The Ohio Bobcats (8-4, 6-2) captured a MAC East title after a 9-3 victory over Akron last Tuesday at Peden Stadium, but will face their toughest challenge of the season in the conference championship game against Western Michigan (12-0, 8-0).
The undefeated Broncos moved up to no. 13 in the AP Top 25 after pulling off a perfect regular season with a 55-28 win over Toledo last Friday. Rightfully so, Vegas is giving Western Michigan quite the advantage when they meet the Bobcats in the MAC championship this Friday at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.
According to http://www.vegasinsider.com, the Broncos are 17-point favorites against Ohio, which seems like an accurate hypothesis when looking at Western Michigan’s perfect regular-season slate. After starting the season with a controversial one-point win at Northwestern, the Broncos won each of their final 11 games by double-digit margins. Their closest game was a 45-31 win over Eastern Michigan on October 22nd. They became the first MAC team in history to win all of its conference games by over 14 points.
The Broncos are led offensively by quarterback Zach Terrell, who is putting up incredible numbers all the while being safe with the football. Terrell has thrown 30 touchdowns to just one interception all season, posting an overall passer rating of 183.7. The Fort Wayne, Indiana-native added 222 rushing yards and six more scores.
Last season in Athens, Terrell accounted for four touchdowns in a 35-point route of the Bobcats. Through the air, Terrell’s favorite weapon is senior wide out Corey Davis, who broke the FBS receiving record last week against Toledo. His 81-yard performance moved him past former Nevada receiver Trevor Insley for the number one spot in division-one college football history with 5,086 total receiving yards on 318 career catches.
This season, Davis has hauled in a team-high 17 touchdowns. Meaning he finds the end zone once every five times he hauls in a pass from Terrell.
The odds makers suggest Ohio needs an early Christmas miracle –ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them an 8.7-percent chance — to win the MAC for the first time since 1968.
If the Bobcats have any chance, they must slow down the game and win the time of possession battle. It starts with the backfield tandem of Maleek Irons and Dorian Brown, a duo that combined to run for 1,220 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. The best way to beat an offense that averaged 521 yards per conference game? Keep them off the field.
Defensively, there’s no way to stop an offense as explosive as Western Michigan’s, you can only hope to contain it. For Ohio, it starts with pressure to force Terrell into long second and third down attempts. The Bobcats lead the conference in sacks and Tarell Basham is the nucleus of the stout defensive front. Basham recently accepted an invitation to the Reese’s Senior Bowl after tallying a team-high (and school record) 11 sacks and 14 tackles for loss this season.
History: Since the inception of the MAC Championship Game, Ohio and Western Michigan have combined for five appearances. Neither have come away with a win, though.
Ohio’s last trip to Ford Field — the venue for the game since 2004 — was a heart-breaker. The Bobcats blew a 20-point halftime lead and fell 23-20 to Northern Illinois on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
It’s been a bit longer for Western Michigan since their last chance to win the conference. They lost back-to-back MAC title games to Marshall in 1999 (a team quarterbacked by Chad Pennington) and 2000.
The rebound: After coaching at three different colleges — Ohio State, Northern Illinois, and Rutgers — in seven years and a one-year stint in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, P.J Fleck returned to the college scene to take over a Western Michigan program that had just one winning season in the previous four years.
Since a 1-11 campaign in 2013, Fleck has won 28 of 38 regular-season games and last year led the Broncos to a 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, the program’s first bowl win in school history.
Fleck, the highest paid coach in the conference, dismissed earlier rumors about possible taking the Purdue coaching position, repeating the fact that he won’t discuss further speculation until after he faces Ohio on Friday.
How to watch:
Online: Ohio Football Gametracker . TV: ESPN2
Start time: 7:00 p.m (ET), Ford Field — Detroit, Michigan
Photo: Ohio Athletics