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The Drive to Detroit: The gravity of the Bronze Stalk game, what happens if there's a six-way tie in MAC East?
Eastern Michigan's chances of getting to the MAC title game are tough to pull off because of its losses to Ball State and Northern Illinois, but I'd be lying if I said this race was already wrapped up
Eastern Michigan running back Samson Evans (22) celebrates with teammates after an offensive touchdown was scored in last week’s 52-49 victory at Toledo. Image via Eastern Michigan Athletics.
Welcome to The Ypsilanti Eleven! This is the first post from this newsletter in just over a year (by two days) and I’m excited to get back into the swing of things on here. For more information on the future plans here at Y11, check out the about tab to see what sort of goals I have in store here.
The Drive to Detroit is a series where I look around the Mid-American Conference’s football landscape and see what it’ll take for these teams to make it to the championship stage. If this is your kind of flavor of college football, feel free to sign up for more email updates.
MAC standings and scores, through Week 10
MAC West Race
Scoring Eagles looking for sky to burn
Eastern Michigan’s coming off of a huge 52-49 win at Toledo, the first time this program’s been able to capture a victory in the Glass Bowl since 1999. It was also the first time since 2008 where EMU put up 50+ points in back-to-back games; EMU beat Bowling Green 55-24 the week before, also on the road.
While EMU couldn’t out-pace Northern Illinois (27-20) or Ball State (38-31), these Eagles still have figured out a way to put up points in ways that it hasn’t before. When’s the last time EMU led the MAC in scoring at this point in the season? While things are moving in the right direction for Eastern in early November, those two early Mid-American Conference losses might be enough to keep the Eagles from rallying into Detroit.
Eastern needs plenty of dominos around them to fall the right way to win the MAC West division, but this team needs to keep finding ways to win its final three games on the schedule: vs. Ohio, vs. Western Michigan, and at Central Michigan. EMU ought to be favored against Ohio, EMU’s chances of beating WMU for a third year in a row are looking more likely as the Broncos fall to last in the division, but CMU’s simply going to be a dogfight. Even if EMU ends up having a great finish to the regular season, it’s not going to survive year-end, West-deciding tiebreakers if it finishes with the same record as NIU or Ball State.
Bronze Stalk game implications
The Battle for the Bronze Stalk trophy goes to the winner of NIU vs. Ball State, an annual series (with some historical gaps) that dates back to 1946. NIU’s the leader of the series with a 24-21-6 record, but Ball State’s won the last two matchups.
Can Ball State make it three in a row?
If you would’ve asked me a month ago, I would’ve said no way. Ball State hadn’t proven itself as a formidable contender for the MAC championship, let alone pass the eye test as the defending title holder. But after losing to Toledo in Week 4, the Cardinals came back into MAC play with wins over WMU (45-20) and EMU (38-31), lost regrettably at home to Miami OH (24-17), and won [but should’ve lost] last week at Akron (31-25).
(No really. Ball State should’ve gone back to Muncie with an L last week.)
NIU’s young as hell. I know that’s a statement that this team saw, held on to, and turned into one of the coolest instant turnarounds we’ve all seen in a while, but we’ve never seen this very young roster play through a high-stakes November like this yet. This season’s a marathon, and everybody that produced the Huskies to finish sixth in the division (hi) is rooting for the team to complete the turnaround.
Should NIU defend the home field against the Cardinals, the Huskies would improve to 5-1 in league play with head-to-head wins over almost everybody else in the West: Toledo, EMU, CMU, and Ball State.
Should Ball State come into DeKalb and win, then things are different. Both programs would be 4-2 in MAC play with Ball State having key head-to-head wins over NIU and EMU. CMU is Ball State’s next opponent (at home) and our conversations here would also have to consider how the Chippewas fare against Kent State, also on Wednesday night. If Ball State beats NIU, CMU beats Kent State, and EMU beats Ohio, then we’re looking at a scenario where four teams are 4-2 in MAC play. The ranking of the four at that point would go: 1. Ball State, 2. NIU, and a tie for third between CMU and EMU.
