This Friday’s MAC title game brings a familiar matchup for those that have followed the conference for a while as this week’s game is a rematch of the 2008 title. While it may not seem like it, pandemic and all, this week’s game has some parallels.
A Tale of Two Teams
In 2008, Ball State was the toast of the MAC, coming into the game ranked #12 in the BCS with a dominant win over Indiana in non-conference play, and running the table in the MAC West, to reach a 12-0 record. The Cardinals had a nationally prominent star in Nate Davis, who finished 8th in the Heisman voting, passing for over 3500 and running for 312 more. Miquale Lewis provided more than enough support in the ground game, with over 1700 yards and 22 touchdowns. With a win, the Cardinals were in good position to be a BCS buster.
The opposite was true for Buffalo. Since joining 1-A/FBS in 1999, the upstart program went 15-66, and only reached three wins twice, plateauing at five in 2007. But, this year was different, as the Bulls went 7-5 and reached the MAC title game with a 5-3 record in a weakened East Division. To say there was a disparity between these teams would be an understatement.
The game went anything but planned. Ball State had to fight their way to a 10-7 halftime lead, but the pesky Bulls hung around. The teams traded scores in the third before two plays changed the tide of the game.
With 3:52 left in the third, Mike Newton stopped a Ball State drive by returning a fumble 92 yards for a score to make it 21-17. The following drive, lighting struck twice as Sherrod Lott got his own fumble return touchdown from 74 yards out. A Drew Willy touchdown pass from Drew Willy with six minutes left in the game put it out of reach at 35-17, as both teams traded garbage time touchdowns.
Ball State outplayed Buffalo, gaining 503 yards, but turned the ball over five times. The Cardinals BCS dreams were crushed, as they had to settle for a birth in the GMAC Bowl against Tulsa. Buffalo reached their first bowl ever and got to face a Big East team in UConn.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
This year, while there is no New Year’s Bowl or BCS bid up for grabs, so much is still at stake. In fact, the roles are reversed in a way. Buffalo has the Heisman contender in running back Jaret Patterson, who ran for 409 yards against Kent State and 301 against Bowling Green. Like for Nate Davis in 2008, this game could be one more statement for his campaign.
Buffalo seems to be the clear favorite in this game, owning an average margin of victory of 31 points per game. All but one of Ball State’s wins have come by one score and this past weekend, they needed some CHAOS to solidify a spot in the MAC title.
Still, for both teams, the prize is grand. With the Arizona Bowl moving to CBS, a rare chance for a MAC team to play on network TV is at stake. Additionally, they will play an elite opponent, in Boise State, one of the biggest brands in college football, or an unbeaten San Jose State team, which has been one of the best stories of the year.
Just because there is no New Year’s Six bowl at stake, does not mean there is not much to play for. Will the memories of 2008 haunt Ball State, or will the roles reverse for the favored Bulls. No matter the outcome, this game will be a great start to championship weekend.