MAC Football Championship Notes

Updated 11/27/2000

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    Championship Saturday begins at 1 p.m. from Marshall University Stadium as the three-time defending MAC Champion Thundering Herd defends its title and home turf against the Western Michigan Broncos.

    MAC Championship Update:
    The fourth Mid-American Conference championship football game will take place Saturday, Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. from Marshall Stadium in Huntington, W.Va. The game features three-time defending MAC Champion Marshall, representing the East Division, and Western Michigan from the West Division. Marshall won last year's game against the Broncos, 34-30, but WMU dropped a 30-10 loss on the Thundering Herd earlier this year. That 20-point win snapped Marshall's 33-game home winning streak.

    MAC Goes National:
    For the first time in league history, the MAC championship will be televised on ABC Television. The previous league title games (1997-99) have been beamed via ESPN or ESPN2. This year's announcing team is comprised of play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough, analyst Ed Cunningham and sideline reporter Leslie Gudel.

    MAC East:
    Marshall University will represent the East Division for the fourth time in a row in the league's championship game. The Thundering Herd and Akron tied for the championship with 5-1 divisional records, however the Herd's 31-28 victory over the Zips on Oct. 28 gave Marshall the tiebreaker edge.

    MAC West:
    For the first time in four years, the tiebreaker came into effect in the West Division, allowing Western Michigan into the championship game for the second consecutive year. The Broncos and Toledo Rockets both compiled 4-1 divisional records. WMU's 21-14 win over Toledo on Sept. 23 was the difference allowing the Broncos into the post season.

    Charting The Champions:
    Previous Divisional Winners
    Year East Division West Division
    1997 Marshall (7-1) Toledo (7-1) 1998 Marshall*, Miami (7-1) Toledo (6-2) 1999 Marshall (8-0) Western Michigan (6-2) 2000 Marshall*, Akron (5-1) Western Michigan*, Toledo (4-1) *won tiebreaker Tiebreaker scores from head-to-head competition: 1998: Marshall 31, Miami 17 2000: Marshall 31, Akron 28 2000: Western Michigan 21, Toledo 14

    Recent MAC Changes:
    The 2000 Mid-American Conference football schedule reflected an emphasis on divisional competition while also sustaining league rivalries. Per NCAA regulations, MAC institutions played a full divisional schedule in 2000, with divisional champions qualifying for the championship game. The MAC is one of only three conferences in Division I-A to stage a football championship game (SEC, Big 12). Last year's MAC championship game saw then #11 ranked Marshall defeat Western Michigan 34-30 in the second most-watched college football game in ESPN2 history. Due to the unbalanced divisional configuration, two schools in the West (Central Michigan and Western Michigan) played eight conference games, while the remaining four played seven MAC games and had one additional non-conference game. All seven East Division schools played a full divisional schedule and two crossover games. Divisional champions were based on each schools' divisional record only. Head-to-head competition was used as the initial tiebreaker in determining divisional standings. Overall conference record by percentage could have also be factored into the tiebreaker formula if needed.

    Toledo Hits Double Digits:
    The Toledo Rockets are just one of nine teams in the nation to register 10 or more regular season wins. In addition to the Rockets' 10-1 mark, the teams are Oklahoma (11-0), Florida State (11-1), Virginia Tech (10-1), Miami, Fla. (10-1), Washington (10-1), Oregon State (10-1), TCU (10-1) and Kansas State (10-2). Toledo also won 10 games under head coach Gary Pinkel in 1995 went they went 11-0-1 and won the Las Vegas Bowl. Among UT's triumphs this year are a 24-6 win at Penn State and a 42-0 home victory over Marshall.

