The Mid-American Conference bowl picture just got a whole lot more interesting after last night.
Buffalo upsets No. 12 Ball State 42-24, winning the MAC Championship. Stunning, for sure, considering the Cardinals went all this way to not even win the conference. And of all things, they lost because of lack of discipline. Four fumbles, two of which led to returns for touchdowns. One of them was a premature shotgun snap, one quarterback Nate Davis clearly was not prepared for. This game is going to burn for a long time.
The loss may not change anything. But it is important to note that CMU still has a good chance at a Motor City Bowl bid now. Why, even with BSU at 12-1 and CMU at 8-4? Why, even with BSU beating CMU on the road on Nov. 19? Attendance.
A paltry 12,871 fans came to the MAC Championship last night. Even with Ball State treading on perfection, even with two new teams and a very interesting matchup, only 12,871 fans made their way to Ford Field in Detroit. Compare that to the 25,013 last year that came to watch CMU, then 7-5, beat a 6-6 Miami team 35-10. And that game was at 11 a.m. Friday, rather than at night when more people have a chance to attend!
In fact, CMU brought more than 25,000 fans to the MAC title game in each of the two years it went. And don't forget last year's Motor City Bowl record attendance as CMU lost 51-48 to Purdue - 60,224. And from being at that game, I can safely say at least half of that crowd was supporting CMU, if not more than half.
The fact is, CMU is guaranteed to bring a huge crowd to the Motor City Bowl, no matter who the opponent is (54,000-plus to play Middle Tennessee State in 2006). Ball State, even with its small four-hour drive to Detroit, is not.
Compound all of that with two struggling sponsors - GM and Ford - and Motor City Bowl executives are probably going to have to make a business decision. Ball State's obviously the more attractive option, simply because it's a new team and it's 12-1. Chances are, it could maintain a low ranking after the Buffalo loss - it's not like the Cardinals are not the best team in the MAC now.
BUT- CMU is an attractive business option because of its huge draw. Tens of thousands of fans will go to Detroit to watch the Chippewas play anybody. That is a certainty. And right now, I'm not buying the talk that CMU would rather go to a different bowl because they've already went to the MCB the last two years. It is guaranteed Central is going to play a different team, so we already have a completely different game to look forward to under the same bowl name. And I doubt the team wants to travel across the country just for the opportunity to play in a different bowl. What's the logic?
Plus, let's face it - Every CMU game is an interesting game. I can't remember the last time the Chippewas played in a FBS game that didn't come down to the final few minutes. I think the Georgia and Temple games are it.