We are only into the second week of October, and already, the Mid-American Conference divisional races are beginning to take shape. In the East, last week's openers featured two big ones, as the Bowling Green Falcons defeated the Buffalo Bulls and the Ohio Bobcats topped the Akron Zips.
This week, we have another important Eastern Division showdown, as BGSU hosts the Massachusetts Minutemen. This final battle between the two teams will be the first conference game of the season for UMass, while the Falcons currently own a 1-0 record in the MAC. Overall, Bowling Green arrives at this game with a 3-2 record with wins over Maryland and Purdue. UMass is now 1-3 after earning their first win of the season last week over Florida International.
Defending the honor of their beloved teams this week are Matt Daley (BGSU) and Jesse Allen (UMass). Let's dance.
Jesse: So here we are again, for one last ride. Last year, Bowling Green squeaked by the Minutemen 47-42, thanks to a final drive fumble that preserved the lead for the Falcons. Given the way that game was going, there was little doubt another UMass score was coming if J.T. Blyden would've held onto the ball.
Looking forward, both UMass and Bowling Green are currently favored in every non-Toledo Game on the schedule after this one, with the Falcons 59% favorites heading into this game, per SBNation's advanced stats. This game, while young in the season, may decide the MAC East. So truthfully, you're shaking in your booties on this one a bit, aren't you?
Matt: The relative shortcomings of BGSU's defense mean that the Falcons are generally going to be in close games, no matter how many points their offense puts up. Their loss to Memphis was by 3, and their last two wins were by 7 and 6 points. So, yes, I'll probably be a bit nervous for every game. That's just the nature of the beast.
But, I think BGSU's offense has proven that it's going to put up numbers in every game. They just doubled up what Buffalo had been allowing per-game on defense and did it in crummy weather, too. Admit it -- Roger Lewis makes you sweat a lot, right? That kid has three 200-yard games already.
Jesse: I'm really excited for this wide receiver battle. In one corner, you have Roger Lewis, he of three 200-yard games. In the other corner, you have Tajae Sharpe, who has three 100-yard games, has yet to go under 80 yards and has at least eight catches in every game. Expect offense and lots of it. UMass showed last season it can keep up, and should have put up 40 against FIU, but they made a few too many boneheaded errors. That's UMass though. If they cut down on those silly mistakes, they'll have a good shot at this game.
What's the one thing you think BGSU has that gives them the edge over UMass, because the Falcons are facing the one team in the MAC that they can't claim "best receiver" on.
Matt: Last year, I would've said kicking, but that's not the case now. Defense? No way. Quarterback? No, Froh is really good.
If I had to say one thing, it would be the ability to run the ball effectively. The Falcons have a pair of guys who they regularly turn to in Travis Greene and Fred Coppet, to the tune of nearly 200 yards per game. Greene is a dual threat, as he's also an effective receiver out of the backfield. BGSU also has a very good short-yardage back in Donovan Wilson, who leads the team with four touchdowns. This could be a really big difference, since UMass is giving up 246.8 yards per game on the ground.
(I almost said depth at wide receiver, because I think BGSU has an edge there, too.)
I'll turn that question around on you -- what do you think gives UMass an edge that BGSU can't match in this game?
Jesse: I feel like I should start the same way. Kicking? No. Never. Never-ever-ever. Defense? No way, though they're much improved lately. Quarterback? Matt Johnson is really good.
What this team has, and its something I haven't seen before in a UMass MAC team, is a chip on their shoulder. They've got something to prove every weekend and nothing to lose. Last season, the motto seamed to be "this team doesn't know how to win". Coming into the season, hopes were high, and Colorado knocked this team back to earth. Since then they went from a team with its head in the clouds to a team who's pissed off and ready to make you know it. They took it to Temple, finally being undone by special teams (UMass is always undone by special teams). They took it to Notre Dame for two quarters more than anyone though they would. They hit a half-ending field goal against FIU and celebrate like they won the Super Bowl, then again when the final whistle blew. There used to be an aura of inevitability of defeat around this team, but there's a fire now, they carry themselves different, and its scary.
Or that's a cop-out answer since we're looking at two identical teams. What's your final score prediction?
Matt: Prediction? The game will be over when the scoreboard reads "TILT". That's an old pinball joke. Does that date me? Yeah, it probably does.
BGSU's defense has generally been able to get more stops than opposing defenses this year, and they'll be able to run the ball here when they need to. Despite the close score last year, the Falcons have owned this series recently. It'll be a shootout, but BGSU walks away with a 48-44 win.
What say you?
Jesse: Unfortunately, I'm going to have to side with you on this one. UMass looks improved from last season, but so do the Falcons. I haven't seen UMass put up the dominant offensive performance (FIU was close, but the points weren't there) that they'll need to win this game. Also coming out of half, UMass has struggled for four straight games. Just too much going against them right now. Give me BGSU over the Minutemen 42-34 (I'm adding a missed extra point to all my UMass scores from now on).
How about you, the fans of BGSU and UMass? Add your voice by voting in the poll and adding some comments. Who wins this game and gets a leg up in the division race?