So, uh, what a year in the MAC, eh?
With no clear-cut favorite, it’s been anyone’s game in terms of winning the conference outright. Of course, it’s been hard to project exactly how each team will do, given that this year, more than most years, there’s been a lot of tumult at the most important position on the field: quarterback.
Whether due to injury or performance, nine of the MAC’s 12 member programs have performed a swap at QB, and that has pundits (ourselves included) curious as to how the rest of the season plays out.
Just to go over the changes thus far, let’s examine every team’s quarterbacking situation to this point:
- Akron: Thomas Woodson (six starts)
- Ball State: Riley Neal (four starts, injured), Jack Milas (two starts), Zach Blair (two appearances, potentially in mix to start)
- Bowling Green: James Morgan (five starts, benched due to performance, reclaimed job), Jarret Doege (one start, three appearances, benched due to performance), Grant Loy (one appearance)
- Buffalo: Tyree Jackson (four starts, injured), Drew Anderson (two starts, potentially in mix to start permanently)
- Central Michigan: Shane Morris (six starts), Tony Poljan (appearances in all six games at QB and WR by package)
- Eastern Michigan: Brogan Roback (five starts)
- Kent State: Nick Holley (three starts, injured), Mylik Mitchell (original QB2, injured pre-season), George Bollas (three starts, rotating with Dustin Crum), Dustin Crum (burned redshirt, three appearances, potentially in mix to start)
- Miami: Gus Ragland (six starts, injured), Billy Bahl (one appearance, starting Week 7)
- Northern Illinois: Ryan Graham (one start, injured), Daniel Santacaterina (four starts, benched for performance), Marcus Childers (four appearances, in mix to start)
- Ohio: Quinten Maxwell (three starts, benched for performance after initial rotation), Nathan Rourke (three starts, elevated to starter)
- Toledo: Logan Woodside (five starts)
- Western Michigan: Jon Wassink (six starts)
That’s quite the list, when you look at it that way.
In my time covering the Mid-American Conference, I can’t recall another year where there was as much shifting at that particular spot by every program. It’s amazing, really, to see it happening as early and as often as it has.
Last week was especially weird when it came to that. Garret Loy popped in for a play for BGSU, Billy Bahl had to lead a potential game-winning drive at the end of the game, Marcus Childers replaced Daniel Santacaterina after one pass (!!!) and Drew Anderson threw for 597 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions to break multiple conference single-game records in his second career start.
And that’s not even the weirdest part. Tony Poljan played receiver and led the Chippewas in rushing in their Week 6 victory againt Ohio. Yes, both CMU quarterbacks were on the same field for multiple drives.
At least one backup quarterback, Nathan Rourke, seems to have won the job permanently. Bahl and Anderson are in due to injury. CMU, NIU and Kent State seem to be trying to employ some sort of platoon system. Right now, there could potentially be as many as five different teams in the midst of a midseason quarterback battle.
That’s a level of turnover which should raise alarms.
For a conference that has been concerned with trying to rise above the average in the Group of Five race, the MAC’s unpredictability does seem to potentially affect its perception from outside pundits. Consistency and sustained performance are big deals in terms of placing teams in polls and rankings. How can you rank what you don’t know?
From a distance, it looks like many teams are trying to get young players in-game reps in the hopes of finding something down the road. Poljan, Crum, Childers and Doege are all young quarterbacks that have potential to be the starter in the near future. That said, if they can contribute now, put them in and see if they can be a positive influence.
Three teams could find themselves favoring an unknown talent over the incumbent starter. Ohio’s already made the turn with Rourke, who has been sensational in his six appearances. Buffalo, meanwhile, could potentially switch to Drew Anderson (who threw one pass prior to 2017) to try and win now rather than give the prototypical but inconsistent Tyree Jackson. NIU, meanwhile, is trying to find the right cog at QB and will keep rotating until they find someone they fall in love with. Is it Childers? Santa? Or will they stick by the incumbent Graham when he comes back?
Some teams, indeed, are desperate.
Kent State has been forced into platoon mode after all-everything QB Nick Holley went down. Holley took over the job last season after Mylik Mitchell, a promising prospect in his own right, had a season-ending injury. Ball State has found themselves in a pinch as well, with Riley Neal out for an extended amount of time and being forcd to rely on two options that haven’t quite shown upside as of yet.
In a way, this should be expected.
The MAC graduated two of the better pro QB prospects last year in Cooper Rush and Zac Terrell. Many other starters in 2016 were developing prospects or learning the position and were prone to potential calamity.
It just so happens everything decided to go haywire in the Year of the Improbable Becoming Real.
Maybe in this crazy year that we’re currently trying to survive in one piece, we don’t deserve boring, predictable football. Why be assured in who is leading your favorite MAC squad when you can get some reps in for the future? Why not see what the kids on the bench have got?
Sometimes, the lack of predictability can lend an aura of intrigue to games. And if there’s one thing that #MACtion could always use more of, it’s intrigue, especially on a national scale come the heart of the conference season.
Will it be the best football? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain: the youngsters are going to make things as entertaining as possible.
And that’s never a bad thing.