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MAC Blogger Roundtable 2012

Were going to start running out of chairs soon
Were going to start running out of chairs soon

This season the roundtable includes

Over The Pylon - Ball State
Maroon Musket - UMass
Saddle Up, Fight On - Western Michigan
The Chip Report - Central Michigan
Eagle Totem - Eastern Michigan
Red and Black Attack - Northern Illinois
Bull Run - Buffalo
Hustle Belt - The Conference
Let's Go Rockets - Toledo
Falcon Blog - Bowling Green

Let's kick off the round table before we kickoff the season. Alan, from Over The Pylon" established the table some years back and this season I will be running it "Until I'm Dead or Alan Finds someone better" /starshiptroopers

We've hit something of a critical mass of MAC blogs now so this season we will have four or five blogs per week participate in the main post while the other sites may, or may not, answer the question on their own sites.

Weather they take part or not it's a good idea to check out their sites throughout the week.

This week we kick off with Maroon Musket (Because it's their first MAC game), Eagle Totem (To chime in on the first conference game of the year), Let's Go Rockets (Favorites in the West), and yours truly.

Question 1: It’s easy to pick out the three or four Mid American conference coaches who sit on hot seats this year. What’s not so easy is to quantify who deserves to be there. In your mind which hot seat resident Enos, Clawson, or Quinn, *least* deserves the honor? Which coach who is not generally seen as a candidate for the hot seat is most in trouble this season?

Lets Go Rockets: As much as we despise Bowling Green, we feel that Clawson is a good coach and should be able to get BG on the right track before leaving for greener pastures (no pun intended). Bill Cubit at WMU probably needs to get more wins this season. WMU hasn’t reached a MAC title game since 2000.

Eagle Totem: It’s easy to pick out the three or four Mid American conference coaches who sit on hot seats this year. What’s not so easy is to quantify who deserves to be there. In your mind which hot seat resident — Enos, Clawson, Quinn — least deserves the honor? Which coach who is not generally seen as a canidate for the hot seat is most in trouble this season

Let’s start by recapping why each is on the hot seat.

Jeff Quinn took over Buffalo when Turner Gill left for Kansas after the 2009 season. The team was one year removed from a MAC Championship, though in Gill’s last season there they went 5-7 (3-5 MAC). It’s also worth noting that they hardly dominated in their championship season, finishing 5-3 in the conference in a year of super parity in the East Division (six of seven teams finished 5-3, 4-4, or 3-5) and then catching Ball State as the Cardinals began their implosion (after going 12-0 in the 2008 regular season, the MAC Championship game was the beginning of a nine-game losing streak). Quinn, who was a Brian Kelly protege, took over the Bulls in 2010, leading them to a 2-10 season that year and a 3-9 record in 2011. With a 3-21 record against FBS teams, any coach might be on the hot seat, but what has been particularly worrisome to Bulls fans is that Quinn, the former offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and before that at Central Michigan, has struggled to get the offense going, and most fans aren’t optimistic for this fall. Quinn is deservedly on the hot seat.

Dan Enos, a former running backs coach at Michigan State under Mark Dantonio, took over a Central Michigan program that had established itself as the power in the West Division. Under first Brian Kelly and then Butch Jones, the Chippewas had won three of the last four MAC Championships (2006, 2007, 2009), and they did it in a dominating fashion. The 2009 team finished 12-2, with the only losses coming at Arizona and at Boston College, and with a win at Michigan State establishing them as the best team in Michigan. As Butch Jones left to again be Brian Kelly’s successor, this time at Cincinnati, it looked like Mount Pleasant was building a MAC dynasty for the ages. Sure, there were some seniors leaving, including one of the greatest MAC quarterbacks ever (at least, according to the stats), Dan LeFevour, as well as defenders like Frank Zombo and Josh Gordy, but the departures weren’t so heavy that the team couldn’t at least have been over .500 the next year. The Chippewas were going to take a step back in 2010, but they were absolutely not any kind of rebuilding project — more like reloading. Somehow Enos managed to take this juggernaut-in-the-making and break it, going just 4-18 against FBS opponents over the next two years. Enos is deservedly on the hot seat, and probably lucky he hasn’t already been fired.

