CHRYST PUSHES STRONGER OOC SCHEDULES
It's understandable that MAC Commissioner Rick Chryst made a late arrival at the Herd's home opener last Saturday night with UMass. Chryst hammered down for Huntington, after watching Virginia Tech blank Western Michigan of the MAC 31-0 in Blacksburg earlier in the day.
With the exception of Akron's last second field goal that lifted the Zips past Ohio 31-29 at the Rubber Bowl on the Thursday prior to Labor Day and Bowling Green's week two blanking of Buffalo, the rest of the MAC teams have started the year with non-conference games.
MAC teams have tossed a few stones at the Goliath's from the BCS leagues in early September. Toledo dumped Minnesota from the Big Ten and soon-to-be Big East orphan Temple in consecutive weeks. Bowling Green spoiled former Toledo coach Gary Pinkel's debut at Missouri. On the flip side, Miami stayed with Michigan at the Big House for three-quarters in the RedHawks road opener, but were drilled at Iowa the following week.
"I just try to take it week to week," said Chryst of the MAC's early season battles with many of college football's elite. "The thing we talk about with football a lot is, there is no middle ground. You are either very high, or you are waiting for next week. I thought we were off to a great start in week one with Toledo and Bowling Green our most noteworthy performances. In week two, we were competitive, but just didn't put enough of the games in the win column. I'm encouraged where the league is right now. It's been an interesting setup for the conference race."
Getting MAC teams to improve their non-schedules is often easier said than done. For many MAC schools, the big paydays they receive for playing high profile teams on the road without a return game helps bankroll not only their football programs, but the other athletic programs as well.
"We want teams to bulk up their non-conference schedules," Said Chryst, who beginning his third year as MAC Commissioner. "But we probably need to be a little more strategic with it. In the sense of somehow, someway finding high caliber I-A teams that will play in our stadiums. Historically, teams in our league have been more interested in playing the big money games on the road and playing the I-AA teams at home. So we have got to find a way to balance that a little bit."
Some MAC teams are starting to do a better job when it comes to attracting better teams for future non-conference games. Marshall has added TCU, UCF and Tennessee to future schedules. Virginia Tech is also slated to make future visits on MAC members Ohio and Western Michigan.
"As I look at our out-year schedules, I am really encouraged," Said Chryst. "But the biggest thing is that our programs are really establishing an aggressiveness that I think will translate competitively."
Marshall has clearly been the flag-carrier for the MAC recently in terms of gaining much-needed respectability for the league with its successful bowl appearances, pair of Heisman finalists and cracking of the top ten in 1999. Now Toledo is serving notice that the MAC is not just a one trick pony anymore.
"I was really encouraged from the pre-season polls and the early regular season polls the jump that Toledo made," said Chyrst. "The Rockets have been sniffing the top 25 in both the coaches and the writers polls and I anticipate more movement from them as the season progresses. I think poll voters are beginning to lock in on the top teams in this league. We can begin to expect that the best teams in the MAC are going to worthy of top 25 recognition."
On the topic of the Herd's reaction to their latest NCAA-mandated suspensions, Chryst feels that Marshall is making the best of tough situation.
"The institution is handing it very well," Said Chryst. "From my perspective, the coaching staff is handling it well. I can't speak to how the team is handling it, but there was no quit down in Gainesville and I don't anticipate any diminishing passion or performance from Marshall even with all the distractions."
FAMILIAR FACES AT TCU
If you think that the Herd can sneak up on the TCU Horned Frogs next week in Fort Worth, you can forget about it. The radio voice of the Horned Frogs is Brian Estridge, could probably write a book about the games he's witnessed with Marshall. Estridge is the former voice of the Appalachian State Mountaineers and was behind the mike for both of the App's regular season victories over the Herd. Appalachian State remains the only team to own two wins over the Herd since the new stadium opened in 1991.
Estridge also knows first hand a bit about Marshall's rise in the MAC. He left Ap State for Miami University just in time to see Marshall successfully make the move from I-AA to I-A. He also called the action for the RedHawks when Miami topped the Herd in Oxford in 1997.
WADING THROUGH IT
John Wade wasn't part of the Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line that shredded the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening week of NFL regular season play. But Wade may be returning to action sooner than many expected. His recovery from a stress fracture in his foot is moving along well ahead of schedule, and Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin expects to have Wade back in the lineup as early as the Jags game with the Cleveland Browns on September 30th.
Many believed that Jacksonville would have started the year with Wade on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, but if Wade has been placed on that list, he would have been unable to rejoin the team for at least six weeks. The Jags showed confidence in Wade's comeback by moving him to the active roster to begin the season.
Wade was penciled in as Jacksonville's starter at center or right guard until he broke his foot in June for the second time in less than a year. After corrective surgery in July, Wade is now on the comeback trail faster than anyone could have hoped.
"Everything with my rehab has been going very well," Wade told the Florida Times-Union recently. "I'm healing a little bit faster than they expected. I think week three or week four is realistic. I'm not feeling any pain, although practice will be the big test."
While Wade isn't exactly sure where he will play once he gets back to active duty, its believed that he will return to the center position, where he will battle with veteran Jeff Smith for the starting job.