MAC Week 2 primer: Bowling Green on the rise?

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

They are reshuffling the deck in the Mid-American Conference after a topsy-turvy and even somewhat tumultuous first weekend.
There is still no question about who the ace of the league is, since defending champion and preseason favorite Northern Illinois went on the road and knocked off Iowa of the Big Ten in its opener. The Huskies are for real, just in case there were any doubters remaining after their run to the Orange Bowl last season.
Ohio, the giant killer a year ago when the Bobcats stunned Penn State in the opening week, got buried 49-7 by a rising Louisville team.
The biggest kaboom might have come from Bowling Green as a steadily improving Falcon program opened the season with a certified bang by thumping Conference USA defending champion and preseason favorite Tulsa 34-7.
The Falcons, in the crucial fifth year of a major restructuring program under head coach Dave Clawson, look like they might be ready to assume the top position in the MAC's East Division. The defense has always been sound under Clawson, but the offense and special teams play might be catching up, making the Falcons one of the conference's better balanced teams.
Western Michigan also knit a few brows with its stubborn performance against Michigan State, since the Spartans needed two defensive touchdowns to take a 26-13 win. Buffalo was also surprisingly resilient against Ohio State, trailing by just 10 until late in the third quarter, and losing just 40-20.
There were no real major shockers in the opening week, but it might have been another case of the MAC just making some noise and reminding everyone that this conference sent seven teams to bowl games last year.
The folks around the league are also watching closely to see how a rash of first-game injuries could impact the rest of the season.
Northern Illinois wide receiver Tommylee Lewis was carted off the field after injuring his foot on the first play of the second half in the win over Iowa. Lewis had scored both of Northern Illinois' first-half touchdowns.
Kent State lost All-MAC running back Dri Archer very early in its season-opener against Liberty with a leg injury after Archer had registered just three carries for 10 yards.
Central Michigan got hit with a double-whammy in its nightmarish trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan. Quarterback Cody Kater broke his clavicle in the first half and is sidelined indefinitely, while All-MAC running back Zurlon Tipton broke his ankle in the first half and is likely out for the season.
A team-by-team preview of Week 2 in the MAC:

The Zips lost their 10th straight game as Central Florida just overpowered them 38-7. The jury is still out on whether Akron's offense can maintain the pace necessary to make the frenetic no-huddle attack effective. The Zips had only 83 offensive yards in the first half against UCF. Akron needs to develop some success on third down or the victory drought will continue.

Vs. James Madison, Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
The Zips have precious little to be content with after their first week loss, but James Madison will hardly provide the abundance of athletes that UCF put out on the field. Akron's defense had three sacks against Central Florida and should double that total this week.

Bowling Green
The Falcons were the MAC's most impressive team in the opening week of the season, building up a 34-point lead on Conference USA defending champ Tulsa on the way to a very convincing win. The only issue? Quarterback. Starter and veteran Matt Schilz was ineffective early against Tulsa and got yanked. Backup Matt Johnson came on and led the way for the offense, so a quarterback discussion, if not a controversy, is ongoing.

At Kent State, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
The Golden Flashes had Bowling Green's number a year ago on the way to winning the MAC's East Division, but it appears those roles could switch as the two programs seem headed in opposite directions. An injury to All-MAC RB Dri Archer would force Kent State to give its offense an emergency makeover.

The Bulls will not call their 40-20 loss at Ohio State a moral victory, but it might have been that, and more. Buffalo was within 10 points of the mighty Buckeyes until late in the third quarter. Quarterback Joe Licata completed 19 of 32 passes for 185 yards and two scores with just one interception against a defense that was bigger, faster and stronger than anything he will see in the MAC.

at Baylor, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
After hanging in there but getting knocked all over place on a visit to Columbus for their opener against Ohio State, the Bulls hardly get a breather when they load back onto a plane and fly twice as far to tackle another Top 25 foe. Buffalo has a talented run game option in running back Branden Oliver, who gained 73 yards on 26 carries against Ohio State, but the Bulls will have to win some of the battles up front for Oliver to have an impact in this obvious mismatch.

Kent State
The Golden Flashes had to scratch and claw to get a first-week win over Liberty, needing quarterback Colin Reardon's 42-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Humphrey late in the fourth quarter to sidestep what would have been a stunning upset. Kent State, riding some decent momentum after posting the best season in school history in 2012, looked out of sorts and grappling with some serious growing pains.

Vs. Bowling Green, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
The Falcons snapped the rest of the league to attention by knocking around Conference-USA defending champion Tulsa in the season-opener. The Golden Flashes have to clean up their act after Kent State had to overcome nine penalties in coach Paul Haynes' debut to run its regular-season winning streak to 11.

