The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 16, 2011

2011 Mid-American Conference Preview

2011 Mid-American Conference Preview

 

The MAC just may be the most exciting conference in FBS football.  In what other league can a team go 1-7 in league play and 1-11 overall one year and win the conference championship the next?  Miami of Ohio did just that last year.

 

Only one MAC team has recorded winning league marks for the last three years, and that team is Northern Illinois.  However, NIU has not won the MAC title in those three years.

 

2011 should be another great year for this league, and it would come as no surprise if the MAC records multiple victories against Big Ten teams.

 

East

Miami (O) will be the hunted rather than the hunter this season, and we believe the Redhawks will be up to the task most weeks in league play.  New coach Don Treadwell steps into an excellent situation.  He was the offensive coordinator at Michigan State, and the Spartans were consistent on offense during his four seasons as OC.

 

Quarterback Zac Dysert returns for his junior season, and Dysert could be the next Miami quarterback to play in the NFL.  He missed five games last year, but he still passed for more than 2,400 yards.

 

The Redhawk running game was subpar last year, and the leading returning rusher this year had just 41 rushing yards in 2010. 

 

The passing game should be strong once again thanks to a veteran offensive line and the return of four of the top five receivers.  However, MU must replace Armand Robinson, who caught 94 passes last year.  Look for the Redhawks to continue to throw the ball for 250+ yards per game and hope to average triple digits on the ground.

 

Miami did not win with great offense last year; it was the defense that got the job done.  Nine starters, including the top eight tacklers, return to a stop unit that gave up 18 points and 300 yards per game in MAC action.    If the defensive line can come up with 35 sacks again, the Redhawks will have the top defense in the league, because their back seven is hands down the best.

 

Linebackers Jerrell Wedge and Evan Harris wreaked havoc on enemy offenses, combining for 195 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, and 24 ½ tackles for loss.  Cornerbacks D. J. Brown and David Nunley combined for 25 passes defended, eight of which were interceptions.

 

Miami plays at Minnesota on September 17, and the Redhawks will have a chance to give the MAC a win over a Big Ten team.

 

Temple also welcomes a new head coach.  Steve Addazio replaces Al Golden, who took the Miami (Fla) job.  Addazio was the offensive coordinator at Florida the last two seasons, and he brings Chuck Heater with him from Gainesville to serve as defensive coordinator.

 

We believe Temple underperformed last year, and many times a team will outperform expectations the next year after failing to live up to expectations the year before. 

 

The Owls should be quite a bit improved on the attack side in 2011.  Quarterback Mike Gerardi will battle Chester Stewart and Chris Coyer for playing time, but we believe Gerardi will win the starting nod for game one.  Whoever wins the starting job will be able to hand the ball off to two excellent running backs, both of whom are capable of topping 1,000 rushing yards.  Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown teamed for 1,558 yards and 17 touchdowns last year.

 

There are some holes to fill on the offensive line after losing two all-MAC performers, but Temple played a lot of linemen last year due to injuries. 

 

Defensively, the Owls have some rebuilding to do, but we believe enough talent returns to keep this side from becoming a liability.  Gone are the four leading tacklers from 2010.  Pass defense could be a concern as the pass rush was not all that great, and the Owls did not pick off a lot of passes.  The run defense should be just fine, but in the MAC, you have to be able to stop the pass to win.  The Owls will come up a bit short and have to settle for something close to a repeat of last year.  They were the only 8-game winner to be shut out of the post-season bowls.

 

Ohio should contend for East Division honors this year, but the Bobcats are probably not going to be strong enough defensively to stop the high-octane offenses in this league.

 

Coach Frank Solich has two inexperienced quarterbacks vying for starting honors.  Tyler Tettleton will get first crack to replace Boo Jackson.  Tettleton is a dual threat player like Jackson was.

