At 3-0, still room to improve for Penn State Gritty Lions

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Penn State pulled one out of a magic hat Saturday night. When you have a quarterback as talented and composed as Christian Hackenberg, good things and good plays eventually happen even on a night like Saturday night. Penn State’s offensive line was once again a near-complete wreck. The running game for the Nittany Lions was virtually non-existent. Hackenberg once again had too many moments when he had to force plays that just were not there. Rutgers was in Hackenberg’s face all night, knocking him off-balanced at times and forcing him to move. In the end though, Hackenberg showed great poise and leadership in leading Penn State to a late rally and victory.

Because the NCAA has lifted the remaining two seasons of a postseason ban on the football program, Penn State is now eligible to participate in the bowl season, the College Football Playoff and Big Ten Championship Game, as long as they qualify for any of those three. As a result of last night’s victory, Penn State is now out in front of the Big Ten championship race, sitting in first place with a 1-0 conference record before any other Big Ten teams (besides Rutgers) play a conference game. It is a good situation, and the schedule is as favorable as it can possibly be with a bye week before heading to Michigan, followed by a bye week before hosting Ohio State. Penn State also gets Michigan State at home in the final week of the regular season. While Saturday night’s come-from-behind thrill in New Jersey is plenty reason to celebrate, it is clear there is much that needs to improve in State College for Penn State to truly become a legitimate Big Ten contender.

It starts up front with the offensive line. Hackenberg needs protection and the running game cannot get going until the offensive line starts to improve. Depth on the line is a problem and a result of the sanctions the past couple of years, so just how much can improve between now and the next game or month may be limited. That does not mean Penn State and the coaching staff will not try. Perhaps what should be more of a breather next Saturday at home against UMass will be a good week to show some progress.

Once the offensive line does improve, the running game should follow. Mixing things up between Zach Zwinak for power running situations, spreading things out with Bill Belton and adding in Akeel Lynch to the mix still has potential for a good running game to help take some pressure off Hackenberg. Hackenberg has not had the cleanest first three games of the year despite some terrific passing numbers, and the thought he can actually get better is pretty remarkable. Receivers holding on to more passes would help as well. Penn State has shown potential to have receivers ready to step up after Allen Robinson moved to the NFL, but there have been a number of dropped passes the first few weeks as well.

Can Penn State realistically contend for a Big Ten championship? Given the way the Big Ten has been playing thus far, sure, why not. But before Penn State fans start making plans for Indianapolis, there is still a long uphill battle for the Nittany Lions. But for right now, they are in control of the Big Ten East, and that should feel pretty good.

Ford Field to host even more MACtion in 2020

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The MAC title game isn’t the only bit of #MACtion that Ford Field will see in 2020.

The conference recently released their annual football schedule on Wednesday and among the notable league games is the rivalry contest between Central Michigan and Western Michigan. While this one figures to have division implications on Oct. 17, things are going to be slightly different this year.

Namely that it won’t be on either campus and will instead be played at Ford Field.

“Ford Field has been the location of many great experiences for CMU Football, and this is an opportunity to create another iconic experience for our program and our university,” athletic director Michael Alford said in a release. “CMU’s continued success means out-of-the-box thinking. Bringing this game — and the events surrounding it — to Detroit allows our athletics program to help engage thousands of people who are passionate about CMU.”

It’s an interesting move that will push CMU to over a decade without a win over their directional rivals in Mt. Pleasant. Still, the larger venue and the opportunity to make things an even bigger event in the state’s largest city seem to have won out.

The Detroit News reported on Tuesday that the Chips wanted to do a multi-year deal at the home of the NFL’s Lions but that WMU said no thanks.

The Broncos have won seven of the last nine meetings, including last year’s 31-15 win in Kalamazoo. Despite that head-to-head victory though, Jim McElwain’s squad got the last laugh by winning the MAC West in one of the biggest turnaround stories of the 2019 season.

They wound up playing at Ford Field in the conference title game where they eventually lost to Miami (OH) 26-21. The venue has been the home of the MAC championship since 2004 and will have the next edition played on either Friday, Dec. 4 or Saturday Dec. 5.

Georgia Tech adds 2023 game against Bowling Green, makes slight change to 2021 schedule

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Georgia Tech is loving itself some #MACtion.

The school announced a pair of future schedule moves against teams from the eponymous league on Wednesday. Among the most immediate actions for the Yellow Jackets is that their 2021 contest against Northern Illinois will be shifted to become the season-opener at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 4.

