Around the MAC this Week

The 2001 regular season comes to an end this week for Mid-American Conference teams. In a year where extraordinary and unexpected happenings have become commonplace, some teams will truly be giving thanks for the successes of the year, while others will be going back to the drawing board trying to plan for next year.

We nearly saw Ball State reach its first MACC game since 1996 by upsetting a Toledo team that was expected to roll through its schedule and go undefeated. We saw Marshall play some of the best football in its history as records were smashed and the Herd rejoined the nation's elite in the Top 25 rankings.

And teams expected to be contenders such as Ohio and Western Michigan crumbled, while overlooked freshman QBs at Kent and Miami brought their programs into the title chase for a while.

The more things change, as the old saying goes, the more they stay the same.

Marshall, Toledo, MAC title game, its the third time in five years. Of the thirteen teams in the conference, only three have been represented in the title game since 1997, although 6 teams have had a share of their respective division titles at one time or another. Last year it was Marshall, Akron, and Ohio, Toledo and Western. This year, Toledo and Northern Illinois and possibly Ball State will all have a piece of the crown. So let's finish up this season with a look at the final round of MAC games that have little more than pride on the line..

Miami (7-4, 4-1 MAC E) at Kent State (5-5, 2-3 MAC E)
- This game will feature two of the most exciting new players in college football today in Miami QB Ben Roethlisberger and Kent QB Josh Cribbs. In complete contrast to one another, Roethlisberger is a classic pocket passer who is capable of making plays on the run while Cribbs is deadly when tucking the ball and running.
The Flashes could become bowl eligible for the first time since 1987 when they went 7-4, but just like that year, no bowl for Kent. The Redhawks are also looking to snag a bowl berth, but their efforts were hampered in Hawaii last week in a 53-52 loss to the Warriors.
Expect this to be a solid offensive struggle, although if the game comes down to a defense making a big play, expect that to come from the Redhawks. Miami does have the bragging rights that folks down in Gainesville -or anywhere else for that matter - dont have: Miami was the only team to prevent Byron Leftwich from throwing a touchdown in a game against the Herd this year.

- The Ratings: Miami 78.99 Kent State 71.27
The prediction: Miami 28 Kent 24

Toledo (8-1, 4-1 MAC W) at Bowling Green (7-3, 4-2 MAC E)
- Bowling Green comes into this game as the far and away best in the MAC in rush defense (85.6 ypg) against the MAC's top running back in Toledo's Chester Taylor. Bowling Green is coming off a huge upset of Big 10 Northwestern, who was talking Rose Bowl for part of the season, while Toledo knocked off lowly Eastern Michigan.
The actual difference in schedule strength between these two teams is another factor that will weigh into this game. The Falcons played Marshall and Miami to within a touchdown and were upset by Western Michigan in Kalamazoo ... while the Rockets have struggled against teams like Navy (0-10) and Ohio (1-9) and of course, lost to Ball State.
A common out-of-conference opponent for these teams is Temple of the Big East, which most recently knocked off WVU, 17-14 last week. Bowling Green throttled the Owls 42-23, while Toledo thumped them 33-7.
Similarities aside, this should be a MAC classic, but is in Doyt L. Perry and Bowling Green could make no better case for their rights to a bowl game than knocking off a bowl team. I'll go against the numbers and predict another upset for the Falcs.

- The Ratings: Toledo 89.58, BGSU 83.91
The prediction: Bowling Green 34 Toledo 28

Ball State (4-6, 3-1 MAC W) at Western Michigan (5-5, 2-2 MAC W)
- A share of the West Division crown is in store for the Cardinals if they can beat the Broncos, who are trying to salvage their season. Ball State lost the outright crown by turning over the ball in last week's loss to Northern Illinois, while the Broncs knocked off in-state rivals Central Michigan last week.
Western Michigan allows nearly 200 yards of rushing per game while Ball State put up about 170 yards on the ground each week. If Ball State can contain the Western passing attack, they stand a chance, but the elimination from MAC Title contention was probably enough to deflate the Cardinals and allow Western to pull out a season-ending win.

- The Ratings: Western Michigan 70.63, Ball State 62.53
The prediction: Western 31 Ball 21

Other Games in the MAC:
- Akron 10 , versus Eastern Michigan


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