 

Solich believes in using a lot of players, so even though the top two receivers depart, there are plenty of experienced players returning, including tight end Jordan Thompson and wideout Riley Dunlop.  Former QB Phil Bates is actually the leading returning rusher and passer, but he will be strictly a receiver this season.

 

The running game will be better this season, not because of a great runner, but because the entire offensive line returns intact.  Three of those linemen, guards Eric Herman and A. J. Strum and tackle Joe Flading could all make all-MAC.  With the top blocking corps in the East Division, look for Ohio to top 30 points per game in 2011.

 

All is not fine and dandy on the other side of the ball.  The Bobcats’ top four tacklers and top three pass defenders are missing.  The entire front four will be new in 2011.  The next line of defense is as experienced as the front four is inexperienced.  Middle linebacker Noah Keller would have been the leading tackler on the team last year, but he was felled by a season-ending injury in September.  When healthy in 2009, he was the top MLB in the league.  His return to 2009 form is a must for the Bobcats.

 

Ohio will benefit from a relatively easy schedule.  The Bobcats do not play a Big Ten team, and they could go 3-1 before conference play begins.  Look for the Bobcats to earn another bowl bid in 2011.

 

Kent State has been knocking on the door in recent years, but they have always come up a bit short.  The Golden Flashes have not been to a bowl game since 1972, when Don James guided them to the Tangerine Bowl before moving on to Washington.

 

2011 could be the year the long drought comes to an end, but like Ohio and Temple, KSU must plug some holes on the defensive side of the ball.

 

There are few questions that need to be answered on the offensive side of the ball.   Kent Should field its best attack since 2004, when Joshua Cribbs was the Cam Newton of the MAC.

 

Spencer Keith is no Cribbs, but the junior signal caller should top 60% completion percentage this year and top 2,500 yards through the air.  The only fly in the ointment could be the adjustment to new head coach Darrell Hazell’s offense.  Hazell comes to Kent from Ohio State.

 

Keith will benefit from having a terrific tandem of receivers in Tyshon Goode and Sam Kirkland.  This dynamic duo teamed for 115 receptions a year ago.

 

New defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is a Jim Tressel disciple, and he will try to implement an attacking one-gap defense.  He won’t see anybody resembling Brian Rolle or Cameron Heyward.  However, he does have some talent to work with.  Nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen should plug the inside with his big 300+-pound frame.  End Roosevelt Nix is the best defensive lineman in the league, as he comes off a season in which he recorded 10 sacks and 20 total tackles behind the line.

 

In the secondary, corners Norman Wolfe and Josh Pleasant return after teaming for seven interceptions and 20 passes defended.

 

Kent State has won five games both of the last two years.  This team has just enough talent to win an extra game or two and become bowl eligible, but they could still lose out in the bowl bonanza.

 

Bowling Green is the toughest team to figure.  Coach Dave Clawson’s Falcons fell on hard times in 2010 after playing in a bowl in 2009.  The 2-10 record saw BGU drop off from 400+ plus total yards in 2009 to less than 300 last year.  Injuries played a large part in the tailspin, so there is optimism that with a healthier season, the Falcons could bounce back.

 

Quarterback Matt Shilz was thrust into the starting job as a freshman, and he completed better than 60 % of his passes last year.  His only problem was a propensity to throw to the wrong colored jersey.   Clawson’s passing game can be difficult to grasp, but when a quarterback learns the system, it can be tough to stop.

 

The running game under Clawson has been a major problem.  After rushing for less than 90 yards per game in 2009, the Falcons averaged less than 65 yards on the ground last year.  35 sacks against the QBs had something to do with that, but even using NFL statistical rules, BGU rushed for just a tad over 80 yards per game.  There are no real stars in the backfield, so the Falcons will have to rely on the passing game once again.

 

Schilz has one of the top receivers in the league as his top target.  Kamar Jordan narrowly missed recording 100 receptions last year with 96 for 1,109 yards and four scores.  Look for tight end Alex Bayer to have more receptions this season.  Bayer looked like another Mike Ditka on the field at times last year.

