How surprising was the MAC Championship result, and what’s your key takeaway from that game? Do you think Miami (OH) is the best team in the conference?
James Jimenez (@AVKingJames): Well, the two teams who made it were certainly a surprise. As for the game itself, Miami has seemed to have CMU’s number in cross-division games recently, winning the last three that I can immediately recall. So perhaps it isn’t all that surprising the RedHawks won. But what makes it so shocking is the way they did it. They gut-punched CMU right at the start and never let the foot off the gas until the fourth quarter, when they tried to save their lead. In terms of Miami being the best team in the conference... no. CMU came in with a questionable gameplan and refused to make adjustments, playing right into Miami’s preferred style. If the RedHawks had faced Western, they’d have lost. If Buffalo had been the MAC East winner, they had a big chance of winning. They earned the title, but they’re certainly not the best.
Steve Helwick (@s_helwick): In a balanced year like this, nothing is surprising in the MAC anymore. Miami’s victory wasn’t as stunning as Northern Illinois’ 19-point comeback over Buffalo last year, but the RedHawks established themselves early with Maurice Thomas’ kick return, and they never looked back. Chuck Martin’s team played solid defense and Central Michigan never got into offensive rhythm because of it. My key takeaway from the last two MAC titles is defense goes a long way in these title games. Two-straight seasons have seen a strong defensive team overcome a high-powered offense and eke out a close win. Still, I believe Western Michigan or Buffalo is the best MAC team. Buffalo won five of the last six, playing nearly flawless football on both ends. Western Michigan brought home the MAC’s Offensive (LeVante Bellamy) and Defensive (Treshaun Hayward) Players of the Year, have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in Jon Wassink, and beat Miami and Central Michigan by a combined score of 69-31. How the Broncos didn’t win the MAC West is still a mystery.
Dave Drury (@DDrury86): The way the MAC season went in 2019, I’m not surprised by the result at all. The underdog outplaying the favorite was just the way the season seemed to go. As for Miami being the best team… I’m not sure. The MAC was crazy this year, especially in the West. Every week it seemed like a favorite would drop a game to a team that they should have beaten. I think WMU probably is the best overall squad in the MAC… but you have to give credit to Miami for winning the games they needed to win.
VanNieuwenhze (@thevannzee): Well, as one of two Hustle Belters to correctly predict the outcome of the MAC Championship Game, I was not surprised with the outcome. I believe that Miami is playing its best football at the right time, outside of their Ball State loss. Just a solid, experienced club which hurt its record playing Ohio State, Iowa, and Cincinnati in non-conference. I felt that Central was still a year away and I still believe that, which is scary for the rest of the MAC next year. Was Miami the best team in the conference? I don’t know about that but they were the best team at Ford Field on December 7.
Kenneth Bailey (@michexposures): I’m kind of surprised. I thought with the way Central beat Eastern and Toledo, they’d have no problems with Miami. My key takeaway is that there is a ton of parity in the MAC.
Looking at the bowl schedule as a whole, what’s the most intriguing MAC matchup? What’s the least intriguing one?
Jimenez: The most intriguing matchup has to be Pitt vs. EMU in the Quick Lane Bowl. EMU finally gets to play a game fans can travel to and against an oppoment who can leave themselves vulnerable in Pitt. It’ll be a de facto home game for the Eagles, and I look forward to seeing a lot of happy fans at the game. In terms of least exciting game, I really can’t get up for Ohio vs. Nevada. Idaho usually tends to be a dud for the most part, and the matchup seems pretty blassé.
Helwick: The most intriguing MAC bowl matchup is Buffalo vs. Charlotte. The Bulls finished the season as one of the hottest teams, winning five of six and dominating on the ground. Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks have been on another level lately, and the 1,000-yard rushing duo will try to lift the program to its first bowl win in history in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, this will be Charlotte’s first bowl game ever after first-year head coach Will Healy led his 49ers to 5-straight victories to finish 2019. It’s also the first bowl game and the Bahamas Bowl generally is entertaining as one of the most unique atmospheres.
I find the LendingTree Bowl between Louisiana and Miami (OH) to be the least appealing matchup. Miami won the MAC, but the RedHawks seem outmatched by a Ragin’ Cajuns team that won 10 games and nine by double-digits. Louisiana destroyed Ohio in Athens earlier this year too, and Miami must have its offense and defense hitting on all cylinders to make this one interesting in Mobile, AL.
Drury: I think there’s a lot of interesting matchups here. I think the WMU/WKU game has the potential to be the most fun to watch but the CMU/San Diego State and Ohio/Nevada games will also be close games. The least intriguing has to be EMU/Pitt… sorry Eagle fans, but Pitt should roll Eastern here.
