MAC Football Notes -- Week 1

Updated 8/28/2000
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    Mid-American football will kickoff Thursday night with three-time defending league champion Marshall hosting Southeast Missouri State and two other teams, Northern Illinois (at Northwestern) and Western Michigan (at Wisconsin) opening on the road against Big Ten opponents.

    This Week's Games - Thursday, August 31

    Southeast Missouri State Indians at Marshall Thundering Herd, 7 p.m. (ET)

    Marshall Stadium (40,000/artificial turf) Huntington, W.Va.
    The Coaches: SEMO-Tim Billings (SE Oklahoma 1979) 0-0/first year; Marshall-Bob Pruett (Marshall 1965) 50-4/fifth year.
    Series: first meeting
    Television: Thundering Herd Network
    The Thundering Herd has the nation's longest win streak at 18 and has won 31 consecutive home games ... former Marshall defensive coordinator Tim Billings makes his head coaching debut with SEMO ... the Herd has won 16 straight home openers ... Herd QB Byron Leftwich makes his collegiate starting debut in place of current N.Y. Jets member Chad Pennington ... targets for Leftwich include All-MAC WR Nate Poole (71 rec./1,122 yards/9 TDs), Lanier Washington (42/340/2) and newcomer Darius Watts, clocked in a 4.5 40 ... Chanston Rodgers takes over for Doug Chapman (721 yards/12 TDs) at TB ... the Herd has five returning first-team all-MAC players - Poole, OL Jimmy Cabellos, DL Paul Toviessi and DBs Danny Derricott and Maurice Hines ... Marshall returns 11 starters (6 defense/5 offense) from last year's 13-0, No. 10 ranked and Motor City Bowl champion squad ... SEMO was 3-8 last year but won three of its final four games.

    Northern Illinois Huskies at Northwestern Wildcats, 7 p.m. (CT)

    Ryan Stadium (47,130/artificial turf) Chicago, Ill.
    The Coaches: NIU-Joe Novak (Miami University 1967) 8-36/fifth year; Northwestern-Randy Walker (Miami University 1976) 3-8/second year at Northwestern.
    Series: Northwestern leads 4-0-1
    Sixth meeting in this series, all at Northwestern, and first since a 24-7 Wildcat win in 1990 ... Huskies last beat a Big Ten foe in 1988, a 19-17 triumph over Wisconsin ... Joe Novak guided NIU to a 5-6 mark last year, the best since a 5-6 slate in 1992 ... Walker coached at MAC member Miami from 1990-98, compiled an overall mark of 59-35-5 and a 2-0 record versus NIU ... Huskies' strength features two-time all-MAC OT Ryan Diem, veteran QB Chris Finlen (205-348/2,658/17 TDs) and FL Justin McCareins ... watch for big plays from Huskie CB Benji Peacock, who lit up Kent State with a 67-yard interception and 77-yard fumble return for touchdowns last year ... Northwestern was 3-8 in 1999, including a 28-3 loss to Miami University.

    Western Michigan Broncos at Wisconsin Badgers, 7 p.m. (CT)

    Camp Randall Stadium (76,129/artificial turf) Madison, Wisc.
    The Coaches: WMU-Gary Darnell (Oklahoma State 1970) 22-12/third year; Wisconsin-Barry Alvarez (Nebraska 1969) 70-44-4/11th season.
    Series: Wisconsin leads 2-1.
    Television: ESPN Regional
    Wisconsin has won 18 of its last 19 home non-conference games under Alvarez ... the Broncos, defending MAC West Division champions, will be starting junior Jeff Walsh, who replaces league and school record holder Tim Lester at QB ... Walsh has one career start, that in 1997 at Eastern Michigan, and his career numbers are 41-66 for 601 yards and four TDs ... TB Robert Sanford (2,648 career yards) and WR Steve Neal (168 rec., 2,751 yards, 24 TDs) also boost the Broncos' offense, which averaged 31 ppg last season while going 7-5 and advancing to the MAC Championship game ... the teams last met in 1988 with a 24-14 WMU triumph ... all three previous meetings were held in Madison ... Wisconsin was 10-2 in 1999 and won the Rose Bowl behind the talents of Heisman winner Ron Dayne ... the Badgers are ranked No. 4/No. 5 (A.P.-USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Poll).

