Gather ‘round, citizens! The MAC is back, for better or worse, which means we’ve got to get together and talk about what could potentially be ahead for the Best Little Conference in the Midwest.
After months of uncertainty— and two different content schedules— several members of our Hustle Belt crew got together to discuss the ramifications of the truncated season, and who they beleive will benefit or be hurt by the new changes.
In case you missed the momentus news and need to catch up on the details, we’ve got you covered right here in this handy article.
Pour your best wine into your most worn flagon and let’s get to the questions.
Hustle Belt: Now that the MAC is back, how are you feeling personally about the 2020 season (as a fan or someone covering the sport)?
Alan Rucker, managing editor: I’m excited to see the MAC back but I do think this was a missed opportunity to capture the attention solely if they had waited until Spring. I’d rather be a sole performer than lost in the sea of top level talent. This isn’t the year that the MAC will crash the NY6 and now they are competing for tv coverage and such with everyone else. More over, with the recent rule changes to allow basically any team to get a Bowl I’ll bet the MAC gets virtually shut out of that also.
Dave Drury, NIU football contributor: While I love MACtion and am happy to see it back, I have to agree with Alan - especially since they’re only doing a half season. It’ll be great to watch those six weeknight games but I would’ve rather done a more complete spring season than just six games because every other conference jumped back in.
Keith Gregorski, general football contributor: I’m excited about it. It really hasn’t been college football for me without MACtion. I would have liked to have seen a full conference schedule but I’m happy to get at least some games. I think that there are pros and cons to a fall vs spring schedule but that it is in the best interest of the MAC and it’s players to keep a fall schedule, like the other FBS Conferences, if they can do so safely.
Zack vanNiewenhze, EMU football/basketball contributor: I accepted a long time ago that this fall was not going to be normal. As someone who went to more games than weeks in the season last year, without fans, tailgating and all that goes into the game day experience I know it won’t be the same. However, the student athletes have made it clear that they wish to play and as fans/media for us having six weeks of a season even from a far is better than not. I believe that they can do it safely and with no more inherent risk than what you see from the general student bodies. I am viewing it how I view spring games but I am getting more optimistic after the other games this past weekend seemed more normal and let’s be honest, weeknight MACtion usually features sparse crowds so that won’t be that big of a difference. Going to have to tailgate in the driveway with some Whiteclaws or something to watch the games to make it feel more normal.
HB: The MAC has a six-game schedule starting in November, with a month straight of weeknight games. How do you think that changes the season? Who does it favor? Will it have any effect on the field?
AR: I think like most leagues this year whoever manages protocol and testing the best will win the league. Especially given the length of time for quarantine and isolation if needed.
DD: I think it evens everything out in the MAC and there are no front runners right now. With so few games to make up ground, any team could get to the MAC CG. And if a team gets hit with a big number of positive tests it could ruin their season fast. Two weeks missed is 33% of the season, which is a huge impact to a team.
KG: I agree that the COVID-19 management could be a big factor with so few games. If everything works out there, I’m interested in seeing how teams like Kent State perform. Without non-conference games, Kent State avoids the wear and tear from games at Penn St, Alabama, and Kentucky. Kent was on a roll to end last year and they may be able to get off to a faster start with more manageable opponents
ZV: Well, they didn’t leave much wiggle room and as we have seen across the college football landscape that cases pop up and games need to be postponed from time to time so we will see. We will have to see the scheduling here to determine who has an easier road. I will be curious to see if teams treat it as a spring ball scenario and split up the playing time to get guys some experience. I am sure that the early games will be rough. The MAC is in a good position with few coaching changes, but I really hate this for a team like Bowling Green in their second year under Scot Loeffler and finally having their QB able to play. The starting and stopping of development has to be rough. I also hate it for schools like EMU and Kent State who are at new heights and now have this oddity of a season.
HB: With no bowl restrictions this year, how many teams do you think could feasibly make an appearance? Would you want your team in a bowl game with a losing record?
AR: I think most MAC teams will be shut out. My guess is the conference champ goes out of obligation and maybe one more. Anything over two will shock me.
DD: Sadly, I agree with Alan again here. I think that only playing six games and being the last to start has really hurt the MAC’s chances at any sort of post-season run. The Sun Belt has looked real good this year already and same with the AAC so I would be shocked if more than one MAC school went bowling.
KG: Without any restrictions, I would expect a drop in the number of MAC teams that go bowling. That being said, as of now, there are still over 40 bowl games scheduled and I still see a winning record as important, even if it is not required. I see MAC teams with strong W/L records still being in the hunt for a bowl. I think the majority of college football fans are not interested in bowl games with teams who have losing records, even without that restriction.