VanNieuwenhze: The bowl schedule is very exciting and its great that it is so exciting for so many schools. The matchup that gets me going is the Quick Lane Bowl between Eastern Michigan and Pitt. EMU has had a rough season but gets rewarded with probably the highest prestige bowl of any MAC school against a Power Five foe in Pitt, whose fans are not happy about playing a MAC school. Huge opportunity for Eastern and the MAC.
The least intriguing matchup to me is probably the Frisco Bowl with Kent State and Utah State. Its awesome for the Flashes to be in a bowl game and I have picked them often this year but having to stop a potential first round pick in Jordan Love for the Aggies is a tall task.
Bailey: I think you know my answer to that. Eastern Michigan versus the school that poached it’s athletic director.
(Pitt hired former Eastern Michigan AD Heather Lyke in March 2017)
All-MAC teams were revealed last week. Which player that missed First Team was most deserving of an appearance?
Jimenez: I think, for the most part, they got the First Team All-MAC right. It’s hard to know what the criteria is, what with the coaches voting on it, but about the only qualm you could argue is that Sam Sloman probably deserves to be first-team kicker. As much as I love Matthew Trickett and his ice cold clutch kicking, Sloman was as automatic as they came all year.
Helwick: All-conference teams are revealed too late. I’d prefer to watch conference championships and possibly the bowl games unfold first. Even before the MAC Championship, Sam Sloman gets my vote for All-MAC kicker and for the conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year. He’s money and proved it against Central Michigan by sinking 4/4 field goals, including a trio from 40+. For a college kicker, 25/29 is spectacular and 11/14 is NFL material.
Drury: I 100% agree with James here. I think they mostly got it right with Sloman being the lone snub.
VanNieuwenhze: I would say Sam Sloman, the kicker for Miami and one of the stars of the MAC Championship Game. He just played a loaded position with Matthew Trickett from Kent State. It was a loaded league at halfback too with Jonathan Ward, Bryant Koback, and others not making the first team. A personal favorite of mine is Quintin Morris of Bowling Green. If he played in a better offense, he would have been a shoo-in for first team.
Bailey: Mike Glass
Toledo is the only bowl eligible team not participating in the postseason. Being a MAC blog, we all wish Toledo earned a bowl bid, but the cards don’t always fall that way. Putting objective hats on, are the Rockets the team you would have snubbed from the field of 78?
Jimenez: Probably, yes. There’s an aura of stink around the Rockets right now which is hard to ignore. They’re broken, battered and just plain uncompetitive over the last couple weeks. They’re also churning over most of the staff this offseason, which is something I’m sure bowl committees took into account as well. Simply put, Toledo should be relieved they weren’t picked.
Helwick: Who would I have snubbed? Hugh Freeze’s Liberty Flames. For one, they’re only in their second year of FBS and many teams waited long times in the transition phase. Two, Liberty has seven wins. Two are over FCS teams and four are over teams with 1-2 wins. That leaves one Liberty win (over Buffalo in September) that was worth anything. Even Akron possibly gets to four wins against that schedule. But Toledo was the practical choice for MAC teams to leave out of bowl season. The Rockets are used to bowling with better records, and the team is incredibly banged up and getting worse each week, culminating in a 49-7 rout at Central Michigan to cap a 3-game skid. Regardless, it’s still unfortunate the seniors have to go out without a bowl game.
Drury: Sadly, yes. They started the season off well but the last two months or so they were just so hit or miss… mostly miss. Had they started slow and finished strong, I would have said they deserved a bowl bid. But, as they seemed to get worse and worse as the season went on, I’m not sure they deserved one.
VanNieuwenhze: They beat Eastern Michigan, so I see their point but they just weren’t the same team which beat BYU. They really fell back once they lost Mitchell Guadagni to injury. They probably just weren’t as attractive to the Quick Lane Bowl as Eastern Michigan, and Kent State had a better story. Regardless, Toledo should have made it over a Liberty Flames squad which beat Buffalo, New Mexico, UMass, New Mexico State, and two FCS schools.
Bailey: I’m not sure Toledo was actually snubbed. I think they decided that not going to a bowl was better than going to one and losing.
Chris Creighton, Lance Leipold, and Sean Lewis have all greatly progressed three struggling MAC teams since their hires. Eastern Michigan, Buffalo, and Kent State are all bowling this year. Which rebuild effort are you most impressed by?
