. Just for fun, let’s list all the football rivalries:

  • Michigan MAC Trophy (EMU, Western Michigan, Central Michigan)
  • Bronze Stalk Trophy (Northern Illinois-Ball State)
  • Cannon Trophy (Central Michigan-Western Michigan)
  • Peace Pipe, aka Battle of I-75 (Toledo-Bowling Green)
  • Wagon Wheel (Kent State-Akron)
  • Anniversary Award (Kent State-Bowling Green)

Those are all the trophy games in the MAC. Seven games a year, in the entire conference. Add to that just three noteworthy non-conference rivalries:

  • Battle for the Bell (Ohio-Marshall)
  • Victory Bell (Miami University-Cincinnati), the nation’s oldest ongoing non-conference rivalry
  • Penn State-Temple; no trophy, just the longest active streak of one football team over another

Among MAC teams, only Buffalo has, so far as I can tell, no noteworthy rivalries. That may be because they are a recent addition, not only to the MAC (late 1990s) but to Division I sports (football: I-AA in 1993, I-A in 1999; men’s basketball: 1999).

6. Rank ‘em.

Go ahead, drink the Kool-Aid!

I saw nothing to make me change my ranking from last week until Ohio beat Temple last night, so with one minor change (swapping those two teams) here it is again:

1. Northern Illinois
2. Ohio
3. Toledo
4. Temple
5. Miami
6. Western Michigan
7. Kent State
8. Bowling Green
9. Central Michigan
10. Buffalo
11. EMU
12. Ball State
13. Akron

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