ZV: It is hard to say, I’ve seen some things about APR (adacemic progress rating) which is a cool way of doing it. With so many schools starting at different times and playing a different amount of games, it’s hard to predict these things. Before the season I think you had to like Buffalo, CMU, WMU, Miami, Toledo and Ohio as likely bowl teams with Kent State, EMU and Ball State as close. I don’t know if that changes but I think that you want those extra bowl practices and the exposure that comes with it.
HB: A truncated season means less opportunity for seniors and grads to prove themselves on the field. How do you think it might affect their pro prospects?
AR: I’ve always been in the camp that the nfl will find you regardless. It will be far easier this year than last year for sure.
DD: I think the NFL scouts will be looking at a lot more film and paying closer attention to pro days and combine results than previous years. But I don’t think it will affect prospects too too much.
KG: I see some good and bad here. Post season bowls like The Senior Bowl and The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl are important for exposure and competitive to get a spot. With significantly fewer games, there is less chance for players to show why they should earn a shot over a player who has played. That being said, there are still MAC players listed on the Senior Bowl watch list. I think the biggest factor may be the pro days, which I feel will likely be in play this year. I think that no pro days last year cost a few MAC players in terms of not being drafted.
ZV: The pandemic really hurt the MAC in the 2019 draft cycle and it’s probably going to continue in 2020. Smaller school prospects need that exposure against the power five schools and really need to get back to having pro days. The MAC has some good draft prospects like Tommy Doyle, Mike Brown, Malcolm Koonce, and Jaret Patterson so I like the odds that we see more players drafted than the two last year but having any fall schedule gives them a better chance than what a spring schedule would have. Really I love this news for those average seniors who are not likely to ever go pro and now get to have another season before they start their lives as MACtion alumni in the real world. Also, I love this for the digital media members and content creators of the MAC or just those behind the scenes who work all year for a season and now get to do what they do.
HB: What does the TV package look like for the upcoming season? Will the unique schedule help or hurt the MAC in terms of exposure?
AR: Hurt. Major hurt. There’s so much sporting things compressed into such a tight window. I just don’t see the MAC taking top billing. Plus there’s the potential for rescheduled events and the like from bigger conferences. It’s going to be a mess.
DD: The weeknight games help some but with so many make up games and a condensed season already, I think the MAC won’t get the same exposure as they usually do. And, since there is so little chance that a team gets to a bowl game and no chance for a school to upset a P5 team, the MAC is already in a bad spot.
KG: There still might be less football TV competition during weekdays as compared with regular Saturdays but the the week of Thanksgiving could be crowded if games from other conferences are shifted to weekdays.
ZV: I think that it helps in terms of exposure. MACtion is a brand and is known for being somewhat zaney. Well, that style of football fits in with 2020. I can’t see media partners like ESPN and CBS Sports wanting less content in a time like this. We could see fewer ESPN+ games, and more on the ESPN family of networks especially without the NHL or NBA until after football season.
HB: A season is a season, ultimately. Who should be considered the favorites in this strange schedule, and will it be considered an asterisk season?
AR: Given the weirdness of the year so far I have to go with Ball State. My heart will always be with the Cards and it would be fitting that the year they finally win the MAC the rest of the league would asterisk it. We won’t. WINNERS DONT HAVE TO, LOSERS.
DD: I have no clue how this year is going to go. I would certainly consider this to be an asterisk season but I think Buffalo takes the East and, in an already crazy year, I say EMU wins enough of those close games and takes the West. Buffalo wins it MAC CG though.
KG: The MAC should be very competitive this year, with four contenders in the East and four/five contenders in the West. Each team has its questions and a big factor will be the elimination of key cross-division games against tough opponents due to having only 6 games. I like Buffalo in the East but I wouldn’t rule out Ohio, who seems to do better when they are not the favorite. In the West, I like CMU but WMU is right there depending on QB play. I think there are enough games to eliminate an asterisk.
ZV: I don’t think it will get an asterisk but we will remember it as such, in my opinion. Again, I just feel like we need to get through this season with as much of a season as possible and be grateful for what we get safely and then hopefully back to normal next fall. I just have to say, as an EMU alum, what if this is the year when Chris Creighton gets the Eagles to win the MAC or play in a MAC title game and fans can’t be there? Anyways, I really like Buffalo, I feel like with pandemic football fewer bad things can happen via the run vs the pass and Buffalo with Patterson and Marks can really eat. I think that teams with strong coaching staffs will rise up, Jim McElwain in Mt. Pleasant will have those guys ready. I worry about Toledo having significant coaching staff changes but keep in mind that some of these schools haven’t stopped “practicing”.