The Edge: MAC Championship Edition

The Bulls get ready to clash with Northern Illinois in Detroit for this years’ MAC Shield

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The Bulls are headed for the Mid-American Conference Championship for the first time since 2008. 

Buffalo football (10-2, 7-1 MAC) will play the Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5, 6-2 MAC) at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan Friday at 7 p.m. The Bulls are looking for the program’s second MAC Championship, coming off winning the MAC East Division this season. The Huskies come in off a two-game losing streak, barely holding on to the MAC West Division title. See who has the edge in this week's matchup:

Quarterback- Buffalo

Buffalo’s clear advantage lies in its offense. Junior Tyree Jackson hasn’t looked himself in the past two games, throwing for 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Still, Jackson has 2,605 yards on the season and had 24 touchdowns in the first ten games. Northern Illinois redshirt sophomore Marcus Childers is not the team’s go-to scoring option, but is usually afforded time in the pocket to convert on most of his passes. With the Bulls having a strong passing defense, don’t expect the Huskies to look to Childers for any Brett Favre-like heroics.

Receivers- Buffalo

As the story has been the whole season, it is hard for any MAC team to compete with Buffalo’s receiving corp. You have senior Anthony Johnson who could easily get 100 or more yards in just three receptions. Junior K.J. Osborn has had big games this season and seems due for another one. The Bulls still have reliable options to pass too, even excluding Osborn and Johnson. If all of Buffalo’s passers are healthy, the Bulls could have one of the best scoring performances in a MAC Championship game. The Huskies have no go-to passing option, opting to spread the ball out to multiple receivers in most games. 

Running Backs- Pick’ em

Neither team wows in the run game, but both are effective at rushing in similar ways. The Bulls have a three-option rushing attack of redshirt freshman Kevin Marks, freshman Jaret Patterson and junior Emmanuel Reed. They combine to give the Bulls three possible runners who can go off any game. The Huskies have two solid options in redshirt sophomore Tre Harbison and redshirt junior Marcus Jones. Both can have over 100-yard games at the same time, with Childers as an extra run option in the red zone. With both teams having run games that act secondary to another part of the team, whoever takes the edge rushing will have a much easier time on Friday.

Coaches- Buffalo

Head coach Lance Leipold might as well take the victory lap when he gets to Ford Field. From bottom of the MAC to best record in the conference, Leipold has taken the Bulls to heights unseen since Khalil Mack. The offense looked great last week and should be in top form come Friday. Leipold will look to put points on the board early. The Bulls would look like a much stronger team for bowl selection if Buffalo can have its way on offense. Huskies head coach Rod Carey has been very consistent in his winning ways at Northern Illinois and has built the conference’s best defense. Still, his team does not match up very well to Buffalo’s offense. It will have to be a grind-out, low-scoring game if the Huskies want the MAC Championship.

Defenses- Huskies

The Huskies have one trademark strength: their defense. The Huskies won six straight in the MAC holding teams to 26 points or less. Northern Illinois hasn’t let a team score more than 30 on them since the fourth game of the season. The Bulls have been solid on defense, but vulnerable to good running attacks. The Army Black Knights (9-2) and Ohio Bobcats (8-4, 6-2 MAC) games showed the Bulls’ inability defending the run. With the Huskies’ offense not being its strong suit, Buffalo’s defense could have some big stops on Friday too. Expect the pace of scoring to decide who will win, with a fast one benefiting Buffalo and a slow one geared toward the Huskies.

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at: thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @Thomas_Spectrum