    This Week's Game - Saturday, Sept. 2

    Ohio Bobcats at Iowa State, 11:30 a.m. (CT)

    Jack Trice Stadium (43,000/natural grass) Ames, Iowa
    The Coaches: Ohio-Jim Grobe (Virginia 1975) 26-29-1/sixth year; Iowa State-Dan McCarney (Iowa 1975) 13-42/sixth year.
    Series: ISU leads 4-0.
    Television: Fox Sports Ohio/Pittsburgh
    First meeting in series since 1995, which was the first year for both coaches ... Operating out of a Pro Set offense that relies heavily on the QB option, Ohio has led the MAC in rushing the last four years ... this year's ground game features five returning players who averaged at least 43 rushing yards per game - Jamel Patterson (72.6), Chad Brinker (54.5), Dontrell Jackson (48.0), Joe Sherrill (45.6) and Raynald Ray (43.8) ... Ohio last beat a Big 12 opponent in a 1967 30-15 win at Kansas ... twice in Jim Grobe's tenure the Bobcats have won their initial non-conference game of the season (at Hawai'i in 1996 and at Maryland in 1997) ... Grobe needs six wins this season to become the school's fourth-winningest all-time coach ... the Cyclones were 4-7 last year, but dropped their last five games of the season.

    Akron Zips at Virginia Tech Hokies, noon (ET)

    Lane Stadium (53,879/natural grass) Blacksburg, Va.
    The Coaches: Akron-Lee Owens (Bluffton College 1977) 19-36/sixth year; VT-Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech 1969) 88-60-2/14th year at VT.
    Series: VT leads 4-0.
    Television: ESPN Regional/WVPX-TV 23 in Northeast Ohio.
    The Zips are coming off a stellar 7-4 campaign, the school's best since a 7-3-1 record in 1992 ... big things are expected offensively from QB Butchie Washington (131-240, 12 TDs, 1,896 yards in '99), TB Brandon Payne (845 yards, 13 TDs, MAC Freshman of the Year) and receivers Lavel Bailey (42, 941, 9) and Jake Schifino (37, 452, 1) ... Akron was the only MAC team besides Marshall to capture two I-A non-conference wins in '99 (Temple and Navy) ... the Zips have dropped six consecutive season openers ... the Hokies have won four straight season openers and boast of Heisman hopeful QB Michael Vick ... in 1997 MAC member Miami knocked off then #12 Virginia Tech 24-17 in Blacksburg, which was also the Hokies last home loss to a non-Big East opponent ... The Zips and Hokies last met in 1996, a 21-18 Tech win at Akron ... the Hokies are ranked No. 11/No. 10 (A.P.-USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Poll).

    Bowling Green Falcons at Michigan Wolverines, noon (ET)

    Michigan Stadium (107,501, natural grass) Ann Arbor, Mich.
    The Coaches: BGSU-Gary Blackney (Connecticut 1967) 58-41-2/10th year; UM-Lloyd Carr (Northern Michigan 1968) 49-13/sixth year.
    Series: first meeting
    Television: ESPN Regional
    The Falcons go to the Big House for what should be the biggest crowd ever to witness a BGSU contest (96,291 at Penn State in 1998) ... Gary Blackney's crew finished 5-6 last year but won its last three games ... BGSU has not won a season opener in its last eight attempts and last won its non-conference opener in 1990 at Cincinnati, 34-20 ... the Wolverines are 11-0 all-time versus MAC schools ... BGSU will be without the services of senior co-captain and two-year starter at right guard Eric Curl (broken foot) who will be out for a month ... sophomore Andy Sahm heads into the season as the No. 1 QB after debuting with 1,088 yards and seven TDs last year, completing 77-152 passes ... the Falcons also return two 500-plus yard rushers in Joe Alls (592) and Godfrey Lewis (500) ... the Falcon "D" returns nine starters ... UM will be without starting QB Drew Henson (fractured right foot) ... former Ohio head coach Tom Lichtenberg (1990-94) returns to the MAC as the Falcons offensive coordinator ... the Wolverines are ranked No.6/No. 4 (A.P.-USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Poll).

