The MAC: Week 2

After a fairly successful first week of out of conference play, the road has just gotten a whole heckuva' lot bumpier for most MAC schools, as the competition raises several notches on the intensity scale.

In their first big run of games the MAC went 8-5, and there were some very pleasant results in the Atlantic Coast Conference - home of Florida State and Clemson, among others - where two conference schools came out victorious. Northern Illinois scored an OT victory against a decent Wake Forest team, while Miami scored a huge win over the North Carolina Tarheels. Oddly enough, the last time the Redhawks beat UNC was in 1998 when they went 10-1 and didn't receive a bowl bid, while UNC went on to play in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Despite the success, there were some disappointments, and the rest just wasn't very remarkable. MAC teams devoured six 1-AA schools by a combined score of 251-74, and yet Buffalo was knocked off by 1-AA Lehigh by 11 points, which is not the statement the Bulls want to make to recruits much less to their opponents. The regular ho-hum still seemed to be in effect in Big Ten action as Akron and Easterm Michigan were handily beaten by Iowa and Michigan State, respectively. The one surprise was the competitiveness and tenacity shown by UCF in their three-point loss to Joe Pa and the Penn State Nittany Lions.

This week will be a true test of MAC mettle as most of the squads prepare to square off with some solid talent from every end of the country. Let's take a look at the breakdowns and predictions:

Akron (0-1) @ Maryland (0-1):
- The Zips were pounded 57-21 by Iowa and won't be getting much of a break from the Terps, who are looking to let off some steam after getting burned by Notre Dame 22-0 last week and losing their ranking. The defending ACC champs are still a very good team, but have been hampered by injuries. Those injuries shouldn't mean as much against the struggling Zips, who may have to wait until October to have a realistic shot at a victory. Maryland will be out to prove that last week was a fluke and they are a legitimate Top 25 team.
Prediction: Maryland 56 - Akron 17

Ball State (0-0) @ Missouri (1-0):
- A tough way to open the season is against an improved Missouri team. Ball State cannot come out flat and hope to win against coach Gary Pinkel - a coach who regularly defeated them back in his MAC coaching days at Toledo. So long as the Cards can use the passing game to keep the defense honest, Marcus Merriweather should be able to get some reasonable gains on the ground and a 100+ yard game is a good possibility. If he does, they have a good shot at winning. Ball State plays as well or better on the road than most MAC teams, but I don't think they will have the stuff unless they are just simply overlooked.
Prediction: Missouri 27 - Ball State 20

Buffalo (0-1) @ Rutgers (1-0):
- A disappointing week in Buffalo saw the local Bulls trounced by 1-AA Lehigh by eleven points last week. Rutgers beat the Bulls 31-15 last year in what was their best season since joining the MAC (3-8 record). The Scarlet Knights return 17 starters and are out to get as many wins as possible and score their first bowl berth since 1978. It isn't impossible with this year's schedule and this will probably be one more step towards that goal.
Prediction: Rutgers 28 - Buffalo 3

UCF (0-1) @ Arizona State (1-1):
- If MAC fans wondered how good this UCF team is, they got a real showcase in the Knights' near-miss at Penn State last week in a 27-24 thriller. Need more evidence? This week's trip to meet the Sun Devils of Arizona State will show if the Knights can play at that level every week or if their sharp performances are just streaks of brilliance that come and go with each opponent. Either way, one thing is clear: there is a new force in the MAC and they can score a big one here. ASU probably won't contend for the PAC-10 title, but they are a solid team with a very experienced defense that will challenge UCF all over the field. An effort similar to last week's will be needed to pull this one out. I think they will save their strength for their conference season opener against Marshall in Huntington and let this one slip away.
Prediction: Arizona State 31 - UCF 21

Wyoming (0-1) @ Central Michigan (1-0):
- Both of these teams witnessed a beating last week: Central's whipping of 1-AA Sam Houston State and Wyoming's thrashing by Tennessee. How that will effect each team is a bit of a mystery. The level of competition may have the Cowboys better prepared to play at a high level, but the Volunteers, who are vying for a SEC and BCS title, physically abused them. The easier game could make the Chippewas come out lackadaisical early in the game, but they are also a little more rested than Wyoming. It might be a living lab comparing the effects of conditioning to competition. I think home field advantage gives Central the edge.
Prediction: Central 17 - Wyoming 10

Kent State (1-0) at Ohio State (1-0):
- Kent State should know a little bit about the effects of a freshman phenom on the win category with last year's breakout year by QB Josh Cribbs, but now it is time for the Buckeyes to showcase their own "diaper dandy" in RB Maurice Clarett, who put up some stodgy numbers against Texas Tech on August 24th. Kent has improved considerably in rush defense over the last few years, going from 311 ypg in 1998 all the way down to 164 ypg two years ago. They will have a hard time stopping the Buckeyes' running game, who now has a relatively effective passing game to accompany it now. Kent will have to pass the ball effectively and find ways to move the ball that don't include Cribbs scrambling from the pocket very often. If the Flashes make good on every opportunity and get some turnovers they have a shot at winning, but it probably won't be enough to down the Buckeyes in the Shoe.
Prediction: Ohio State 48 - Kent 21

