The Mid-American Conference is only a few weeks into its 2019 season but it’s already shaping up to be interesting.
MAC teams go into Saturday’s schedule with Kent State, which was picked in the pre-season conference media poll to finish fourth in the East Division, leading with a 2-0 record. Over in the West, Ball State enjoys a half-game lead over Central Michigan after the Cardinals were picked to finish fifth and the Chippewas sixth.
Meanwhile, a win over West Division-favorite Toledo had Bowling Green tied for second in the East after being picked to finish last, while East Division-favorite Ohio was 1-1 and also tied for second after being upset at home by Northern Illinois.
»RELATED: MAC Standings
In other words, a typical MAC season. That’s no surprise to Miami coach Chuck Martin.
“That’s exactly what I said coming back from Media Day,” Martin said this week. “A lot of good players left after last season. There were a lot of good seniors who graduated last season. It’s a little bit of a transition year.
“Buffalo is 0-2. They could easily be 2-0. Whether you win or lose the division won’t be decided until late. It’s not abnormal to win your division with two losses. You’re in a knock-down, drag-out fight every week.”
That’s what the RedHawks were preparing for this week in the second annual Mallory Cup game, honoring Bill Mallory, the former Miami and Northern Illinois coach who remains the only man to lead two programs to MAC championships. The Huskies (2-4, 1-1) will be playing its fifth road game in a span of six games, but are coming off their 39-36 win over the Bobcats on John Richardson’s 37-yard, last-play field goal.
Led by 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior quarterback Ross Bowers, a transfer from the University of California at Berkeley, Northern Illinois goes into the game leading the MAC with an average of 278.7 passing yards per game. The Huskies also yield the fewest passing yards per game, an average of 195.2, while Miami (2-4, 1-1) is producing a conference-worst 260.2 yards of total offense per game and second-worst 154.7 passing yards per game.
“They’re talented on both sides of the ball,” Martin said.
Emmanuel Rugamba, Miami’s 5-11, 190-pound fourth-year junior cornerback, expects the RedHawks to match the Huskies’ intensity, especially after losing, 38-16, at Western Michigan last Saturday .
“We’re hungry,” he said. “We’re eager to bounce back.”
The Naperville, Ill., native was recruited by the Huskies, but the game has no special meaning for him beyond Miami needing a win.
“I know a lot of the guys there, and I know a lot of the coaches,” he said. “It’s no different. They’re coming off a big win.”
Ribboned helmets: For the second straight season, Miami players will be wearing helmets marked with ribbons symbolizing different types of cancer to help promote awareness of the disease. The helmets will be auctioned to raise money for awareness.
Rugamba picked pink, symbolizing breast cancer.
“Growing up, I saw what it can do,” he said. “I had some experiences. Nobody in my family had it, but I know how important it is to be aware.”
Rugamba is one of 43 players to pick pink ribbons, according to the Miami athletic media relations department. Nineteen picked blue, symbolizing colon or esophageal cancer. Other colors include nine purple for leiomyosarcoma, pancreatic cancer or testicular cancer, eight orange for kidney cancer and leukemia, six black for melanoma, four red for blood cancers, four green for liver, ovarian or cervical cancer and three yellow for bladde or sarcoma/bone cancer.
The helmets and uniforms will be featured on the ESPN’s “Geared Up” segment between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday.
“These kids are picking the colors based on their own life experiences,” Martin said. “We’re trying to teach them about football, but also about life and appreciation. It gives you a ton of perspective.”
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