Stop me if you've heard this one before...for the third straight year, Bowling Green and Northern Illinois will do battle at Ford Field in Detroit to determine the MAC Championship. These two never seem to play each other in the regular season much, but they sure do have a way of finding each other in Detroit.
I (@randycarp) did some Talkin' sMACk with Dave Drury (@DDrury86) who covers the Huskies for Hustle Belt. Here's what transpired.
Dave: The Falcons having a superb QB in Johnson while NIU is now on their third string, true freshman, quarterback Tommy Fiedler...I've got to think all you BGSU fans are feeling pretty confident right about now.
Randy: Truth be told, I am not sure what Falcons fans are feeling. In 2013, most BG fans probably thought we were overmatched by Jordan Lynch and the nationally ranked Huskies, and we all know how that turned out. Last year, we thought we had a better shot at competing with our new high flying offense. But NIU rubbed our faces in it when the stage seemed a little too big for our back-up quarterback, who was subbing for Matt Johnson all year.
I know we are glad to have Johnson back under center for this one. Last year we clinched the division early, and then lost the final three games of the year to west division opponents. This year we went into Kalamazoo and beat Western Michigan and went to Muncie and beat Ball State. Toledo beat us, but they always seem to beat us in that rivalry game.
I am wondering which NIU team will show up? The one that beat Toledo (who owns us), or the team that lost to Ohio University last week?
Dave: Yeah, the Huskies have been a bit of a mixed bag this year; even when Drew Hare was under center. We're also not sure which team is going to show up game to game.
Fiedler played pretty well in that last drive against Ohio but the rushing attack fell short...something we're not used to seeing in DeKalb. Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff need to find a way to get the ground game going to keep Matt Johnson and the Falcon receivers off the field if nothing else.
Randy: Yes, that's the formula Toledo used to beat us...pound the running game and keep our offense on the sidelines. I wonder if the Huskies have enough defense to slow BG down? On defense, BG will sell out against the run and make Fielder beat you thought the air.
From Dormant to Dominant
The Falcons appeared in just one of the first 16 MAC Championship games, but 2015 will mark their third straight shot at a MAC crown. Detroit really is turning into "Bowling Green North".
But what is the deal at quarterback for the Huskies? We've heard that Graham (QB) and Lewis (WR) might be available for this game. Then we hear that Lewis is much more likely to play than Graham and that Fiedler will get the start at quarterback. What's the real deal?
Dave: I wish I had some insider scoop to dish here, but sadly, that's all I've heard too. I'm mentally preparing myself for Fiedler to play the whole game and not have Tommylee Lewis. While Kenny Golladay is a great receiver, and can help Fiedler out, he's not as versatile as Lewis.
If TLL does return on Friday night, it would help spread out the BG defense. By utilizing his speed on the outside with screens and quick throws out to him it would force the Falcons to play honest defense instead of selling out on the run every play.
While NIU has a few questions on the field, Bowling Green is dealing with a big one off the field.
There are a ton of rumors leading many to believe your coach, Dino Babers, might be leaving to fill the UCF coaching vacancy. He said in a tweet that he's focused on "winning a MAC Championship" and played down the UCF talk, but do you think that this could impact the Falcons at all?
Randy: I believe he is gone to UCF. I don't think it was supposed to get out until after the MAC Championship Game, but someone in Florida leaked the story. Babers is in full denial mode as he should be. He doesn't want to take anything away from this game. I think the whole story will break Friday night after the game.
I've been reading some of the player's twitter accounts and they know what the situation is. I do think in some weird way, this will work to bring the team closer and more focused. They've preached family all year and I don't think they'll let this bother them at all to be honest.
I tweeted out earlier this week asking why Rod Carey's name isn't being mentioned for any of these coaching openings. Any thoughts on that?
I know it never gets old and this is the sixth straight appearance in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game for NIU. But were the fans hoping to see someone other than BG on the other sidelines? I know the BG fans were hoping to see someone new.
Finally, do you have a prediction in this one?
Dave: You know, I've wondered myself why Carey's name hasn't been brought up for any P5 teams...the only thing I can think of is that his offensive schemes are rather predictable. That, and the Huskies have had a lot of close games against teams they should have beaten handily the past few years (but hey, a win is a win!).
When it comes to playing someone new...I don't think it really matters to us. Since 2005 we've played in (now) seven MAC Championship games and in that time we've played BGSU, Ohio, Kent State, Akron, and Miami...only Buffalo and UMass have escaped playing NIU in Detroit, so we've seen pretty much everyone recently.
As for this year, I think Huskie fans like seeing Bowling Green across from us because they are seen as a legitimate opponent. Everyone agrees they're a really talented football team and that Johnson will be playing on Sundays soon. And that kind of talent gives the Huskies some legitimacy too...especially when we win.
Yes that's right, I said it! I think the Huskies can win. Johnson is good but so is the Huskie secondary. NIU has come away with 19 interceptions this season and are averaging more than two turnovers per game. This defense is the reason we're here (well them AND Western Michigan...thanks guys!).
If we can force a few turnovers and get our offense the ball on a short field, like we've done all year, NIU can compete and sneak out with back-to-back wins against the Falcons.
I'm going to say 38-35 Huskies in a nail-biter. How do you see this one?
Randy: I say BG 45 NIU 28
If Matt Johnson and this offense can't out score a walk-on quarterback, something's wrong.