Every week, one MAC blog puts on its reporter fedora and asks other MAC bloggers about their thoughts on certain topics involving the conference. This week, we here at the Maroon Musket dusted off the tweet jacket, readjusted the elbow pads and got down to brass tacks with Eagle Totem (Eastern Michigan) Let’s Go Rockets (Toledo), Bull Run (Buffalo), and Hustle Belt (The MAC, generally).
Here’s a complete list of the blogs involved in the roundtable:
Over The Pylon - Ball State
Maroon Musket - UMass
Saddle Up, Fight On - Western Michigan
The Chip Report - Central Michigan
Eagle Totem - Eastern Michigan
Red and Black Attack - Northern Illinois
Bull Run - Buffalo
Hustle Belt - The Conference
Let’s Go Rockets - Toledo
Falcon Blog - Bowling Green
Question 1: MAC schools have pulled off some big upsets during the past few years – most recently Ohio over Penn State (whether or not that is actually an upset is surely debatable). In a perfect world, what would be the most enjoyable upset for your school and why?
For what it’s worth I would hold off on calling the Penn State win “huge”. Sure the Lions could pull out of this tail spin but they could just as easily be a three win team this season.
In my experience pounding 12th ranked Ball State into the ground back in 2008 was pretty exciting. I just wanted to put it out there for the benefit of all the Cardinal fans sitting at the table.
But after two years of gutter ball I suppose I would take any win over a ranked team. Be they an arrogant conference mate expecting an easy win, a perennial power, or a regional rival, UB would benefit from the win.
Being in upstate New York I beleive beating Syracuse would be a huge step forward for the Buffalo football program.
Any Ohio school over Ohio State. We’ve talked about this at length on our site but it’s probably new information to your fanbase: the last time OSU lost to an in-state school was Oberlin College in 1921. The Yeomen aren’t going to pull that off anytime soon. The Buckeyes scheduled Kent State and also MAC co-founder Cincinnati in 2014 but personally I’d love Bowling Green to snap the streak in 2016 and beat their former coach Urban Meyer. Haha, just kidding, Meyer will be onto the next school by then.
Saddle Up, Fight On
First and foremost, let’s clear the air here. A BCS bowl win, which would be an uspet, would be most enjoyable for any team, and probably the MAC as a whole. I discount that entirely from my answer, as that’s far too easy to do. Growing up a Notre Dame fan might make my response a bit biased, but I think a win against Michigan, in the Big House, on one of their “great years” would be #1. I’m talking pure Appalachian State stuff, without all the faltering later in the season.
Why? Because of their, “we won’t play you on the road” superiority complex. Michigan State, Illinois, and Indiana can play at MAC Stadiums, why can’t everyone? Wisconsin and Iowa have played NIU at Soldier Field, so they get a slight pass. Michigan? Nope. Their stadium or broke. I say it’s time that one of our MAC teams goes in there and stuns the nation with a huge upset.
For me that’s a no-brainer: Michigan. I’d think that needs no explanation, but just in case…
Six miles. That’s what geographically separates the best-attended FBS football program in the country from the worst-attended one. That’s what separates the winningest football program from the program that’s arguably been the worst over the last two decades.
Some fan bases have a reputation for being jerks. I’m not going to name any names, we all know who they are, but Michigan fans aren’t among them. But if you’ll forgive what’s going to be a very stretched simile…
Michigan football is like your really rich neighbor. He has a huge, nice house, he’s always driving a new luxury car, and he jets off to exotic (warm) places like Florida and Southern California every winter. (Sure, he hit a rough patch a few years back and had to skip a vacation, but he seems to have come through it fine.) When you’re doing OK yourself, not great but not bad, he seems nice enough, and after all, he does invite you to a nice party at his place every once in a while.
If we’re going to continue this simile, EMU football lives in a trailer (but we do own the lot), right across the street. (Realistically this guy wouldn’t put up with that view, but bear with me…) We know that our successful neighbor is largely living off the success of his parents, grand parents, and even great-grandparents. We’ve seen his family come through some pretty tough times, and it really grates on us when he suggests — not even to our face, mind you — that we really don’t “belong” in this neighborhood, that we ought to move to somewhere better suited to our means like that FCS trailer park down the street, or even just give up on home ownership and rent from the Division II Apartments. To make matters even worse, lately your kids have started hanging out at his house.
When you visit from down the street, or another town, he seems nice enough, sure, but when you live right next to him…well, just once it’d be nice.
Let’s Go Rockets
The biggest upset for Toledo is either against #9 Pitt in 2003, or beating Michigan in the Big House in 2008 (honorable mention to Toledo defeating Penn State in 2000 with JoePa still at the helm). The Michigan game was huge because of the geographic location of both schools and Toledo being in the heart of Big Ten country. In a perfect world, we’d LOVE to see the Rockets take down O$U, and almost witnessed it last season at the Shoe.
Question 2: MAC teams typically play one or two “pay-to-play” games where they step into a BCS team’s stadium and are essentially expected to lose. Do you think these games are beneficial beyond being a financial boost? Do they help get teams ready for the MAC slate, or are they just opportunities for injuries?
Pay-to-Play is batter than bringing in a cupcake every year. I mean I’ll take a slightly competitive game, and huge check, to play and SEC school than writing a much smaller check to bring in a middling FCS team.