Only crossover games left for Toledo
Even though Toledo took advantage of the early Week 4 MAC opener over Ball State, the Rockets really didn’t improve much after that. The team captured a safe, non-conference blowout win over UMass, then went 1-3 when it dove back into conference play: lost by two to NIU because the Huskies kicker drained five field goals, lost in overtime at CMU as its kicker drained four field goals, and lost by three at home to EMU because it gave up 52 points to EMU. The Rockets have three gimme games left on the schedule (at BGSU, at Ohio, vs. Akron) which is great because Toledo, 4-5 overall, still needs to play its way into a bowl game.
In the preseason MAC Media Poll, the Rockets were picked to finish second in the West with the second-most first-place picks.
Whoa, what happened to WMU?
WMU, which was picked to finish third in the West by the preseason polls, is currently last in the division. Its two wins in MAC play have come across East division foes, and beating Akron, EMU and NIU to finish the year simply won’t be enough to get the job done.
MAC East Race
The Flashes just can’t lose to Miami.
Kent State leads the East with a 4-1 MAC record and just beat NIU 52-47 at home in what could be the first of two meetups between the two this year. The other three MAC wins are over Bowling Green (by 7), Buffalo (by 10), and Ohio (by 7). The lone loss came to WMU on the road (by 33).
The Flashes have their final crossover game this week against CMU, then close out the year with road rivalry matchup at Akron, then a home finale to Miami. The most important game left on the schedule, as far as the division race goes, is the season finale against Miami. Kent State can, say, lose its next two games while Miami beats Buffalo and BGSU at home, as long as Kent State beats Miami in Week 13, then both teams would finish the year with 5-3 MAC records but a tiebreaker going in Kent State’s favor.
Miami’s best-case scenarios at this point
The RedHawks simply have to finish the year with a better record than Kent State, or a similar record but a head-to-head tiebreaker to win the East and go to Detroit.
Miami wins out, Kent State loses to Miami + at least one of CMU or Akron (Miami would be 6-2, Kent State would be 5-3 or 4-4).
Miami beats Kent State + one of Buffalo or BGSU, Kent State loses to Miami + at least one of CMU or Akron (Both teams finish 5-3, but h2h tiebreaker goes to Miami).
OK, now here’s a fun scenario that would open things up a little bit more.
What if Miami lost its next two games and beat Kent State while the Flashes totally win out? One of those RedHawk losses would come to Buffalo, which would improve to 3-3 with two crossover games left on the schedule (vs. NIU, at Ball State). The Bulls could win those two games and end the MAC season with a 5-3 record if the two teams leading the way right now end up crashing and burning down the final stretch.
Ohio’s 2-2 against East teams (beat Akron and Miami, lost to Buffalo and Kent State) and has a crossover loss to CMU. For as bad as a start Ohio had, the Bobcats have been in a lot of these losses.
Let’s say the Bobcats go on a run and beat EMU, beat Toledo, and beat BGSU. Ohio at that point would be 5-3. If this mathematically realistic possibility became a reality, then Ohio would go to Detroit if also:
Miami finished the year 5-3 or 4-4,
Kent State finished the year 4-4, and
Buffalo finishes the year 4-4 or worse.
What’s the worst-case scenario for the East race?
If you’re looking for a chaos scenario to root for this Tuesday and Wednesday, then here’s how we can get all six MAC East teams to finish with 4-4 records in league play:
Kent State: Lose final three games,
Miami: Lose the next two games, but beat Kent State in the last game of the year,
Buffalo: Beat Miami on Tuesday, then win only one of the two crossover games against NIU or Ball State,
Ohio: Beat EMU on Tuesday and Toledo next week, but lose at BGSU in the final game of the year,
Akron: Win out at WMU, vs. Kent State, and at Toledo,
BGSU: Win out vs. Toledo, vs. Miami, and vs. Ohio
Let me emphasize this next point before I carry on with the results of this. This stupid chaos scenario absolutely will not happen. There’s no reason to buy into it, and it’s only less likely to happen now because a dumb idiot like me logged on to let you know that this is still a mathematical possibility of happening. The probability of this all playing out like that is negative one million.
If everybody in the MAC East finished the year 4-4 like presented above, the division would be split with three teams that went 3-2 against divisional opponents (Kent State, Buffalo, BGSU) and three that went 2-3 (Miami, Ohio, Akron). Only teams in the top-half of that split can be considered to be the MAC East representative in Detroit, and Kent State would go on since it holds tie-breaking wins over Buffalo and BGSU.
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