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5. Lance Leipold, Buffalo, and worlds colliding.
In the 118th episode of Seinfeld, we learn about The Worlds Theory, when George Costanza’s life with his fiance, Susan, intersects with George Costanza’s life away from her when Elaine wants to start chumming around with Susan. George isn’t happy for a period of time. Worlds collided when Lance Leipold met Buffalo and they decided to get together. Leipold isn’t used to losing. At all. His career coaching record is a smoldering 109-6 and includes six championships in eight years at the Division III level. In 26 years, Buffalo is 98-174-4, with one bowl game. Leipold and losing will likely be a shock to the system, because Buffalo isn’t ripping off a 14-win season next year in all likelihood. In the Seinfeld episode, Susan ends up thinking that George’s friends are annoying and boring, and the worlds un-collide, and George ends up winning. More likely than not, Buffalo ends up pretty happy one way or another with this hire. The Bulls have a lot of offensive fire power back and are coming off of a surprisingly disappointing 2014. They could reasonably play for the conference crown in Leipold Year 1. He keeps that up, the worlds will un-collide again soon, much to Buffalo’s dismay.
4. Can Pete Lembo and the Cardinals regain some of their mojo?
After the 2013 campaign, one that saw Lembo’s Cardinals hit 10 wins a year after they hit 9, a year after they hit 6 … Lembo was starting to pop up as a viable candidate for Power 5 jobs. He went so far as to interview at Wake Forest, but ultimately the Deacons went the route of a different MAC coach. Lembo and Ball State entered last season with actual expectation and promise … and suffered through a myriad of issues on the way to a 5-win season. Problem for BSU is that the Western division isn’t getting any easier, and anything into bowl eligibility will be tough to scrape by with. On the upside, they have the offensive tools to hang so many points on you, they should come away with a game or two they aren’t expected to win. When your entire starting OL returns, three tight ends, and a somewhat unknown to mainstream receiver named Jordan Williams, it points to the Cards peeling off the scabs of a disappointing 2014.
3. How far can Matt Johnson’s return take Bowling Green?
The Falcons were the pretty bartender with a decent personality who has an issue with chain smoking and not putting enough in your drinks in 2014. They were 106 in scoring defense and 116 in total defense, yet still scraped out eight wins in spite of losing their star quarterback in Johnson for the year. James Knapke stepped in, but finished with a s0-so 15 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions. Yet … again … eight wins. The Falcons are viewed (probably rightly) by most as the favorites to win the MAC East, but could the team be even more surprising than that? Yes, they lost seven starters on the defensive side of the ball … but when the defense struggles that much, maybe an overhaul will do forced-good things. As for Johnson, he figures to be one of the more intriguing stories in the conference on the mend and ready to follow up on a year two seasons ago that saw 25 touchdown passes. That was a coach and an injury ago. Guy has to be chomping at the bit.
2. #MACtion, again?
If the conference has done anything to bolster its image, it’s been their wild, Courtney Love-all-over-the-place style games that have made their way to a television set near you on weeknights when people who are dying for football have one option … MAC football. The upshot has been the catchy hash tag that has become synonymous with chaos, but has given the league a reputation of being off-time football where the juice is worth the squeeze to turn it on. It’s no secret that raising your profile in college football is tethered directly to finding any time you can get on television and sticking yourself on there. For years, big name Power 5 teams avoided Thursday nights like they were the plague. Now, just about every major college football program is willing and able to play on that night, squeezing out some of the teams that were willing to jump in there long before it was popular. The MAC is doing it now, and can use as much #MACtion as possible. All exciting football is good football.
1. Is Northern Illinois more vulnerable this year than most, and will they finally need tickets to get into the MAC title game?
NIU has claimed three of the last five league crowns and hasn’t been home for the game since 2009. It’s honestly one of the more staggering streaks in college football when you look across the landscape at how much parity there is in the sport. Death, taxes, really bad music winning Grammy’s, and Northern Illinois. But the Huskies will be a more pass-heavy team than they’ve been come to be known (likely, at least) and the schedule is difficult, with a potential do or die trip late in the season against fell0w favorite Toledo in tow. Western Michigan is the other favorite, also in the West division. Still, there’s no reason to buy a new lawn mower when you tug on the old one and it keeps working. Take Northern Illinois if you’re pressed into taking someone, but the road might be filled with more sharp rocks this time around.