GT will then play FCS Kennesaw State at home and conclude the early non-conference slate with a trip to Notre Dame on Nov. 20, 2021. Their annual rivalry contest against Georgia will conclude the regular season the final weekend of November as usual.

Tech also added Bowling Green to their upcoming docket. The Falcons will head to Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 30, 2023. A trip to Ole Miss and the in-state rival Bulldogs coming to Atlanta will round out the Jackets’ non-conference schedule with one more opening still to be signed (likely against an FCS opponent).

Head coach Geoff Collins’ 2020 squad will have their attention on a conference opponent to open the upcoming season as they take on ACC opponent Clemson at home on Thursday, Sept. 3. The two programs will also meet again in city for the 2022 season opener at nearby Mercedes-Benz Stadium as well.

While those big name opponents will get more attention from fans in the region, don’t discount a bit of that #MACtion heading South either.

Waiting to cancel game with FCS opponent cost USC an extra $500,000

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Keeping Clay Helton around wasn’t the only decision last year that upset USC fans. Now the school backtracking on a choice it just made has cost the program a pretty penny.

For those not in the know, cardinal and gold supporters up in arms last year when it was announced the program had agreed to a non-conference game with UC Davis for the 2021 season. Such a contest typically doesn’t draw much attention but it did in Los Angeles as it was the first FCS opponent the Trojans were to play in their illustrious history.

That would have left rivals UCLA and Notre Dame as the only two FBS programs not to play an FCS team.

Then things changed. The athletic director responsible for the deal, Lynn Swann, was shown the door. His replacement Mike Bohn has gone about trying to make amends and recently announced that USC had eventually backed out of the game against the Aggies.

In their place on the docket at the Coliseum that season is another Bay Area team, San Jose State. We already recounted how the Spartans made out quite nicely on the balance sheet as a result of this (and subsequent buyout from Georgia) swap. As it turns out though, they weren’t the only Northern California team to do so.

According to the Davis Enterprise, the buyout UCD was owed was only supposed to be $225,000. However terms called for that to jump to $725,000 after the start of the new year. Because the Trojans waited around they then had to pony up that extra half million for doing something they had been considering since the new administration came in.

“It’s pretty funny. We had every intention of playing that game,” Aggies senior associate athletics director Josh Flushman told the paper. “We just wanted to make sure (if there were) buyouts we were going to get the money.

“In December, (AD Kevin Blue) and I joking said, ‘Don’t take any phone calls from L.A. numbers until after the first.’”

The call didn’t come until February and the school is that much richer for it. On top of that they added a $400,000 guarantee game from Tulsa to replace Southern Cal on the schedule to boot.

Waiting may be the hardest part for some but it resulted in a nice seven-figure gain at UC Davis.

MAC releases 2020 football schedule

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Fire up those calendars, the MAC has officially unleashed the 2020 football schedule. Indeed, #MACtion is here for all to see.

The conference announced dates and times for the upcoming campaign involving their football teams on Wednesday afternoon. You can find the entire slate here.

Among the many highlights for the league is that this upcoming season will serve as a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the MAC. While some specific festivities will be made public later on, it will nevertheless be a year-long nod to history for those in the Midwest.

Just as important to fans of teams in the conference? The football games themselves, which will be broadcasted across a variety of networks. This includes ESPN2, ESPNU and CBS Sports Network on the broadcast side. ESPN3/ESPN+ will handle things on the streaming side.

It wouldn’t be the MAC without mid-week games late this fall either. This year there will be 14 on tap in the month of November alone. Several more also dot the landscape to kick off 2020 in September as well.

In the non-conference portion, the MAC will again have a gauntlet to fight through. Teams will face a Big Ten opponent 11 times and travel to the SEC four times. In addition, the MAC will play four ACC programs, Notre Dame, BYU and plenty of other Group of Five teams.

Defending 2019 champion Miami (OH) open their season at Pitt and begins conference play at Akron on Sept. 26. Also keep an eye for the Redhawks’ home game against rival Ohio as key to the East Division race. The West side of the bracket could come down to a key Western Michigan-Central Michigan tilt on Oct. 17.

Either way, all roads lead to Detroit as the MAC title game returns to Ford Field again. While a time hasn’t been announced, it will be held on either Friday, Dec. 4 or Saturday, Dec. 5.