State Division I schools face prospect of getting shut out of bowl picture

David Goricki
The Detroit News

This could be the first time since 1974 that every Division I football team from the state of Michigan doesn’t play in a bowl game.

Michigan played in the 1971 Rose Bowl, tied for first place in the Big Ten the next three years with Ohio State, but did not get a bowl bid while the Buckeyes played in the Rose Bowl in 1972, ’73 and ’74 while the Wolverines sat home despite a combined 30-2-1 record.

Quarterback Kaleb Eleby and Western Michigan's bowl hopes crashed after a 30-27 loss to Ball State on Saturday.

Bo Schembechler guided the Wolverines to a second-place finish in the Big Ten in 1975 and an Orange Bowl appearance, the first of 15 straight bowl appearances before retiring in 1989, leading his team for the final time in 1990, a Rose Bowl loss to Southern Cal.

Gary Moeller replaced Schembechler and led the Wolverines to five straight bowl appearances, then Lloyd Carr took over and 13 more bowl appearances followed, including a national championship in 1997, capped off with a Rose Bowl win over Washington State.

But Michigan’s run of 33 straight bowl appearances came to an end with Rich Rodriguez’s first season in 2008. The Wolverines also missed a bowl appearance in 2009 and again in 2014. But Western Michigan, Michigan State and Central Michigan played in bowl games in ’08; Michigan State and CMU played in bowl games in ’09; and MSU, CMU and WMU played in bowl games in ’14.

In any other season, no bowl bid would be offered to the Wolverines (2-4) and Spartans (2-5) due to their losing records, but this is anything but a normal season with COVID-19; the NCAA waived all win requirements for bowl eligibility back in October.

So UM and/or MSU could still be invited to a bowl, but it seems unlikely for both.

CMU did play in a postseason game in 1974 but it was Division II at the time and the Chippewas defeated Delaware 54-14 for the national championship.

Western collapses

WMU was in position for a bowl before a fourth-quarter collapse led to a 30-27 defeat in the MAC West title game Saturday at Ball State.

The Broncos held a 27-13 lead late in the third quarter while also holding a 392-140 edge in total yards and at one time a 33-13 edge in first downs. But an interception led to a Ball State score and WMU’s defense gave up a big play — a 55-yard TD pass — to give Ball State two TDs in a stretch of 1 minute, 5 seconds to have the game deadlocked at 27 with 12:30 left.

WMU again had a chance to take the lead with a third-and-1 at the Ball State 4, but instead of handing the ball off to running back La’Darius Jefferson, who had rushed for 140 yards in the first three quarters, quarterback Kaleb Eleby was hauled down for a loss and Thiago Kapps missed a 29-yard field-goal try.

Ball State went on to kick a field goal in the final minute to earn the right to face Buffalo Friday night in the MAC championship game at Ford Field while WMU’s season came to a crashing halt after losing its final two games after a 4-0 start.

“I think we’re done,” said WMU fourth-year coach Tim Lester after the game. “We were told (by MAC front office) that only two teams from the MAC championship game will go to bowl games, that’s my understanding.

“I think the biggest difference, really, was the red zone. I mean, we moved the ball. We had 491 yards, and our goal was to control the clock. The execution on offense and defense, I thought they did a pretty decent job, but we can’t have those mistakes inside the 10-yard line and again not get points. You lose by three, and we have three opportunities. We have to capitalize on those.”

The Broncos, who had failed to score just once in their red-zone opportunities heading into the game, misfired on two of their first three red-zone trips Saturday, picking up just three points during that span.

And not only did the Broncos fail to score on their second red-zone chance, but the snap on a first-and-goal at the 4 rifled over the head of Eleby and Ball State’s Jimmy Daw picked up the ball and returned it to the WMU 40 to set up a TD.

Eleby finished 24-of-37 for 273 yards and two TDs, but the Cardinals scored 14 points off WMU’s two turnovers — the bad snap and interception — and left him with a feeling of not being able to right a wrong.

WMU’s defense failed to force a turnover for the fourth straight game. The last time the Broncos came up with a turnover was on the final play of their 41-38 comeback win over Toledo on Nov. 11, a desperation pass that was intercepted.

To make matters worse, linebacker Treshaun Hayward (Ann Arbor Skyline) — the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award winner in 2019 — entered the transfer portal.

Memories of 2008

Ball State (5-1) and No. 23 Buffalo (5-0) likely will go to bowl games, after competing for the MAC title on Friday.

Buffalo has dominated opponents with its closest victory coming in a season-opening 49-30 win over Northern Illinois.

Buffalo showcases 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior running back Jaret Patterson, who has rushed for 1,025 yards and 18 TDs in five games, including a 409-yard, eight-TD performance in a 70-41 win over Kent State.

Ball State last won a MAC title back in 1996, competing in the MAC title game in 2008 at Ford Field when Brady Hoke’s No. 12 Cardinals were a 14.5-point favorite over Buffalo.

However, Buffalo had other plans and returned a fumble 92 yards for a TD and then another fumble 74 yards for a score to turn a 17-14 third-quarter deficit into a 28-17 lead. The Bulls went on to earn a 42-24 victory.