CFT predicts: the MAC

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It’s MACtion time, you guys! For as little attention as the MAC gets nationally, the conference hosted some of the most exciting games last year. Toldeo was involved in both, losing to Northern Illinois 63-60 before turning around and beating Western Michigan 66-63 the following week.

Can the MAC produce the same types of games this year? Maybe not. Or, the conference can just hire Gus Johnson to call every game to make it seem more exciting.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the MAC should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

East Division 

1. Ohio (last season: 10-4; won Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) 
The Bobcats are one of those deceptively good teams. Penn State is only a slight favorite for the Sept. 1 season opener against Ohio and the other OU can realistically make that an interesting game. Ohio almost won the MAC last year and are the class of an otherwise down East division.

2. Miami (last season: 4-8) 
The Redhawks struggled in their first season under Don Treadwell, but they do have one of the better — if not the best — quarterback in the league in Zac Dysert. He needs help, though; Miami had the nation’s worst rushing attack last year.

3. Bowling Green (last season: 5-7)
Dave Clawson needs to get this team back to bowl eligibility or he could be out by the end of the year. The first month or so will be tough for the Falcons, but Bowling Green could rack up some wins in the second half of the season.

4. Kent State (last season: 5-7) 
The Golden Flashes couldn’t do anything productive on offense last year. Based on that, it might not be a great thing that Kent State returns eight offensive starters from a year ago. The defense wasn’t terrible last year and returns six starters of their own.

5. Buffalo (last season: 3-9) 
There’ll be no circling of the wagon for the Bulls (yeah, I know) this year. For a MAC program, the schedule is difficult and Buffalo returns only 13 starters from a year ago.

6. Akron (last season: 1-11) 
Terry Bowden makes his anticipated (is that the right word?) return to FBS football by taking over a program that flat-out stunk last season. Can the Zips get back on the winning side of things in 2012? No, but it’ll be good to have a Bowden back in the coaching ranks. Maybe.

7. UMass (last season: 5-6 in FCS) 
Massachusetts begins its FBS journey in one of the easiest divisions in college football outside the SEC East (Kidding, y’all! Sort of.), but the Minutemen will have a hard time adjusting. Former Notre Dame assistant Charley Molnar will make his head coaching debut.

West Division

1. Northern Illinois (last season: 11-3; won GoDaddy.com Bowl) 
Chandler Harnish, better known in the NFL as Mr. Irrelevant, is gone and takes with him practically all of Northern Illinois’ offensive production. In all, NIU returns only 13 starters, but Dave Doeren gets it done with a program that’s going to consistently contend for division titles.

2. Ball State (last season: 6-6) 
Pete Lembo is an under-the-radar coach that will land a bigger job sooner or later. Lembo took the Cardinals to a .500 record a year ago and should be able to improve on that with the core of last year’s team returning.

3. Western Michigan (last season: 7-6; lost Little Caesar’s Bowl) 
The Broncos had one of the best passing offenses in 2011 and returning is quarterback Alex Carder. The problem for Western Michigan is that they play four of its final six games on the road.

4. Toldeo (last season: 9-4; won Military Bowl) 
Toledo lost its coach Tim Beckman to Illinois, but Beckman leaves the program in great shape — for the future. Losing speedy receiver Eric Page hurts the offense and the Rockets don’t return many starters. 2012 will be a cold splash of reality for Toledo.

5. Eastern Michigan (last season: 6-6) 
Eastern Michigan has made strides under coach Ron English after recording just two wins in his first two years. The Eagles can run the ball — they ranked in the top 15 nationally in that category last year — and return their two best rushers.

6. Central Michigan (last season: 3-9) 
No Butch Jones, no Dan Lefevour. Central Michigan has fallen greatly since those two appeared together just a few years ago. Ryan Radcliff has improved at quarterback, but there’s not much else to get excited about.

CFT’s MAC champion: Ohio 

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA 
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Buffalo clinches bowl eligibility with three-game winning streak

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In his third season as Buffalo’s head coach, Lance Leipold is taking the program bowling. And how they got there is commendable. Entering the month of November with a record of 3-6, the Bulls had no margin for error. A three-game winning streak to close out the regular season seemed like a reach, but on Friday afternoon the Bulls put the finishing touches on just such a winning streak.

Buffalo (6-6, 4-4 MAC) rushed out of the gates to a 24-7 lead on Ohio (9-4, 5-3 MAC) on their home field, but the Bulls needed a big play on special teams and defense to close the books on a bowl-clinching 31-24 victory. Tied at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Ohio was forced to punt from their own seven-yard line. K.J. Osborn returned the punt 39 yards to the Ohio six-yard line. Two plays later, Emmanuel Reed gave the Bulls the lead with a short touchdown run. Then the game was put in the hands of the defense.

Ohio has a masterful drive rolling out, spanning 62 yards over 13 plays and wasting away nearly all of the clock after starting the drive with 8:10 to play. On 4th and 12 at the Buffalo 13-yard line, Nathan Rourke‘s pass was picked off by Khalil Hodge in the endzone with a little more than a minute to play. Ohio could call two timeouts to stop the clock, but the Bulls still managed to pick up a first down to close out the game.

