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NCAAF Team Report - Central Michigan - INSIDE SLANT

The stage is perfectly set. If this is what the MAC schedule-makers had in mind when they crafted the 2013 calendar, they certainly had their thinking caps on.

It will be mid-November, with the days growing dark very early, the sky frequently chiseled in a raw, steel gray, and the chill a constant companion when Ball State and Northern Illinois meet to decide the hierarchy in the MAC's West Division.

It also will be very near the end of a strong season for the MAC, and it will get the opportunity to showcase its best when the two-time defending champion Huskies host the streaking Cardinals in a mid-week, nationally-televised game of MAC king-on-the-mountain.

Northern Illinois comes in 9-0, and 5-0 in the MAC, and is one of just six unbeaten teams left in the Bowl Championship Series. Northern Illinois has won 22 of its last 23 games. The Huskies extended their winning streak over MAC teams to 22 games, the longest conference winning streak in the country, and have won 14 straight road games.

Ball State comes steam-rolling into this epic showdown at 9-1 overall, and 6-0 in the MAC. The Cardinals have won 11 straight MAC games, dating back to last season, good for the fourth-longest conference win streak in the nation.

Need more? The Huskies and the Cardinals have it.

Northern Illinois owns the longest conference winning streak in the country, with 22 straight victories against MAC competition. Ball State has won seven straight games this season, and 15 of its last 17 games overall.

And then there is the matchup inside the matchup, as the MAC's two best quarterbacks lead these teams into this ultimate MAC West heavyweight bout.

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch has been the MAC's poster boy for the past two seasons, and he remains one of the best run/pass combination threats in the nation. His toughness and iron will, combined with an exceptional skill package, has allowed Lynch to lead the Huskies to such success over the past two seasons.

Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning has completed 234 of his 372 passes, with 27 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Wenning has thrown for more than 3,000 yards, averaging better than 300 yards per game.

With all of the numbers stacked up on both sides, Ball State coach Pete Lembo is pleased that his team has reached this point in the schedule, positioned to battle for the MAC West lead.

"We are very happy ... to be 9-1 at this point and to continue to be in the hunt for a championship," Lembo said.

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey expects the confrontation with Ball State to yield everything, including the unexpected.

"The ball we play with is oblong, not round like a basketball," Carey said. "That thing bounces funny. If you're not paying attention to it, it'll go in a direction you don't understand."

The game will not settle the MAC West Division title, once and for all, but it will certainly put the winner in an extremely strong position to lay claim to that championship over the final couple weeks of the season.

EAST DIVISON

Akron

The Zips (3-7, 2-4) continue to work towards the future, hoping to add to their win total, build some momentum heading into the off-season, and give their young talent more opportunities to mature. Head coach Terry Bowden's long-term plan has paid some dividends this year, and the Zips are looking for more.

GAME PREVIEW: at UMass, Saturday. The Zips get to test one of the lowest rated programs in the FBS during the same week that they have announced they will play one of the traditional powers in FBS -- Oklahoma -- in the 2015 season. Akron has added some punch to its offense and will hope to utilize that against UMass, a team that has struggled to score this season.

Bowling Green

The Falcons (6-3, 4-1) are still in the thick of the MAC East title race, but trail division leader Buffalo by a game and therefore have no margin for error as they move down the stretch run of the season. That showdown with Buffalo looms in the distance.

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Ohio, Tuesday, Nov. 12. Bowling Green is trying to fill the ranks, and shore up its highly touted defense and its receiving corps, after injuries have claimed several top line players in recent weeks. The Falcons have been building depth over the last couple of seasons, and now that depth has to pay dividends.

Buffalo

The Bulls (7-2, 5-0) are riding a tidal wave of momentum as they push toward what would be an extremely stunning MAC East Division title. Buffalo has moved into this position of strength the old fashioned way, with defense and a power running game.

GAME PREVIEW: at Toledo, Tuesday, Nov. 12. The Rockets are still a game back in the MAC West Division race, and have yet to face powerful Northern Illinois, so they face a must-win situation when they host the Bulls. Buffalo will hope to utilize its strong running game and RB Branden Oliver to keep Toledo's high-output spread offense off the field.

