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MAC Notebook: Bulls, Rockets square off at the Glass Bowl

Northern Illinois-Ball State is the game of the week in the Mid-American Conference, no doubt.

However, tonight’s game on ESPNU between Buffalo and Toledo is an important one as well.

The surprising Bulls, who sit at 7-2 and 5-0 in the MAC, would still control their own destiny in the East Division with a loss today. The MAC East race will likely come down to the final week of the season, when Bowling Green heads to Buffalo for a game that will be played at the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium.

For Toledo, the Rockets have to win today to stay alive in the MAC West. Should Toledo win out and NIU beat Ball State, the Rockets would win the MAC West title based on the conference strength of schedule tiebreaker (Toledo will have played both Bowling Green and Buffalo in the crossovers).

Buffalo was picked to finish fourth in the MAC East in the league’s preseason poll, but has been a big surprise, and the Bulls’ only two losses are to No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Baylor.

Last week, Buffalo topped Ohio thanks to running back Branden Oliver’s 249 rushing yards.

“We’re getting production from our best players,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said on Monday’s MAC coaches teleconference. “And I look at [Toledo], their getting production from their best players. The MAC at this point, it’s probably as exciting as it’s ever been.”

Two of the MAC’s top backs will be on the field today with Oliver and Toledo’s David Fluellen. Oliver leads the conference with 140.4 rushing yards per game, and Fluellen is second at 133.4.

“Both have got great vision and both have the ability to make the big play, and I think that’s been evident throughout the season for both backs,” Rockets coach Matt Campbell said.

Cardinals already in midweek mode: Ball State has already started its midweek schedule, beating Central Michigan last Wednesday.

The Cardinals have already had their 10-day break from Saturday contests to midweek, while NIU is in the midst of its long break right now, something which could give the Huskies an advantage.

“I think any coach would prefer to have a few extra days, especially when you’re getting ready for such a diverse offense,” Ball State head coach Pete Lembo said.

Fleck says Broncos are improving: It’s been anything but a fairytale season for P.J. Fleck in his first year at Western Michigan.

The Broncos have only one win, and this Saturday’s game against Central Michigan is really their last realistic chance to earn another victory, as Western’s final game is at NIU.

The Broncos have fought through injuries all year, and it started back in August, when wide receiver Jamie Wilson, last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year, broke his ankle in fall camp.

Fleck’s team nearly got its second win Saturday, falling 35-32 at Eastern Michigan in overtime.

“This team is improving,” Fleck said. ‘We had 468 yards of total offense (against Eastern), which is huge with the youth and (lack of) experience we have.”

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