NCAAF Team Report - Ball State - INSIDE SLANT
As the season lumbers toward the halfway mark on the calendar, the MAC can puff its chest out over the accomplishments of a couple of its teams, but its image is scuffed up and dragged down by the futility-heavy lower tier of teams.
While unbeaten Northern Illinois owns wins over both Iowa and Purdue, and the 5-1 Ball State Cardinals are coming off a 48-27 thumping of Virginia for what many consider the biggest win in the history of the program, the league's weak spot still looms large.
The MAC's lower reaches show five teams that are a combined 2-25 at this juncture. Western Michigan (0-6), Miami (0-5) and UMass (0-5) lead the block of bottom feeders, while Akron (1-5) and Eastern Michigan (1-4) are still part of the club.
The on-going ineptness cost Miami coach Don Treadwell his job after his team lost at home 21-9. That defeat left Treadwell at 8-21 in his two-plus seasons, and got him jettisoned after the 0-5 start.
Miami, "The Cradle of Coaches" that counts Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, Paul Brown, Woody Hayes Weeb Ewbank and Jim Tressel among its many former coaches, has a rich tradition full of championships, so the recent extended swoon was a shock in Oxford, and Treadwell's time was up.
Western Michigan has been very competitive in the MAC's rugged West Division in recent years, so the nosedive to an 0-6 start under new head coach P.J. Fleck is not sitting well in Kalamazoo. The cupboard might have been thin when Fleck arrived, but it was far from bare.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is little surprise with the struggles at UMass, since this is a fledgling FBS program still trying to prove it belongs with the big boys. The Minutemen are also dealing with the psychological impact of a campaign by some former players to have coach Charlie Molnar ousted. That distraction can't help.
There's no surprise that Eastern Michigan is wallowing near the basement, since this program has not had a winning season since 1995, and the break-even campaign of 2011 (6-6) was such an unusual event it got the coach of the year award in the conference for Ron English.
Now in his fifth season and facing an almost certain fourth losing campaign, English could be the next to walk the plank.
At Akron, Terry Bowden brings a higher profile that buys him more time, but the Zips' one win doesn't have anyone singing Bowden's praises just yet.
As the MAC moves into the second half of the season, it trumpets the accomplishments of Northern Illinois and Ball State, while remaining a bit red-faced over the fact that five of its teams are hunkered down near the bottom of the national rankings in the FBS. The MAC's lower tier teams will get the chance to beat up on each other a bit as the season progresses, but it's doubtful any of them do much to change the way they drag down the overall image of the league.
The Zips (1-5) get the Jekyll and Hyde award from the MAC, since they had the strength to take Michigan to the final play from inside the Wolverines five yardline before losing by four, and then two weeks later get crushed 43-3 by Ohio University. The Zips appeared to have their offense moving along and improving week-by-week, but the near shutout against the Bobcats had brought on some panic. Akron is going to have to score and score often, since its defense has allowed less than 30 points just once in six games.
GAME PREVIEW: at Northern Illinois, Saturday. The Zips run into a machine here, and one that has the ability to take them apart early and often. If theAkron that played Michigan even for 59 minutes-plus shows up, this might be an interesting game. Otherwise, QB Jordan Lynch should shred the Zips and name his score.
The Falcons (5-1) reach the midway point in the season with a pretty good rhythm going. In the most recent win over UMass, Bowling Green cranked out 448 yards on 65 plays and at one point scored on four straight possessions. Wins in their first three conference games have the Falcons positioned to control their own destiny in the MAC East Division race.
GAME PREVIEW: at Mississippi State, Saturday. The Falcons go south and tangle with one of the SEC's middle tier teams, and the 2-3 Bulldogs are likely smarting after receiving a 59-26 pounding from LSU. Mississippi State appears to have one of the better defenses in the land, allowing only 23 points per game, but that stat is heavily distorted by lop-sided wins over Alcorn State and Troy State.
The Bulls (3-2) are on a three-game winning streak and from most corners they are clearly the surprise of the MAC so far this season. They have not been overpowering in any aspect of the game, but it seems that their losses at Ohio State and at Baylor to open the season did not leave this team in any kind of physical or psychological mess, despite the 110-33 combined deficit they faced in those two outings.
