The Joy of MACtion
by Aaron Lynn | November 12, 2022
From the inception of the College Football Playoff system in 2014, college football has been dominated by an elite few teams (you know which ones I am talking about). There is an acute absence of parity within the sport and many fans eagerly await the new 12-team playoff format that will, in theory, give more teams an opportunity to compete for a national championship.
While the vast majority of media and fan attention is focused on the Playoff and the select few teams that still have a chance to reach the Top 4, flying under the radar is a conference that has had incredible competitive balance.
For those uninitiated, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) was founded in 1946 and boasts midweek games in November, some of college football’s oldest rivalries, and yes, parity.
While Northern Illinois had a dominant stretch in the first half of the 2010s (6 straight MAC Championship appearances, and 3 championships), in recent years, the MAC is as balanced a conference as you will find.
Within the last seven seasons, there have been six different MAC Championship winners and in that same time span, 11 of the 12 member schools have reached the championship game (sorry Eastern Michigan).
This season is no exception. With just two weeks left in the regular season, the leaders in the division are only now emerging. To show just how quickly things can change in the MAC, last season’s division winners, Northern Illinois and Kent State, have 3-7 and 4-6 records this season, respectively.
(MAC Standings as of November 11)
Kurtis Rourke has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC and is a big reason why Ohio might just win it all. (Photo Courtesy of 3DownNation)
Tuesday night proved to be very important for each division race. On the west side of the standings, Toledo scored a game-winning touchdown with under two minutes remaining to hold off a gritty Ball State Cardinals team. Despite “football guy” and pet-alligator-owner Carson Steele increasing his league-leading rush yards to 1,280 after a 198-yard performance in the Glass Bowl, Dequan Finn threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns to give the Rockets the edge and a 7-point win.
The victory essentially clinches a spot in Detroit for Toledo, who rounds out their season against Bowling Green and Western Michigan.
In the MAC East, the Bobcats of Ohio have caught fire, winning 5 straight games and 6 of their last 7. The offense has been the steadying force the entire season, and the Bobcats trail only Toledo for the most points scored in the MAC.
However, the play of the defense has improved noticeably down the stretch of the season. That improvement is significant, considering the Bobcats needed a herculean effort from quarterback Kurtis Rourke (school record 537 passing yards) to outscore FCS Fordham 59-52 in late September which included a double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter.
The Bobcats won a showdown against Buffalo on November 1 against a Bulls team that also carried a 5-game win streak into the contest. Rourke was superb, throwing fo 5 touchdowns including two to his favorite target Sam Wiglusz. Ohio rolled to a 45-24 victory.
Ohio is now in prime position to win the East Division, although the season finale against Bowling Green looms large in respect to their goal of reaching Detroit. On one hand, the Falcons have exceeded expectations this year, winning three conference games for the first time since the 2016 season and still control their destiny in the division by virtue of an earlier victory against Buffalo. However, at just 5-5, the Falcons will need to beat either Toledo or Ohio just to reach a bowl game and will likely need to win both games to win the division.
We had the opportunity to see the Bobcats in-person against Miami on Tuesday in the 98th edition of the “Battle for the Bricks” rivalry. The past three meetings had been decided by just seven combined points, but Ohio left little doubt in a 37-21 victory over the RedHawks.
Kurtis Rourke was once again the star of the show, throwing for 363 yards and three touchdowns. I was struck by his exceptional accuracy, especially on throws down the field as the brother of longtime Bobcat standout quarterback Nathan completed 25 of 35 passes. He clearly trusts his wide receivers, a deep group led by Sam Wiglusz. The RedHawks did neutralize the former Ohio State transfer (just four yards on four completions), but Miles Cross (133 yards), James Bostic (83 yards), and Jacoby Jones (78 yards, 2 touchdowns) went ballistic against the best defense in the MAC. I was thoroughly impressed with his anticipation, throwing the ball with excellent timing, encapsulated by a perfect strike to the corner of the end zone where Jacoby Jones made a Sportscenter-worthy catch to put the finishing touches on the Ohio victory.
Perhaps the only criticism of the Bobcats on Tuesday was their occasional struggles to run the football, especially in the first half. Second year head coach Tim Albin clearly recognized that issue as well, and ran the ball on 10 of 13 plays on the Bobcats’ first drive of the second half. The drive ended in a touchdown and ran 7:25 off the clock, depleting the morale of the Miami defense who eventually gave up 27 points in the second half.
Given what we saw on Tuesday, we now seem destined for an Ohio vs. Toledo MAC Championship, a game that would feature the two best offenses in the conference, a matchup won by the Rockets 35-23 last season.
If you aren’t planning on it already, I highly encourage you… no, implore you… to tune into some “MACtion” on Tuesday and Wednesday. You won’t regret it. We'll be watching, so drop us a follow on Twitter (@5thGoalSports) to talk about the great game of college football with us!