Kent State

The Golden Flashes (2-8, 1-5) have gone from divisional champs and an unbeaten conference regular season record in 2012, to the doldrums in 2013. There have been some key injuries, and the transition to a new coaching staff has been tougher than expected, so Kent State would certainly like to see some signs that the program is beginning to move in the right direction.

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Miami, Wednesday, Nov. 13. When the RedHawks come calling, it affords Kent State its best chance in some time to get a win and ease some of the pall of negativity that has plagued the Golden Flashes in 2013. Miami just can't score, so if Kent State generates some offense, that provides a logical path to victory.

Massachusetts

The Minutemen (1-8, 1-4) are still struggling with the transition to the top tier of college football. As the losses mount, and the poor offensive showings continue, it will be tougher and tougher for UMass to keep buying what head coach Charley Molnar is selling as he tries to build a program that can compete in the MAC, and maybe eventually challenge for a place in the conference's top echelon.

GAME PREVIEW: at Akron, Saturday. The Zips have been where UMass is now. Akron is working its way out of the MAC's basement after three seasons with one win, and the next step up the ladder for the Zips will be against the Minutemen. If UMass can slow Akron RB Jawon Chisholm, who has averaged better than 150 yards on the ground over his past two games, then the Minutemen will have an opportunity to be competitive in this one.

Miami

The RedHawks (0-9, 0-5) are hoping to stagger to the finish line in the 2013 season without this proud, history rich program being permanently damaged. The RedHawks have issues with depth, talent, and experience. The overwhelming majority of the roster is made up of players in their first or second year of college football, so the results have not been all that surprising.

GAME PREVIEW: at Kent State, Wednesday, Nov. 13. For Miami, caution can be thrown to the wind and an "anything goes" approach adopted for this final stretch of three games, which begins with a matchup against the Golden Flashes, who have fallen on hard times of their own. Miami's interim head coach Mike Bath, a former quarterback with the RedHawks, probably hasn't made the case for keeping the job, but the deck was likely stacked against that happening.

Ohio

The Bobcats (6-3, 3-2) hit desperation mode the last time out after absorbing a 30-3 spanking from Buffalo. Turnovers hurt Ohio in that MAC East Division showdown, and a safety just piled on to those woes. Ohio was the pre-season pick to win the East title, but the Bobcats are going to need a lot of help to make that possible.

GAME PREVIEW: at Bowling Green, Tuesday, Nov. 12. The winner in this MAC East Division showdown will still have to chase down surprising Buffalo to claim that title, but this is essentially an elimination game for the Bobcats. A third MAC loss would be devastating for the Bobcats, who were held to a season-low of just 233 yards of offense in last week's loss to the Bulls.

WEST DIVISION

Ball State

The Cardinals (9-1, 6-0) have been on a steam-roller run while stacking up seven straight wins, mounting a strong challenge in the MAC West Division to two-time conference champion Northern Illinois, and turning a few heads nationally. When QB Keith Wenning is on top of his game, this team is an offensive machine that appears on course to re-write the record books in Muncie.

GAME PREVIEW: at Northern Illinois, Wednesday, Nov. 13. The MAC's ultimate showdown will get a national stage in this med-week televised game, which will likely produce the next MAC West champion, and a strong favorite to win the conference's overall title. Northern Illinois' versatile QB Jordan Lynch will be matching wits and offenses with Ball State's rocket-armed QB Keith Wenning.

Central Michigan

The Chippewas (3-6, 2-3) need a string finish over their final three games in order to close the season with some strong momentum. That is an achievable and realistic goal for a team that was crippled by the loss of its starting quarterback and starting running back in the season-opener at Michigan, and then has spent most of the next eight games trying to regroup and recover.

GAME PREVIEW: at Western Michigan, Saturday. This rivalry game catches both programs, which have been strong in recent years and contenders in the MAC West, at a low point. The Chippewas appear to be on more solid ground right now, but not by much.

Eastern Michigan

The Eagles (2-8, 1-5) have been rocked by the recent murder of one of their teammates, and just last week head coach Ron English was fired, ostensibly for using a homophobic slur in a film session. The fact English went 11-46 over his five seasons at Eastern certainly made it easy to fire him over the inappropriate remark.

GAME PREVIEW: Idle. The Eagles play next on Nov. 23 when they will host Bowling Green.