There are exceptions to this. Temple and Villinaova make sense, as would a Buffalo series with Stony Brook or Albany. But bringing in Morgan State, Gardner-Webb, Rhode Island?
But if you’re a mid major, and you will lose more than two games in a season you might as well take a chance at shaking the world, and getting a nice hefty check.
Easy. It’s so Samuel L. Jackson tweets about your school.
But many of these MAC schools have the desire to become a top 25 program. They’ll never reach that point just by watching them on TV, or beating each other up. They need to play at least one quality opponent, maybe two, to see exactly what they do so well, in the hopes something intangible permeates their own program. The other reason is recruiting. If you sign up to play in the MAC, you know you’ll play a handful of games against the Big Ten, maybe even a specific school who gave you but a cursory look as a depth fodder, not a starter.
Saddle Up, Fight On
I think they are good games. Those teams really test your might and coaching (as shown by WMU’s lack of offense against Illinois). Plus, it beats playing cupcakes, thinking you are really great, then going against teams that are similarly skilled and getting creamed. Adversity builds character!
By and large, I’m not a fan of payday games. Sure, they make financial sense for host schools — the University of Michigan grosses something like $5 million per home game — but from an on-field perspective it’s a no-win situation for the host (speaking of Michigan, see: vs Toledo, 2008). And yes, from a MAC team’s point of view, they’re mostly an opportunity for injuries. EMU lost two offensive line starters for a few games last year after they were hurt against Penn State. In 2009, EMU suffered what I’d call a nightmare scenario, losing fifth-year senior starting quarterback Andy Schmidt for the season from an injury suffered in the third quarter at Michigan. EMU wasn’t going to have a great season that year, but I doubt they’d have gone 0-12 if Schmidt had been able to play the rest of the year.
There are other ways to make it work, as Michigan State is demonstrating with the “Celebrate the State” series, which has the Spartans playing at all three Michigan MAC schools. What I’d really like to see is a mix of home-and-homes against schools from the Sun Belt, WAC, Mountain West, and Conference USA, and maybe some 2-for-1 series against some of the lower-tier AQ schools (e.g., Indiana, Vanderbilt, Minnesota) with no more than one payday game and no more than one FCS game per season.
Let’s Go Rockets
Unfortunately, these games are an opportunity for injuries. The money and hope of knocking off a “major” program is dangled in front of the institutions in an effort to make it seem worth putting the team in harms way. We like the idea of the MAC beating ranked opponents though, because lets face it, the MAC isn’t going to field a ranked team every season. When your school can beat a BCS opponent, it is an awesome feeling!
Question 3: As the “new guy” in the conference, we don’t know the recruiting strategies of MAC schools. What approach does your school take when it hits the recruiting trail? Does the conference, as a whole, seem to have a similar recruiting philosophy?
Buffalo, under Turner Gill, went after the recruiting hot beds. Now with Quinn it’s all about Ohio and Michigan. I’m guessing that the experience for Mid Majors is typically you go after the states your coach knows best, and perhaps the state you’re in.
Quinn spent the past several years beefing up UB’s line. That’s where the biggest need was when he came in so that’s where most of the effort went.
I’ll admit I personally don’t know a lot about the sausage-making behind a recruiting class. I do know that players get “stars,” and I don’t know the conversion rate from stars to unicorns, but the in-state high schoolers with more stars are usually picked clean by the Big Ten, then Notre Dame, then any other conference who wants to swoop in. For Ohio schools, six teams are fighting over scraps, same with the three in Michigan, but you’re seeing a lot of schools also build pipelines to Chicago and Florida. And I dearly miss Bowling Green recruiting blonde-haired Alaskans just to see who will be the next Cole Magner. For UMass … man, you’re all the way out there in the east so you won’t be going for a share of our core constituency except maybe Buffalo’s, and this new demographic could very well be an advantage for you.
Saddle Up, Fight On
Errrr, I hate recruiting. A lot. You can see a 4 star recruit never play a down, and a 2 star recruit become a stud. It’s a complete crap shoot at times. Therefore, I really don’t know how WMU recruits. I assume it’s Bill Cubit and Friends going down to Florida in the middle of winter, and plucking a ton of recruits up after hitting Michigan during the year. And they are usually just offense recruits. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else does that, but I’m pretty sure that the first part of my assumption is pretty close to reality.
I’m not any kind of recruiting guru (in fact I limit my recruiting coverage to repeating what’s already been reported with only minimal commentary), so I can’t really answer this one very well. What I have observed is that EMU seems to be having a lot of success recruiting Illinois. Recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Doug Downing grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, attended Purdue, and spent nine years coaching Western Illinois, so I imagine he knows that area pretty well. Offensive line coach and running game coordinator Kurt Anderson — the only pre-Ron English coach still at EMU — covers Illinois recruiting for the Eagles, and he was born and raised just north of Chicago (Evanston and Glenview), so EMU seems to have that area pretty well covered.
Let’s Go Rockets
For years, it was about geographic location of school and recruit. The previous coaching staff (Beckman) focused on keeping a 4 hour radius, commonly referred to as Rocket Nation. It worked out for Toledo in signing Toledo native Eric Page. Page went on to become the Rockets all time leader in several categories. While securing the backyard recruits was always a goal, the Rockets, since 2000, have enjoyed a recruiting base from all across the US. Toledo has been fortunate to have one of the top recruiting classes in the MAC the last several years and this has been reflected on the field.