 

The offensive line is experienced but not the most talented.  Any improvement in the offense will require considerable improvement in the trenches.

 

The BGU defense has regressed the last two seasons.  Last year’s edition surrendered 34 points and 430+ yards per game.  There was very little pass rush, and the run defense was even weaker. 

 

The secondary will be the strength on this side of the ball, but without any help up front, enemy quarterbacks will still find open receivers.  At linebacker, Dwayne Woods is a bit undersized, but he has excellent lateral quickness and can pursue well to both sides.  He led BGU with 134 tackles, but too many of those came after backs had already gained five yards.

 

This team could finish as low as 2-10 again, but if the offensive and defensive lines show enough improvement, we could see them challenging for a bowl.  In the wacky MAC, you just never know.

 

Buffalo took a major step backward last year with new coach Jeff Quinn.  The Bulls finished 2-10 and brought up the rear nationally in scoring at just 14 points per game (just 13 in league play).  Nothing clicked on offense, as neither the running game nor the passing game excelled.

 

Quinn would like to implement a hurry-up offense, but it is hard to hurry up when your quarterback throws one incomplete pass after another.  The problem may be solved this season with the arrival of former Cincinnati quarterback Chazz Anderson, who played at UC when Quinn was the offensive coordinator there.  Anderson is getting a big challenge from sophomore Alex Zordich, but we believe Anderson will be under center when the Bulls play at Pittsburgh in the season opener.

 

Anderson will have a full complement of receivers available this season, as almost every player that caught a pass last year returns this season.  Marcus Rivers and Alex Neutz both have big play potential.

 

The running game has no big play backs.  Starter Branden Oliver averaged less than three yards per carry last year and failed to score a touchdown.

 

The biggest problem last year was the offensive line, and it will be a major liability again this season.  None of the offensive linemen will challenge for all league honors, as they are a bit on the small side without a lot of quickness.

 

The Buffalo defense was decent last year, but the stop troops frequently were forced to defend less territory than average due to poor field position given them by the other side of the ball.

 

Things do not look so rosy for this side of the ball this season, as eight of the top 10 tacklers from last year are gone.  The strength of last year was the secondary, but all four starters used up their eligibility.  The second line of defense will be the strength this year; linebacker Khalil Mack has all-American potential.  He produced 4 ½ sacks, 14 ½ total tackles for loss, eight QB hurries, and 10 passes defended.

 

The front three will be adequate this season, but don’t expect a great pass rush.  Without a great pass rush, the green secondary will get burned many times.

 

Akron won five games in 2008, three in 2009, and just one last year.  Second year coach Rob Ianello’s Zips were zipless last season.  Akron averaged just 15.6 points and 269 total yards per game, and the Zips lost to Gardner-Webb.  Only a finale win over an equally inept Buffalo team kept Akron from going winless.  The Zips could be looking at another one-win season, because the talent level is not on par with the better teams in this league.

 

Quarterback Patrick Nicely will get a stiff challenge from Juco transfer Clayton Moore.  Nicely completed just 49% of his passes last year, as he had little time to pass.  This year, the offensive line should be a little better, but the receiving corps will take a big step backwards.  The top four pass catchers from last year have moved on, leaving tight end Richard Hall as the leading returning receiver.  Hall caught only 16 passed for 149 yards.

 

The running game is not as weak as Bowling Green’s, but it will not be confused for Temple’s either.

 

Defensively, Akron yielded better than 35 points and 425 yards per game in 2010.  Those numbers should improve some this year, but we do not believe they will improve enough to lead the Zips out of the East Division basement.  The secondary will still be a problem and may allow better than 60% of enemy passes to be completed for the fifth year in a row.  The Zips gave up almost nine yards per enemy pass attempt.

 

The defensive front four should be a little better rushing the quarterback, and we believe the Zips will improve on their paltry sack numbers of 2010 (17).

 

Akron fans better circle September 24 on the schedule.  The home game with weak FCS team VMI is the only sure win on the schedule.

