The 2016 Marathon Mid-American Conference Championship game Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit sets up as an interesting match-up.
The Western Michigan Broncos completed their best regular season in school history going undefeated at 12-0, winning the Western Division for the first time since 2000. That halted a six-year domination of the division by Northern Illinois.
The Broncos active 14-game winning streak is second in the Football Bowl Subdivision to defending National Champion Alabama, and the Bronocs one of the most complete teams in all of College Football.
The Ohio University Bobcats, meanhile, won the Eastern Division crown for the first time since 2011. The ‘Cats enter the title game winning four of their last five games, thanks in no small part to one of the best defenses in the conference.
Neither team has won the championship game in their history, going a combined 0-5. In fact, it has been a long time – predating actual championship games -- since the two schools have won a MAC football title. WMU claimed the MAC trophy in 1988, while Ohio has not been on top since 1968.
Here is a look at the two teams meeting in the 20th anniversary of MAC title game play.
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LAST TIME OUT: The Broncos clinched the MAC Western Division title late Friday afternoon, defeating the Toledo Rockets, 55-35, at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo. WMU broke the game open with a 21-point third quarter, then withstood a furious fourth quarter rally by the Rockets.
Sophomore RB Jamari Bogan rushed for 196 yards and a touchdown. Fifth year senior QB Zach Terrell completed 18-of-25 passes for 183 yards and three score,s while WR Corey Davis had eight catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. The defense was led by redshirt freshman DB Justin Traanquill who had nine total tackles (seven solo).
WESTERN DIVISION CHAMPIONS: In the pre-season media and coaches polls, the Broncos were the favorites to take the division and end the six-year reign of the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Western opened the 2016 season at Northwestern and came away with a last minute 22-21 win over the Wildcats. After a home opening rout of North Carolina Central, they knocked off Illinois for a second Big Ten win. WMU finished the non-conference schedule with a home win over Georgia State.
The Broncos became a juggernaut once MAC play started as they registered convincing victories over Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Akron, and Ball State. Only twice have the Broncos been challenged for an entire game. The first was at home by surprising Eastern Michigan, who they beat by just 14 points, 45-31. They also had to grind out a victory in the rain and chill of Kent State, where they pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 37-21 win. After the KSU win they finished the regular season with strong wins over Buffalo and Toledo.
OFFENSE: WMU is averaging 44.8 points and 504.4 yards per game
RUSHING: Jarvion Franklin 232 carries – 1266 yards 12 touchdowns
PASSING: Zach Terrell 228-318-1 3086 yds. 30 touchdowns
RECEIVING: Corey Davis 83 receptions - 1283 yards 17 TD
DEFENSE: The Broncos are allowing 19.2 points and 369 yards per game
TACKLES: Robert Spillane (51-47-98)
TACKLES FOR LOSSES: Keion Adams 17-74 yds.
SACKS: Adams 7.5-54
INTERCEPTIONS: Darious Phillips 4 – 263 yds. three touchdowns
PUNTING: James Coleman 21 -41.1 yds. per kick
PLACE KICKING: Butch Hampton 107 pts (13-18 FG/68-69 PAT)
KICK RETURNS: Darious Phillips 31-23.2 yds. per return one TD
PUNT RETURNS: Phillips 16-10.6 yds. Per return one TD
WMU MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY: This is the third time the Broncos have played for the MAC title. They lost their previous two title tilts, both to the Marshall Thundering Herd in 1999 (34-30) and in 2000 (19-14). Both games were played in Huntington, West Virginia on the campus of Marshall.
THE SERIES: The game is the 62nd in the series between the two schools, with the Broncos holding a 32-28-1 edge…WMU has won the last three games in the series, including their last meeting on October 15, 2015 at Peden Stadium in Athens 49-14…Ohio’s last win in the series was back in 2006 27-20…This is the first ever meeting between the two in MAC Championship Game play
LAST TIME OUT: The Bobcats clinched their first Eastern Division title since 2011 when they defeated the Akron Zips, 9-3, Wednesday night at Peden Stadium in Athens. It was a defensive struggle, with neither team scoring a touchdown. All the points the Cats would need came from the foot of redshirt freshman PK Louis Zervos. He made field goals of 27, 49, and 23 yards. QB Quinton Maxwell completed 14-of-25 passes for 169 yards. Malik Irons rushed for only 54 yards on 11 carries. The Ohio defense was led by Quinton Poling and Blair Brown, each with nine total tackles.
EASTERN DIVISION CHAMPIONS: The Bobcats were second to Bowling Green among MAC East teams in the pre-season media and coaches polls. Ohio went 2-2 in non-conference play. It started with wins at Kansas and at home to Gardner-Webb. The Bobcats were surprised by Texas State in Athens, going triple overtime, and closed non-conference play with a close loss at nationally ranked Tennessee.
Ohio opened MAC play with wins at arch-rival Miami and at home against Bowling Green. Following a narrow loss at home to Eastern Michigan, the ‘Cats ran off three straight wins with road victories at Kent State and Toledo, while beating Buffalo at home. The streak ended one week later at Central Michigan before OU claimed the crown with a win over Akron.
OFFENSE: Ohio is averaging 26.8 points and 404 yards per game
RUSHING: Dorian Brown 140 carries – 794 yards four touchdowns
PASSING: Quentin Maxwell 89-160-4 1247 yds. eight touchdowns
RECEIVING: Sebastian Smith 49 receptions- 820 yards four touchdowns
DEFENSE: The Bobcats are allowing 21.7 points and 359.2 yards per game
TACKLES: Blair Brown (59-46-105)
TACKLES FOR LOSSES: Terrell Basham 14.5 – 78 yards
SACKS: Basham 10-62
INTERCEPTIONS: Javon Hagan 3-120
PASS BREAKUPS: Chad Moore with seven
PUNTING: Michael Farkas 63-40.6 yds. per kick
PLACE KICKING: Louis Zervos 106 pts (25-30 FG/31-33 PAT)
KICK RETURNS: Kyle Bellack 14-21.2 yds. per return
PUNT RETURNS: Papi White 10-4.0 avg. yds. per return
OHIO MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME HISTORY: The Bobcats are 0-3 lifetime in MAC Championship Games (all of them played at Ford Field). They fell to Central Michigan twice in 2006 (31-14) and 2009 (20-10) and once to Northern Illinois (24-20).
RANKED TEAMS IN MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Western Michigan is the seventh MAC team to enter the Championship Game nationally ranked. They are the first since Northern Illinois and Kent State were in 2012. Currently the Broncos are ranked 13th (AP-Writers) and 14th (Amway-Coaches) in the current polls and 21st in the College Football Playoff Poll
THE GROUP OF FIVE: WMU is the highest ranked non-automatic qualifier in the College Football Playoff Poll. If the Broncos win, they are just about assured a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl game would likely figure in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas. Under the new CFP format, the Broncos would be the first team from the MAC to be one of the non A-Q’s joining Boise State-2014 & Houston-2015.