So, it’s over. Another MAC season in the books. And, well, it didn’t end the way it was expected to. That’s the point of this article, in fact. To see what happened, how, and why.
Central Michigan – 8-6 (6-2)
Last year, as the clock ran out on the season, the Chippewas looked at their calendar, saw 1-11, and packed up John Bonamego’s belongings, hiring former Florida coach Jim McElwain. He has been a revelation for this Central Michigan program, leading the Chippewas to an 8-4 regular season and finishing with a 6-1 run to top the division after Northern Illinois survived a furious Western Michigan rally in Week 14. The Chippewas will be disappointed with their MAC Championship game loss but will ultimately consider the season a success, thanks to the progress made under McElwain.
Bowl game: a 48-11 loss to San Diego State in the New Mexico Bowl
Western Michigan – 7-5 (5-3)
The Broncos came into this season with high hopes. They were favored for the MAC West title but stumbled on hurdles that champions clear. Despite victories over the two teams that played in the championship game, they lost road games to the bottom three in the West’s final standings — Toledo, Eastern Michigan, and most brutally, Northern Illinois in their final game of the regular season.
Bowl game: vs. Western Kentucky in the First Responder Bowl (Dec. 30, 12:30 p.m.)
Ball State – 5-7 (4-4)
“I have full confidence in this team to get bowl eligibility and book their tickets for Detroit in December.”
I’m sorry, Muncie. I was wrong in October.
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The Cardinals finished the season 1-4, with three straight losses by four points or less leaving them out in the cold on Bowl Selection Day. Missed opportunities will be the theme looking forward, it seems, but with most of its offensive core returning, Ball State should be well placed to have another decent season.
Northern Illinois – 5-7 (4-4)
It was a strange season for the Huskies.
They beat Ohio before entering a relatively pedestrian stretch, ending with a surprise blowout at home against Eastern Michigan. The Huskies will miss a bowl after being eligible in ten of the last 11 years, which is more of a statement on the dominance of NIU in MAC play than a denouncement of their season. Just a case of a solid program going through a slippery patch.
Toledo – 6-6 (3-5)
“I fully expect the Rockets to recover, though. This offense is explosive enough that they should get, at minimum, three more wins.”
Narrator: They didn’t.
Six-3 and bowl eligibility seemed nice and all. Three losses to end the season, one spit in the face from the NCAA, and Toledo is the lonely team on the outside looking in. The Rockets won’t exactly be happy about their bowl snub, but realistically, they were going to be the odd one out. Toledo had no really impressive wins, and although the Rockets finished above Eastern Michigan in the standings, EMU’s win over Illinois and the chance for a great home crowd in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit must have helped the Eagles’ case for inclusion over the Rockets.
Eastern Michigan – 6-7 (3-5)
This season seemed to be a lateral step for Eastern Michigan, with a 5-3 MAC record last year compared to 3-5 this year, although another Big Ten scalp (and transitive win over Wisconsin) helped head coach Chris Creighton’s case. Looking at history, though, simply making a bowl game is a success — EMU has only four bowl-eligible seasons in the last 20 years.
Bowl game: a 34-30 loss to Pitt in the Quick Lane Bowl
Miami (OH) – 8-5 (6-2)
MAC Champions, eh? Who’d’ve thunk it at the start of the year? Miami’s first win in Athens in 14 years was the launchpad, and after Western Michigan made the same trip with the same result, a simple rout of Bowling Green was enough for the RedHawks to clinch the East. A struggle win over Akron and a loss to Ball State made some think the team wouldn’t be ready for the championship game — but starting from the first play, a 97-yard return from Maurice Thomas, the RedHawks looked comfortable and survived a late rally to win their first MAC Championship since 2010.
Bowl game: vs. Louisiana in the LendingTree Bowl (Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m.)
Ohio – 6-6 (5-3)
Frank Solich is the all-time winningest coach in MAC football history, with 112 wins, giving him an average of almost 7.5 wins a season. Frank Solich does not have a MAC Championship title. Ohio hasn’t won the MAC Championship since 1968, despite four MACCG attempts.
And considering what this Bobcat program has done, it is a wonder its drought still remains.
The Bobcats just couldn’t get over the hump this year, and their tight home losses to Miami and Western Michigan in successive weeks killed their season. A blowout of Akron in their final game netted them a bowl, but I doubt they’ll feel too great about it.
Bowl game: vs. Nevada in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Jan. 3, 3:30 p.m.)
Kent State – 7-6 (5-3)
The Golden Flashes’ season really started with their win over Kennesaw State. A culture change led by new coach Sean Lewis, featuring a disco ball and a better, positive atmosphere, sparked Kent State’s second year of bowl eligibility in the last 13 seasons and one big step towards a potential future championship game berth.
Bowl game: a 51-41 victory over Utah State in the Frisco Bowl
Buffalo – 8-5 (5-3)
The Bulls will see this as a season of what-ifs, and indeed, “what could have been” was the thought running through Buffalo fans’ heads as they saw the RedHawks take the field in Detroit. A heartbreaker of a loss at Ohio and a blowout loss thanks to a furious RedHawk rally in Oxford put Buffalo well behind the pace, and even with a strong finish to the season, it needed the RedHawks to lose two of their three remaining games. Miami didn’t, and Buffalo fell in a dramatic comeback to Kent State, killing its MAC Championship hopes. Bowl eligibility is nice, and Charlotte, playing in its first bowl game, was a nice opponent, but the Bulls will lay awake at night wondering if they could’ve done more.
Bowl game: a 31-9 victory over Charlotte in the Bahamas Bowl
Bowling Green – 3-9 (2-6)
“They could go 1-4 to end the season. Or they could go 4-1. Who knows?
(It’s going to be the former.)”
Prescient words from Past Mike? The Falcons did finish 1-4 to end the season, and looking at expectations, three wins can’t seem like a bad season when thinking about the state of this program this past summer. With only 70 of their 85 possible scholarships filled, a talent gap left by former head coach Mike Jinks was filled well by Scot Loeffler, and with the 78th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, per 247sports.com (compared to 129th last year), Bowling Green is well placed to rebound into next season.
Akron – 0-12 (0-8)
You ever see a cake that just doesn’t look good? Say, it’s a sponge cake, but it looks awfully dense. It’s a kind of gray color and smells a little off. You’re thinking, “Well, it doesn’t look good, but you know, don’t judge things by their appearance.” Good on you for being so open minded. Then you take a bite out of it, and it’s just disgusting. Terrible. Your gag reflex activates, your face contorts, the whole nine yards. That’s about five more than the Zips usually get, too. It’s just not great.
Sorry, Akron. Better luck next year.