Spring practice has been over for only a month. The NFL Draft wrapped up just last weekend. Temperatures are (finally) starting to warm here in the land of #MACtion. How should we celebrate?
By talking about postseason football games that won't be played until snow is on the ground next winter, of course!
Jerry Palm, the resident "bowl expert" for CBSSports.com, has released his projections for the 2014-15 Football Bowl Subdivision bowl schedule and the inaugural College Football Playoff, and he has called for a record eight Mid-American Conference teams to participate in the festivities.
The bowl landscape is much different than last year, particularly for the MAC. Including the new playoff games (semifinals and championship), there will be 39 postseason games this year, and those will require 76 teams. Last year, there were 35 bowl games that required 70 teams.
For the MAC, gone is the Little Caesars Bowl after nearly two decades of glorious service to the conference. The Big Ten now gets to play an ACC team in Detroit every December. The MAC did not blink. It replaced the Detroit game with three others in much more lucrative locales. The Camellia Bowl will pit the MAC against a Sun Belt team in Montgomery, Alabama. Conference USA will square off against #MACtion in the Boca Raton Bowl (Boca Raton, Florida) and the Bahamas Bowl (Nassau, Bahamas). The MAC also retains spots in both the GoDaddy Bowl and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
This means that the MAC will have five guaranteed bowl spots for this season, as opposed to only three that were available in years past. This is a definite upgrade for the league. In addition, eligible MAC teams could still fill open spots left available by conferences who cannot fill their own bowl obligations.
Of course, this leaves open the ugly possibility of a 5-7 MAC team playing in the postseason -- so whether the latter part of the above paragraph is "good" or "bad" is entirely up to interpretation.
How does Palm have the MAC slotted in his projections?
GoDaddy Bowl (TBA) -- Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Troy
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 20) -- Toledo Rockets vs. Air Force
Camellia Bowl (Dec. 20) -- Buffalo Bulls vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
Boca Raton Bowl (Dec. 23) -- Bowling Green Falcons vs. Middle Tennessee State
Bahamas Bowl (Dec. 24) -- Ohio Bobcats vs. Louisiana Tech
Armed Forces Bowl (TBA) -- Central Michigan Chippewas vs. Houston
St. Petersburg Bowl (Dec. 26) -- Ball State Cardinals vs. North Carolina State
Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 27) -- Kent State Golden Flashes vs. Pittsburgh
There are eight MAC teams in Palm's projection, which would be a record. Of the five teams that are omitted, Miami, Western Michigan, Massachusetts and Eastern Michigan are all not surprises. However, the Akron Zips seem to be a glaring snub here, given their finish to the 2013 season. It's difficult to imagine Kent State finding a way to a bowl game but not Akron.
It should also be noted that there's no indication here of selection order, so there's no real way to tell how Palm might be projecting the final standings and/or the eventual 2014 MAC champion.
There are certainly some intriguing potential match-ups here. Both Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette have been strong in the Sun Belt in recent years and are entertaining on offense. MTSU and Louisiana Tech ought to be near (or at) the top of the realigned Conference USA. And it's always fun to see MAC teams get opportunities to beat power conference teams, in this case two from the ACC.
There's one other postseason possibility that Palm didn't address, at least in relation to the MAC. That scenario is entry into the championship-tier bowl games associated with the new College Football Playoff. The highest-rated conference champion among the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt will receive an automatic berth into one of these games. Right now, Palm projects the American's Cincinnati to win that honor and play in the Peach Bowl.
If everything breaks right for one of the MAC teams, they could find themselves in that game (or the Cotton Bowl or Fiesta Bowl). This possibility is especially intriguing for Bowling Green, who plays two of their four non-conference games against Big Ten teams (Indiana, Wisconsin), plus another on the road against a mid-major power (Western Kentucky). An undefeated season could put them in position to crash that playoff party.
And if so, could it be possible for the MAC to actually get nine bowl teams? Maybe then, Akron would get the call.