    Akron's Dwight Smith Finds National Landscape:
    Akron senior defensive back Dwight Smith may want to find space for a trophy room in his house upon graduation. Smith, the national co-leader in interceptions with 10, scored a double coup recently in post season awards. On Nov. 21, Smith was tabbed as one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, along with Miami's (Fla.) Edward Reed and Florida's Lito Sheppard. Smith will attend ESPN's College Football Awards Show on Dec. 7 in Orlando, Fla., where the winner will be announced. That same day, Smith was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Smith became the first MAC defensive player named to a first-team All-America squad since Miami linebacker Curt McMillian was named to the Gannett News first team in 1992. On Nov. 27 Smith was named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation on its 111th All-America Team.

    Western Michigan's Robert Sanford One of Eight Doak Walker Semifinalist:
    The MAC's leading rusher with 1,504 yards, WMU's Robert Sanford was named a semifinalist for the prestigious Doak Walker Award presented by Vectrix. The annual award recognizes the top running back in college football. Sanford is joined in the select company by Dan Alexander (Nebraska); Damien Anderson (Northwestern); Rudi Johnson (Auburn); Ken Simonton (Oregon State); Anthony Thomas (Michigan); LaDainian Tomlinson (TCU); and Deonce Whitaker (San Jose State). Three finalists will be announced on Thursday, Nov. 30, and on Thursday, Dec. 7, the winner will be announced live on ESPN's Home Depot College Football Awards Show.

    2-3-4 All-Time:
    Three of the league's top four all-time leading pass receivers are current players. Western Michigan's Steve Neal is second with 225 receptions, while Marshall's Nate Poole is second with 205 and Northern Illinois' Justin McCareins is fourth with 204. Neal is also second in receiving yards with 3,506, McCareins fourth with 2,991 and Poole seventh with 2,669. Neal and Poole have a chance to add to their numbers inSaturday's MAC Championship game.

    Turner Turns It On:
    Northern Illinois freshman running back Michael Turner established several records with his 52 rushing attempts and 281 rushing yards in the Huskies season-ending 40-6 win over Central Michigan. His 52 rushing attempts are an NCAA record for a freshman, breaking the old standard of 49 set in 1996 by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne versus Minnesota. In addition, the 52 carries set a MAC record, overshadowing the old mark of 49 held by Central Michigan's Eric Flowers (1998 vs. Eastern Michigan). The 281 yards are a MAC freshman record and the most in the nation this year by any freshman.

    Best Comeback:
    The most wins by a MAC team that was winless the previous year is five, set in 1966 by Ohio University. The Bobcats were 0-10 in 1965 and improved to a 5-5 mark the next season. This year's Ball State team went 5-6 after an 0-11 slate in 1999.

    Neal Nears Record:
    Western Michigan wide receiver Steve Neal has his eyes on the league's all-time record for receptions and receiving yards. Neal is five receptions and eight yards shy of the MAC career standard of 229 receptions and 3,513 yards set by Kent State's Eugene Baker from 1995-98. Neal's stats from the Dec. 2 MAC championship game will count toward the record.

    National Player of the Year Candidate:
    Akron's Dwight Smith, first nationally in interceptions with 10, is among the 15 players listed as semifinalists for The Football News Defensive Player of the Year. Smith was also the subject of a column in the Oct. 23 issue of Sports Illustrated under the title of "Akron's Interception King." In the Zips' opening game of the season, Smith picked off a pass attempt from Heisman candidate Michael Vick, just one of five interceptions thrown by Vick this season.

    Bowl Bound:
    Several MAC student-athletes have been selected for postseason bowls. Miami's starting left tackle Alex Sulfsted has accepted an invitation to the 2001 Hula Bowl scheduled for 8 p.m. (EST) on Jan. 20 at War Memorial Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. Wide receiver Sly Johnson will play in the 2001 Delchamps Senior Bowl slated for 2 p.m. (EST) Jan. 20 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Toledo linebacker Kevin Rollins has also been selected for the Hula Bowl and Northern Illinois' offensive tackle Ryan Diem has been tapped for the Blue-Gray Classic Senior Bowl and Tyco Gridiron Classic. Western Michigan wide receiver Steve Neal has been tapped for the Hula Bowl. Akron defensive back Dwight Smith is slated to appear in both the Tyco Gridiron Classic and Delchamps Senior Bowl.