Northern Illinois

The Huskies (9-0, 5-0) are streaking towards a third straight MAC championship, and possibly another berth in a BCS bowl game. Senior QB Jordan Lynch leads a physical, rugged offense, while the Huskies' defense has performed at a championship level without grabbing many headlines.

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Ball State, Wednesday, Nov. 13. While the Huskies have been rolling up nine straight wins, they have been particularly effective at home in Huskie Stadium. Northern Illinois has scored 20 or more points in 26 straight home games. And now the Huskies get to host Ball State in the biggest game of the season in the MAC. A comfortable setting will certainly be working in Northern Illinois' favor as they try to slow Ball State QB Keith Wenning, and restrain the prolific Ball State offense.

Toledo

The Rockets (6-3, 4-1) are trying to keep pace while all of the focus in the MAC West race has been on Northern Illinois and Ball State, the only unbeatens in conference games on the West side. Toledo has been improving steadily, building the depth it has needed to weather several key injuries, and hoping it gets the opportunity to decide its own fate in the MAC West race.

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Buffalo, Tuesday, Nov. 12. Toledo has had its sights set on a late season showdown with two-time MAC champ Northern Illinois, and expected that to be the key meeting down the stretch. But then along comes surprising MAC East leader Buffalo, which has yet to lose in conference play. The Rockets can stay alive in the West race by winning here, and provide a real confidence boost for those final two games in the MAC title battle.

Western Michigan

The Broncos (1-9, 1-5) are coming off an overtime loss to an emotionally charged Eastern Michigan team, and hoping to rebound in this rivalry game. First-year head coach P.J. Fleck has been able to hold things together in Kalamazoo so far, and another strong showing would go a long ways toward accomplishing that.

GAME PREVIEW: vs. Central Michigan, Saturday. The Broncos have serious issues with experience and depth, and those are not addressed in a week's worth of practice and film sessions. Western Michigan has to find some way to make its thin ranks work, as it has in a recent win over UMass, and nearly so in an overtime loss to Eastern Michigan last week.

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NCAAF Team Report - Central Michigan - NOTES, QUOTES

--Buffalo RB Branden Oliver set a school record for the modern era when he pounded out 249 rushing yards in the recent win over Ohio. Oliver added three catches for 19 yards in the game, giving him 268 all-purpose yards

--Eastern Michigan QB Brogan Roback, a highly-touted four-star prospect, completed 9-of-22 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score as the Eagles beat Western Michigan in overtime.

--Western Michigan PK Andrew Haldeman hit all six of his field goal attempts in the recent overtime loss to Eastern Michigan.

--Ball State WR Willie Snead had a pair of touchdown catches in the most recent win over Central Michigan, giving him the record for most TD receptions in a season with 12.

--Akron RB Jawon Chisholm has rushed for 317 yards on 53 carries over the past two games.

--Buffalo RB Branden Oliver has put the punch in the Bulls' attack. Oliver recently established a Division I era school record with his 249 yards rushing in the key MAC East win over Ohio.

--Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch leads the Huskies with 173 carries so far this season. Lynch has proven to be the MAC's best dual-threat quarterback.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you have a great defense, you have a chance to win a lot of football games, and that has been the formula for our success." -- Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn on what has allowed the Bulls to win seven straight games after opening the season with losses to Ohio State and Baylor.

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NCAAF Team Report - Central Michigan - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK IN THE MAC:

1. The Eastern Michigan football program has been one of the MAC's least successful over the past couple of decades, and the five years Ron English was given to turn things around have done little to move the Eagles in the right direction. After English was fired recently, the Eagles promptly won for the first time in more than two months. The Eagles have two games left to show if the exit of English gets them headed toward better days.

2. The MAC officiating crews will be under a lot of scrutiny this week and through the end of the season after a couple major errors occurred in the MAC East showdown between Buffalo and Ohio. The officials first muffed a fumble call, stopping an Ohio drive deep in Buffalo territory, and later the refs blew the call on a play when they ruled Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton was guilty of intentional grounding from the end zone.

3. Will the BCS have room for an undefeated, MAC champion Northern Illinois? The Huskies are certainly building an impressive case for being considered for the top tier bowls, with a pair of wins over Big Ten teams, and a showcase star in standout QB Jordan Lynch. If the Huskies run the table, it will be very hard to make a case for keeping them out of the BCS.