GAME PREVIEW: at Western Michigan, Saturday. The Bulls (3-2) are looking at the door being open to continue their winning streak against the winless Broncos. Sophomore QB Joe Licata has eight touchdown passes and just four interceptions to date, and if he can maintain that kind of play and not put his team in tough spots, the Bulls are plenty capable of winning on the road in matchups like this.
The Golden Flashes (2-4) are coming off a respectable showing against the MAC's best team in their 38-24 loss at Northern Illinois, but they are very aware that one more loss in the league would effectively eliminate them from defending their 2012 MAC East title. Kent will continue to struggle as its offense sputters and produces only 18 points per game.
GAME PREVIEW: at Ball State, Saturday. The Golden Flashes can only hope that Ball State is still celebrating its historic win over Virginia last week, and not fully focused on this matchup. Ball State QB Keith Wenning is on fire, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards so far with 11 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. The Cardinals are 12th in the nation with nearly 340 yards per game through the air, so it will be up to Kent's defensive rush and backfield to keep the Flashes in this one.
The Minutemen (0-5) stumble along and the sense of desperation grows. Massachusetts has scored only 35 points in five games, and under that kind of pressure the defense has played reasonably well, but it has not been able to keep them in most games. Coach Charley Molnar is feeling the pressure to produce something positive, and do so very quickly.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Miami, Saturday. The Minutemen have to view this game as their best chance to snap out of their long funk and win, but they will need to demonstrate that they can move the chains and generate some points. UMass has some injury issues to work through, but this matchup of winless teams should allow the Minutemen to work through that, since the RedHawks will come in just five days after their head coach and offensive coordinator were fired on the heels of an 0-5 start.
The RedHawks (0-5) hope that they have hit rock bottom and can now start to scratch their way back up the mountain. Head coach Don Treadwell was fired after the most recent loss, a 21-9 home defeat at the hands of a then one-win Central Michigan team. Miami chose former star QB Mike Bath, who was serving as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, to take over the team for the rest of the season.
GAME PREVIEW: at UMass, Saturday. The RedHawks (0-5) travel east to meet the winless Minutemen, so one of these two struggling programs will have something to smile about this week. Both teams are incredibly inept offensively, so it should be a low-scoring affair. UMass averages only seven points per game, while the RedHawks have scored just under nine per game. Don't expect Miami to make any radical changes as former standout QB Mike Bath takes over as interim coach, but he certainly knows the passing game well.
The Bobcats (4-1) have won four straight games after getting roughed up in their opener by Louisville. QB Tyler Tettleton has thrown eight touchdown passes with just three interceptions, bolstered by a modestly productive rushing attack that is putting out about 150 yards each game. The defense has been stout, giving up just over 20 points per game.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Central Michigan, Saturday. The Bobcats are on a roll and see this game as the stepping stone to a 7-1 start, since lowly Eastern Michigan and winless Miami come next, just before a showdown with Bowling Green. Ohio will face a Central Michigan team that has been floundering since losing its starting quarterback and starting tailback in a costly loss at Michigan to open the season. The Chippewas have adjusted to the loss, but their offense has yet to become productive and ranks near the bottom of the FBS.
The Cardinals (5-1) have one of the MAC's most impressive wins of the season to their credit after they went on the road and dominated Virginia 48-27. They have one of the nation's highest-scoring offenses, which cranks out better than 41 points per game. QB Keith Wenning has this team rolling, and on a collision course with defending league champ Northern Illinois in mid-November.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Kent State, Saturday. The Golden Flashes don't much resemble the Kent team that swept its way to the MAC East Division crown last season. Kent State has struggled to get its offense in gear, and averages just 18 points per game. The Cardinals have a huge advantage in terms of production, and appear to have a ton of momentum on their side, as well.
The Chippewas (2-4) are coming off a victory over winless Miami, but we can't discount that completely, since it might allow Central Michigan to restore a bit of its shattered confidence. Michigan blasted this team 59-9 in the opener, and knocked out the starting quarterback and All-MAC starting tailback, both with season-ending injuries. Since then, it has been a struggle to mount any kind of consistent offensive threat.
