It really is a feather in Marshall's cap that you are the only conference school who has the best Division IA football program in your state. Kudos to you, your team and your coaching staff for that accomplishment. With that said, let's take our first look "Around the MAC."
New TV Deal Gives the MAC 27 Games Shown Regionally or Nationally
Last week the MAC office announced their 2002 television package for MAC football games. The highlights include seven nationally televised games, which includes the MAC Championship Game on ESPN2, and the two guaranteed bowls for the our conference, the GMAC Mobile Bowl and the Motor City Bowl. Along with that several ESPN Game Plan, FoxSports and other regional television outlets give us at least 27 games on either regional or national television. This is by far the best TV deal the MAC has ever had. The FoxSports deal is very interesting in that the games being played in late October and throughout November will not be chosen until about two weeks ahead of time. In this way, the MAC can pick the best games that will most likely determined the conference championship game rather than sticking with a game that may not matter to the standings. It could even get better as the MAC is a very strong candidate to provide a team for either the Silicon Valley Bowl in San Jose this year, or the Humanitarian Bowl, played in Boise (ID). Let's keep our fingers crossed that the MAC will get at least three, and dare we say, four bowl bids this season!
Every Game Counts This Year
Unlike the past two years where only divisional games, this year every MAC game counts in the standings, so your "cross-over" games really matter in determining your team's chances to win your respected division. The schools that did not get a favorable crossover game slate include Miami (NIU at home, @Toledo), Toledo (@UCF and host Miami) and UCF (@WMU and host Toledo). Marshall received a very favorable cross over schedule by hosting Ball State and traveling to Central Michigan.
2-0 Against the ACC!
In week #1, the MAC really handled the ACC well. On Thursday night, Northern Illinois played host to Wake Forest and former Ohio University coach, Jim Grobe. These two teams battled to a 38-35 Demon Deacon victory in the final week of last season and opened this year in DeKalb by playing each other once again. Wake jumped out to a 14-0 lead and NIU battled the entire game coming back from an 11-point 4th quarter deficit to win 42-41 in overtime. This game featured big plays from TD kickoff returns, TD punt returns, a blocked FG kick that could have sealed a Wake victory, and a foiled two-point conversion that gave the Huskies the win. In Chapel Hill, Miami beat the Tar Heals 27-21 for their second win at Kenan Memorial Stadium in four years and their third win there since 1978. Miami is now 3-4 against UNC lifetime and 7-7-1 all-time versus the ACC. Great job to both MAC schools on getting it done against a BCS conference!
A lot has been made recently about the proposed attendance requirements for future IA football admission. Taking an early look around the MAC after this weekend, most conference schools did quite well at the gate, especially when you consider that many of opponents where I-AA teams. Marshall led the way with 31, 042 versus Appalachian State; Western Michigan had 28,268 for Indiana State; Toledo had 23,074 for Cal Poly; Buffalo had 21,103 for Lehigh; Northern Illinois had 19,653 for Wake Forest; Central Michigan had 18,826 for Sam Houston State; Kent State had 16,073 for New Hampshire & Bowling Green had 15,696 for Tennessee Tech.
While most schools around the country are going through stadium expansion projects, Kent State has a reduction in their stadium capacity for this year. Dix Stadium removed one set of end zone bleacher and they will be replaced at the end of this season. The current stadium capacity listed at 30,520 is now just over 25,000 for this year. Speaking of Kent State's attendance, while a crowd of 16,073 might not be very good at most MAC schools, this amount that attended the KSU/New Hampshire game was over double the average per game that Kent State has drawn for a football contest over the past decade. Let's hope this upswing continues for Coach Dean Pees and his program.
Injury Bug Bites Hard
Western Michigan senior defensive end Anthony Allsbury will miss the entire 2002 season after injuring his knee in preseason workouts. Allsbury tore the MCL and fractured a bone in his right knee in a collision in a non-contact drill. Allsbury earned first-team all-MAC honors in 2000 and 2001. He was on the watch lists for the Lombardi Award and Bronco Nagurski Award. Central Michigan HB Terrence Jackson (1,194 yards in 2001) will be out until early October following surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot. Robbie Mixon stepped in and rushed for 140 yards versus Sam Houston State, his most since a 162-yard effort versus Akron in 2000. CB Lionel Hickenbottom suffered a season ending knee injury against Wake Forest. He was a strong candidate for the ‘MAC Defensive-Player-of-the-Year' award. Also, Marcus Sanders, the much-heralded high-school All-American who transferred from Minnesota to Akron, quit the team in early August, only to rejoin the team and get hurt. He did not travel to Iowa this past weekend. Kent State tailback David Alston and Toledo tailback Webster Jackson also did not dress for their respected games due to nagging injuries. For the second straight year, Ohio DT Garrett Bush tore his ACL and will miss the entire season.
