MACtion starts this Thursday. That feels good to write. The time of year when football can be watched any day of the week. It truly is magic. In honor of the return of MACtion, I did some research into the origins of the mid week games that we love so much.
Since 2000 the MAC has played at least one conference game in November on a week night. It’s hard to consider that MACtion since prior to 2006 it was only one or two games a season. In that 2006 season ten games games were moved to week nights, and since then more and more mid week games were played.
ESPN and the conference were trying to highlight the best teams in the MAC and put them on nights that are likely to be the only source of football. I’m sure ESPN was happy to have some of the games moved off Saturdays when they might be able to catch more viewers. I don’t think that ESPN thought that they’d catch lightning in a bottle.
A Hashtag is Born
The unquestionable highlight and birth of the #MACtion name came in 2011. There were two games in consecutive weeks that went crazy in front of the nation. Tuesday November 1, 2011 Northern Illinois went to Toledo and played a game that saw the fourth quarter produce 43 points. The Huskies won 63-60 in regulation. The game had 11 total passing touchdowns, two kick return touchdowns by Tommylee Lewis, and NINE lead changes. Just plain insanity
The very next week, in the same time slot, MACtion was cemented as a mid week staple of the college football season. Tuesday November 8, 2011 Western Michigan traveled to Toledo for another explosion of points. Toledo avenged their crazy loss by winning 66-63. The two teams combined for 1439 total yards and ten turnovers. TEN turnovers! Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder threw for 548 yards and 7 touchdowns in a loss. This game was an amazing mess.
Now when the calendar flips to November nearly all MAC games are played during the week. Two games each night on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with the schedule getting a little off around Thanksgiving. As fun as it can be, it’s not all roses. Do the games depress the attendance during the week? Yes. Does the ESPN contract allow for a national audience that the MAC probably wouldn’t get otherwise? Also yes. This weeks double header should be a good jump start to the MACtion season.
Toledo at Western Michigan
If points are entertaining, they obviously are, this is the game to watch. The offense vs defense match ups are very similar between the teams. Both teams feature a top 35 offense and a defense that ranks somewhere in the 100’s. Toledo would not be mathematically eliminated from winning the West but they would be extreme underdogs with a loss. WMU could lose this and remove their margin of error, but still remain in control in the West.
WMU has the Ball
The Bronco offense likes to run to set up the pass. It doesn’t seem to matter who is in the backfield, the ball is going to the running back. The Toledo defense struggles to stop the run allowing 4.8 yards per carry and 20 touchdowns on the season. When WMU does air it out, they do find success. The difficult part for Western Michigan is their kicker. The Broncos have attempted to convert the 6th most 4th downs in the nation. Their kicker from last year struggled early and asked for a transfer when they gave the freshman a shot. The problem is that he’s inconsistent as well. Even if they get into field goal position, the coaching staff may not have the confidence to kick it.
Toledo has the Ball
Toledo’s offense is even more potent than Western’s but they’ve gone back and forth on their quarterback. Neither has been able to consistently get the ball to their talented receivers. Mitchell Guadagni has been more of a dual threat than Eli Peters but I’m sure head coach Jason Candle would rather get the ball to the receiver group that Athlon Sports put at #8 in the nation preseason. The Rockets score quickly with big plays and good news for them, Western breaks down in the secondary with some regularity.
This game is very even which means a lot of hard to predict details will probably decide this game. Despite the 4-0 conference record Western Michigan as a tendency to start slow and have not been convincing in their wins. If they do that in this game they might finally dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of. I’m not predicting a crazy 66-63 score but there will be points. Lets call it 45-42 Western Michigan.
Ball State at Ohio
There is a bit of a pattern in MAC teams this year. Good offense paired with terrible defense. Ohio fits that mold very well. Ball State plays better on offense than on defense, but the difference is not as extreme. Ohio controls their destiny in the East with a record of 2-1. The meat of their conference schedule is still in front of them with Miami, Buffalo, and Akron still ahead. Ball State is 2-2 in conference and would need a lot of help to represent the West in Detroit.
Ohio has the Ball
The Ohio offense is the best unit in this game by a wide margin. Nathan Rourke is the definition of a dual threat quarterback. He leads the team in passing (obviously) and rushing. The Ohio offense as a whole creates issues for opposing defenses. If the game plan is to contain Rourke and force him to give the ball to the running back, their thunder and lightning duo in AJ Ouellette and Maleek Irons will eat the defense alive. So put 9 in the box and hope for the best right? Papi White is going to have a career day. The only hope that Ball State has is for Ohio to play as poorly as they did in week 1 against Howard. Rourke was pulled after being very inaccurate and just not executing. Ohio still scored 38 points in that game.
Ball State has the Ball
The Ball State offense holds a slight edge over the Ohio defense but neither unit is great. The numbers kind of tell a story of the movable object and the stoppable force. Where the Ball State offense struggles like big plays, the Ohio defense likes to give them up. Does that mean that Ball State will hit them more than they usually do or that Ohio will stop them better than normal? Its hard to be certain but I think the Ohio defense will get a few stops due to playing an offense that struggles more than some of their recent opponents. Junior Riley Neal needs to have one of his best days to keep up with Ohio and to his credit, he has played well this season.
Ball State has to slow this game down as much as they can. The more football is played Thursday night, the more likely it is to go poorly for them. Ohio will score points but can they hold Ball State down? I think so. Look for a 38-17 Ohio win.