Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (40) runs the ball in the fourth quarter against the Bowling Green Falcons during the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field. Pittsburgh won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports (Rick Osentoski / March 5, 2014)
Bowling Green used a stout defense and dynamic passing attack to capture the Mid-American Conference title last season. Despite an offseason of change – including a new coach – another conference title is in the mix for the Falcons.
With that in mind, we continue our occasional series looking at games to watch this upcoming football season. Today we feature the Mid-American Conference:
Saturday, Oct. 4
The Buzz: Northern Illinois looks to turn the page after the graduation of Jordan Lynch. The quarterback cemented his status as one of the best dual-threats in college football last season leading NIU to back-to-back MAC Championship Games. Lynch accounted for 66 percent of the team’s offense in 2013 and finding that kind of production isn’t easy. The Huskies, meanwhile, haven’t lost a regular-season conference game since Oct. 1, 2011 and haven’t lost at home since losing to Idaho back on Sept. 26, 2009. Kent State won four games last season – the first under coach Paul Haynes – and hold a seven-game losing streak to Northern Illinois.
Buffalo at Bowling Green
Saturday, Oct. 4
The Buzz: Bowling Green and Buffalo finished the season with the top defenses in the MAC. Bowling Green allowed a measly 16 points per game thanks to a stout rushing defense, which held teams to less than 150 yards on the ground. Buffalo only allowed 24 points per game and led the league in turnover margin, forcing 30 turnovers. The Bulls’ success is also attributed to the play of quarterback Joe Licata, who passed for 2,824 yards and 24 touchdowns as the Buffalo scored more than 30 points per game in 2013.
UMass at Miami
Saturday, Oct. 4
The Buzz: Both programs combined for one win in 2013 and subsequently both made coaching changes in the offseason. UMass hired Mark Whipple, who coached the program from 1998-2003. It’s his charge to turn around a program, which finished next to last in total offense (281 yards per game) and scoring offense (11.7 points per game). Miami wasn’t much better with the RedHawks finishing last in scoring offense (9.8 ppg.) and total offense (227.1 ypg.). In an effort to improve, the school hired former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. Martin also won four national championships as head coach at Grand Valley State.
Northern Illinois at Ball State
Wednesday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPNU
The Buzz: These two programs battled atop the West Division the previous two seasons with Northern Illinois getting the leg up in both battles. Both teams led the league in scoring (Northern Illinois 39.6; Ball State 38.5) thanks to strong quarterback play. Ball State’s Keith Wenning led the MAC in passing yards (4,148) and passing touchdowns (35) and finished behind Jordan Lynch in total offense. Ironically, Wenning and Lynch graduated and these two programs need new leadership behind center.
Ball State at Bowling Green
Friday, Nov. 28, ESPNU/ESPN3
The Buzz: Bowling Green put together its best season in more than a decade after the Falcons won 10-games and upset Northern Illinois to capture the MAC Championship. After five seasons, Dave Clawson left the program to take the head coaching job at Wake Forest. In his place, the school hired Dino Babers, who spent two seasons coaching at Eastern Illinois. Luckily for Babers, Matt Johnson returns at quarterback. Johnson passed for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2013 and is an early dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
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