In 2009, Dave Clawson took over a Bowling Green program that was East Division co-champion in 2007, though on a tie-breaker Miami played in (and lost) the championship game, and the Falcons were demolished by Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl, 63-7. Gregg Brandon was given a three-year contract extension, but on- and off-field issues in 2008 led to his firing that November. On-field problems included a 1-4 home record with losses to Miami and Eastern Michigan, and a collapse against Buffalo after going into the fourth quarter up 27-7, which gave the Bulls the East Division title over the Falcons. Off-field problems included eleven players with legal troubles, including two arrested on drug trafficking charges, and the loss of nine scholarships due to a low NCAA Academic Progress Report. Clawson got things mostly turned around in 2009, despite a tough non-conference schedule, and the team finished 7-6 (6-2 MAC). After that, things didn’t go so well, with the Falcons finishing 2-10 (1-7 MAC) in 2010 and 5-7 (3-5 MAC) in 2011. Given where Bowling Green thinks their program should be, and given the recent success of their rival, Toledo, the heat on Dave Clawson is understandable, but he’s been far more successful at Bowling Green than Quinn at Buffalo or Enos at Central Michigan.

As for other coaches who might be in trouble, that’s got to be Bill Cubit. In seven seasons at Western Michigan, he’s never won the division, and they’ve finished third in the West the last three years. He’s taken the Broncos to three bowls, but lost all three. This year, with a good senior quarterback in Alex Carder, expectations for the Broncos are sky-high, and if the team falls short, Cubit may find himself in trouble.

Maroon Musket: Since this is my first season covering a school in the MAC, take my answer with a grain of salt. I assume Clawson is more deserving since he has now been around long enough to have "his" players on the field. He took his first squad to a Humanitarian Bowl, but since then the Falcons have been pretty bad. If these kids don't produce, it means either: A) they aren't the right kids, or B) the kids aren't in the right system. Either way, that's enough to put a coach on the hot seat, so Clawson probably belongs there.

Between Quinn and Enos, I would say that Quinn probably deserves the spot more. Buffalo has fallen behind mightily in the recruiting game in the Northeast. Just this past year, UMass literally came in and took several recruits. Temple did the same. Buffalo is in an interesting situation where it could and should be grabbing talent from New England, the Northeast and portions of the Rust Belt if need be. Buffalo hasn't done that, and the results are showing up in the win column.

As far as a coach who hasn't been on the hot seat, but might belong there - that's a tough question. Most coaches in the MAC are either new, engrained or have had recent success. Besides the above-mentioned three, my guess would be that if Bill Cubit allows WMU to fall to .500 or below after last year, his seat would start to get a little warm.

Bull Run: Right now I would think Enos is in the most Trouble. Quinn inherited a team with a very good season followed by an ok season while Enos inherited a program that had been the best in the MAC for years. While there was to be some fallout from the coaching change and player rotation Central Michigan fans won't suffer too many losing seasons in a row.

Question 2: To expand or not to expand? Temple is gone and were back to 13. Should the MAC bother trying to re even the divisions and if so how? Football only? All Sports? East or West?

Maroon Musket: I think the MAC should look to expand and even the divisions. In my opinion, it should do so my any means necessary - whether or not that means adding a team as a football-only member. I assume the targets would be the usual suspects: Delaware, James Madison, Western Kentucky, Appalachian State. However, maybe it's time for the league to start looking elsewhere. By that I mean reaching out to schools that may not be interested (Army), may not seem appealing at first glance (Northern Iowa) or may not be a perfect geographical fit (North Dakota State). Perhaps the answer is closer than expected (Youngstown State).

I am not a Rust Belt guy, so I'm not sure if these ideas have been tossed around, acted on, or ridiculed before. However, the bottom line is that the MAC should try to expand and even the divisions. Of course the conference would feel better if the added team brought all sports with them, but that's a tall task unless you look at a school within a somewhat normal geographical area. MAC schools are not SEC or Big 12 schools that can afford to whisk their women's soccer team 1,500 miles on the coattails of their football team's success. If a local(ish) school joins, bring them in for everything. If the MAC has to reach out and bring someone from farther away, why force that school - and the current MAC members - to break the bank?

Let's Go Rockets: Having 14 teams (7 and 7) seemed like a logical place for the MAC to end up. Now that we’re back to 13, we’d like to see the conference get back to 14 schools but only if it’s in all sports. This football-only or basketball-only talk doesn’t seem to be conducive for the longevity and overall health of a conference. We want all our members to be fully vested in the future of our conference for the time that they’re members. That’s not to say that a program can’t keep an eye on the future, but to split time and effort (read revenue) between conferences doesn’t makes sense to us.

Eagle Totem: I've always been opposed to mindless expansion merely for expansion’s sake, which seems to be the approach some conferences are taking. I can see four good reasons for adding teams:

1. To replace departing teams, so as to stay at or above 12 members.

NCAA rules state that a conference needs at least 12 members playing football in two divisions, with a full round robin of play within each division, in order to host a conference championship game. (No, the MAC doesn’t actually follow this rule, because a balanced schedule with 13 teams is impossible, but apparently the NCAA has never complained, and we’ve never had the nightmare scenario of two undefeated teams from the same division.) It seems that this rule was originally put in place to help Division I-AA conferences crown a champion to advance to the playoffs, but it applies to all of Division I. The SEC was the first Division I-A conference to take advantage of this, in 1992, and it immediately added more than a half-million dollars to the revenues of every school in the league. The Big XII formed partly to take advantage of this rule, and held their first championship game in 1996, and the MAC followed suit in 1997, when the return of Marshall and Northern Illinois — both previous conference members — raised the membership to the needed 12.

