Just one game remains in the 2017 college football season. Nine of the ten conferences have completely finished their seasons, including the MAC. As the clock ticked down to zero at Ford Field in Detroit, the Northern Illinois Huskies' loss to Duke in the Quick Lane Bowl marked the conclusion of the MAC football, until next September.
After an 0-6 finish in bowls a year ago, the MAC didn't really recover and post a remarkable result. The conference emerged victorious in one of five bowl games, losing four of them by over 20 points apiece. Let's take a look at each of the five postseason matchups:
Boca Raton Bowl
Florida Atlantic 50, Akron 3
Nobody can say the result of this game was surprising. The Zips deservedly entered the game as 23-point underdogs after a no-show in the first half of the MAC Championship Game. Akron, despite representing the East in the conference's title game, fell to .500 after Lane Kiffin and his Owls put on a full offensive clinic against Terry Bowden's Zips. Akron didn't even cross the pylon in the Tuesday night primetime game — which seemed to be a 3.5-hour Lane Kiffin appreciation special.
Devin Singletary ran all over the Zips with 124 yards and three touchdowns while Jason Driskel finished with two touchdowns through the air and two on the ground. The only positive takeaways for Akron: the team never turned the ball over and the team wasn't shut out (not all MAC teams can say the same, unfortunately).
The most exciting part of the game? Florida Atlantic was leading 28-0 in the middle of the third quarter and scored a touchdown. Rather than make it 35-0 with a guaranteed extra point, Kiffin elected to go for two. Why?
Lane Kiffin said the 2-point conversion was prompted by an Akron athletics official talking trash yesterday. "His bad," Lane said.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) December 20, 2017
Lane Kiffin: expert tweeter and master troll. Akron probably learned its lesson, and the Zips lost by 47 instead of 46.
It's hard to assess the 2017 Akron Zips season for a multitude of reasons. For one, after opening the year to the tune of a 52-0 blowout at Penn State, Akron's expectations shot through the floor. But the Zips recovered nicely with statement wins over Western Michigan and Ohio — and the win over the Bobcats catapulted Bowden's team into its first MAC Championship Game since 2005.
But, Akron looked uncompetitive in the game, trailing Toledo 38-0 at one point in the second half. Then, the Zips (although not really a fair matchup) were run out of Boca Raton by an 11-3 Owls team to finish 7-7. Akron matched its loss total from a year ago, but considering Bowden brought a MAC East title home, I'd consider 2017 a success for Ulysees Gilbert and the Zips.
Ohio 41, UAB 6
Although it's no longer the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Ohio earned some chicken and biscuits after this blowout win. Just like the Boca Raton Bowl, this wasn't really an evenly-matched contest heading into the game. Both teams entered 8-4, but UAB finished 8-4 after facing the 130th ranked schedule in the FBS, which included losses to Ball State and Charlotte.
Ohio didn't even allow a touchdown to the Blazers in Nassau. The Bobcats excelled on both sides of the ball in their first bowl victory since 2012. As usual, Ohio relied on a heavy rushing attack. Dorian Brown 152 yards in 12 carries on his way to claim the MVP award. The senior running back was responsible for four of the six Ohio touchdowns on the afternoon, including a 74-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Nathan Rourke didn't have too bad of a day either, completing 12-of-18 throws for two touchdowns during his first bowl victory as a starting quarterback.
Ohio's 35-point triumph stood as the MAC's lone success in bowl season. The Bobcats may have been the most talented team in the conference this season (as evidenced by a 38-10 win over Toledo), but Ohio choked in its last two games to Akron and Buffalo. Luckily, Frank Solich grouped his gang together just in time for bowl season, and his team's offense was a thing of beauty in the Bahamas. If not for Ohio, the conference would have been winless in bowl season for the second-straight year.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Wyoming 37, Central Michigan 14
If I could use two words to describe this game:
33 total "Josh Allen" mentions (and that's only counting first and last name together) through the end of the first quarter alone. pic.twitter.com/6kpoRyoBNr— Mike Foss (@MikeFossWXYZ) December 23, 2017
If I had another word, it'd be "turnovers." Because Central Michigan turned the ball over eight times, preventing the Chippewas from gaining any offensive momentum in what should have been a close and interesting bowl game. Shane Morris threw four picks and the Chippewas fumbled the ball four times — resulting in four turnovers each half.
Wyoming didn't even score a touchdown in the second and third quarters, allowing Central Michigan plenty of opportunities and time to come back. Other than a 74-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Jonathan Ward in the first quarter, the Central Michigan offense was a disaster. The Chippewas had an opportunity to finish the season on a six-game win streak, but the defense didn't do them too many favors early on. The secondary allowed NFL draft entrant Josh Allen — the man of the hour — to throw three first quarter touchdown passes as all (approximately) 1,756 NFL scouts in attendance stood bedazzled in amazement.
Central Michigan finished with 18 rushing yards, thanks to the offensive line allowing Morris to face the Wyoming defense for five sacks in the backfield. It was an overall disastrous performance for a team that showed so much promise and resilience down the final stretch of the season, including two dramatic comebacks against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.
The worst part about the loss is the fact that the Chippewas' exiting senior class will leave Mount Pleasant without a single bowl victory in four tries. The only other team in the nation that faces the same tough luck this year is Colorado State. At least John Bonamego (and Dan Enos) brought the team to the postseason each year, but Chippewa faithful are still waiting for the team to earn that crucial December victory.
