The Drive to Detroit: Northern Illinois vs. Kent State (pt. 2) should be an instant classic
Also, Akron's aiming high for its next head coach. Joe Moorhead's reportedly in the running for the job.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! It’s MAC Championship week, which means it’s one of my favorite weeks of the calendar year. NIU vs. Kent State (pt. 2) should be nothing short of a banger and an instant classic. Last time these two met up in the regular season, it was a 52-47 shootout. Last decade when these two programs met in Ford Field, they were ranked, and had studded players rock the stadium in double-overtime action. That game still holds a Ford Field record for most points scored in a MAC title game.
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MAC Championship 2021
This game is bound to be an instant classic
In one corner we have Kent State. In year four under Sean Lewis’ leadership with a proven offense, anything less than a MAC East title this year probably would’ve been a disappointment. Kent State was a runaway preseason favorite to win its division with 11 first-place votes in the media poll (Ohio 2, Miami 5, Buffalo 4). It also had four votes to win the MAC championship game, most for an East school (Buffalo 2, Miami 1).
And in the other corner with the red and black tights, we’ve got MACtion’s youngest team. No wonder NIU was most dogged on in the preseason polls, picked dead last in the West division by almost everybody. Ball State, like Kent State, had 11 votes to win its division. Toledo had 7, Western Michigan had 4. Central Michigan finished with the same overall and MAC records as NIU (8-4, 6-2), was the preseason fourth-place pick with no first-place votes. To this division’s credit: everybody in the MAC West is bowl-eligible with five teams having either seven or eight wins on the year. The competition was definitely good on this side of the conference.
This is one of those somewhat rare MAC title matchups that include an in-season rematch.
In 2017, Toledo beat Akron 48-21 in late October at InfoCision, then Akron’s late push past Ohio to get to Detroit led to Toledo beating the Zips again, 45-28.
In 2005, the 6-6 Akron Zips won a three-way tiebreaker in the MAC East to win the division over Miami and Bowling Green to take on NIU. The Zips beat NIU 48-42 during the regular season at the Rubber Bowl, then edged the Huskies out again at Ford Field, 31-30.
The 2004 title game was the first time this event would be held at Ford Field, and it would be between Miami and Toledo. On Nov. 2 at Yager Stadium, Miami would beat Toledo, 23-16, in front of its home crowd. But a month later in the championship game in Detroit, Toledo won the rematch 35-27.
The 2003 MAC championship game was historic in a lot of ways. It was the last time a MAC title game would be played on campus, and it was the first MAC title game that included two ranked teams. On Nov. 4, unranked Miami hosted, and beat, #20 Bowling Green in the regular season matchup. The two teams met up at Doyt Perry Stadium (BG’s site) and played a hell of a game. The #15 Redhawks beat #23 BGSU 49-27.
The 2000 and 1999 title races, as we all know, included Marshall vs. Western Michigan rematches. Marshall hosted both title games and beat WMU both times, 19-14 in 2000 and 34-30 in 1999. WMU won the regular-season matchup in 2000, 30-10, at Marshall. In 1999, WMU hosted Marshall but lost 31-17 in front of 30,000+ at Waldo Stadium.
Just this year on Nov. 3, Kent State hosted the eventual MAC West champions. NIU started out with a 7-0 lead on the first drive of the game, then Kent State didn’t respond until the second quarter. From there through the third, Kent State’s drives finished with a field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, and touchdown. These weren’t long-sustaining drives. Some of these drives lasted as few as three plays, and only as many as eight. A lot of big plays were given up by the Huskie defense, but NIU’s offense also responded with a lot of offense, and scored 20 points in the fourth quarter. Kent State out-gained NIU on offense, but it wasn’t by much (682-663), and the Flashes won 52-47 in front of its home crowd during weeknight MACtion.
This Saturday’s game in Detroit is going to be an absolute banger. I’ll refrain from making any real predictions about this one, but on a day where the MAC has to compete for some eyeballs against other leagues on Championship Saturday, the only other game that’ll be on at this time is Oklahoma State vs. Baylor in the Big XII title game (ABC). Even fans of lower-tier football will have to wait until 1 or 2 p.m. ET for their playoff games to start, so there’s really no escaping the Saturday, noon MACtion on ESPN. All of the other conference title games across all of the other networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, FOX, CBS) start to heat up around 3 or 4 p.m. So there’s going to be a pretty wide net for new eyeballs to at least casually catch the end of the MAC title game, no matter what their investment levels are coming into the weekend.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW HEADING INTO SATURDAY’S TITLE GAME
A week after Kent State’s win over NIU, defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman was let go and C.J. Cox, corners coach, took over D.C. duties. Kaufman was a longwhile coach alongside Lewis at Eastern Illinois, Bowling Green, and Syracuse. Kent State’s simply given up too many points (34.6 ppg this year) and yards under Kaufman, and a difficult change was made before the end of the year.
The last time NIU and Kent State and NIU met in the championship stage, both teams were ranked. In 2012, Kent State was #18 and NIu was #19. The game went into double overtime, and the Jordan Lynch-led Huskies beat Dri Archer and the Flashes 44-37.
What was the pointsiest game in MAC championship history? Good question and I’m glad you asked. The 2002 MAC title game between #24 Marshall and Toledo featured 94 total points (49-45) to be the answer there. The Ford Field-MAC title game record game is the aforementioned 2012 matchup.
Rocky Lombardi’s exactly the kind of QB NIU’s been looking for to get back to its roots. He’s an Iowa native, and he’s not afraid to try to have big days throwing (over 500 pass yards vs. Kent State) or running (390 rush yards, 5 TD this year). But most of all, he’s got a fun personality that a lot of teammates enjoy playing with.
NIU’s gonna roll up to Detroit in these hoodies and I love everything about it:
Joe Moorhead to Akron?
One. It’s going to take a Lance Leipold type of person to take a job like Akron. If you’re coaching at Akron, it can’t be because you love the Cleveland area and you’d raise your family in Akron and your family lives in the neighborhood too. If you’re going to coach at Akron and do well, you have to really love coaching.
Joe Moorhead, per Yahoo’s reporting, is in the running to take the Akron head coaching job. Moorhead’s currently the offensive coordinator for Oregon, which is still fighting for a spot in the Playoff. I’m admittedly not a great analyst for this, but I’m pretty sure Moorhead would take a fairly sizable paycut just to be the head coach of an impossible program. Normal people don’t just do that. This hire would be way cooler than the stupid Kevin Wilson rumor that made its round on the rumor mill.
Moorhead’s a renowned offensive mind that actually has experience as an offensive coach and play caller for the Zips (2004-2008). As a head coach, Moorhead has made stops at Fordham (38-13 record) and Mississippi State (14-12), and has been an offensive coordinator at Georgetown, Akron, UConn (in the Fiesta Bowl, at that), Penn State, and Oregon. He’s been to lowly programs, he’s been to the SEC, he’s currently on a Playoff-hunting team (well, for 2022 since Oregon lost to Utah, but I digress), and bringing a 48-year old Pittsburgh native with the offensive knowledge that Moorhead has would be a truly exciting hire for the Zips.
And hey, who doesn’t love cryptic language coming from your athletic director at a time like this, when no new names have really come up since the Moorhead report?