Falcons Gain Advantage in Staying East
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 9, 2012
On paper, the MAC has simply replaced Temple with Massachusetts. That’s all — and not to downplay the difference between Temple, winners of 26 games over the last three years, and the Minutemen, who will join the MAC in August but will not be eligible for the conference title or a bowl berth until 2013. The MAC as a whole will retain its awkward, unmatched 13-team alignment. The East is the same, minus the Owls-for-Minutemen swap. The West will be exactly the same: six teams deep, five of which won at least six games last fall.
Temple’s departure widens the gap between the East and West. The former has two teams, Buffalo and Akron, which seem at least two years away from contending. The latter has two teams clearly on the rise in Eastern Michigan and Ball State, not to mention two of the league’s top three teams in Northern Illinois and Toledo.
It widens the gap, but only in the short term. The MAC has always been cyclical, with the East having its run, followed by the West, then the East, then the West. In 2010, for example, the East had three eight-win teams — Miami (Ohio), the eventual conference champs, Ohio and Temple — while the West had two.
And there’s no question that the MAC will survive without Temple — not that this even needs to be said. For all its recent publicity, the Owls were never a viable conference power; being included in this class with teams like the Huskies, Rockets and Bobcats would have involved actually beating those teams, let alone another MAC team with more wins than losses.
One team overlooked in the MAC’s recent shuffle is Bowling Green, which was moved to the West division after the league added Massachusetts. It was a short-lived move; yesterday, after Temple’s departure became official, Bowling Green was transitioned back to the East, where it has been since the MAC last reshuffled after the 2004 season.
In the short term, remaining in the East is a blessing for Bowling Green. As part of the West, the Falcons would have played divisional games against Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State and Central Michigan — a group that went a combined 42-34 last fall, with nine of those losses coming via the Chippewas.
And Bowling Green would have pulled another two teams from the East; those teams may very well have been Ohio and Miami (Ohio), for example. Obviously, remaining in the East after a brief dalliance with the West division greatly increases Bowling Green’s chance of returning to bowl play after a two-year absence.
While the MAC won’t finalize its schedule for at least a few weeks, the Falcons can continue to pencil in five games against East foes and another three games against teams from the West, with Toledo an annual rival. Whether one of those two additional West division teams is Northern Illinois remains up in the air: the two met last fall, but have met only twice since 2005.
Even if they pull Toledo, Northern Illinois and Ball State from the West — just as an example — the Falcons’ road to bowl eligibility will be noticeably smoother as part of the East division. Perhaps not as smooth as Dave Clawson would like, however: Bowling Green will still play Florida, Virginia Tech and Toledo on the road, and would face the Huskies in DeKalb if that game is indeed on its schedule.
Where Bowling Green lands a boost is in the seesaw games — those that might go either way; those that will decide the Falcons’ season. You can pencil in losses to the Gators and Hokies, of course, and likely put the Falcons in the loss column if they play N.I.U. and Toledo away from home.
But to reach bowl eligibility, Bowling Green will have to navigate the second tier of the East division, not the middle of the West. There’s a significant advantage to be had in that fact. Imagine: Instead of playing MAC games against Ball State, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan, the Falcons face off against Akron, Kent State and Massachusetts. Bowling Green would be halfway to bowl eligibility already.
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