Finally! College football returns! Rivalry games, goofy trophies, weeknight MACtion, bowls, clowning the Big Ten, it all takes a backseat to my favorite vice. That is, getting some action down on games that very few others are watching. Oh, we have three of those for you this Thursday! Like our record breaking 2013 season, we'll be picking every MAC game, all season long against the Vegas spread. Joining the Team Degenerate this year is Ngandu Kasuku. There's no lines for the Thursday MAC games as of Wednesday afternoon, because Vegas is terrified and confused about what to expect from MACtion. Either way, I'll be kicking things off, giving you three winners for Thursday's opening games. So find the man with the cigar box behind the bar, haggle over points, fire up the ESPN3, and let's invest entirely too much into the leg of a freshman kicker! Thursday's Week 1 MAC picks:
Howard at Akron
Akron opens up the 2014 campaign hosting the Howard Bison, an FCS school out of the MEAC. Howard started the 2013 season by dropping 5 out of 6, including a season opening thriller at Eastern Michigan 34-24, before rebounding to win 5 of the final 6 and finish 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the MEAC. The Bison put up big numbers to close out the season, topping the 40 point mark in three straight wins. Howard returns two major playmakers, 2013 MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, dual threat quarterback Greg McGhee, and sophomore running back Anthony Philyaw, named to the 2014 All-MEAC First Team.
It's a season of high expectations for the Zips. Many feel that this is the year head coach Terry Bowden takes Akron to a bowl game. Quarterback Kyle Pohl will be instrumental to that mission. The subject of many debates here on Hustle Belt, Pohl, along with veteran running back Jawon Chisholm, will need to get the Zips off to a good start if a bowl game, or MAC East championship is a reality. A loss here sets the tone for a typical Akron season. Howard's a good team, and could likely knock off a MAC bottom feeder. Akron's not one of those. Take the Zips.
Presbyterian at Northern Illinois
Presbyterian is certainly kicking off 2014 with a challenge. Last season the Blue Hose finished second from the bottom in the Big South Conference, 1-4 in league play, 3-8 overall. The losses where substantial. In the eight defeats, the Blue Hose were beaten by an average of more than 20 points. Nevertheless, this is a marked improvement from the 2012 season, where Presbyterian finished winless in the Big South and open the season with losses at Georgia Tech, 59-3 and at Vanderbilt, 58-0.
Northern Illinois begins life in the post Jordan Lynch era. This game certainly would've been scarier for the Blue Hose a season ago, and while plenty of blowout potential still remains, I wouldn't be surprised to see Presbyterian get on the scoreboard. To pick the Blue Hose to win would be a foolish bet obviously, but be leery of a massive point spread as the Huskies adjust to a new name under center. Still, it's the Huskies in a rout.
Chattanooga at Central Michigan
Get your ass on upset alert. Or at least cover the spread alert. The Chattanooga Mocs enter the 2014 season as the #14 ranked team in FCS. Last year the Mocs finished 8-4 overall, and 6-2 in league playing, earning co-champion honors with Samford and Furman. Chattanooga did not receive the conference's automatic bid and were not awarded an at-large invitation. In the final game of the season, Chattanooga was beaten by the Alabama Crimson Tide, 49-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. A rout? Sure, but they played 'Bama closer than Arkansas.
Central Michigan is a tough team to call in 2014. Hustle Belt contributors have predicted the Chips could finish in a number of different spots in the MAC West. Certainly, there's plenty of returning talent, including wide receiver Titus Davis. Last season Central Michigan finished 6-6 overall, and 5-3 in the MAC. That includes a very tight win over FCS opponent New Hampshire, 24-21, on September 7th. The Mocs will be looking to do to the Chips what the Chips will be looking to do to the Purdue Boilermakers a week later. Take CMU, but Chattanooga will hang around.