One of the joys of the yearly traveling circuses known as college football media days is the release of the conference media polls. I’m sure you’ve seen them. The pack of media members gather together in their flowing hooded robes amidst warm glowing candlelight and chant their media mantra as they pick the projected order of finish for whatever conference they have gathered to celebrate. At least, I assume that’s how it works. I have not had the opportunity of attending the MAC’s preseason media bonanza, as a career in higher education that actually pays the bills means the late summer is probably the absolute busiest time for me. But dammit, I can hope and wish that the scenario described above is the case. I just can’t imagine that gathering regional sportswriters in an NFL press box for such an important task would be as mundane as paper scraps or an emailed vote.
Regardless of how they gathered or the various shenanigans that occur while they are circled together, today’s opening salvo of MAC Football Media Days means that the press poll was released to the <insert Rock voice> MILLIONS….. AND MILLIONS </Rock voice> of MAC fans the world over. And much like every year since I’ve been covering the Cardinals, you do have to scroll a bit in the MAC West standings to see the cardinal and white listed.
In true MAC fashion, and as I alluded to on the BlackHeartGoldPants podcast a couple of weeks ago, the MAC West is a virtual dealer’s choice. Toledo got the official nod as the projected MAC West champion, but there are three teams within eight points of each other at the top as the Rockets are joined by Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Ball State comes in 4th, 37 points behind 3rd place WMU, but only ten points separate BSU, Eastern Michigan, and Central Michigan. I would like to site here and bemoan the projected finish for the Cardinals or even use this as a springboard to a much larger and exhaustive barometer of how mainstream media just doesn’t do enough homework, but frankly, I can’t. I think 4th is low for how BSU will finish, but I can’t give you a specific reason why I think that’s the case. I spoke a bit on the podcast about how I have a hard time picking WMU for anything, but that gut feeling isn’t quite the concrete rationale one would need to crucify others for a perceived lack of foresight.
The fact remains that there are issues with every team in the front of the MAC West pack. Toledo has a brutal schedule, traveling to both NIU and WMU and has new coach Matt Campbell at the helm. Northern Illinois does get the Rockets at home, but has to travel to WMU, Ball State and Eastern Michigan. No easy feat. Oh… and Chandler Harnish is gone. Replacing Nate Davis worked well for BSU record-wise in 2009. There’s the aforementioned WMU Broncos and their seemingly annual rite of fall of building expectations and then taking a tinkle all over them. BSU is still relatively young and unproven and we’re in only year two of the Lembo era. EMU is EMU, and Central is their centrally self. So yeah, that parity may have less to do with balance and more to do with the virtual crapshoot that is the MAC West.
The most curious thing out of all that is not that the there is a split of first place votes between the three front-runners, but that a 4th team also garnered a first place vote. And that outlier was so in the truest sense of the word, as Central Michigan, projected MAC West finisher, received one lone first place vote for the division and also a lone vote as the MAC Championship game winner. Whether that was a CMU alum and/or beat writer who pulled a Spurrier and cast a solidarity vote with his favorite or whether someone has some inside knowledge that seemingly no one else in the known universe has remains to be seen, but I’ll go with the former rather than the latter. My guess is it was the CMU student newspaper, which further sets BSU apart as a leader in undergraduate journalism that’s realistic and not eye-rolling. But I digress.
The MAC East was sort of a status quo of expected results, as Ohio received all 17 first place votes and UMass finished last. Considering all the chaos and general sliminess and uncertainty of football the last day or so, it’s nice to see some order restored to the universe by way of the MAC. MAC East? Business as usual as stoic and steadfast Frank Solich leads the Bobcats to the front of the field. The MAC West? The usual dumpster fire of chaos and trap doors that leave all of us excited and ultimately satisfied at season’s end. Welcome back, MAC.