Road To Detroit: Easiest Path In The MAC West?
By Thomas Delves
Last week we looked at which MAC East team has the easiest road to the conference championship game. This week, we are checking out who has a paved road to Detroit in the West.
The reigning MAC champions, the Bowling Green Falcons, came out of the East and the West certainly wants to change that in 2014.
We still are questioning who will be under center when the 2014 season kicks off for the Huskies. On top of that, Northern Illinois will take to the road in November for two of its toughest games when they travel to Ball State and to Ohio University. They do hold one advantage in starting the season with four non-conference games followed by a bye week. This will give the future quarterback time to settle into the position. Along with the string of non-conference games, NIU plays three teams that had a combined three wins last season (Miami, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan).
Ball State has two things working for them with their schedule. First, they don't have to play on the road in back-to-back weeks. That should help. Second, the Cardinals' toughest games are spread out. Their first real challenge comes Sept. 20 when they travel to Toledo to face the Rockets. Then it's smooth sailing until Nov. 5 when they take on NIU at home. Their biggest road challenge will be the last week of the season against Bowling Green, which could be a preview to the MAC championship game. Ball State should be pretty happy with how things played out.
The first half of the Rockets' schedule is manageable; their toughest game is Ball State at home. The second half of the schedule maps a rough road. The last four weeks of the season look like this: Kent State on the road, NIU on the road, Bowling Green at home and then Eastern Michigan on the road. Coming off a solid 5-3 conference record in 2013, the Rockets will have to play their best to overcome that second half.
The Chippewas, like NIU, start the year with four non-conference games. They play two hard games (Ohio and Ball State) at home and two on the road (NIU and Buffalo). The real problem for Central Michigan will be playing 10 games in 10 weeks. That is one long stretch of football. There will be no time to rest or relax if injuries and fatigue set in. However, it does end its season playing Miami and Western Michigan at home, a much-needed ray of sunshine. This will have to be one focused and healthy team to survive conference play.
Eastern Michigan/Western Michigan
Western Michigan walked away with 27 recruits and Eastern Michigan ended up with 16. Despite the disparity, both teams are fighting an uphill battle. Eastern faces Florida and Michigan State as non-conference opponents, even making a trip to Ball State as well. They are lucky they get Buffalo and NIU at home, but after going 1-7 in the conference last season, things don't look good. As for Western Michigan, their top-rated recruiting class will go through the wringer in October. Tangoing with Toledo, Ball State, Bowling Green and Ohio consecutively would make any team cringe. It also ends its season facing NIU. Both these teams leave much to desire.
Ball State has some favorable points, but not necessarily the easiest road to Detroit. Though a strong contender to upend Northern Illinois for the MAC West on paper, whether they can put it together or not on the field is a different story. We will have to wait until Aug. 23 to see what unfolds.