We're doing fun things this summer. Like dream and reminisce and giggle and cavort and simulate 16 MAC football teams from the last 15 years in a full season.
Team Selection: I'm picking at least one team from each school, representing the best team they ever had in the past 15 years. I want to include everybody; I don't just want a handful of Marshalls and Toledos usurping the experiment. Additionally I tried to make it so that a simulated team wouldn't have two sets of players. So, 2008 Dan LeFevour won't have to play 2009 Dan LeFevour. That's too much Dan, even for me.
Methodology: 16 teams in two divisions, named "Ealey" and "Lambert" for two iconic MAC football players. They're each going to play a 12-game schedule. After that a four-game playoff will commence, with the division winners hosting the opposing division's runner-up. The championship game will be simulated on a neutral field. I'm going to use WhatIfSports.com for the simulation. They have all sorts of weather elements you can use, but I'm just going to play it straight and use fair temperatures.
This list is obviously not ordered according to rank ... that's what we're trying to figure out here, boys.
THE BEST TEAMS FROM EACH SCHOOL SINCE 1996
2000 Toledo Rockets (10-1, 6-1 MAC)
Ah, the halcyon days of one-loss MAC teams not reaching a bowl game. By virtue of losing to Western Michigan, they conceded the division and a chance at the coveted Motor City Bowl. Beyond the WMU loss they trounced the competition by a 386-104 margin, including three shutouts and two defensive showings with six or fewer points. That includes the opening 24-6 walloping on Penn State, featuring offensive coordinator Tom Amstutz pumping his fist in the press box like a happy dude should. On the field this was a lethal team in Gary Pinkel's final year with the Rockets featuring the mighty powerful running back Chester Taylor.
2000 Western Michigan Broncos (9-3, 6-1 MAC)
And speak of the devil. Gary Darnell's zenith season didn't include a bowl either but they did take Marshall to the wire in the MACCG. The defense allowed a meager 11.6 points per game and registered a win at Iowa, along with that key 21-14 victory over Toledo and a regular season 30-10 pounding of said Marshall team. For all their troubles they accounted for a ridiculous 14 of the 60 all-MAC honorees — six first, seven second, one honorable mention, including MAC Player of the Year running back Robert Sanford. This team was better than you remember.
2001 Kent St. Golden Flashes (6-5, 5-3 MAC)
This was KSU's last winning season, something you can never take away from former coach Dean Pees — at least until they win again. The jewels on this team included a freshman quarterback named Joshua Cribbs and some senior linebacker named James Harrison. I wonder if they're still friends today.
2003 Miami RedHawks (13-1, 7-1 MAC)
Looking for an early favorite to win this thing? Here's your dog. They lost 21-3 to Iowa in the first week, who finished ranked eighth in the country. Then they went ballistic. A nail-biter win against Cincinnati and a curious 38-30 showing at Kent State were the only games they didn't win by multiple touchdowns. They made short work of BGSU a week after the Best Football Week Ever™, proceeded to beat them again in the MAC Championship Game and cakewalked over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. It put Ben Roethlisberger in rarefied air: almost 4,500 yards, a nearly 70 percent completion rate and a 37-to-10 TD/INT rate.
2003 Northern Illinois Huskies (10-2, 6-2 MAC)
Ah, and the team that was supposed to be the darling of the '03 season. They began 7-0 featuring wins over Maryland and Alabama (!!!) ... then were defeated at Bowling Green on a day where ESPN GameDay decided to show up to a MAC game. They salvaged the season with Michael Turner leading the MAC in rushing and turning that into a neat little NFL career. Other teams in the future may have reached bowl games or won bowl games or actually won a MAC championship, but this one felt stronger than them all.
2003 Akron Zips (7-5, 5-3 MAC)
It might be fair to say the '03 season, above all other recent years, was the deepest and sweetest in MAC history. Maybe we ought commemorate it in 10 years, ya think? And if you want a team that proved that theory, take the '03 Zips. Miami, NIU, Marshall, Toledo, BGSU ... they were all excellent. Through all that, Akron trailed only Miami in scoring per game (36.3). Couldn't defend very good but that's not the point! The '05 team may have won a MAC championship but they only claimed a third of the MAC East crown. And give me Charlie Frye over Luke Getsy any day.
2004 Bowling Green Falcons (9-3, 6-2 MAC)
This was supposed to be the painful year. Gone was Josh Harris and in strutted some dreadlocked weirdo named Omar Jacobs as quarterback. All he did was set an NCAA record for TD/INT ratio (41:4) and helped pour out 44 points a game, fourth best in the country. You knew something was special when the team only lost by two scores to Big XII champion (and second-ranked) Oklahoma. They didn't get to the MAC Championship but they did turn Memphis into toast in the GMAC Bowl.
