Follow along in our Little Caesars Pizza Bowl gamethread.
With 35 bowls, how can any specific bowl, sponsored and perpetrated by a greedy money machine, possibly be a good thing for any conference? What, with the travel costs and garish advertorial names of the bowls, it doesn't really seem like a bowl sponsored by warm cheese bread can possibly be something the MAC thirsts to play in.
And for a few years that wasn't the case. But it might be the best facet of MAC football to some. At its best, it's a proven MAC team playing a decent Big Ten team on a neutral field. This isn't Akron-Ohio State, or Kent State-Alabama. It's a team with a chance, but more importantly, it's a team that has been together for a dozen games, rather than slumming through the first month trying to figure out everybody's strengths.
Tuesday, Dec 27, 2011, 3:30 PM CST
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl - Ford Field, Detroit, MI
This is a final exam for Western Michigan. They played through a full season, did a lot of great things offensively, somehow flaunted the MAC Defensive POY, and get to play a Big Ten team who I respect above others because they'll actually — gasp — travel to MAC schools.
What's oddball about this particular matchup is I believe WMU, of the five MAC bowlin' schools, is the weakest of the five. It's not a stretch to say this. They didn't beat Toledo (although scored 63). They weren't close to beating NIU, and it seems like on a neutral field, they'd lose to Temple and probably OHIO. Yet with the "second pick," The LCPB grabbed the Broncos, and it could've been a territorial selection, or the fact that even the fifth-best MAC team is capable of winning this bowl game. So that says a lot about the conference depth this year, something I didn't expect to manifest itself yet.
The MAC-Big Ten dynamic can often grate on me but this particular bowl game, on most years, is a great harmony between evenly-matched teams. Unfortunately in the last few years the Big Ten hasn't shipped one of their own to the shenanigans since they send their eighth-best team — ninth if they get two BCS teams, which they usually do. The Sun Belt alternate team is usually a nice change of pace if the B1G can't fill their slot (just look at last year's game) but every MAC-Big Ten game has been exciting. In 2003 BGSU beat Northwestern 28-24 in Josh Harris' final game. The 2007 variety had a 51-48 shootout with Purdue getting the best of Dan LeFevour and CMU on a last-second field goal. Hey, the little guys can't always win, and they always won't.
I can't tell you who'll win, but it's perceived as another close. Western Michigan, like OHIO, has never won a postseason game. And with a 2-0 start for the MAC in bowl games, you know which way to lean.