Dollar General Bowl
Appalachian State 34, Toledo 0
It was THAT bad.
The Toledo section at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama watched in shock as the MAC champions couldn't register a single point against Appalachian State. Toledo earned a perfect opportunity at revenge by squaring off against the same opponent in the same state from the previous bowl season. Except this time, the Rockets would actually be favorites, by about a touchdown.
But Toledo's offense looked completely out-of-sync, and the unit was dismantled by a relentless and inspired Mountaineers' defense. Logan Woodside was not himself, and he tossed three picks. And Appalachian State only allowed the Rockets to cross the 50-yard line twice. Toledo didn't even come within 30 yards of the goal line.
Absolutely everything went wrong for Toledo, a team that won 11 games and sported a top-10 offense entering the postseason. The Rockets couldn't contain Jalin Moore, Taylor Lamb, and Appalachian State's run-almost-every-play offense. Toledo never even came close to starting a semblance of a comeback, and the Rockets were pulverized, annihilated, and shredded by the Sun Belt co-champs.
Out of all four losses for the MAC, this one looks the worst because this is the conference's champion. And the MAC champion hasn't won a bowl game since 2011. Toledo couldn't even kick a field goal and leave a trace on the scoreboard in the Dollar General Bowl.
If Toledo had a dollar for every point they've scored tonight, they probably couldn't shop at Dollar General.— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) December 24, 2017
Toledo is an excellent team and this was definitely a fluke performance by Jason Candle's program. But, it's performances like this which could be factored into determining if the MAC even is eligible to play in a New Year's Six Bowl in the future. It is very urgent that the MAC champion wins its bowl game in the 2018 season to reverse this ugly trend.
Quick Lane Bowl
Duke 36, Northern Illinois 14
In between the Dollar General Bowl and the Quick Lane Bowl, Christmas passed. But Santa Claus didn't deliver another MAC bowl victory during his midnight journey to Detroit. Instead, the Huskies would lose their fifth-straight bowl game in the MAC's only battle against a Power Five team this bowl season.
At times, Northern Illinois' play-calling resembled something you wouldn't even do in your wildest dreams on NCAA '14. For example, how does a 4th-and-18 fake punt sound... when you're on your own 11-yard line?
4th and 18 in your own endzone, why not fake it? #MACtion pic.twitter.com/lX55nmdXtV— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) December 26, 2017
And the worst part of the play is that NIU punter Matt Ference throws the ball away out of bounds and short of the sticks, resulting in an automatic turnover. Duke easily scored to go up 14-0 after this debacle. But if the Huskies did earn the improbable first down, they would still have a very long 71 yards to go for a touchdown. So, factoring in the probability of success and the benefit of earning a first down around their own 30, what really was the point of this play?
Despite the fake punt, Northern Illinois managed to tie the game at 14 apiece, thanks to an efficient two-play drive offense. In two consecutive possessions, Marcus Childers completed long passes down the left sideline to set up the Huskies for a couple scores. Duke scored two touchdowns shortly after to conclude the first half, and we wouldn't see the Huskies score again in Detroit.
But we did see some more special teams fun:
Classic set up here by NIU. Eventually not horrifically faking a special teams play will be the fake, and then Duke will be in BIG TROUBLE pic.twitter.com/hMQbZhGNYk— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) December 27, 2017
Northern Illinois only connected on 9-of-16 field goals this season, which is suboptimal. So the fake field goal wasn't as bad of a decision, but the execution was horrific. Missed blocking assignments caused the play to blow up before the holder could even leave the pocket.
But NIU kept going for fourth downs after this. The Huskies broke a college football record by finishing 0-for-6 on fourth down attempts. This is not just the worst mark in bowl history, but the worst in college football history. Northern Illinois was missing a litany of players, but the team's decision making and offensive execution couldn't quite make up for it. The positive outlook from this game: the Huskies can move forward knowing they have the MAC's only AP All-American on their roster. Defensive end Sutton Smith will only be a junior next year, and he is one dangerous pass rusher.
Ranking the bowls by entertainment value, worst to best
5. Boca Raton Bowl (47-point difference)
Most entertaining moment: Florida Atlantic's successful two-point conversion
4. Dollar General Bowl (34-point difference)
Most entertaining moment: Appalachian State went for 4th-and-4 from the Toledo 36 and the Rockets stopped them, but Toledo had about 14 or 15 guys on the field
3. Bahamas Bowl (35-point difference)
Most entertaining moment: Watching Dorian Brown go to work again and again on the UAB defense en route to a 4-touchdown day, and hearing the story of ILB Quentin Poling playing with a "slide burn" after riding a water slide during a team event in Atlantis
2. Famous Idaho potato Bowl (23-point difference)
Most entertaining moment: Being blinded by Central Michigan's all yellow uniforms and Wyoming's yellow pants on a blue field (photo above), or that one time the announcers talked about Josh Allen
1. Quick Lane Bowl (22-point difference)
Most entertaining moment: Watching Northern Illinois' fake punt and fake field goal attempts
The Rose Bowl was phenomenal, as was the Belk Bowl, and the Birmingham Bowl, the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and even the Armed Forces Bowl. But the MAC didn't provide us a single close game. The conference finishes 1-4 in bowl games, but the Pac-12's 1-8 bowl record prevents the conference from finishing last in the standings two years in a row.
The College Football Playoff champion will be crowned Monday to finish the 2017 season. It wasn't the best finish for the MAC, and the conference hopes to improve when the fall of 2018 comes around.