The Minutemen got absolutely hammered by a powerful Wisconsin team, losing 45-0 in their opener. In just their second year as a major college program, the Minutemen were more than playing out of their element against the Badgers. Those games pay the bills, but have to be ultra-destructive to the developing psyche of a fledgling program.

vs. Maine, Saturday, 2 p.m. ET
This is more like it -- the opportunity to face off against comparable competition with Maine from the FCS ranks. UMass needs to see sophomore quarterback Mike Wegzyn demonstrate that he is vastly improved from his baptism by fire, and hope that its secondary, which was all first-year players last season, has matured. That group gets tested by Maine's savvy veteran quarterback Marcus Wasilewski.

Miami (Ohio)
The RedHawks are reeling after Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato shredded them with five touchdown passes in a 52-14 loss. They might have got Cato's Heisman campaign rolling, but the game more likely exposed some of Miami's significant vulnerabilities. This offense needs more punch, and this defense can't give up 37 straight points, like it did to the Herd, to any team.

At Kentucky, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
The RedHawks got only 74 yards rushing in their opening loss to Marshall, and that made life very miserable for senior QB Austin Boucher. The pass protection has to improve by some substantial measure, but look for Kentucky to be snarling and on the attack after being humbled in an opening loss to Western Kentucky.

The Bobcats, a giant killer a year ago when the Bobcats stunned Penn State in the opening week, got buried 49-7 by a rising Louisville team. Ohio showed very little of the offensive creativity and play-making it utilized last season, but that could have been a product of the mismatch with the Cardinals.

Vs. North Texas, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
The Bobcats need to lift themselves up off the canvas and do so quickly, but don't look for North Texas to be some non-competitive directional school from a distant land. Quarterback Derek Thompson threw for 349 yards and two touchdowns in the opener as North Texas routed Idaho 40-6 last week. Ohio will need to control Thompson and avoid getting into a scoring contest with North Texas.


Ball State
The Cardinals probably had the best offensive weekend to open the season of any team in the MAC. In their 51-28 domination of Illinois State, quarterback Keith Wenning made an early case as one of the best in the conference, passing for three touchdowns and running for two more. Head coach Pete Lembo seems to be pushing all the right buttons.

vs. Army, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
The Cardinals are rolling right out of the gate and their offense should give the Black Knights fits. Wide receiver Willie Snead caught two of Keith Wenning's touchdown passes and had nine grabs for 164 yards. He will be a particularly difficult matchup for Army, which comes in off a 28-12 win over Morgan State.

Central Michigan
Michigan beat Central Michigan by 50, and the Chippewas lost two key players, likely for the season. Quarterback Cody Kater broke his clavicle and All-MAC running back Zurlon Tipton broke his ankle. Quarterback Alex Niznak and running back Saylor Lavallii will have to take the ball from this point onward.

vs. New Hampshire, Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
The Chippewas will rearrange their offensive lineup as a couple of key injuries dictate. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Niznak, who took the first snaps of his career in The Big House against Michigan as he replaced the injured quarterback Cody Kater, will be in more comfortable surroundings in Mount Pleasant. Running backs Saylor Lavallii and Martez Walker will pick up the slack for the sidelined All-MAC running back Zurlon Tipton. This is the season-opener for the Wildcats, who were 8-4 last season.

Eastern Michigan
The Eagles step from somewhere well off the stove to directly into the fire as they jump from facing lowly Howard to a visit to Happy Valley where a suddenly revitalized Penn State awaits. The Eastern Michigan offense was sluggish and inconsistent for most of the opener, but on the bright side six different receivers caught at least two passes each.

At Penn State, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
The Eagles impressed few by struggling past lowly Howard, needing three straight touchdowns late in the game to grab a 10-point win. The Nittany Lions were able to grind out a 23-17 win over Syracuse in their opener, but with just 57 yards rushing in that game, Penn State will be looking to show it has some power when it lines up with the Eagles.

Northern Illinois
The Huskies slipped past Iowa in their opener as Mathew Sims hit a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left, giving Northern Illinois a 30-27 win. Jordan Lynch threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns for the Huskies, who have now won 22 of their last 24 games.

Idle this week.
The Huskies get a breather very early in the season with a bye week, but focus their concerns on the injury to wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. He scored both of Northern Illinois' first-half touchdowns against Iowa, but had to be carried off the field after injuring his foot on the first play of the second half.

The Rockets were ineffective in their opening loss to Florida, with their heralded offense unable to produce a single touchdown. Toledo had a very disappointing 205 total yards and the Rockets were successful on just one of their 13 third-down plays. Quarterback Terrance Owens completed 17 of 38 passes for 155 yards, but the big plays the Rockets expect never materialized.

At Missouri, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Rockets have little time to regroup after a trip to The Swamp for their opener against Florida as they stay on the road and face another SEC team. None of the expected punch from the Toledo offense was visible in the opener, so to stay with the Tigers, the Rockets will need to play much more like a team that returned nine starters on offense, four on defense, and has played in three consecutive bowl games.

Western Michigan
The Broncos gave a solid showing in head coach P.J. Fleck's debut, before falling to Michigan State 26-13. The Broncos were able to frustrate the Spartans' offense, and only a pair of scores from Michigan State's defense settled the outcome. Western will need to exhibit more creativity and balance from its offense as it moves forward.

