The puzzle that is the MAC Championship Game is coming more and more into focus every day. After last night's huge dose of #MACtion known as the Ball St. Cardinals versus the Northern Illinois Huskies, we're here with a clear picture of who can still end up in Detroit in three weeks.
Scenario #1: Northern Illinois wins the MAC West.
This one is the easiest. If Northern Illinois wins in Toledo next Wednesday, they are the champions of the MAC's Western Division. NIU can also win the division, even if they lose to Toledo. If they lose next week, they would need to beat Western Michigan during the final week, and Toledo would have to lose to Akron.
Scenario #2: Toledo wins the MAC West.
This one is pretty simple, too. Toledo must beat Northern Illinois next week, but that is NOT a winner-take-all game on Toledo's side. The Rockets must also beat Akron in two weeks, and even then, they still need help. If they win their final two games, the Rockets must also have either a Northern Illinois win versus Western Michigan or a Ball State loss against Miami in order to win the West. It would seem like a foregone conclusion that both UT and NIU would win their final games -- but you never know. It's not guaranteed.
Scenario #3: Ball State wins the MAC West.
Amazingly enough, Ball State can still win the division, but they need the most help. That help does not seem likely to occur. First, they need Northern Illinois to lose at Toledo. That's reasonable enough, but then they also need NIU to lose against Western Michigan, too. That is very unlikely. Finally, Ball State must take care of their own business against Miami. It's a long shot, but the Cardinals are still alive.
To recap, here are the clinching scenarios for all three West teams...
NORTHERN ILLINOIS CLINCHES WITH...
Win at Toledo OR
Loss at Toledo + Win vs Western Michigan + Toledo loss at Akron
TOLEDO CLINCHES WITH...
Win vs Northern Illinois + Win at Akron + Northern Illinois win vs Western Michigan OR
Win vs Northern Illinois + Win at Akron + Ball State loss vs Miami
BALL STATE CLINCHES WITH...
Win vs Miami + Northern Illinois loss at Toledo + Northern Illinois loss vs Western Michigan
Scenario for Eastern Division: Winner-Take-All
There is only one scenario for the Eastern Division -- whomever wins when the Bowling Green Falcons at Buffalo on Friday, Nov. 29th will win the division. The game will be played at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. A win by the Buffalo Bulls would place them in the MAC title game for only the second time ever and the first time in five years (2008). Bowling Green would also play in their second MAC title game with a win, but it would be their first trip to a MAC Championship Game in Detroit. In their last title game appearance ten years ago (2003), the Falcons hosted the championship game in its last year of on-campus play.
Update for MAC Bowl Projections:
Now that we have the key MAC games for this week, I'm going to update my projections in terms of the pecking order for the MAC teams anticipated to earn a bowl invitation.
Little Caesars Bowl: Toledo (vs. Boston College*)
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Northern Illinois (vs. Western Kentucky)
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Buffalo (vs. Colorado State)
Poinsettia Bowl: Ball State (vs. Boise State)
* - Replacement for Big Ten team
Eligible teams with no bowl:
Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Ohio
As you can see, I've moved the MAC West teams around. Provided NIU isn't going to be in the BCS, I now have them going to Mobile. Why? Because now, I believe that Toledo might be a more attractive option for the final Little Caesars Bowl because A) they're closer to Detroit than NIU and B) they might not play in the MAC Championship game, which is also in Detroit. In other words, Toledo might bring a bigger gate.
This would leave Ball State with either a trip to Boise or one to San Diego, and I think the MAC would love to still have Ball State in a showcase such as a game against Boise State. This is why I keep Buffalo in Boise for now.
And sorry, Bowling Green fans -- unless another bowl spot opens up, the Falcons are still likely on the outside looking in. Only way this changes is if the Falcons beat Buffalo in two weeks. As for Ohio, they have virtually no shot at a bowl game now -- not after their last two performances. They're clearly going to be below the other five teams and, quite frankly, who would want a team that just lost in back-to-back weeks by a combined 79-3?
We'll have another update after the weekend games.