4. Will we see Buffalo close the deal on its unexpected march toward a MAC East Division title, or crumble during a difficult late stretch that will see the Bulls face MAC West power Toledo on the road, and then entertain MAC East power Bowling Green in a season finale.

5. Ever since an early season loss to Ball State, Toledo has been quietly keeping pace in the MAC West, just a game behind two-time MAC champ Northern Illinois and potent challenger Ball State. It will take several events in the final weeks to let the Rockets slip into the lead, but with just a few games to play, it is still a possibility. Toledo hosts Northern Illinois on Nov. 20, and the Rockets are hoping that is a defacto West title game.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Central Michigan QB Cody Kater, who has not played since breaking his clavicle in the opener at Michigan, is available for this week's game with Western Michigan.

--Ball State S Christopher Calloway is questionable for the game with Northern Illinois due to a neck injury.

--Ball State DB Keith Lee is questionable for the game with Northern Illinois due to a neck injury.

--Bowling Green DB Josh Pettus is questionable for the MAC East showdown with Ohio due to a knee injury.

--Buffalo LB Adam Redden is questionable for the game at Toledo due to a knee injury.

--Buffalo QB Alex Zordich is questionable for the Toledo game due to a recent concussion

--UMass LB Steve Casali is questionable for Saturday's game against Akron due to an undisclosed injury.

--UMass DB A.J. Doyle is questionable for Saturday's game against Akron with an ankle injury.

--UMass DB Trey Dudley-Giles is questionable for the Akron game due to an undisclosed injury.

--Miami LB Kent Kern is questionable for the game against Kent State due to a recent concussion.

--Northern Illinois OL Tyler Loos suffered a broken leg in the recent rout of UMass. Loos remained behind for surgery after his team returned home following the game. He is lost for the remainder of the season and post-season.

--Ohio OL Sam Johnson has a knee injury that has left his status in question for the game at Bowling Green.

--RB Daz'mond Patterson is doubtful for the Bowling Green game due to a foot injury.

--WR Malik Rodriguez is questionable for the game against Bowling Green due to a hand injury.

--LB Jake Schany is questionable for the game at Bowling Green due to a recent concussion.

--Toledo RB David Fluellen has been nursing an ankle injury since the Bowling Green game and his availability for the game with Buffalo is still uncertain.

--Eastern Michigan WR Demarius Reed was found dead in an off-campus apartment the day before his team faced Ohio in a recent MAC game. His death is being investigated as a homicide.

--Toledo LB Trent Voss has had surgery to repair a broken arm he suffered in the double-overtime win over Navy. Voss is done for the season.

--Ohio CB Larenzo Fisher has been suspended indefinitely as a disciplinary measure.

--Bowling Green DB Gabe Martin tore his ACL in the loss to Toledo and will be out for the remainder of the season. Martin was first-team All-MAC last year, and had 36 tackles in seven games this season.

--Bowling Green WR Jared Cohen has been out since suffering a high ankle sprain in the loss to Toledo. A date for his return has not yet been established.

--Northern Illinois LB Rasheen Lemon remains out indefinitely due to a suspension.

--Kent State PK/P Anthony Melchiori will miss the remainder of the season with an injured hamstring.

--Bowling Green WR Chris Gallon is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered in the loss at Mississippi State. In 2012, Gallon led the Falcons with 54 receptions for 720 yards and six touchdowns.

--Akron WR Keith Sconiers will miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.

--Ball State WR KeVonn Mabon will miss the rest of the season with a broken collarbone.

--Central Michigan DT Jabari Dean is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a groin injury.

--Central Michigan OL Jake Olson is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a wrist injury.

--Toledo DT Elijah Jones is sidelined indefinitely with a blood clot.

--Toledo DB Jordan Haden is questionable for the game against Buffalo due to a collarbone injury.

--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.

--Bowling Green WR Jermal Hosley is expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

--Western Michigan RB Tevin Drake status for the upcoming game with Central Michigan 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.

--Western Michigan TE Clark Mussman will miss the remainder of the season due to a foot injury.

--Western Michigan QB Tyler VanTubbergen is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

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