UB football schedule poses both challenges and opportunities
With a six-game schedule, the season will be sprint, not a marathon
The Mid-American Conference released its schedule last week, signifying the official return of MAC football.
In the midst of the COVID pandemic, all MAC teams, including UB, will play a six game conference-only schedule. The schedule has each team playing in three home and three away games, with three weekday “MACtion” games to start the season. After the first three weeks, all MAC teams will finish the season on Saturday Dec. 12.
In the first two weeks of the season, UB hits the road to play 2018 MAC champions Northern Illinois, then hosts defending MAC champions Miami (OH). These games pose a serious challenge to UB, considering the Bulls lost to the Huskies in the MAC Championship in 2018 and fell to the RedHawks last season.
With the season being only six games, it’s crucial the Bulls get off to a good start. There’s not much room for error in a season Head Coach Lance Leipold says is more of a sprint as opposed to a marathon.
“Right out of the gate we play two excellent football teams,” Leipold said. “With only six games, they’re all going to be extremely important.”
Week 1’s showdown against Northern Illinois will be especially difficult because UB’s current coaching staff has never beaten the Huskies, something they hope to change on Nov. 4.
“We know that's a team we have never beaten since we've been here as a staff,” Leipold said. “We've got to find a way to make that happen and make it happen on their home field, that would be a great way to start the season.”
Since the schedule is conference-only, UB is comfortable with the teams they play. They know the opponents well, after years of competing against them every season.
But some teams have changed coaching staffs, and opponent coaching changes come with new gameplans that play a big role in UB’s preparation and execution on the field.
“We have some familiarity with [the schedule], we just have to see if there’s been staff changes, philosophy changes,” Leipold said. “You look at Northern Illinois’ situation, it’s a different coaching staff, the coaching staff we played against moved on to Temple. So those things are going to be unique, but [those are] things that we can work through.”
“MACtion” games, played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, give UB the chance to play on big-time cable networks like CBS and ESPN, helping the team and the conference gain exposure.
“You can’t put a number on the amount of exposure we get from MACtion,” UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt said. “For us to have that spotlight and for us to have that niche, from a national platform, it's something else.”
The MAC popularized weeknight college football. Football fans across the country know Tuesday and Wednesday nights serve as the MAC’s premier showcase of its talent, a crucial element for the growth of the conference.
“The word ‘MACtion’ is a term that’s nationally known, it’s talked about many times within our profession,” Leipold said. “It’s amazing how many of our peers, even from Power Five schools, talk about watching our games on those nights when they get home from the office, so I see them as positives.”
After long talks of resuming the season, UB’s football team will finally get the chance to compete for the coveted MAC championship.
“We’re excited to be where we are and to at least give our student-athletes the opportunity to play this season, and more importantly to have that opportunity to become a MAC champion,” Alnutt said. “For us to hopefully be able to walk away from the season, with a MAC championship is a great thing for us.”
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DeCicco42.