Jimenez: I’ve been very impressed with Sean Lewis. Creighton had a reputation for turnarounds before coming to EMU, and Leipold has a championship pedigree at the lower levels, so I expect them to do well. This is Lewis’ first stab at being a head coach, and in just two seasons, he’s turned Kent State from a perpetual loser into a competitive bunch who gives their all regardless of opponent. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the turnaround is that he’s done it despite the fact Woody Barrett never quite turned out. Lewis’ development of Dustin Crum from a read option specialist to a gunslinger has been a sight to behold, especially late in the season when a bowl was on the line. Most of all, Lewis has given fans in Kent hope for the future, which is something that hasn’t been there in quite awhile.
Helwick: This is tough. Lewis and Leipold could each claim their program’s first-ever bowl victory this year, so those are quite rebuilding efforts. Lewis’ two-year overhaul of Kent State is fascinating because turning a perennial doormat into a bowl team that quickly is unheard of — especially with a brutal schedule of Wisconsin, Auburn, and Arizona State. For most impressive, I’ll go with Creighton just because of the sustained success of his tenure. Eastern Michigan is competitive in nearly every game and is bowling for the third time in four years after doing so zero times from 1988 to 2015. Long gone are the days of 1-11 and 2-10 seasons — the Eagles are a threat to beat any MAC team on any given day. Creighton has slayed three Big Ten foes in a row and he can claim the greatest win school in history when Pitt comes to Detroit for the Quick Lane Bowl.
Drury: I would say that Sean Lewis and Chris Creighton’s efforts are the most impressive. Lewis, in his first head coaching gig, has turned around a perennial bottom feeder and Creighton’s Eagles have knocked off P5 teams in three consecutive seasons… which is something no one would’ve guessed.
VanNieuwenhze: The conference is in great shape coaching wise, with no coaching changes being made this year (knock on wood). Coach Creighton and Coach Lewis took over two of the worst situations historically in college football. Lewis won six games while sacrificing three games to Power Five teams, or we’d be discussing Kent State a whole bunch more. For EMU to be making its third bowl since 2016 and back-to-back is just unfathomable considering where it was when Creighton arrived.
Bailey: I would have to say Chris Creighton. He took a team that hadn’t gone to a bowl game in a long time and has taken them to one in 3 of 4 years. But I think he still has a long ways to go as he still needs to win the MAC.
Let’s go beyond the MAC to finish off this roundtable. What are your favorite NY6 matchups and favorite non-NY6 matchups this bowl season?
Jimenez: The Rose Bowl between Oregon and Wisconsin should be a very odd one to partake on. With Justin Hebert and Jonathan Taylor left out of the Heisman debate this season, I wonder if they’ll have something to prove there. As for non-NY6 games, Alabama vs. Michigan in the Citrus Bowl is gonna be must-see TV if you’re a fan of schadenfreude. Neither team is going to be happy with an additional loss, but at least one of those teams will be absolutely obnoxious with a win.
Helwick: Ohio State-Clemson is easily the best CFP semifinal matchup ever and could deliver the second thrilling semifinal game ever, the first being Georgia and Oklahoma’s overtime barnburner in the 2017 season’s Rose Bowl. But the Penn State-Memphis Cotton Bowl certainly deserves a shoutout because Memphis’ skill position players like Kenneth Gainwell and Antonio Gibson are exhilarating to watch, and the Nittany Lions counter with a star-studded defense. Arlington has a really interesting battle between the Lions and Tigers.
For non-NY6 bowls, everyone else is going to say Alabama-Michigan, so I’ll go a different route. I want to watch Washington State QB Anthony Gordon pass 85 times for 700 yards (he’s 606 away from setting the NCAA single-season passing record) in the Cheez-It Bowl while Air Force tries to ground the ball to death. The Cheez-It Bowl stole America’s hearts last year and I’m so amped up for this year’s version, especially with Mike Leach coaching in it.
Drury: I’m excited to see the Clemson-Ohio State match up. Chase Young vs. Trevor Lawrence will be a fun one to watch.
As for non-NY6, the Minnesota-Auburn meeting in the Outback Bowl and the Citrus Bowl between Bama and Michigan are my two favorite matchups.
VanNieuwenhze: My favorite New Year’s Six game is probably the Sugar Bowl with Georgia and Baylor, mainly to see who Baylor really is. I like what Matt Rhule is doing there and Georgia will be a great measuring stick. In my non-MACtion fan time, I identify as a Michigan Wolverines fan and their game against Alabama will be interesting. The last time they played in a bowl game was the 2000 Orange Bowl which featured both Tom Brady and Shaun Alexander playing their final collegiate games and my dad took me — it’s one of my favorite sports memories. One more game, Iowa State vs Notre Dame. That’s winnable for the fighting Matt Campbells.
Bailey: For NY6, Virginia versus Florida because I don’t think Virginia has any business being there. For non-NY6, Alabama vs. Michigan. Two teams with big expectations that failed to deliver this year.