Today, the MAC has 13 football members — the 12 full members plus Massachusetts — so there’s no need to expand to host a championship game. As for replacing departing teams, the core membership seems to be extremely stable. Buffalo was the most recent full member to join, and this fall will be the Bulls’ 15th season in the conference. For Northern Illinois, it will be their 16th consecutive season, but 28th overall, and this will be Akron’s 21st season. Every other full member has been around for at least 30 years (EMU, Central Michigan, and Ball State joined in the early 1970s), and six schools (Ohio, Miami, Western Michigan, Toledo, Kent State, and Bowling Green) have been continuous members for more than 60 years. The average membership duration for the current full members is more than 45 years. These 12 schools form a geographically compact group of schools with numerous non-athletic similarities: they are all public schools, all at least 90 years old, all with enrollments between 18,000 and 30,000, and seven of them (EMU, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State, Bowling Green, and Kent State) began as normal schools.

In other words, the need to have 12 members to hold a conference championship game, which was probably the driving force behind the expansions of the PAC-12 and the B1G, is not a consideration for the MAC.

2. To raise the conference profile relative to other conferences.

A second consideration driving some conference expansion has been to raise the conference profile. For several years the Mountain West Conference has been picking off the top schools from the WAC. This is partly an issue of one conference trying to move ahead in the overall pecking order, and that worked — over the last couple years most fans would agree that the Mountain West Conference has been the top non-AQ conference, and depending on the measure, possibly also better than the Big East. One of the key reasons for this was the split between BCS automatic qualifying conferences (AQ) and non-AQ conferences.

At this point, the BCS as such will be gone in two years, and there won’t be any conferences moved from non-AQ to AQ (or vice versa) in that time, so expanding in an effort to break in would be useless. Starting with the 2014 season, the BCS will be replaced with a seeded four-team playoff, and given how infrequently MAC teams are even ranked in the top-25, the likelihood of one making it all the way into the top four seems exceedingly low. As to the overall pecking order, the MAC is clearly ahead of the WAC, which is likely to fold after the 2012-13 season, slightly above the Sun Belt, and well below Conference USA and the Mountain West, and it would take more than adding a member or two around the edges to change that.

3. To expand the footprint, and/or to offer more conference games for TV contracts.

TV contracts were the third force behind the recent wave of conference expansions, particularly for the SEC, but also for the B1G and for teams leaving the Big XII. The SEC makes a ton of money from their football television contracts. Adding Missouri and Texas A&M expands the geographic footprint of the conference to include Saint Louis, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. They also add eight in-conference games and four to eight non-conference home games to which the league can offer TV rights. On the other hand, Texas’s plans for the Longhorn Network were a factor in Texas A&M’s desire to leave the Big XII.

Again, this is not really a big factor for the MAC. TV contracts are just not a big enough deal in the conference to drive an expansion.

4. To become geographically dominant in a region.

I touched on this in #2 above, with regard to the poaching of top WAC teams by the Mountain West, although in that case the PAC-12 (and farther west, the Big XII) is the dominant conference. But this is the one legitimate reason I can see for the MAC to expand.

No, I don’t think the MAC has any hope of overtaking the B1G in the midwest. But in the northeast (New York and New England), there’s no dominant conference. Rutgers and Connecticut play in the Big East, Boston College plays in the ACC, Buffalo and Massachusetts play in the MAC, and Army is independent. Syracuse currently plays in the Big East, but is moving to the ACC after 2012. With the continued shift of the Big East to the south and west (in 2013 they will add Houston, SMU, UCF, and Memphis in all sports, plus Boise State and San Diego State in football only) Connecticut is going to have a lot of traveling to do. It’s unlikely, but I can imagine a scenario in which Connecticut, and Army join the MAC for football only, and another northeastern school moves up from FCS, creating a 16-team football conference that would be dominant in the northeast.

Bull Run: I think having 13 teams and looking out at some great schools puts the MAC in the cats bird seat right now. We want to get to 14 football teams, you just want those even divisions. However there is no *need* to get to 14 teams so we can be choosy.

First I think we need all sports. The MAC is a college sports conference not a football conference. But because money is part of the equation the sports you should really look to enhance are football and basketball.

Who cares if you end up with 13 hoops teams? just punt the divisions give every team a couple of conference home and homes to get up to 15 or 16 games and enjoy.

