How many Group of 5 teams do you believe are better than Buffalo at the moment? Is Buffalo better than its 9-1 C-USA counterpart, UAB?
Steve Helwick (@s_helwick): This year’s Group of 5 class is stacked, and the committee continues to fail to give the G5 the recognition they deserve. UCF is a top 6 team, and Utah State and Cincinnati belong in the top 16. Then, I’ll take Mountain West heavyweights Boise State and Fresno State before ranking Buffalo.
Although matching 9-1 records, Buffalo is better than C-USA favorite UAB. Although both losses were relatively early in the year, the Bulls lost to a much better team in Army than the Blazers did in Coastal Carolina — although both games were blowouts. Buffalo has the most quality win of the two by defeating Temple, although Week 2 Temple is not the same as Week 12 Temple (the Owls would probably beat the Bulls today, but Buffalo has to be ranked higher). UAB has recorded three shutouts, which is impressive, but we’ll learn a lot about the Blazers when they travel to Aggieland this Saturday and take on Texas A&M.
Dave Drury (@DDrury86): I would say there are four G5 teams better than Buffalo and three that are equal or very close to the Bulls at the moment. I think UCF, Utah State, Boise State, and Fresno State are the four that would beat Buffalo and the three teams that are even with the Bulls would be Cincinnati, UAB, and NIU (yes, of course I have that bias). But that being said… I might have to say UAB is a touch better than the Bulls. The Blazer defense is smothering teams this season, allowing just 13 points per game, but we’ll see just how good they are when they take on Texas A&M this weekend. Either way, these are two very evenly matched teams and I would love to see a bowl game featuring the two.
James Jimenez (@AVKingJames): Sadly for our Bulls, there is an absolutely stacked G5 list of teams to choose from this season who are performing very well this season. Buffalo vs. UAB would be a great bowl matchup (and is definitely a possibility for Frisco consideration) but I think UCF, Utah State and Fresno State are all better in current conditions.
Which team’s road slip-up hurt more last week: Ohio’s loss to Miami (OH) or Toledo’s loss to NIU?
Helwick: Ohio’s loss to Miami (OH) hurt more. The Bobcats basically rid themselves of a play-in MAC East championship game against Buffalo this Wednesday by losing the Battle of the Bricks. Ohio, the overwhelming MAC preseason favorite, now likely extends its championship drought another year, yearning for that first conference title since 1968. This game reminded me of the Akron loss last year — another November game the Bobcats shouldn’t have lost, but did. Now, Ohio is staring down a 6-4 record with Buffalo and Akron to go before bowl season. Not great.
Drury: Toledo’s for sure. While not great for the Bobcats, they can still technically get to Detroit if they win out and Buffalo loses its final two games (one of which is against Ohio). As for Toledo, their loss meant they couldn’t get bowl eligible and were officially eliminated from MAC title contention. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they simply got blanketed by the Huskies. NIU held the Rockets to a season-low 15 points and won by 23… only the Miami Hurricanes won by more (25). It was a rough day for Toledo.
Jimenez: Ohio’s more obviously hurts because not only is it a rivalry game, but it also all but assured Buffalo would win the division. Toledo’s loss is more a preponderance of circumstances as they’ve dealt with injury and inconsistency as well as the MAC West gauntlet. Ohio just done messed up.
Time to move to the hands team. Who are your top 2-3 receivers in the MAC this season, and who is the best tight end?
Helwick: The top three receivers in the MAC are Anthony Johnson, Diontae Johnson, and Scott Miller. I also considered K.J. Osborn, Cody Thompson, and Riley Miller when deciding this. There are lots of common last names in there. Anthony Johnson is a future pro who has suffered with nagging injuries this year, but Johnson proved how dominant he is with that 238-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Miami (OH). Diontae Johnson shined for Toledo last year, and his talent is still evident although he’s not receiving enough targets. Lastly, Scott Miller looked poised in 2016 and has brought his mojo back to currently lead the conference in receptions and yards.
For tight end, it is tougher since Tyler Conklin, Donnie Ernsberger, and Ryan Smith left the conference this offseason. For best, I’ll go with Western Michigan’s Giovanni Ricci, who has been brilliant as a pass catcher all-season. Also, Miami (OH) utilizes tight ends frequently and I’ve been impressed with the play of Andrew Homer. He has 14 receptions, 202 yards, and three touchdowns this year and does a solid job in blocking for the run.
