On Friday night, in front of a suspected record crowd at Ford Field, there’s either going to be extreme exuberance or significant sadness as the Western Michigan Broncos dream season is going to continue or come crashing down to the turf thanks to the Ohio Bobcats. We’ve been here before, you know, with a Cinderella season underway and a heavy favorite ripe for the picking.
Like in 2013 when the MAC East champion Bowling Green upset undefeated and 14th-ranked West champ Northern Illinois. How about 2008? MAC East champion Buffalo knocked off 12th-ranked and undefeated MAC West champ Ball State. History says massive underdogs from the MAC East have a fairly good time against undefeated ranked MAC West Champs.
And so we find ourselves now, as Championship Friday dawns, with the next chapter about to be written in this historical trend. This week has been WMU-focused by nearly everyone outside the program, Hustle Belt included. The story of the P5/G5 split and how WMU could easily be passed over for a major bowl despite being undefeated was the story of the day/week/month in our lead up. Of course, that took one sizable thing for granted: that WMU would end Friday night unblemished. Ohio may have something to say about that.
On paper, it’s not a contest worth watching. WMU is explosive, perfect, and unblemished. They are the super model that you have no chance with. You know this. She scares you. Ohio is gritty. They aren’t perfect. They are the woman at the bar with some tread off the tires but she intrigues and excites you anyway. Yes, Ohio lost to a lowly Texas State squad. They also damn near beat Tennessee. And did beat Kansas. What they lack in flash they make up in substance. And that isn’t limited to their teams.
There couldn’t be more of a mismatch under the headsets, or more of one that exceptionally demonstrates the differences of both these squads. PJ Fleck, the flavor of the day and the show pony that every fanbase short of Ohio State is ready to dump their incumbent for is a ball of energy that seems poised to go supernova at any given moment. He’s a Red Bull spiked with a sprinkle of crystal meth and you are enamored with all that he is because of all you are not. He’s finesse, flash, and fun, just like his squad.
Frank Solich is the polar opposite. He’s grizzled. He’s tough. He’s forgotten more about coaching and how to win than many coaches will ever learn. He’s turned Ohio in to a winner, which in and of itself is an accomplishment beyond belief. He’s smoky, seasoned, and salty much like your grandfather’s scotch that you drink not because it’s good but because you’re a man, dammit, and that’s what men do. Like his coaching counterpart, he is also what you’re not, and you know there’s no way you’ll ever match him. You’re not even sure if you want to.
There’s star power all over the field in this contest, as the recently awarded season end awards for the conference centered around both WMU and Ohio. For the Broncos, P.J. Fleck was named Coach of the Year, wide receiver Corey Davis was named Offensive Player of the Year, and returner Darius Phillips named Special Teams Player of the Year, with quarterback Zach Terrell earning the Vern Smith Leadership Award. For Ohio, defensive end Tarell Basham was named Defensive Player of the Year and safety Javon Hagan was named Freshman of the Year. The strength of one versus the strength of the other. Sign me up.
The questions after this game, contingent of course on the outcome, will likely range from career advancement to bowl placements with a sprinkle of MAC perception thrown in for good measure. But for now, it’s all about the football as this Showdown in Motown takes center stage in the football landscape. Get ready.
Your pertinent info for the MAC Championship:
Kickoff Time: 7:00PM
Stream: WatchESPN app, pending provider participation
Radio: Streamable via the TuneIn app
Weather: It’s in a dome. So, pretty much perfect.
Line: Western Michigan -17.5, steady from the open. Total points sits at 58.5, up from an open of 55.