The MAC should be pressing expansion but not in the haphazard panicked way Conference USA did. We should take our time and find a good cultural fit with a decent market that brings good basketball and a commitment to football.

JMU and Delaware top my list.

Schools like South Dakota are just too far out and Appalachia state is in a market dead zone.

I suppose you could make a case for UNH or try to poach Western Kentucky.

Question 3 Which MAC bottom feeder surprises this season and why? Which MAC power chokes and why?

Eagle Totem: To answer this question, we first have clarify who the "bottom feeders" are and who the powers are.

I’m going to say the bottom feeders are teams that have had three or fewer MAC wins each of the past three years, or two or fewer MAC wins in two of the past three years. I’ll invert that and say the powers have had three or fewer MAC losses each of the past three years, or two or fewer MAC losses in two of the past three years. By that definition, the powers are Ohio, Northern Illinois, and Toledo (also Temple, but they’re gone, and good riddance!) and the bottom feeders are Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Akron, and Buffalo.

By that definition, EMU is the "bottom feeder" most likely to do well this season, but it seems like a lot of people are picking EMU to at least be in contention in the West Division. If you’re looking for a surprise, Akron is the most likely; with three conference wins in the last three years, all it would take for them to surprise people would be a 3-5 conference record. As for power teams choking, although Northern Illinois and Toledo both have significant losses to deal with, I just can’t get behind Ohio as the conference favorite. Solich’s teams always seem to start the season strong and then choke down the stretch, whether in the MAC Championship game (2006, 2009, and 2011) or late in the regular season (2010).

Let's Go Rockets: We think Eastern Michigan will perform better than expected this year. EMU has a rough schedule after a week 2 matchup with Illinois State. The Eagles then face Purdue, Michigan State and arguably the most difficult in conference schedule facing Kent State and Toledo at home before going on the road against BG, Ohio, and WMU. The record might not indicate a winning season, but this Eagle team should be able to keep games close. Ron English has done a great job.

As for a MAC power that chokes this season, that’s a tough one. WMU has been coming on strong and will likely be Toledo’s strongest competition this year so we’d have to hope that they’re the ones to trip up. That being said, we don’t think it’s very likely that we’ll see that.

Maroon Musket: I'm not just saying this because it's the team we cover, but I think the University of Massachusetts could surprise a few teams this year - on and off the field. So far the Minutemen have received verbal commitments from a number of high-level, Northeast athletes for 2013. If everyone signed today, UMass would have one of the top classes in the MAC. Of course, by virtue of being in a different geographical area, UMass doesn't exactly recruit against other teams in the conference, but already it is out-recruiting its closest neighbor - Buffalo - and is closing in on some of the top-tier MAC programs.

On the field, UMass' offensive and defensive lines are much more FBS-ready than many MAC fans would (or should) anticipate. The Minutemen historically recruit bigger kids from the Northeast that either get passed over by bigger programs or transfer after not seeing adequate playing time. The quarterback position is a bit up in the air, but I will assume that Coach Molnar will work out a scheme that will involve UMass' deep running back attack. That being said, UMass will likely end up in the bottom portion of the MAC, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Minutemen pull off more than one win in conference.

As far as what power team chokes - my guess would be Western Michigan. This is almost entirely based on schedule. The Mustangs start out against two Big 10 (Illinois and Minnesota) teams and one from the Big East (UConn). While the Big 10 squads aren't exactly world-beaters, both games are on the road, and WMU has learned that going to a Big 10 stadium is not fun (0-2 last year). While the Mustangs beat UConn last year, that was a Huskies team in disarray at both quarterback and wide receiver. Now UConn returns one of the most exciting running backs in college football, with two top-quality receivers, to go along with a JUCO quarterback that appears poised to take over.

It is not unreasonable to think that WMU could be 1-3 when it comes home to play a tough Toledo team that should be coming off an easy win over Coastal Carolina. While Ball State and Kent State aren't the most daunting road games, the Mustangs have slipped up on the road against lesser competition (See: Eastern Michigan 10/22/11). After two on the road, the Mustangs come home to a tough Northern Illinois squad that could very well have seven wins when it visit Kalamazoo.

Of course, the Mustangs are a talented team, and several preseason magazines have them finishing with eight or more wins. I could see them slipping by virtue of their schedule.

Bull Run: Buffalo, and this is not a homers opinion. Of the teams most consider the cellar (Buffalo, Akron, UMass, CMU) UB has the most pieces in place to do some damage this season.

The only piece the Bulls are missing, and it's a big one, is a secure Quarterback. UB has one of the best running backs in the conference, the biggest deepest line thee ever had, and some play makers on defense. If Zordich and the special team play even moderately well this team can shock anyone in the conference.

Last year they beat Ohio, lost on a last second play to Ball State, and played NIU to a missed extra point.

/Rabid Homer