Drury: I have to say #1 is Scott Miller from Bowling Green. It’s hard to argue with his stats…his 61 catches and 933 yards top the MAC and let’s not forget he also has seven touchdowns. Coming in at #2 I would say Ohio’s Papi White (47 catches, 750 yards, 8 TDs). And my #3 would be Buffalo’s Anthony Johnson – averaging 20 yards per catch, 699 yards on the season, and nine touchdowns…that’s a solid year (even though most of his stats came from just two games).
For best tight end…I’m at a toss up between WMU’s Giovanni Ricci, Buffalo’s Tyler Mabry, and Miami’s Andrew Homer. Mabry has really stepped up against Toledo and the RedHawks but Homer and Ricci have been much more consistent threats.
Jimenez: I’m going to have to go ahead and agree with Dave here, he nailed pretty much every selection. Tight end as a whole hasn’t been a revelatory position in the MAC this season (there are no Tyler Conklins to speak of) so there isn’t a lot to learn from there either.
Did Chuck Martin a) save his job with the Battle of the Bricks win, b) does he save it with bowl qualification, or c) is the writing already on the wall?
Helwick: This is a difficult question. From his press conference after one of his best wins as head coach, it was easy to tell he’s frustrated with the university and conference. To me, his reaction makes it seem like the writing is on the wall. Martin lost so many close games in his time at Miami, and still hasn’t finished with a winning record, faring 20-39. A loss to Northern Illinois on Wednesday would seal a fifth-straight season below .500 for Martin, and I think the RedHawks will likely move on if the team is removed from postseason contention.
Drury: I think the win against Ohio saved him… for the time being. A poor showing in the final two games could change things here but I think he was able to at least cool down his otherwise “hot seat” for the time being.
Jimenez: Chuck Martin has been my favorite candidate for getting fired this season, whether midseason or otherwise. I would say making a bowl game would help him keep his job, if it wasn’t for an absolutely bizarre post-game press conference last week where he said the fans hated him and his team and that the people who pay his checks are cheap and that they don’t care about football traditions (which, I mean, that’s a bad thing to say about a conference which thrives on football traditions... or in general, really.)
Midweek MACtion is a controversial subject among MAC fans. Do you hold more weight in the weeknight national exposure or do you prefer better attendance with weekend games?
Helwick: I live in Texas. I grew up a Penn State fan. I have no connection to the MAC. Yet, in high school, I fell in love with the conference by sitting in front of my television whilst doing homework on Tuesday and Wednesday nights because it was the only college football on. Watching Jordan Lynch dump 300 rushing yards on opponents each week made me keep tuning in, and that is why I’m sitting here, writing for this blog today.
For diehard college football fans like me, midweek MACtion is spectacular as it gives the conference its own national television spotlight during the last month of the year. But, it breaks my heart to see so many empty stadiums on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so I understand the argument from MAC alumni that prefer the conference sticks to Saturday games. I know I’d be at Tuesday and Wednesday night games if I went to school in the midwest, and I recommend other fans do everything in their power to attend if they want their teams to get more respect when they turn into the next 2012 Northern Illinois or 2016 Western Michigan.
Drury: I like being able to watch MACtion during the week. But I think it ends up hurting the schools and players in the long run. Because, like most fans, I would rather avoid the cold night temperatures that the Midwest has in late October/November so I skip going to the games in order to sit inside at watch it at home. If it was a day game during the weekend, I’m much more likely to attend. So…while it’s cool to see us on weeknights and gives us something to do on a Tuesday, I’d rather stick to Saturdays.
Jimenez: Ah yes, it’s the annual “Is #MACtion actually bad?” discussion. What it is is a double-edged sword. In an era where now more sporting options than ever, the MAC has to find a way to stay nationally relevant, especially in an environment that favors big money schools. Hell, if it weren’t for MACtion, we might not even be here talking about MAC football. Of course, it’s absolutely abysmal for student-athletes as their schedules are irrevocably screwed up for over a month. There are problems with it, yes, but there are definitely ways to help improve the scheduling process of the MAC and ESPN discuss it, as they have in the past.