Cal Poly Returns to the Scene of the Tragedy
When Cal Poly agreed to fill in Toledo's open date this past February when Southern Illinois dropped the Rockets from their schedule, a few heads were turned. Cal Poly last visited northwest Ohio in 1960. In a tragedy known all too well by Marshall fans, 22 people were killed, including 16 players, when their chartered plane crashed just after takeoff on October 29, 1960 from Toledo's Express Airport. The Mustangs had just lost a game at Bowling Green, ate dinner then boarded a bus to the Toledo airport for their ill-fated voyage. One of the survivors was Ted Tollner, former head football coach at USC and San Diego State. One person not on that plane was Monday Night Football Host, John Madden. Madden had played and graduated from Cal Poly in 1959, but was friends with many of the juniors and seniors who perished. He does not fly till this day and either drives or takes trains to his games/events. To have better charma, Cal Poly flew into Detroit's Metro Airport this time, but none of the survivors of the 1960 tragedy came to watch. Toledo won the game 44-16. Cal Poly will fly again to the ‘buckeye state' later in September to play Kent State.
Just Bee Bopping Around
Ohio's Bop White picked off two passes Saturday night at Pittsburgh to boost his career total to 13. With two more picks, White will tie former Akron All-American Dwight Smith for fourth place all-time in league history.
Fort Wayne's Finest
Two MAC RBs are attempting to become the first players in their respective school's history to rush for 1,000-plus yards for three consecutive seasons. Ball State's Marcus Merriweather has rushed for 1,244 (2001) and 1,004 (2000) yards while Northern Illinois' Thomas Hammock has piled up 1,096 (2001) and 1,083 (2000) yards. Ironically, both players are from Fort Wayne, Ind. Merriweather is a graduate of Snider High School and Hammock an alum of Bishop Luers HS. Hammock is also bidding to become a three-time first-team Verizon Academic All-American. Hammock had 172 yards and two TDs in NIU's season opening win over Wake Forest.
Former NIU Quarterback Makes Cleveland Browns Final 2002 Roster
Frisman Jackson, the former QB at Northern Illinois, made the Cleveland Browns final roster as a wide receiver. Jackson, who lost his starting job just prior to his senior year for the Huskies and then transferred to Western Illinois, was an undrafted free agent for the Browns and did the improbable, make the team while playing at a new position. Along with making some terrific catches during the preseason, Jackson also was played on special teams and used his former QB skills passing the ball very well in some gadget plays.
Brinker is Back, Baby!
Ohio's Chad Brinker was limited to five games last year before brain surgery ended his season. Brinker came back strong with a game-high 119 rushing yards on 24 carries in Saturday's season opener at Pittsburgh. Brinker was averaging 7.4 ypc carry last year when sidelined with a cyst in his head that had to be surgically removed.
MAC Head Coaches of the Past Come Back
Two former MAC head football coaches are now back as assistant coaches. Former Central Michigan head football coach Dick Flynn, who guided the ‘Chips from 1994-99 and coached at CMU for 22 years, is now the linebackers coach at Akron. Former Kent State head coach, Pete Cordelli, a head coach for the Golden Flashes from 1991-93, is now the safeties coach for Western Michigan.
Gary Pinkel Signs Extension at Missouri – Plays Two MAC Teams
Ball State opens its season at Missouri, who is coached by former Toledo mentor Gary Pinkel. Pinkel at UT from 1991-2000, compiled a 5-4-1 record versus BSU and just signed a contract extension through the 2007 season after going 4-7 last year and beating Illinois this past weekend to open the 2002 season. The Tigers invade Bowling Green Sept. 14 for a rematch of last year's 20-13 Falcon triumph.
Until next week, here's a big toast to the MAC for going 8-5 in non-conference play during the first week of the season. The MAC has some great opportunities to garner some headlines again this week as Miami hosts Iowa, Western Michigan travels to Michigan, Wyoming goes to Central Michigan, Ball State visits Missouri, NIU treks to South Florida & UCF goes west to tangle with Arizona State. Mark it down now people the MAC will win at least two of these games, possibly as many as four. Lets keep our fingers crossed.
Look for Nick Gerogosian's print column in every issue of Herd Insider this fall, beginning with our September 17 issue covering the Virginia Tech game!