    Pinkel Moves Up:
    Toledo's 51-17 win over Bowling Green was the 53rd league win for Rocket head coach Gary Pinkel, third best all-time. Pinkel's 73 overall wins as a MAC head coach are fourth all-time, behind Herb Deromedi (110, CMU, 1978-93), Bill Hess (108, Ohio, 1958-77) and Doyt Perry (77, BGSU, 1955-64).

    Rock(et) Solid Defense:
    Toledo's defense recorded its third shutout of the season in its 42-0 win over Marshall on Oct. 14. The Rockets are first in the MAC in total defense (269.0 yards allowed per game), first in rushing defense (81.5) and rank second in scoring defense (11.4.). Nationally, UT is fourth in scoring defense and total defense and fifth in rushing defense.

    Among The Voters:
    Both Western Michigan and Toledo continued to receive notice in the national polls as of Nov. 20. In the respective Associated Press and USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches' polls, Toledo is 25th in both polls while WMU is 34th and 32nd, respectively.

    NIU's Diem Honored:
    Offensive tackle Ryan Diem was honored last week as an All-America third-team member by The Football News. Diem is also a nominee for the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Post Graduate Scholarship and a candidate for the CoSIDA Academic All-America team.

    Saturday, Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. (ET) - MAC Championship Game

    Western Michigan Broncos (9-2 overall, 7-1 MAC overall, 4-1 MAC West) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (6-5 overall, 5-3 MAC overall, 5-1 MAC East)
    Marshall Stadium (40,000/artificial turf) Huntington, W.Va.
    The Coaches: Marshall-Bob Pruett (Marshall 1965) 56-9/fifth year; Western Michigan-Gary Darnell 31-13/fourth year.
    The Series: WMU leads 22-9
    Television: ABC

    The fourth Mid-American Conference championship game will be a rematch between three- time defending title holder Marshall and Western Michigan ... the Broncos will be out to reverse last year's outcome when the Herd's Chad Pennington, now with the New York Jets, tossed a one-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Eric Pinkerton with four seconds remaining in a 34-30 Marshall victory ... the respective head coaches, Gary Darnell of Western Michigan and Marshall's Bob Pruett, coached together on the staff at Wake Forest in 1986-87 ... WMU won this year's regular-season meeting between the teams, dropping a 30-10 loss on the Herd on Oct. 5 to end Marshall's 33-game home winning streak ... WMU leads the MAC in total defense (allowing 270 ypg) and is third in scoring defense (31.4 ppg) ... Marshall's offense is producing nearly 30 points a game and features the league's top-rated passer in Byron Leftwich (132.7 pass effic., 249-of-411, 2,995 yards, 19 TDs, 9 int.) ... WMU's Jeff Welsh is also in his first year as a starter and has completed 184-of-320 attempts for 2,273 yards, 13 TDs, 11 interceptions for an efficiency rating of 123.7 ... the Broncos have the advantage in the ground game with Robert Sanford producing a MAC high 1,504 rushing yards, 136.7 per game and 18 touchdowns ... both teams suffered late-season losses that cost them outright divisional titles ... WMU dropped a 21-17 decision at Central Michigan Nov. 11 and Marshall was dealt a 38-28 setback at Ohio on Nov. 18 ... Marshall's defense has the MAC sack leader in defensive end Paul Toviessi (11) and tackles for a loss leader in Jimmy Parker (20) ... each team also has one of the MAC's all-time leading receivers in their lineup ... WMU's Steve Neal has 225 career receptions for 3,506 yards and 26 touchdowns while Marshall's Nate Poole has 205 catches for 2,669 yards and 18 touchdowns ... Marshall has appeared in the last three Motor City Bowls while WMU last made a bowl game appearance in 1988 with a California Bowl contest against Fresno State in a 35-30 loss.