NIU one step away from another MAC title
The Sports Xchange
NCAAF Team Report - Akron - INSIDE SLANT
Mid-American Conference were looking for a dream championship game matchup, those dreams have most likely been fulfilled. If they wanted the best against the best, then they got their wish.
Unbeaten and nationally ranked Northern Illinois, the MAC West Division champion, brings the top offense in the conference to the title game in Detroit. MAC East Division champion Bowling Green sports the top defense in the league. It is strength against strength, at the most basic level.
Behind Heisman Trophy candidate QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois has generated 42.8 points per game. Bowling Green, with an experienced and athletic defensive unit, has limited the opposition to just 13.8 points per game.
There is a huge chasm of difference between those two numbers, so whichever side gives the most will likely end up the loser.
But there is more. Northern Illinois leads the conference in total offense with 542.3 yards an outing. The Falcons were the best defensive team in the league, and one of a half dozen in the nation that held its opponents to under 300 yards per game. Bowling Green allowed just 296.6 yards per game against a myriad of creative offenses.
Peel back another layer on those stats, and you find that the Huskies led the MAC with 318.9 rushing yards per game, while Bowling Green was the conference's best against the run, allowing only 134.8 yards on the ground per game.
The MAC Championship Game will also have a marquee star to showcase in Lynch. In his most recent game, Lynch rushed for 321 yards, breaking his own record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Lynch has been at the helm throughout Northern Illinois' 25 game conference winning streak, and leads them into the title game in pursuit of a third straight league championship.
"We ask a lot of him, and he responds every time," Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey said about Lynch. "He's the recipient of a lot of things, and we ask a lot of guys to do stuff, so we're really pleased. But I will follow that up with saying this, I've said it, and I sound like a broken record, but if he's not in the Heisman conversation, I guess I don't know what a Heisman is or should be, because to me, that's exactly what it is."
No argument on that from Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson.
"He is another incredible talent," Clawson said. "He certainly is a great player. He does it every single week."
While lacking an outstanding individual talent, Bowling Green has done things by committee -- a very strong committee. Over the past four games, the Falcons have allowed just one touchdown while outscoring the opposition 176-17.
The Falcons are strong enough to give the Huskies a good test. Bowling Green leads the conference in 15 different team statistical categories. And it's not all defensive stuff -- Bowling Green leads the MAC in third down conversion percentage, fewest fumbles lost, yards per completion, time of possession, and fewest turnovers lost. But it is on defense where the Falcons really flex their might, making the top 10 of FBS football in a number of statistical categories, including fourth down defense, first down defense, fumbles recovered, least passing yards allowed, punt return defense, punt returns, red zone defense, scoring defense, team passing efficiency defense, time of possession, and total defense.
The Zips (5-7, 4-4) provided further evidence that they are on the way back after winning four of their last five games, including a season-ending shocker with a 31-29 win over Toledo. The Zips went 1-11 in 2012 in their first season under head coach Terry Bowden, but they have shown dramatic improvement. Bowden brought a hurry-up, spread attack to Akron and it seems to be the key to future success.
The Falcons (9-3, 7-1) move on to the MAC title game after dispatching Buffalo, and doing it the hard way. Bowling Green won 24-7 on the road in the season finale, with its dominant defense holding the Bulls to a season-low 15 yards of rushing. The Falcons have been especially stout lately, allowing one touchdown in the past four games.