So we finally have the bowl matchups. One surprise selection out of turn set the rest in motion, but there are great arguments for each of the five games going in favor of the MAC. And sorry, Ball State. It was a nice season and great havin' ya. But you conceivably needed one more win.
Temple can very well win this. By bringing their bread and butter to the desert, namely running the ball and playing tough defense, Wyoming can be beaten. The Cowboys finished third in the MWC behind Boise State and TCU, the latter of whom they played very well. When we last saw them they began 3-0 with a narrow win at BGSU, and since have topped San Diego State and Air Force. The Owls usually show up against out-of-conference opponents, but have yet to win a bowl in the MAC era. If they can do their thing with Bernard Pierce and the stingy defense, I feel we should finally accept Owls Nation into the fold of the MAC and lay off 'em ... until next season.
Interesting one here. On one side you've got the Bobcats, a sound team defensively who can win a game with a score in the mid 20s. Then there's Utah State, the team that almost opened the season with a win at Auburn, yet faltered through the early season with a freshman quarterback before winning five games in a row with their backup quarterback, mostly in shootouts. USU has an offensive/defensive makeup similar to Northern Illinois except they don't have a dual-threat quarterback.
For what it's worth OHIO also has a five-game regular-season winning streak, but of course ... that blasted MAC Championship game is still a sore subject to discuss on the streets of Athens. I do believe the Bobcats have the capacity to win this.
This is where the selection process got goofy. Obviously because Toledo was plucked by another bowl, supposedly against a "better opponent," WMU was promoted to the second-best MAC bowl, even though they seemed destined for a weird, mysterious destination. Now they get a home game in their home state and the Big Ten finally sends a team to this bowl for the first time in four years. Purdue did all right in the Big Ten, holding their own and besting Illinois and Ohio State. Assuming Alex Carder heals up by then, they'll have a great test since the Boilermakers haven't allowed a 300-yard passer since, of all teams, Middle Tennessee State in the opener. Their run defense won't have a huge test against Purdue but must do their job so that they're not playing catch-up.
Wonderful imagery for something called the Military Bowl. Airplane pilots and rockets. They couldn't have planned it any better. Fortunately for the Rockets they should be the favored team here. They've never played Air Force in their history nor have they defended any sort of triple option in quite a while, but in terms of standard run the Rockets do rather well. AFA's best win is against 4-7 Navy so of all the MAC bowl games, this seems like the surest victory.
And heeeere's the fun one. Arkansas State quietly but forcefully danced their way through the Sun Belt and have won nine straight games. But while their offense has been studly during this stretch, it's been their defense which has helped them mostly win, allowing less than 19 points per game. Circle this one, because the annual MAC/Sun Belt brag-off might be the only bowl game, if any, which holds substance in respect to the MAC.
Overall thoughts: Looking back I think a realistic (with a chance of sunny-side optimism) puts the MAC at 4-1 in bowl season. They've gotten thrown around in these games in recent years but I say this because each game is winnable. In terms of most likely winners to least likely, I'll go with Toledo, Temple, WMU, NIU, Ohio.