SQ MAC Championship Preview
Now that rivalry week is behind us, it's time to follow up with our second favorite week: conference championship week. This week SQ will be bringing you coverage of the numerous conference championships to be played out between Friday and Saturday. We start our coverage with the very first of the conference title bouts to fought this week; the MAC Championship, featuring Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.
Storylines Heading Into the Game
Bowling Green HC Dino Babers isn't going anywhere - Babers has done wonders since taking over for Bowling Green prior to the 2014 season. In just his second season as the head ball coach for the Falcons, Babers has led the team to back-to-back division crowns. His high-powered offenses have been his calling card (44.2 ppg, leads MAC), and is just another recent success story from Art Briles' coaching tree.
Due to this success, Babers has received numerous offers to take head coaching positions elsewhere. Most of these reports have turned out to be false, however, and Babers is adamant about continuing to win at Bowling Green.
Northern Illinois will play for the MAC Championship for the sixth time in six years - The Huskies are nothing short of a dynasty in the MAC, racking up three of the past five conference titles. Despite not looking the part this season, Northern Illinois is heading back to Detroit thanks to a Toledo loss at the hands of Western Michigan. This may not be the same Huskies team that put Northern Illinois on the map, but this bunch has looked tough all season.
Third Time's the Charm - Friday will mark the third straight season in which these two teams have squared off for the MAC Championship. So far, the series is knotted up at one title apiece, with both teams claiming blowout wins. Will 2015 see the third straight season in which the conference champion is at least a 20-point victor?
566 - the total yards per game that Bowling Green averages on offense. Led by the nation's leading passer, Matt Johnson (4,465 passing yards, 41 touchdowns), the Falcons are third in the nation in this stat. There's only been one game this year in which Babers' squad hasn't gained at least 500 yards of offense.
98 - the combined score of this game's winners from the past two seasons. As noted above, this game has been a high-scoring affair for the winners the past two years, and it seems like 2015 could continue the trend. Bowling Green currently paces the MAC and is tied for fourth in the nation averaging 44.2 points per game. If Matt Johnson and co. are on, this could turn into another blowout match.
4,486 - the record for passing yards set in a single season in the MAC set by Ben Roethlisberger. The record is sure to be broken in this game by Bowling Green's Matt Johnson. He's only 21 yards away from tying the record, and he averages 372.1 yards per game, so by the end of the game we'll see just how far ahead Johnson is.
Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green - Northern Illinois is going to be keying in on Johnson this whole game, so it's important that Bowling Green's rushing attack takes the pressure off. That's where Greene comes in. In the past two MAC title games, Greene has rushed for 238 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 5.41 yards per carry. If he can continue to be a force on the ground against the Huskies, then Johnson should have no problem providing air support.
Tommy Fiedler, QB, Northern Illinois - With backup QB Ryan Graham suffering an injury last Tuesday in the regular season finale against Ohio, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey has announced that Tommy Fiedler will be the team's starter for the conference title. Fiedler had a decent game against Ohio, after he came in relief of Graham, going 9-17 with 113 yards and a touchdown that brought the Huskies within a single score of Ohio. In the one scoring drive that he had, Fiedler was six of eight for 76 yards. However, he'll need to show more consistency if the Huskies will have a chance of beating the Falcons.
The title bout to settle the score between Bowling Green and Northern Illinois will more than likely be a one-sided affair. Bowling Green is coming in looking like the odds-on favorites to win the title. Although Northern Illinois will put up a good fight on the ground with running back Joel Bouagnon, the Falcons' passing attack will be too much to handle.
When facing conference opponents who like to air it out, Northern Illinois hasn't done too well. Against Ball State, Buffalo and Western Michigan, the Huskies gave up more than 350 passing yards in each game. Granted, they were able to come away with victories in each of those contests, that probably wouldn't happen against a team as dynamic as Bowling Green. In the end, Bowling Green will win this one handily by at least 10 points, sending Dino Babers down to Orlando with a conference title to add to his resume.