    Toledo Rockets at Penn State Nittany Lions, noon (ET)

    Beaver Stadium (93,967, natural grass) University Park, Pa.
    The Coaches: Toledo-Gary Pinkel (Kent State 1975) 63-36-3/10 year; Penn State-Joe Paterno (Brown 1950) 317-83-3/35th year
    Series: first meeting
    Television: ESPN 2
    Toledo features a solid squad on both sides of the ball ... the defense is led by seniors DE DeJuan Goulde and LB Kevin Rollins, both all-MAC players last year ... the Rockets offense is paced by Doak Walker candidate and the league's leading returning rusher in senior Chester Taylor (1,176 yards) ... Toledo's WR Mel Long is tied for the nation's longest consecutive stretch of games with a reception at 35 ... Taylor, who rushed for an average of 107 ypg last year, will be challenged by Penn State's defense that has allowed only four runners in the last 25 games to reach to 100-yard barrier ... PSU's Joe Paterno ranks third all-time among I-A coaches in victories ... Toledo's Gary Pinkel is sixth all-time among MAC coaches and will tie Bill Mallory (Miami and Northern Illinois) for fifth place with one more win ... UT's most recent win over a Big Ten opponent came in a 36-22 triumph over Purdue in 1997 ... Sunday, Penn State dropped a season-opening 29-5 decision to USC but allowed only one touchdown to the Trojans offense ... the Nittany Lions are ranked #22/#17 (A.P.-USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Poll).

    Central Michigan Chippewas at Purdue Boilermakers, 1:00 (CT)

    Ross-Aide Stadium (67,332, prescription athletic turf) West Lafayette, Ind.
    The Coaches: CMU-Mike DeBord (Manchester 1978) 0-0/first year; Purdue-Joe Tiller (Montana State 1965) 25-12/fourth year at Purdue.
    Series: Purdue leads 1-0
    The Chippewas begin a new era with head coach Mike DeBord as head coach ... DeBord spent the last eight years as an assistant at Michigan, most recently as offensive coordinator ... the Wolverines were 5-1 versus Purdue while DeBord was on staff ... CMU returns its starting QB in Pete Shepherd, but is saddled with the loss of last year's freshman sensation WR Jammarl O'Neal ... O'Neal, who set a MAC freshman record with 1,085 receiving yards, is not a member of the squad due to the fact he did not fulfill NCAA requirements ... CMU's defensive backs return all four starters and will be tested by Heisman hopeful Drew Brees (3,909 yards, 25 TDs in '99) ... the Chippewa D-Backs include Brian Leigeb, entering his fourth season as a starter, who is 101 tackles away from becoming the school's all-time leader ... the then No. 14 ranked Boilermakers beat CMU last year 58-16 ... CMU last beat a Big Ten foe with back-to-back wins at Michigan State in 1991 and 1992 ... the Boilermakers are ranked #14/#13 (A.P.-USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Poll).