GAME PREVIEW: at Ohio, Saturday. The Chippewas stay on the road and in the MAC East for a second straight week, after dispatching Miami. This will be a whole different picture, however, since the Bobcats are believed to be the class of the East and are the favorites to win the divisional title. QB Tyler Tettleton is more steady and productive, and does little to hurt his team's chances. The Bobcats have balance in the run game, too, so they don't wow you, they just wear you down.
The Eagles (1-4) are cascading downhill, and there is no indication they can stop the slide. Four straight losses have followed an opening win of suspect value that came against Howard of the FCS. Head coach Ron English has stayed with QB Tyler Benz, despite the fact this offense has generated just 17 points per game this season. English is likely perilously close to getting fired, and needs something good to happen in order to save his job.
GAME PREVIEW: at Army, Saturday. The Eagles, who got roughed up at Buffalo last weekend, stay in New York to face the Black Knights. Army is just 2-4, but sports a tougher schedule than what Eastern Michigan has faced. The Knights want to run the ball, and everybody knows it, but they still average better than 325 yards on the ground per game, fourth-best in the nation. Army likes to grind, and the Eagles have not fared well in physical battles of attrition.
The Huskies (5-0) have turned out to be everything they were advertised to be, and then some. Their push into the top 25 rankings is as much to do about accomplishments this season than it is to do with their reputation earned over the last decade or so. They averaged more than 42 points and nearly 530 yards of offense per game, and with slick senior QB Jordan Lynch at the controls, the Huskies have owned the MAC.
GAME PREVIEW: vs. Akron, Saturday: The Huskies will get a test of their focus and resolve here, since the Zips are one of the MAC's long-suffering programs and Akron comes in with just one win in its six games, with that coming against James Madison. As prohibitive underdogs, the Zips can go for broke on every snap, but this should be a huge mismatch in terms of talent, and physical play. Northern Illinois has avoided letdowns in games like this during its current reign over the rest of the MAC.
The Rockets (3-3) reach the midway point in their season still alive in the MAC West Division race, but with absolutely no margin for error, since they have one loss in conference play and trail both Northern Illinois and Ball State in the West standings. Toledo has the best offensive balance in the league, with 205 passing yards and 208 rushing yards per game, but the Rockets will need to generate more points from that offense in order to have a shot at emerging from the MAC wars at the top of the West.
GAME PREVIEW: Idle this week Toledo will host Navy next week.
The Broncos (0-6) are trying to avert a total collapse under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck. Western Michigan wants to be a spread team, but the Broncos are still searching for the consistency in the run game to make anything work offensively. QB Tyler Van Tubbergen has thrown 10 interceptions with just four touchdown passes, so this team is very familiar with being in a bad spot.
GAME PREVIEW: Host Buffalo, Saturday. The winless Broncos have scored more than 20 points just once in six games, and their defense has been allowing more than 38 points per game, so the math tells a lot of the story. The Bulls come in on a surprising roll, winning three straight at home, and QB Joe Licata seems to be gaining in confidence each week. Western Michigan will need to win the turnover battle if it hopes to grab that first win.
NCAAF Team Report - Ball State - NOTES, QUOTES
--Toledo RB David Fluellen appeared to put the punch back in the Rockets' spread offense with his 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns as the Rockets were taking apart Western Michigan 47-20. Fluellen's rushing is the key to making Toledo a contender in the MAC West.
--Ball State DE Jonathan Newsome is leading the charge for the Cardinals and he was very active in their win at Virginia. Newsome had four stops, with a pair of sacks and he helped the Cardinals force four Virginia turnovers.
--Kent State KR Dri Archer, who had been battling a nagging leg injury since the opener against Liberty, took his first kickoff return of the season back 100 yards for a touchdown against Northern Illinois. With four kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career, a healthy Archer gives the Golden Flashes a special teams weapon.
--Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson knows how to get his team in the end zone. In its 26 trips to the red zone this season, Bowling Green has scored 24 times, with the other two trips ending in kneel-downs at the end of big wins.
--Central Michigan RB Saylor Lavallii, a backup who was pressed into a starting role when All-MAC returning starter Zurlon Tipton sustained a season-ending ankle injury on just his fourth carry of the season. Lavallii rushed for 151 yards and scored two touchdowns in his team's recent win over Miami.