While not to discredit Buffalo for their achievement here, it is worth noting Ohio’s fate in the MAC East Division race was settled earlier this week. The Bobcats were eliminated from clinching the division after Akron wrapped up the division with a win earlier this week. Had Akron lost, Ohio could have clinched the division with a win against Buffalo.

The MAC now has seven teams that have met the six-win minimum to go to a bowl game this season. This is Buffalo’s first bowl season since 2013, but Leipold is no stranger to a college football postseason. Leipold won six Division 3 national championships with Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007 through 2014, and his D3 powerhouse program only missed the postseason once during that run.

Arkansas blows 21-7 lead as Drew Lock leads Mizzou’s rally for halftime lead

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It was a tale of two quarters between Missouri and Arkansas, with Arkansas rushing out of the gates for a 21-7 lead only to see Missouri battle back to take a 31-28 lead into halftime. Missouri kicker Tucker McCann kicked a 37-yard field goal in the final minute of the half to give Missouri the lead.

Arkansas cashed in on an interception by Missouri quarterback Drew Lock on the game’s opening possession by traveling 70 yards on five plays to take a 7-0 lead with a Devwah Whaley goal line run. Mizzou’s Ish Witter capped a 92-yard drive later in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7, but the Razorbacks stormed right back with a quick four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive highlighted by Austin Allen‘s 57-yard pass to Jordan Jones for the score. Moments later, a good punt return by Henre’ Toliver gave the Razorbacks the ball at the Missouri 29-yard line and two plays later David Williams ran in from 16 yards out for a score to push the lead to 21-7.

Lock led a second-quarter charge for the Tigers with three touchdown passes, including one from 55 yards and another from 56 yards as the big plays doomed Arkansas.

No. 12 TCU locks up Big 12 title game date with Oklahoma

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After a few-year sabbatical, the inaugural renewal of the Big 12 championship game is officially set.

Needing just to get past one-win Baylor, No. 12 TCU did just that as the Horned Frogs outlasted the feisty Bears 45-22 in Fort Worth.  With the win, TCU locks up the other spot in the conference title game opposite Oklahoma, with that matchup going down in Jerry’s World next Saturday.  The Sooners have already beaten the Horned Frogs this season, 38-20 in Norman two weeks ago; a second win over the same team will likely push OU into the playoffs.

TCU finishes the 2017 season 7-2 in conference play.  Iowa State (5-3) needed a win over Kansas State Saturday plus a TCU loss today plus a couple of the other 5-3 Big 12 teams to win in order to send them to the league title game.

Kenny Hill paced the Horned Frogs once again, passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns in the win.  His 26 completions (in 36 attempts) went to 11 different receivers.  The quarterback added another touchdown on the ground.

A little bit of a concern, especially with Baker Mayfield and the high-powered OU offense looming, TCU gave up 314 yards passing, including 301 from freshman signal-caller Charlie Brewer.  Conversely, they did hold the Bears to just 2.7 yards per rushing attempt.

Pitt stuns No. 2 Miami, ends Hurricanes’ perfect season

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Pitt’s done gone and done it again.

On Dec. 1, 2007, a 4-7 Pitt team stunned second-ranked West Virginia in a 13-9 upset in Morgantown, costing the Mountaineers a spot in the BCS title game.  Just a week shy of the 10th anniversary of that upset, 4-7 Pitt played host to second-ranked Miami — and the Panthers did it again, jumping out to a 10-7 halftime lead before holding on away for a 24-14 win.  The loss ends the Hurricanes’ nation’s-best winning streak at 16 games in a row.

Thanks in very large part to Pitt’s defense, Miami’s offense could muster next to nothing on the day, churning out just 176 yards of offense while the game was still within reach (they finished with 234).  True freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett, however, seemingly put the game out of reach when, on a fourth-and-five, scampered nearly untouched on a naked bootleg for a 22-yard touchdown that made it a three-score game with just under three minutes remaining.

However, a U touchdown less a minute later made it a 10-point deficit with 2:16 left in the fourth, with the Hurricanes recovering an onsides kick on the ensuing kickoff to give them a flicker of hope; a Malik Rosier fumble on that next possession snuffed out said flicker.

This is actually the third time in a decade the Panthers have knocked off the No. 2 team in the country, including last year’s dumping of Clemson — a fact that head coach Pat Narduzzi used in calling his shot to his team at halftime.

For The U, it’s a potentially crippling loss.  Or, it could mean almost nothing.

Playing with fire for most of the season — they trailed at the half in five of their 11 games, including today — the Hurricanes finally got burned; whether it’s a first-, second- or third-degree burn remains to be seen.  The good news for The U is they will still face No. 3 Clemson in the ACC championship game next weekend, with the winner likely (maybe) (possibly) earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.  This loss, though, erases any margin of error the Hurricanes had heading into that game as they won’t make the playoffs as a two-loss at-large team.