Let’s be honest. There aren't a whole lot of reasons to tune in to specific MAC football teams if you live in the south and are a fan of a major conference football team. Almost all of the teams exist in that Ohio/Michigan/Indiana/Illinois corridor, and yeah, they kinda run together. Sure, there's the occasional P.J. Fleck that catches our eye, or a Jordan Lynch that plays well above the rest of his competition. Yeah, you had to look up Jordan Lynch, didn’t you? I think that proves my point.
So what reason do you have, Auburb fan, to care at all about the MAC? It’s MACtion, of course! We would probably never watch a single Ohio Bobcats game on a Saturday, but football fund are junkies, and somebody has to fill that Wednesday night craving. This year, the MAC has fully leaned it, scheduling ONLY WEEKNIGHT GAMES FOR THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER. Sure, this probably is awful for both the players and the rest of the student body, but it gets eyes on their teams and that equals money. And that's what it's all about, folks.
That being said, there are still some fun storylines to keep an eye on in the MAC this year. Let’s take a look...
With Tuberville moving on from Cincinnati and and Chizik retiring to spend some time with the family, our old friend Terry Bowden is the only former Auburn head coach still coaching this year. Who’dve thunk it?
Ball State Cardinals
I think most Auburn fans have generally enjoyed seeing the resurrection of UAB football, if only because it’s a bit of a middle finger to Bama. On September 9th, Ball State will host the Blazers in their first FBS game back from the grave! UAB had plenty of problems in the program before the program was briefly cut a few years back, so it may be a long way back for them, but the road starts in Fort Wayne, Indiana (well, after UAB opens with a game against Alabama A&M the week before). What’s that? We were supposed to be discussing Ball State? Whoops.
A former Tiger is in his second season on the BGSU coaching staff. Marcus White, a defensive lineman at Auburn in the early Tuberville years, played a few years in the NFL with the Titans before beginning a career as a football coach. He’s put in a few years off the field coaching before coaching the defensive line at Faulkner in 2015, then joining Mike Jink’s first staff at BGSU last year. Although 2016 was mostly a rebuilding year for BGSU, Bill C pointed out the defensive line was actually a decent unit. Although they may be due for some regression this year, White may be able to show he has some potential as a line coach if he can put together a good unit again this year.
I’ll be honest, unless we want to rehash the Turner Gill story from 2008, there’s not much connection between Buffalo and Auburn. But, there is a story line to watch up north this year. Third year head coach Lance Leipold has gone 7-17 through his first two seasons. That’s a forgivable offence when trying to rebuild a struggling MAC program, but with most of the 2016 team coming back, Leipold needs to make some real progress this year. If you don’t recognize his name, that’s understandable, but you may know his story: Leipold led DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater to a 109-6 record with six national championships over eight years. It’s make or break time for the Bulls.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Don’t expect a ton from CMU on a national stage this year. Their out-of-conference games are against FCS Rhode Island, Kansas, Syracuse, and Boston College. They’ve been bowling each of the last five years, but they’ve won either six or seven games every time. However… they’ll probably have a “DID YOU SEE THAT?” moment at some point when none of us are looking. If you’ll remember, the Chippewas pulled off an amazing Hail Mary/lateral each of the last two years. The quarterback and receiver who pulled them off may be gone, but here’s hoping for a third anyways.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Eastern Michigan has been one of those programs in college football that has pretty much always struggled. Before last year, the Eagles had only one bowl appearance, a win over SJSU in the California bowl in 1987. However, somewhat out of nowhere, the Eagles won seven games for the first time since ‘87 and found themselves in the Bahamas Bowl. Who knows if they can replicate it this year, but I’ve always enjoyed keeping up with historic doormats vastly over-performing expectations.
Kent State Golden Flash
Perhaps the most relevant MAC team for Auburn fans this year, the Golden Flash open the season against the defending national champs in Clemson. While there’s effectively a 0% chance they can knock off the Tigers, hopefully it will give the Auburn coaching staff some film to work with on whoever the Clemson quarterback will be this fall.
Miami (OH) RedHawks
Does the name Jordan Diamond ring a bell? I can forgive you if it doesn’t, but Diamond was a class of 2012 Chizik-era offensive line signing. He was a 4* out of Chicago, and while he had plenty of promise, things just didn’t work out form him playing-time wise at Auburn. He became a graduate transfer after the 2015 season and landed at Miami, where he started every game and helped lead a total overhaul of the offense last year. He returns for a 6th season of eligibility this season and leads a promising RedHawks offense as are real contenders for the MAC title this year.
Northern Illinois Huskies
After yesterday’s awful news that Nova is battling a heart condition and won’t be flying in 2017, let’s take a minute to remember another school’s former mascot. NIU’s husky Diesel, who passed away in 2015, was a very good dog and left us with a fantastic gif of him highfiving his human during a 2013 game against Ball State. The NIU alumni are attempting to raise money to memorialize their beloved in a sculpture. If you’re willing and able, help them out!
There’s not a ton to look forward to here that I can find. Look for yet another 6 to 8 win season under Frank Solich, the one constant in the MAC where coaches either get hired to better jobs or get fired for the next big upcoming FCS coach. Solich has been at Ohio since 2005, and the only coaches with longer tenures are Ferentz at Iowa and Patterson at TCU. I guess there’s something to be said for consistency.
Toledo’s mascot is a rocket. NASA, a big part of Huntsville, Alabama, used rockets to get us to the moon. To get to the moon, the rockets had to be piloted by astronauts. Only 24 people in the history of man have flown to the moon, including one Ken Mattingly*. Mattingly is an Auburn alum (an awesome one at that). See, I can connect Toledo to Auburn!
Western Michigan Broncos
Western Michigan’s early schedule definitely doesn’t allow them a chance to reset after losing head coach P.J. Fleck to Minnesota after a magical 2016 in Kalamazoo. They open the season with playoff contender USC, then the next week travel across state to Michigan State. If they had gotten the Spartans last year, money would have been on the Broncos to pull off a major win for the program, but Michigan State is due for at least a modest upswing after an awful 3-9 2016. I’m not saying all is lost for the Broncos after losing probably the most fun coach of 2016, but first year head coach Tim Lester has his work cut out for him.
Hopefully you’ve found some reasons to check out the teams in the MAC this season!
War Eagle everyone!
*Yes, I know he didn’t get to fly on Apollo 13. He DID get to go on Apollo 16, though.