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The MAC’s second season starts this weekend, with three games on tap. Originally, there were supposed to be four, but Ohio is in hot water with its administration, not playing games at the moment and is said to be suspended for the fall.
So, Dayton, who was scheduled to play the Bobcats Saturday, and is eager to get the season underway, has the weekend off. The Flyers finished 6-2 and in third place in the MAC last season, their first in DI. They return all but a few starters, and they’re looking to improve on that performance.
“When we found out we were going DI, it kind of put a fire under all of us, and we really worked our tails off,” said Dayton co-captain Conor Squier, “so I think our hard work paid off, and we’ve been working this year to hopefully do better this season.”
In action Saturday, and looking to make a jump like Dayton did last year, is Cincinnati. The Bearcats have gotten off to a hot start this semester already, piling up big points in non-conference wins over Xavier and Vanderbilt. Cincinnati went 0-10 in the MAC last year, but second-year head coach Mark Heidrich says his team has turned a corner.
“We did a lot of restructuring of our personnel, offseason workouts came into play, and we recruited a lot differently to attract the guys that we wanted to get on the squad,” said Heidrich. “We just kind of changed the whole focus and game plan. We simplified a lot of it. It seemed to work.”
Heidrich, formerly an assistant at Miami (OH), asked his players what their goal was, and it was to win. So he’s been charged with changing the culture from that of a social club to that of a competitive club. During the process, Heidrich unearthed a talent in former Bearcat linebacker Adam Herron, who is a rock for Cincinnati at tighthead.
“He’s at practice 15 minutes early. Trains on his own. He’s one to watch,” Heidrich said of his yeoman prop.
The Bearcats try to record their first-ever conference win Saturday against Northern Illinois. The Huskies, who finished second last year, are going to be a tough out and a good litmus test for Cincinnati. If the Bearcats hang tough, the MAC could be as competitive as Miami coach Jared Moore thinks it will be.
“It’s unique, the MAC. As far as I remember in past years, this is the most competitive league we’ve been involved in,” he said. “In past years there was always a couple of teams at the top, and then everybody else. This year there’s probably three or four teams, easily, that could win the MAC, so it’s going to be tough.”
The Reds start the season on a bye week, and then they square off against Cincinnati.
The one team that could blow past everyone else this year is Bowling Green. The Falcons pitched a shutout in the MAC last season, and they’re still the team to beat.
“BG definitely still has the target on their back. They proved it last year that they’re the best team in the area,” said Dayton co-captain Colin Doyle. “They set the bar, and you’re just trying to get there.”
The Falcons open up Saturday at Western Michigan. Ball State and Central Michigan butt heads in the other MAC opener.