MAC Championship Game Preview: Grasping At Competitive Straws

Here's the funny thing about championships: they are always billed as epic bouts between two great teams. The problem is ... there's only one great team scheduled to play tonight.

As exemplified in their ranking, No. 24/25 NIU has a better offense than Miami. By far. NIU has the better defense. The better lines. The better special teams. The better coaches. The two-touchdown spread is absolutely correct, other than the fact that it could get much, much worse. You could see a 30-point blowout here. Or maybe I'm being too generous.

Oh, wait, was I supposed to hype this game up so that everybody tunes in and comments like madcats during tonight's live blog? Sorry, I forgot what my role was for a second. (Although please do that.)

But we've fallen into this pit trap before.

In 2008, 12-0 Ball State was supposed to thrash 7-5 Buffalo and maybe get a BCS game. Funny thing was, Turner Gill's boys pulled the upset, and handily: Bulls 42, Cardinals 24. 12th-ranked Ball State was officially thumped, leaving the rest of us stumped.

I suppose that's the type of history lesson that leads us to believe Miami might win the 2010 MAC Championship. No other statistical basis. Just the fact that two teams exist on the same football field, leaving the rest up to random chance. After all, Miami is playing the role Dante Hicks: they're not even supposed to be here today. This is actually supposed to be a NIU-OHIO preview, like we all thought once the Bobcats upset Temple to leverage MAC East supremacy. (And before that, it was supposed to be a NIU-Temple rematch. Stop messin' with my brain, you flatulent division!)

Miami wasn't even supposed to finish more than 6-6 in the conference. (I had 'em at 3-9 before the season.) But they did take advantage of a thin schedule (outside Florida, Missouri, and Cincinnati) to win six games against teams that went 3-9 or worse. Temple is the only quality victory here. The Kent State win was also commendable, especially at the time.

It just doesn't add up. Oh, let's also throw in the fact that Miami is starting their backup quarterback. No disrespect — Austin Boucher beat Temple, after all — but what a time to get thrown into the baptismal flame.

Look, you saw what happened to Toledo in another big game under similar circumstances Like Boucher, Terrance Owens was the freshman quarterback who had to start in place of the injured No. 1 guy, and he was just pulverized all night. Likewise, NIU is gonna make Boucher wish he could donate his spleen to Zac Dysert. Miami's defense can probably hold the Huskies below 40 (which is actually a nice thing to say) but it's a stretch to infer that Miami can respond with more than 30 points on that defense.

If you're tuning in to see a great battle between two evenly-matched teams, sorry to disappoint you. Then again, this is a game in Ford Field, where disappointment was used when mortar was unavailable. But if you do enjoy the fundamental running game and the occasional big play on defense ... well, at least you'll get to see Chad Spann, Chandler Harnish, Jake Coffman, Jerry Kill, and the rest of NIU win their first MAC championship since rejoining the league in 1997. But, hey, that turnaround from last year is pretty snazzy. Guess: Northern Illinois 41, Miami 20

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