Vs. Nicholls State, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
The Broncos gave Michigan State a good fight in their opener, but there will be no moral victories under super-intense first-year head coach P.J. Fleck. Western Michigan should celebrate Fleck's first win this week, since Nicholls State is coming off getting blitzed by Oregon 66-3. In that game, however, the Colonels did manage to get 343 yards of offense against the Ducks.


-- Bowling Green RB William Houston, a freshman, is on an early roll. Playing in his first college game, found the end zone three times in the second half against Tulsa in the Falcons' 34-7 win. Houston had 10 carries for just 29 yards, but made them count as he picked up a couple of first downs as well as the three scores.

--Buffalo LB Khalil Mack stood out on the field in Columbus where the Bulls faced Ohio State. Mack had a game-high nine tackles, seven of them solo stops, and added 2.5 sacks plus an interception. Mack, who took his pick back 45 yards for a score, will be a force the rest of the MAC has to contend with all season long.

--QB Zach Terrell of Western Michigan, a redshirt freshman, had a couple of touchdown passes in the opener at Michigan State, and fellow freshman WR Corey Davis had eight catches for 96 yards.

--RB Senior Beau Blankenship, a 1,600-yard rusher last season, had just 22 yards on 12 carries as the Bobcats struggled against Louisville in the opener. Ohio needs Blankenship to provide the rushing side of things so that senior quarterback Tyler Tettleton can be most effective.

-- QB Colin Reardon of Kent State, who replaced a four-year starter, had a solid first game against Liberty, connecting on 21-of-28 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
--QB Keith Wenning of Ball State had an impressive opener, passing for three touchdowns and running for two more. He should find things to his liking again this week, as the Cardinals play host to Army.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have developed depth, and I think we are a better team. I'm excited about the talent of the football team. I'm looking forward to really competing. It should be fun." -- Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, whose team faces Penn State next, to the Detroit Free Press, about the 2013 Eagles


1. The Akron experiment with a high-speed, no-huddle approach to offense continues, with limited dividends. The Zips had less than 100 yards in the first half of their opening loss to Central Florida by a 38-7 count. QB Kyle Pohl went 16 of 28 passing for a meager 98 yards and was picked off once in his first-career start. The patience is wearing thin around the program, so Pohl and the Zips need to start moving the ball.
2. The Western Michigan defense was one of the surprises of the first week, holding a potent Michigan State offense to one touchdown and a pair of field goals. The Broncos should follow that up with another solid showing, and give their defensive unit status as one of the league's better groups.
3. Bowling Green has fielded one of the better defensive teams in the nation the past couple of seasons, but many doubted that the Falcons could maintain their level of play with all-everything DT Chris Jones gone. There are fewer doubters now, after the Falcons held Tulsa to just 51 yards rushing and forced two turnovers. If a division title is in the stars for Bowling Green, the defense will lead the way.

3. Was Buffalo's strong showing against powerful Ohio State in the opener a mirage, or a sign of things to come. The Bulls refused to get buried early, coming back from a 23-0 deficit in the first quarter and closing to within 10 points in the third period. If that was the real Buffalo, and the real Ohio State, then this should prove to be a better team than expected.

4. What do the Central Michigan Chippewas do now? In their season-opener against Michigan, the Chips lost All-MAC RB Zurlon Tipton to a broken ankle, and starting QB Cody Kater to a broken collarbone. The sting of those two serious injuries could smart much longer than the 59-9 loss to the Wolverines.
5. Ball State made some noise in the first week, just based on the thoroughness of its win over Illinois State. The Cardinals had QB Keith Wenning pass for three touchdowns and run for two more. If Ball State has a similar feast on Army this week, the Cardinals will hit the MAC with plenty of momentum.

--Northern Illinois WR Tommylee Lewis had to be helped off the field after injuring his foot on the first play of the second half against Iowa. Lewis had scored both of Northern Illinois' first-half touchdowns in the game.
--Kent State RB Dri Archer, an All-MAC performer who has been mentioned in the early Heisman Trophy discussion, injured his leg very early in the season-opener against Liberty and finished with just three carries for 10 yards.
--Central Michigan QB Cody Kater broke his clavicle in the opener at Michigan and is lost indefinitely. He is replaced by backup QB Alex Niznak.
--Central Michigan RB Zurlon Tipton broke his ankle in the opening loss to Michigan and is likely out for the season. Tipton led the Chippewas with 1,492 rushing yards in 2012, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and scored 19 touchdowns. He is replaced in the lineup by RB Saylor Lavallii.
--Western Michigan P J. Schroeder was called on 11 times in the opener against Michigan State and averaged 45.1 yards per punt. Schroeder banged a 62-yarder and knocked three inside the 20 yard-line.
--Western Michigan QB Tyler Van Tubbergen got injured early in the loss to Michigan State and was replaced by Zach Terrell. Terrell went 12 of 28 for 120 yards with two touchdowns.

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