--UMass RB Jamal Wilson, a redshirt sophomore, put some spark in the Minutemen's offense when he rushed for 119 yards in the recent loss at Bowling Green. It was the first 100-yard rushing performance of Wilson's career.
--Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton kept up his steady level of play by completing 14-of-21 passes for 171 yards and a couple of touchdowns when the Bobcats defeated Akron and won their fourth straight game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some of the guys have to play so many reps, be it on offense or defense along with the kicking game. Because we do lack quality numbers right now, we have to leave some guys in for an awful lot of work and it catches up to us at the end of the game." -- UMass coach Charlie Molnar on the difficulties his team has faced during its 0-5 start.
NCAAF Team Report - Ball State - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK IN THE MAC
1. The Miami RedHawks have ended the Don Treadwell era in the middle of his third season and put the program in the hands of former RedHawks QB Mike Bath, who was an assistant on Treadwell's staff. It is up to Bath to put some life in this team, which can't score and can't seem to stop anyone else from scoring. Bath played quarterback for Miami from 1998-2000.
2. Could Buffalo, a program that has long struggled to put out a consistent offensive punch that would put it on a level with the MAC's top teams, finally be ready to show some explosiveness? In the most recent 42-14 win over Eastern Michigan, the Bulls got a 60-yard touchdown run from RB Branden Oliver in the first quarter, and KR Devin Campbell had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Buffalo scored more than 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1981.
3. What will be the fate of Eastern Michigan head coach Ron English, and will he last the rest of the season? English is in his fifth season in Ypsilanti and the former Michigan assistant is just 1-4 this season after going 10-38 his first four years. With a tough road game at Army this week, followed by games with Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo when the Eagles will be decisive underdogs each time, English could be 1-8 before they get to a winnable game in early November against Western Michigan.
4. Ball State is 5-1 and coming off a big win at Virginia, so the case can be made that the Cardinals are the hottest team in the MAC. Can Ball State sustain its high level of play and actually present a real challenge to defending MAC champ Northern Illinois when the two meet in DeKalb in mid-November. Ball State should be 9-1 at that point, and 6-0 in the MAC.
5. Bowling Green was not central to the discussion in the pre-season when the MAC media looked at the teams most likely to contend for the conference championship this year, designated as the fourth-most likely team to win the league. But at 5-1, the Falcons have made a pretty good case for being in that elite club. They own a big win over Tulsa, they defeated defending MAC East champ Kent State, and only a loss at Indiana mars their record at this point. With a strong showing at Mississippi State this weekend, Bowling Green keeps moving up the ladder.
--Akron WR Dee Frieson is questionable for Saturday's game with Northern Illinois due to a knee injury.
--Akron WR Keith Sconiers will miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
--Central Michigan OL Jake Olson is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury.
--Kent State OL Jim Katusha is questionable for Saturday's game against Ball State due to a recent concussion.
--Toledo DT Elijah Jones is sidelined indefinitely with a blood clot.
--Central Michigan QB Cody Kater broke his clavicle in the opener at Michigan and is lost indefinitely.
--Central Michigan RB Zurlon Tipton broke his ankle in the opening loss to Michigan and is likely out for the season.
--Buffalo RB Jordan Johnson will miss the rest of the season after having elbow surgery.
--Ball State S Martez Hester is questionable for Saturday's game against Kent State due to an ankle injury.
--Bowling Green WR Jermal Hosley is expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
--Bowling Green S Josh Pettus is questionable for Saturday's game against Mississippi State due to a knee injury.
--Buffalo RB Anthone Taylor's status for Saturday's game with Western Michigan is in doubt due to disciplinary measures.
--UMass S Joe Colton is questionable for Saturday's game with Miami with an undisclosed injury.
--Northern Illinois WR Angelo Sebastiano is questionable for Saturday's game against Akron due to a back injury.
--Western Michigan DL Cleveland Smith's status for Saturday's game against Buffalo is uncertain due to a pending disciplinary matter
--Ohio TE John Tanner is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.
--Ball State WR KeVonn Mabon is out for the season with a broken collar bone.
--Ohio CB Larenzo Fisher has been suspended indefinitely as a disciplinary measure.
--Northern Illinois LB Rasheen Lemon remains out indefinitely due to a suspension.
--Western Michigan RB Tevin Drake is suspended for an undisclosed disciplinary reason.