2014 Preseason Bowl Projections: Can the MAC Crack the Four Team Playoff?

Tom Pennington

Just two seasons ago, the Northern Illinois Huskies became BCS darlings, playing the Florida State Seminoles in the Discover Orange Bowl. With the new CFB Playoff System, can the MAC sneak in again?

We've done it! It's finally here! The College Football Playoff, here to represent the underdogs and give everyone a fair chance! (Except, not really.)

Many college football pundits clamored for a playoff after the infamous 2011 BCS Championship, which paired Alabama and LSU for the third time that season. Now that they have it, what exactly does it look like? I'll let our motherblog explain that here. The short answer is, it doesn't look great for the G5 schools, who will probably still have chances to play in the 39 (!) other bowls.

So where will the MAC be bowling, who will represent the #MACtion, and who will test the might of the MAC?

Here is how we'll do it: I will be looking at both the CBS Projections, based on record and tie-ins, and the SB Nation Projections, based on cluster bids, lower bowl selection committees, and money. After showing the projections, I'll quickly give analysis and predict the winner (and try not to be biased.)

The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl-- Boise, Idaho, 12/20/2014

(SB) Northern Illinois Huskies v. Washington State Cougars -or- (CBS) Northern Illinois Huskies v. Nevada Wolf Pack

Last season, Buffalo played the San Diego State Aztecs in this bowl, and it was not pretty. The normal seeding is MAC 2 v. MWC 2-7.

Northern Illinois was a quarter away from double BCS glory before Bowling Green messed that up for them. They finished with an overall record of 12-2, with losses in the MAC Championship and the ensuing bowl game vs. Utah State. There are a lot of questions regarding the 2014 Huskies, including who is the starting quarterback, and how is the defense going to hold up. That being said, they will run the ball with efficiency, and should be set in the secondary.

NIU wins against Nevada, 24-14, but loses to Washington State 35-24.

Camelia Bowl-- Birmingham, AL, 12/20/2014

(SB) Ohio Bobcats v. Arkansas State Red Wolves -or- (CBS) Toledo Rockets v. Arkansas State Red Wolves

This is a new bowl, with tie-ins to the MAC 3 and Sun Belt 3.

The Ohio Bobcats continue their famous bowl streak according to SB Nation, and could face an Arkansas State Red Wolves squad that is renowned for their ability to adapt. The Bobcats are expected to have a decline from last season, which was already a disappointment. That being said, no one can deny the impact that Tarrel Basham will have on football games, and as we pointed out already, lower expectations could be a good thing for Ohio.

Toledo has an arsenal of stockpiled talent at all key positions and is expected to win its division this season. A staunch offensive line should protect whoever is the primary quarterback, and it will be near impossible to get a pass over a solid Rockets defensive back corps, not to mention the individual greatness of Junior Sylvestre.

Ohio loses to Arkansas State 31-24, while Toledo wins 24-14.

Boca Raton Bowl-- Boca Raton, FL, 12/23/2014

(SB) Florida Atlantic Owls v. Buffalo Bulls -or- (CBS) Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders v. Buffalo Bulls

This is the second of three new bowls with a MAC tie in, pitting the MAC 4/5 against an at-large in Conference USA.

The Buffalo Bulls might not have Brandon Oliver or Khalil Mack this season, but Joe Licata looks to develop into a top-caliber quarterback under head coach Jeff Quinn's direction. They have a solid offensive line, and that will help accelerate the development of the new running backs.

Buffalo steals a win against Florida Atlantic, 24-23. They also find a way to win against the Blue Raiders, 14-10.

Bahamas Bowl-- Nassau, BAH, 12/24/2014

(SB) Marshall Thundering Herd v. Toledo Rockets -or- (CBS) UTSA Roadrunners v. Ball State Cardinals

The last of the new bowls, with a C*USA at large vs. MAC 4/5.

All sorts of possibilities await in paradise, as the polls simply could not agree on who was going to this bowl.

We've already mentioned Toledo, so we'll go to Ball State instead. The Cardinals are in their post-Keith Wenning era, but that shouldn't hold them back, as they will be relying mainly on the feet of Jawuan Edwards. They also return Ben Ingle on defense. Under Pete Lembo's leadership, the Cardinals had a banner year last year, losing their bowl game last year at the last minute vs. Arkansas State. They would be hungry to avenge that.

Marshall loses at the last moment to Toledo 35-34. Ball State finally gets a bowl win 38-13.

The Detroit Bowl-- Detroit, MI, 12/26/2014

(There seems to be a lot of disagreement between the two sites regarding when and where the bowl is, so I'll be using SB Nation's date and time, since they are the only site to project a MAC team.)

Syracuse Orange v. Central Michigan Chippewas

This game is normally an AAC at-large vs. a B1G at-large, but SB Nation tabs CMU as a replacement for the B1G representative. (RIP Little Caesars Pizza Bowl)

Oh hey, look: a rematch of the September 13th match-up in Mt. Pleasant. That makes for an extremely great potential rematch between teams that are trying to make a name for themselves in their respective conferences.

The Chippewas are looking to turn the page from two bad seasons and two kinda okay seasons and build some sort of consistency. They return the most starters in college football, ninety-one starts on the offensive line, a top ten quarterback in terms of total offense in the MAC last season in Cooper Rush, and of course, Titus Davis. That's before we even mention the 4-2-5 defense that fields Justin Cherocci, Leterrius Walton, and friends.

Central wins thanks to home field advantage, 21-13.

Bitcoin Bowl-- St. Petersburg, FL, 12/26/2014

(SB) Akron Zips v. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

The Bitcoin Bowl has nothing to do with these two selections, but seismic swirling of usual suspects creates this matchup, which is normally an AAC at-large vs. C-USA at-large matchup, with an ACC conditional.

Much matchup. Very football. Wow. Okay, so it's not the Dogecoin Bowl, but it is the Bitcoin Bowl, and the two projected teams are just as wacky as the bowl name.

The Akron Zips were the darlings of the MAC last season, just barely losing to Michigan and finishing 5-7 last season, well above expectations. Once again, Kyle Pohl and Jawon Chisholm will lead the Zips attack on offense, where they hope to finally reach a bowl and give Akron some non-LeBron news to be happy about.

Someone has to win. I go with Western Kentucky's athleticism over Ohio's experience. 14-10.

Armed Forces Bowl-- Fort Worth, TX, 1/2/2015

Tie-ins are usually between the AAC at-large and Army.

(CBS) Houston Cougars vs. Ohio Bobcats

We already talked Ohio. Army doesn't look likely to make bowl eligibility this fall, and the MAC is a secondary agreement in that case.

Houston wins the Battle of the Big Cats, 35-24.

GoDaddy.com Bowl-- Mobile, AL, 1/4/2015

MAC 1 vs. Sun Belt 2

(both) Bowling Green Falcons v. South Alabama Jaguars

Finally, some agreement. That makes my job a little easier.

Bowling Green surprised everyone last season by beating nationally-ranked Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game. Now, they get the target on their back this season. Head coach Dino Babers is installing an Air Raid offense that worked to perfection at Eastern Illinois and Baylor. It should work at maximum efficiency under quarterback Matt Johnson and a stacked receiver corps, with Travis Greene in the backfield as an added bonus. Their defense looks to be solid as well., making the Falcons a formidable opponent.

USA loses as the Falcons run all over their colors, 45-14.

That's right: the MAC will not crack the CFB. At least, not this season. But these projected match-ups show that there is definitely a reason to be optimistic heading into the season.

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