MAC blogger roundtable, week 5
This week, the MAC Blogger Roundtable is hosted by Buffalo blog Bull Run.
1) Throughout the summer the MAC has been mostly left out of expansion/raiding conversations EMU athletic director Derrick Gragg seemed to hint that there are serious thoughts about adding more team(s). Dust off your DeLorean and tell us what the MAC looks like in 2014. Who stays, who goes and who’s new? What would your realistically ideal MAC look like.
There were some rumors floating around that Temple would depart for Conference USA, but I’ve also heard that Conference USA will only take them if they go with all sports, not as a football-only member, and I’m dubious that Temple would pull all the other sports out of the Atlantic 10; when you actually look at where Conference USA schools are located, and then start thinking about the cost of sending their Olympic sports teams on all those trips, any gains from increased football revenue would get eaten up pretty quickly.
Assuming that no school wants to go the UCF route and ignore geography in picking a conference, the possibilities for new teams to join the MAC seem limited. I don’t see any Big (11) Ten schools dropping down to the MAC. Depending on exactly how the conference reshuffling goes, and on the state of each school’s athletic program at the time, the top candidate to drop down to the MAC is probably Iowa State. Cincinnati and Louisville might also be viewed as long shot possibilities, but I think it’s much more likely that, if one or both were to be left out of the top tier of conferences, they would head back to Conference USA.
In terms of more lateral moves, the leading candidate would have to be Western Kentucky, but that also seems unlikely. The Hilltoppers have actually been a Sun Belt member for 28 years, despite their recent rise to FBS, and they have a heated multi-sport rivalry with fellow Sun Belt Conference member Middle Tennessee State University, only a few hours’ drive distant.
That leaves just the possibility of teams moving up from FCS. Geographic fits in this category include Youngstown State, Indiana State, Illinois State, Western Illinois, Southern Illinois, and Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley Football Conference; Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky from the Ohio Valley Conference; Valparaiso, Butler, Dayton, Drake, and Morehead State from the Pioneer Football League; Saint Louis, Dayton, Xavier, Duquesne, and St. Bonaventure from the Atlantic 10 (which might help draw Temple into the MAC as a full member); Western Illinois from The Summit League. Also, while they do not currently field a football team, Cleveland State (Horizon League) is apparently considering starting one, and while they might intially play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference or Pioneer Football League, they could be an eventual candidate for MAC membership.
2014 is pretty quick for a school to start up a new football program, so for purposes of this hypothetical, we can probably ignore Cleveland State, as well as any other non-football, Division II, or lower school. If the mega-realignment happens, my hope would be for a 16-team MAC, with the 13 current members, plus Iowa State, Youngstown State, and Xavier.
I’ve also read some intriguing ideas about pulling several FCS schools in and becoming a multi-level conference, which would function as a single conference (Division I) for basketball and other sports, but as two conferences (one each in FBS and FCS) in football. The MAC could then add one “conference” game to the schedule and make it a cross-subdivision game. That would create an easier method to schedule FBS-FCS games, and it could also ease the path for FCS schools wanting to move up or FBS schools moving down, since rivalries would remain generally intact across the move and there would be no disruption to other sports.
2) Most teams’ out of conference schedules are now winding down. Who has had the most disappointing and the most surprisingly impressive set of OOC games?
There’s been plenty of suckiness to go around, but I love to pick on Ball State, and I won’t hesitate to do so here. I think they’ve had the most disappointing set of non-conference games. Despite scheduling two FCS teams and Big (11) Ten bottom-dweller Purdue, they only managed one win. Against Iowa, not only did the Cardinals fail to score, but they didn’t even have any scoring opportunities; they only managed to cross the 50-yard line once, reaching the Iowa 39-yard line before punting. That’s why Ball State remains my MAC cellar dweller, followed by Akron and then EMU. Hey, the Eagles may be on a 16-game losing streak, but at least all those losses were to FBS teams! NIU has also been a little disappointing, just because I had them picked as the best of the MAC, and they haven’t been looking like it.
As far as surprisingly impressive non-conference games go, it’s harder to find them. Only Temple has a winning record in non-conference games right now, but they’re right where most people expected them to be. Toledo, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, and EMU each have two non-conference games left. If EMU manages to win either of their games (at Virginia, at Vanderbilt), that would exceed expectations. Toledo still has games against Wyoming and at Boise State. Central Michigan has games remaining at Virginia Tech and at Navy, both of which are fairly good teams. Western Michigan has a very winnable game coming up against Idaho, and plays at Notre Dame in a couple weeks; if Western Michigan is a bit better than we think and if Notre Dame is worse, the Broncos could get to 5-3 or even 6-2 by the end of October.
3) Which MAC Coach, new or not, should sit upon the hottest seat in the conference?
I think things are probably heating up for four coaches. Rob Ianello’s seat at Akron has got to be warming up with an 0-4 start, including the loss to Gardner-Webb, but it’s his first year so he should be safe. Things are definitely starting to heat up for Ron English, and will continue to do so until the team gets him a win, but they are showing some improvement, expectations for the program are low after 14 consecutive losing seasons, and the EMU administration continues to signal strong support. The Ohio Bobcats are off to a disappointing start after being picked by many people to win or finish second in the conference, but one year after winning the MAC East, Solich’s job is probably safe. Stan Parrish probably has the most to worry about. After going 12-0 in the 2008 regular season and being ranked as high as #12, the team has gone 3-14 since Parrish took over, including two losses to FCS teams (New Hampshire, Liberty). The Cardinals do have the benefit of getting the two other worst MAC teams (EMU and Akron) in Muncie.
4) I am asking out of order for a reason: Rank them first to worst.
3. Northern Illinois
4. Central Michigan
6. Kent State
8. Miami University
9. Western Michigan
10. Bowling Green
11. Eastern Michigan
13. Ball State
5) Of the bottom five teams which one(s) do you think have the best chance of making some noise in conference this season? And of the top 4 who is most likely to fall apart?
After losing at Iowa State and at Illinois, Northern Illinois’ win over Minnesota still doesn’t have me totally convinced that they can live up to the pre-season hype, and while I don’t think they’ll drop to the bottom of the conference, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they wind up somewhere in the middle of the pack.
As for the worst teams, Akron, Ball State, and EMU are unlikely to manage more than one or two conference wins each this year, and those wins will most likely come when they play each other. Bowling Green and Western Michigan both have a chance to shake things up, but I think Western Michigan has a much more favorable schedule; the Falcons will have games at Temple, at Toledo, at Ohio, and at Central Michigan, while the Broncos won’t have to face Temple or Ohio this year. Western Michigan’s toughest remaining MAC games are probably at Central Michigan and home against Northern Illinois. But it’s not inconceivable that when these two teams meet in Bowling Green on the day after Thanksgiving, a bowl trip might be on the line.