    Kent State Golden Flashes at Pittsburgh Panthers, 3:30 (ET)

    Three Rivers Stadium (56,000/artificial turf) Pittsburgh, Pa.
    The Coaches: KSU-Dean Pees (Bowling Green 1971) 2-20/third year; Pittsburgh-Walt Harris (Pacific 1968) 13-21/fourth year at Pittsburgh
    Series: Pittsburgh leads 5-0
    The Golden Flashes open the season with Zach Williams at QB, replacing the graduated and school record holder Jose Davis ... Williams is a fifth year starter who has career numbers of 47-79 (59.4 %) for 463 yards and one TD ... KSU is seeking its first winning season since 1987 ... the Flashes return eight defensive starters and seven offensive starters ... last year's team lost a 30-23 decision to the Panthers ... Chante Murphy rushed for a 107 yards for KSU in last year's game against Pittsburgh, his second highest total ever, and returns to pace this year's running game ... the Flashes defense is anchored by LB Rashan Hall, the league's leading returning tackler with 125 ... KSU's last non-conference win against a I-A foe was in 1988 in a 32-12 win over then Independent Akron ... the Flashes last win over a I-A opponent who is not currently in the MAC was in 1987 over Kansas 31-17.

    Ball State Cardinals at Florida Gators, 6:00 (ET)

    Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (83,000/natural grass) Gainesville, Fla.
    The Coaches: BSU-Bill Lynch (Butler 1977) 21-35/sixth year; UF-Steve Spurrier (Florida 1967) 102-22-1/11th year.
    Series: first meeting.
    Television: Sunshine Network
    The Cardinals take a 17-game losing streak into the season opener at No. 7/No. 9 ranked Florida ... the Cardinals return 14 starters to challenge the defending SEC Eastern Division champion ... BSU's offense, which finished 12th in the MAC in scoring (14.3 ppg) last year, returns four starters on the offensive line and QB Brian Conn and TB Nick Dunbar ... Dunbar ranked ninth in the league in rushing (590 yards) as a freshman in '99 ... Conn has started 13 of the last 15 BSU games, missing the finale in '98 with a broken hand ... the Gators defensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Jon Hoke, is a 1980 Ball State graduate ... the Cardinals have dropped four straight season opening games and last won a non-conference road game against a I-A opponent in 1991 at Navy, 33-10 ... BSU's schedule eases up a bit after the Gators as the Cardinals play two non-conference home games after not hosting a non-MAC foe in 1998 or 1999 ... the Gators are ranked No. 9/No. 7 (A.P.-USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches Poll).

    Miami RedHawks at Vanderbilt Commodores, 6:00 (CT)

    Vanderbilt Stadium (41,600/natural grass) Nashville, Tenn.
    The Coaches: Miami-Terry Hoeppner (Franklin College 1969) 7-4/second year; Vanderbilt-Woody Widenhofer (Missouri 1965) 10-23/fourth year at Vanderbilt.
    Series: Vanderbilt leads 1-0.
    Since 1995, Miami has three wins over top-25 opponents and seven wins over non-conference I-A opponents, the most in the MAC ... the RedHawks topped No. 25 Northwestern in 1995 (30-38), No. 12 Virginia Tech in 1997 (24-17) and No. 12 North Carolina in 1998 (13-10) ... this year's squad features a potent passing combination in QB Mike Bath and WR Sly Johnson ... Johnson ranked second nationally in receiving last year until being sidelined with an ACL tear in the fourth game of 1999 ... Bath is the MAC's top rated returning passer (138-295, 2,525 yards, 24 TDs) and is on track to set several school records ... the RedHawks will have to adjust to life without MAC career rushing leader Travis Prentice (5,596 yards) and '99 MAC Defensive Player of the Year in LB Dustin Cohen (138 tackles, 19 tfl) ... the RedHawks defense, however, remains strong with the return of MAC leader in tackles for a loss in DL Andy Aracri (23 tfl) ... the only other meeting in history came in 1899, a 12-0 Commodore victory ... Miami's 591 all-time wins ranks 22nd among all I-A schools ... VU has played a MAC opponent in each of the last three seasons (NIU in 1997 and 1999; Western Michigan in 1998), and has lost its last two home openers.

