BroncoBlitz.com was in attendance at Tuesday's Mid-American Conference Media Day at Ford Field in downtown Detroit. In addition to first-year head coach P.J. Fleck, quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen and linebacker Johnnie Simon, we were able to talk to various other coaches and players from around the league.
Below are various notes from the day followed by notable quotes from MAC personnel.
Overall media attendance appeared to be noticeably higher than last season, likely a result of some of the positive publicity the conference received from on-field performance last season. There was an air of cautious optimism around the event as the MAC prepares for a 2013 season with a lot of potential.
Fleck was, predictably, among the more popular coaches at the event, with the WMU table often surrounded by media members, many getting their first chance to ask the new head coach questions. While the tone was certainly more understated than some of his more inspirational and high-volume speeches, there was still plenty of discussion of his sometimes unconventional methods.
There were few surprises in the media's preseason poll, with Northern Illinois being considered the runaway favorite to win the conference coming off of an Orange Bowl appearance and returning star quarterback Jordan Lynch. Of the 25 outlets that picked a champion, 14 selected the Huskies. Toledo and Ohio were a distant second with three votes each.
While it didn't affect the overall standings significantly, it is interesting to note that Central Michigan received one first-place vote in the West Division and was also picked by that media member to win the MAC Championship game.
For what it's worth, my personal ballot would not have been significantly different from the consensus except that I do feel this is Toledo's year to take the West Division. While it's certainly difficult to bet against a team that was in the BCS last season (and I appreciate the argument that they deserve the benefit of the doubt), the Huskies lost a lot from a defense that had more to do with last year's success than many realize, and they have to travel to Toledo this season. Note that this prediction does not represent the views of the entire BroncoBlitz.com staff.
MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher spoke at length at the beginning of the day, and much of the discussion centered around the changing college football landscape. Specifically, the calls for stipends or payment for players as well as the conference's bowl situation were major items.
It's not surprising that Steinbrecher didn't exactly reveal much during his talk, but there were undertones of urgency regarding finding a solution to the pay-for-play issue, and he was quite candid about the concerns of the MAC as a lower-revenue conference. Little was revealed about the bowl situation, though Steinbrecher said announcements should be expected in one to three months about any additional contracts.
Among all the uncertainty, Steinbrecher did take some time to praise the new playoff system as a step forward for the MAC and college football as a whole.
Northern Illinois, which began promoting Jordan Lynch for the Heisman trophy in late October last season, is starting early this year and plans to do so for the entire season. Lynch finished seventh in the voting last season, and figures to have an outside shot at attending the ceremonies in New York this winter if he has a similar season and the Huskies make waves again.
P.J. Fleck promised further facility changes and improvements in the coming months, telling reporters that in six months' time "nothing will look the same" around the WMU football facilities.
Among Fleck's more interesting relationships around the league is first-year Kent State head man Paul Haynes. Beyond the fact that both are new to the head coaching scene, they have coached together in the past under Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Haynes told BroncoBlitz.com that they keep in contact regularly. With the two taking over programs under very different circumstances, it will be interesting to compare progress.
Fleck also indicated that one of his favorite parts of the day was picking the brains of some of the more experiences MAC head coaches, singling out Ball State's Pete Lembo as someone who he spoke with at length on Tuesday.
Much of the discussion of Tyler Van Tubbergen, WMU's senior quarterback preparing for his first full season as a starter, centered around his improvement as a vocal leader of the offense. Fleck mentioned multiple times (including on ESPN3's coverage of Media Day) that Van Tubbergen is improving by leaps and bounds in that area. Fleck tied these improvements into Van Tubbergen's hopes of becoming a lawyer, saying that developing these skills will help him in his career down the road.
Fleck also revealed a nickname for defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham, calling the veteran coach "The Silver Fox" during his interview with Michael Reghi and Doug Graber on ESPN3. BroncoBlitz.com asked about the nickname afterwards, and Fleck said that it was coined by Greg Schiano during Pinkham's time at Rutgers. The name refers to Pinkham's silver hair, and that he is always "hunting" on the recruiting trail, like a fox.
As noted by BroncoBlitz on Twitter Tuesday evening, even on MAC Media Day the recruiting doesn't stop for P.J. Fleck and WMU. Fleck was back in Kalamazoo a few hours after the conclusion of the event, and received the 21st commitment of the class of 2014 from Fort Wayne, Ind. defensive end Nathan Braster.
BroncoBlitz.com will continue to bring coverage of the Mid-American Conference and Media Day as the football season approaches.