 

West

Toledo returns every running back and receiver that contributed in 2010 plus quarterbacks Austin Dantin and Terance Owens from an offense that averaged 28 points and 365 yards per game against a difficult schedule.  This year’s offense looks like the class of the league, or at worst the co-class of the league.

 

Dantin and Page could alternate at quarterback, as both are listed as number one on the depth chart after a week of practice.  Dantin is more of a dual threat quarterback, while Owens is the better pure passer.  Opposing defensive coordinators will have to prepare for both styles, and that will cause headaches.

 

Eric Page will contend for the national reception lead this year after grabbing 99 passes for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago.  There is so much depth with the addition of Illinois transfer Cordale Scott, and some of last year’s starters could end up as reserves this year. 

 

As if the passing game was not stacked, the running game is in even better shape.  Adonis Thomas returns after gaining nearly 1,100 yards and averaging better than six yards per rush.  All of his running back teammates from last year are back as well. 

 

The offensive line has a couple holes to fill, but we look for this unit to be just as strong as last year, and we look for the Rockets to top 30 points and 400 total yards per game.  We believe Toledo is capable of topping 300 yards on the ground if need be and 350 through the air if need be.

 

The defense improved by leaps and bounds last year but still surrendered more than 28 points per game.  Defense has prevented UT from winning the MAC title in recent years, but this side of the ball should be a bit better in 2011.  The one question mark is at linebacker.  First team all-MAC Archie Donald graduated, while hybrid safety/linebacker Isaiah Ballard was dismissed after being arrested for felonious assault.  Middle linebacker Dan Molls could be a 1st team all-conference selection.

 

The secondary returns the other four starters to the fold.  It will improve if the defensive line can pressure the quarterback more this year than last.  End T. J. Fatinikun recorded 13 tackles for loss, including five sacks, while end Malcolm Riley added 5 ½ sacks as well as nine QB hurries.

 

The UT schedule will be difficult once again.  Out of conference trips to Ohio State and Syracuse will be wrapped around a home game with Boise State.  If the Rockets can emerge from that three-game swing without major injuries, they should have smooth sailing in the West Division.  They host their top two competitors, and that should be enough to get them over the top.

 

Western Michigan looked a lot better than the 6-6 team they were last year.  The Broncos are probably the best skilled team at the offensive skill positions, but their offensive line is not as talented as their top two West Division competitors.

 

Quarterback Alex Carder tossed 30 touchdown passes last year while completing 63.1% of his passes for 3,334 yards.  Wideout Jordan White is back after catching 94 passes for 1,378 yards and 10 touchdowns.  White is a threat to break a long one every time he catches the ball.

 

The running back situation is one of excellent depth because there were injury problems here last year.  Tevin Drake averaged more than 10 yards per carry, playing mostly just the last three games.  Brian Fields averaged 6.5 yards per rush when he was healthy.  Look for WMU’s rushing totals to resemble the production of their final four games (194 yards per game).

 

The offensive line has some rebuilding to do, but it is not without talent.  Tackles Dann O’Neill and Anthony Parker will protect Carder and open holes for Drake and Fields.  This looks like an offense capable of averaging better than 35 points per game.

 

The WMU defense toughened in the second half of the season, surrendering 17 points per game in the final six games.  The front four will be a big positive this season with all four starters returning.  The strength of the DL is at tackle; Drew Nowak and Travonte Boles can free up the linebacker and ends to make the big plays.  The two bulldozers will make it hard for opposing backs to run between the tackles.

 

The secondary is led by all-MAC cornerback Lewis Toler.  Toler picked off five passes and knocked down nine others last year.

 

Mitch Zajac returns at inside linebacker after leading the Broncos with 97 tackles in 2010.  However, with the loss of Jamail Berry, this unit will be a concern in 2011.