    Buffalo Bulls at Syracuse Orangemen, 7:00 (ET)

    Carrier Dome (49,500/artificial turf) Syracuse, N.Y.
    The Coaches: Buffalo-Craig Cirbus (Buffalo 1980) 17-38/sixth year; Syracuse-Paul Pasqualoni (Penn State 1972) 75-31-1/11th year at Syracuse.
    Series: Buffalo leads 3-0-1.
    The Bulls begin their second MAC campaign at instate rival Syracuse ... the Bulls have never lost to the Orangemen, but the teams have not met since 1899 ... entering 1999, QB Joe Freedy had never taken a snap at the collegiate level, yet ended up starting all 11 games for UB ... Freedy completed 51% of his passes for 1,775 yards and eight TDs ... seven defensive starters are back for the Bulls, including DB Craig Rohlfs ... Rohlfs tied for the league lead in interceptions with five and was named MAC Defensive Player of the Week for three picks versus Kent State ... coming off an 0-11 season and possessor of a 15-game losing streak, the Bulls last win as a I-A team came in 1970, 16-0 over Holy Cross ... Buffalo's most recent season-opening win came in 1997 in a 30-7 triumph over Lock Haven ... prior to reclassifying to I-AA status after 1970, the Bulls had three straight winning campaigns (1967-69) ... Syracuse went 7-5 last year.

    Connecticut Huskies at Eastern Michigan Eagles, 7:00 (ET)

    Rynearson Stadium (30,200, astroturf) Ypsilanti, Mich.
    The Coaches: UConn-Randy Edsall (Syracuse 1980) 4-7/second year; EMU-Jeff Woodruff (Kent State 1979) 0-0/first season.
    Series: first meeting. The UConn Huskies make their I-A debut after moving up from the I-AA ranks ... EMU's Jeff Woodruff also makes his first-ever head coaching duty after taking over the Eagles ... Woodruff most recently served as an assistant at Arizona ... the Eagles have a strong passing game in returning QB Walt Church (6,816 career yards and 32 TDs), but finished last in the MAC last season in rushing (82.6 ypg) ... Church is challenging several of Charlie Batch's school records, including needing 11 completions to bypass Batch's mark of 579 ... the team's ground game was dealt a setback when freshman TB and Illinois High School Player of the Year Ryan Clifford tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during a non-contact drill and will miss the entire season ... the Eagles have lost four straight home openers ... EMU was 4-7 last year but fell three times by seven or fewer points ... UConn, which defeated MAC member Buffalo last year 23-0, went 4-7 in '99.

    BIG MAC CHANGES: The 2000 Mid-American Conference football schedule reflects an emphasis on divisional competition while also sustaining league rivalries. Per NCAA regulations, MAC institutions will play a full divisional schedule in 2000, with divisional champions qualifying for the fourth conference 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 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) will play eight conference games, while the remaining four will play seven MAC games and have one additional non-conference game. All seven East Division schools will play a full divisional schedule and two crossover games.

    Divisional champions will be based on each schools' divisional record only. Head-to-head competition will be used as the initial tiebreaker in determining divisional standings. Overall conference record by percentage will also be factored into the tiebreaker formula.

    Crossover games will allow traditional rivalries such as Bowling Green-Toledo and Ball State-Miami to continue. Other interdivisional highlights include a re-match of last year's MAC championship game between Marshall and Western Michigan and a trip by the Thundering Herd to Toledo for the first time since Marshall rejoined the MAC in 1997.

    MAC Air Show Continues: Despite the loss of league record setters Chad Pennington, Tim Lester and Jose Davis, seven of the top-10 rated MAC quarterbacks return in 2000. Miami's Mike Bath, who finished third in passing efficiency (136.7) in 1999 despite completing less than half (46.8%) of his passes, is the top rated returning passer. Also back and their efficiency rankings from 1999 are Chris Finlen of Northern Illinois (fourth, 133.6), James "Butchie, Washington of Akron (fifth, 129.9), Andy Sahm of Bowling Green (sixth, 122.0), Pete Shepherd of Central Michigan (eighth, 115.5), Brian Conn of Ball State (ninth, 110.2) and Tavares Bolden of Toledo (tenth, 108.8).