Iowa (1-0) @ Miami-OH (1-0):
- Iowa had no trouble beating Akron 57-21 in Iowa City, but this week the scenery - and the challenge - change dramatically. Miami is one of the better MAC schools and held off North Carolina last week in Chapel Hill and will dress in home colors for this showdown with the Hawkeyes. Miami was handled by Iowa 44-19 last year and would be more than happy to return the favor on the Hawkeyes, who must travel into a very hostile environment to play against a MAC school that has gained a lot of confidence after a big win over the Tar Heels. Miami QB Ben Roethlisberger must have a banner day, which means the line must block and block well. Redhawk RB Luke Clemens has potential to be one of the conference's best and has not disappointed so far and will need some good ground yards to take pressure off the passing game. Turnovers are always a major factor in close matchups and the team who can get points from giveaways has the decided advantage.
Prediction: Miami 24 - Iowa 20

Northern Illinois (1-0) @ South Florida (1-0):
- The Huskies shocked the Wake Forest Deacons - who were supposed to be considerably improved - in OT last week in their first victory against a BCS conference opponent. South Florida was the shock of 1-A last year after beating five 1-A opponents en route to an 8-3 record and a victory over Pitt of the Big East. One of those losses, however, was against Northern Illinois in DeKalb which is something the Bulls likely have not forgotten. Returning 18 starters from an 8-3 team would suggest that this year's team has a good chance of being one of the few 1-A Independents other than Notre Dame to get considered for a Bowl game if they can knock off some of their more stringent competition this season, including Arkansas and Oklahoma. South Florida has improved steadily against the run since their inaugural season in 1997, but have declined against the pass just as steadily in the same time span. Despite that, the Bulls only losing season was in 1997 and have since gone 30-14. It is safe to call last year's loss an upset and is a feat the Bulls are not willing, or likely in this case, to repeat.
Prediction: South Florida 21 - NIU 13

Northeastern @ Ohio (0-1):
- The return of Bobcat running back Chad Brinker has definitely had an impact on the overall play of this Ohio team. Back from a brain cyst, Brinker rushed for over 100 yards in last week's 27-14 loss at Pittsburgh. The defense also seems to be improving despite only returning three key starters from last year. Northeastern hails from the Atlantic 10 conference in 1-AA, and neither of these teams look to challenge for their respective conference titles this year, though Northeastern is even less likely a threat to beat Ohio in Athens.
Prediction: Ohio 41 - Northeastern 7

Eastern Michigan (0-1) @ Toledo (1-0):
- It isn't fun having to start the season with a team as talented as Michigan State and then have to turn around and start conference play with the defending MAC Champs, but someone has to do it. The Toledo Rockets showed little if no drop-off in last week's 44-16 romp over Cal Poly-SLO, while superstar WR Charles Rogers and the Michigan State Spartans had their way with Eastern Michigan 56-7. Eastern Michigan nipped the Rockets 20-13 in 1999, but since then Toledo has rolled up a 69-21 scoring margin over the Eagles in the past two games. Eastern Michigan has talent and could well upset the Rockets if they are looking ahead to next week's showdown with Minnesota, but you can expect that every conference game is handled with great care by Coach Tom Amstutz and the Rocket players.
Prediction: Toledo 35 - Eastern Michigan 10

Western Michigan (1-0) @ Michigan (1-0):
- The Michigan Wolverines came out victorious in a classic, last-second victory over the Washington Huskies last week... while the Broncos were pounding 1-AA Indiana State into submission 48-17. Last year's game between these two teams was relatively close with the Wolverines pulling out a 17-point victory. It's back to the Big House for Western Michigan who would like to see that margin reversed and pull an upset heard 'round the country. Western has a very tough road ahead starting this week and then going to Purdue next, but then a week's rest awaits them before facing Virginia Tech in a rare home game against a ranked opponent not named Marshall. They have nothing to lose and will have to play in that manner just to stay alive, although it is possible they could pull a win out of one of those latter games. As for this game, probably not as close as last year's mark.
Prediction: Michigan 40 - Western Michigan 14

Marshall is idle this week, preparing for their Sept. 12th showdown on ESPN with Virginia Tech. This will be a down week for the MAC in which I predict the conference will go 3-7 out of conference and Toledo will default themselves to the top of the MAC West rankings in the first conference game of the year. The weeks ahead may hold some big surprises, so stay tuned!
Some information courtesy of: Insider Football and the Mid-American Conference

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