2005 Eastern Michigan Eagles (4-7, 3-5 MAC)
I mean, gotta pick some EMU team, right? The 6-6 squad from this past season truthfully went 4-6 against the FBS and the '05 team, while not particularly astonishing in any light, did play a tough schedule. They only lost to Cincinnati by two touchdowns and for the season finished +11 on turnovers. The QB/RB/WR combo of Matt Bohnet, Anthony Sherrell and Eric Deslauriers might not be all too memorable, but the defense was better than the offense. had 10.5 sacks on the year. For a brief moment we thought coach Jeff Genyk might be onto something here.
2008 Buffalo Bulls (8-6, 5-3 MAC)
Far and away their best season in MAC history. A conference championship. A bowl game. A non-losing record! And that's how Drew Willy, James Starks and Naaman Roosevelt went into UB lore. It's also how Turner Gill became coach of Kansas, but that's another story. In terms of pure points they aren't one of the greatest MAC teams but they held their own. 30 points a game was up there in the ranks but their magnum opus game against...
2008 Ball St. Cardinals (12-2, 8-0 MAC)
...This team, the fattest thing to hit Muncie since Garfield. It was a padded schedule, natch, but wins over Indiana and then the entire MAC through the regular season brought quarterback Nate Davis into the limelight. A sour ending — losing the MACCG and then the GMAC Bowl — pushed Brady Hoke into a better job and any chance at continuing the immediate success out of the imagination. Bonus: for this simulation they'll get Dante Love for the whole season: you might remember he had a near-paralytic injury midseason.
2009 Central Michigan Chippewas (12-2, 8-0 MAC)
If a Dan LeFevour didn't make this experiment the whole thing would've been tainted and subject to ridicule. His senior year had some majestic moments: a wackyballs Michigan State victory, a third MAC championship in four years and that scintillating overtime GMAC Bowl victory against Troy. LeFevour re-wrote the record books then had them laminated, while Antonio Brown was a wideout and return threat. Defense was pretty might too, thanks to dudes like Frank Zombo and Nick Bellore.
2011 OHIO Bobcats (10-4, 6-2 MAC)
Perhaps not a dream season — definitely not when compared to their basketball season counterpart — but a MAC Championship trip and a thrilling bowl victory in Boise certainly helps make them the grandest team to represent Athens for some time. This team had no undulating moments, they were basically a steady zeppelin winning games with offense, defense and special teams. LaVon Brazill one-handed catches were the focal point of any excitement, but 10 wins in a season always helps too.
PRODIGAL MAC SONS
1999 Marshall Thundering Herd (13-0, 7-0 MAC)
The last undefeated team the MAC has seen. Chad Pennington was nearly flawless as he threw 37 TDs to 11 interceptions. That defense was just merciless. 10.5 points allowed per game was best in the country. Their reward for going 12-0 in the season: a Motor City Bowl berth, trouncing BYU and finishing 10th in the AP poll. Pennington finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting and the team featured six other first team All-MAC players.
2011 Temple Owls (9-4, 5-3 MAC)
They didn't know it at the time but it'd be their MAC swan song, fittingly their best season during their brief time with the conference. They won their first bowl game since five years before The Cosby Show debuted. Bernard Pierce set records before darting to the NFL early and four first team All-MACers were represented.
We are not including a Central Florida team, mostly because we don't want to, but also because I don't think we nor they remember them even being in the conference.
2011 Toledo Rockets (9-4, 7-1 MAC)
This has to be one of the most entertaining MAC teams of all time. When wackiness manifested itself, Toledo was there. Do I even need to regurgitate their travails? Sure I will: a near-win at Ohio State, a blown PAT call against Syracuse, a combined 252 points for/against in back-to-back Tuesdays, and a Military Bowl victory only because Air Force magically botched the perfect trick play. And Eric Page. AND ERIC PAGE. I have to include them.
1997 Miami RedHawks (8-3, 5-2 MAC)
One of the more unheralded teams of the 90s. JoJuan Armour was MAC Defensive POY thanks to 7 sacks and 24 TFL. The RedHawks upset 14th-ranked Virginia Tech and their offense put up 37.5 points per game, fifth best in the country, helped along by Travis Prentice's 1,549 yard and 25 touchdowns.
And those are the teams. Place your bets, make your guesses and keep on tuning back into the site as we simulate the season. We'll also keep track of some statistical leaders if we're feeling lucky.
1997 Miami RedHawks
2000 Toledo Rockets
2000 Western Michigan Broncos
2001 Kent State Golden Flashes
2003 Miami RedHawks
2004 Bowling Green Falcons
2005 Eastern Michigan Eagles
2011 OHIO Bobcats
1999 Marshall Thundering Herd
2003 Akron Zips
2003 Northern Illinois Huskies
2008 Ball State Cardinals
2008 Buffalo Bulls
2009 Central Michigan Chippewas
2011 Toledo Rockets
2011 Temple Owls