    Top Backs Are Back:The departure of MAC all-time rushing leader Travis Prentice opens the door for a bevy of talented runners to have someone besides the Miami RedHawks capture a league rushing title for the first time in three years. Two MAC players who gained over 1,000 yards in 1999 return - Toledo's Chester Taylor (1,176) and Robert Sanford of Western Michigan (1,092). Of the MAC's top ten rushers from 1999, seven return for the 2000 campaign. In addition to the three listed above, MAC Freshman of the Year, Akron's Brandon Payne (845), returns, as does Kent State's Chante Murphy (676), Ohio's Chad Brinker (600), Bowling Green's Joe Alls (592) and Ball State's Nick Dunbar (592). Of the top-10 MAC rushers in 1999, Payne, Brinker, Alls and Dunbar were freshman.

    Eye On the Recordbook:Last year it was a record breaking year for MAC quarterbacks (Chad Pennington and Tim Lester) and running back (Travis Prentice), this year it is the receiving records that may fall. Western Michigan's Steve Neal begins 2000 with 168 career receptions, which is 51 behind MAC record holder Eugene Baker's (Kent State 1995-98) 229. Neal's 2,751 receiving yards is just 762 shy of Baker's all-time MAC standard of 3,513

    Coaches Moving Up:Two MAC coaches are set to move up on the list of victories on the league's all-time wins list. Toledo's Gary Pinkel begins 2000 with 63 career triumphs, which ranks sixth, and Bowling Green's Gary Blackney has 58 wins to rank tied for 10th place. Pinkel needs just three wins to become the league's fourth winningest coach all-time and Blackney could join the MAC's top five with an eight-win campaign.

    Central Michigan:Mike DeBord was introduced as the Chippewas new head coach on Dec. 3. The offensive coordinator at the University of Michigan the last three years, the 43-year old DeBord has been on the Wolverines' staff for eight seasons as offensive tackles and tight ends coach. He's been an assistant coach for 18 seasons at seven different schools. DeBord is a 1978 graduate of Manchester College. He has MAC experience, having coached the offensive line at Ball State in 1979, helping guide the Cardinals to a MAC title. Dick Flynn, who served as head coach at CMU for six years and compiled a record of 30-37 and a MAC championship in 1994, resigned effective the end of the season with two weeks remaining on the 1999 schedule.

    Eastern Michigan:Jeff Woodruff, an assistant football coach at the University of Arizona the past two seasons, was named head coach at EMU on Dec. 15. A native of Kent, Ohio, Woodruff was the running backs coach at Arizona. He is a 1979 graduate of Kent State University and has also coached at Kent State, Washington, Nevada and Washington at the collegiate level. Woodruff follows Rick Rasnick, who had served as head coach at EMU for five years, compiling a 20-34 record before being relieved of duties with one game remaining in the season. Woodruff is the son-in-law of former Kent State and Washington head coach Don James.

    MAC Players Gain National Attention:Eleven times the name of a MAC player pops up on the preseason "Watch Lists" for the Butkus Award, Jim Thorpe Award and Doak Walker Award.

    Butkus Award (presented by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando of nation's top linebacker)
    Kenny Philpott (Eastern Michigan), Kevin Rollins (Toledo), Cameron Saulsby (Northern Illinois) and Max Yates (Marshall).

    Jim Thorpe Award (given to nation's best defensive back)
    Danny Derricott (Marshall), Jermaine Hampton (Northern Illinois) and Dwight Smith (Akron).

    Doak Walker Award (awarded to the nation's top running back)
    Brandon Payne (Akron), Robert Sanford (Western Michigan) and Chester Taylor (Toledo).