 

Northern Illinois dominated the league last year until they ran into Miami in the MAC Championship Game.  The Huskies recovered to blow out Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise.  NIU will not repeat as West Division Champions for two reasons.  First, head coach Jerry Kill took the Minnesota job, bringing first year coach Dave Doeren to replace him.  Doeren put together some really good defenses at Wisconsin, but he will have to learn on the job. 

 

More importantly, the Huskies lost nine defensive starters as well as many of their top reserves.  Only four of the top 15 tacklers return this year.

 

The secondary returns just one major contributor.  Safety Tommy Davis could vie for All-MAC honors, but he may be called on to make a lot of breakaway-saving tackles this year.

 

Things are not much better at linebacker, where three new starters will line up due to one expected starter being shot in April and another who was suspended for the season.

 

The defensive line returns just one key player from last year.  End Sean Progar earned 1st team All-MAC accolades in 2010 after proving to be both a good run stopper and pass rusher.

 

The NIU offense was the best in the league last year, and it could be so again this year.  Quarterback Chandler Harnish earned 1st team all-conference honors last year and should improve on his 2,530 passing yards as a senior.  Harnish had an incredible 21/5 TD/Int. ratio last year while completing almost 65% of his passes.  Harnish is not just a passer; he is the best runner on the team as well.  He rushed for 836 yards (over 900 when you factor out his sacks) and seven touchdowns.

 

The top three receivers from last year are back again this year.  Willie Clark, Nathan Palmer, and Martel Moore combined for 111 catches, 1,659 yards, and 17 touchdowns.

 

There is a little question at running back with the loss of Chad Spann, who rushed for 1,388 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.  New starter Jasmin Hopkins averaged better than nine yards per carry last year in limited action, but he is small at 5-9 and 172 pounds.  He will not be able to take the pounding to carry the ball 20 times per game.

 

The league’s top offensive line returns intact this year, and this is why we believe NIU can score as many as 40 points per game.  Center Scott Wedge, guard Joe Pawlak, and tackle Trevor Olson all earned 1st team all-MAC honors last year.

 

NIU should win three of their four non-conference games.  The Huskies have a chance to repeat as MAC West Champions if they can win by scores of 56-42, but we believe they will come up a little short this year.  Still, NIU should be playing in December or January.

 

Central Michigan nosedived last season with the loss of Coach Butch Jones to Cincinnati and quarterback Dan LeFevour to the Chicago Bears (now the hapless Cincinnati Bengals).  The Chippewas fell from 12-2 to 3-9, saw their offensive numbers drop by almost 10 points, and gave up a touchdown more per game.  With a difficult schedule in September and early October, CMU could be looking at having to win six consecutive games to have any chance to make it back to a bowl.  We don’t see it happening.

 

Quarterback Ryan Radcliff was a bit too generous with the ball last year, tossing 17 interceptions.  Radcliff’s top receiver from 2010 returns this year.  Cody Wilson grabbed 83 passes for 1,137 yards. 

 

The running game is still going to be a liability this year, even with the return of leading rusher Paris Cotton.  Cotton rushed for 651 yards and six scores, but the rest of the team average just 2.6 yards per carry.  A rather weak offensive line will keep those numbers low again this season.  At least there is depth in the trenches thanks to numerous 2010 injuries.

 

The defense is not particularly endowed with talent, but there are some quality players, especially in the backfield.  CMU intercepted just four passes last year and recorded less than 30 knock downs.  Those numbers will keep any team from winning seven games.  Look for safety Jahleel Addae to emerge as an all-league performer and make at least 2nd team all-MAC.  Addae is an asset in both run and pass defense.

 

Ball State has not been the same since Brady Hoke left for San Diego State three years ago.  Two years under Stan Parrish produced a 6-18 slate.  Pete Lembo is the new coach after guiding FCS Elon to a 35-22 record in five seasons.

 

Lembo steps into an improving situation in Muncie, as nine offensive starters return.  The loss of running back Eric Williams after spring practice was made all the more worse after the next two running backs on the dept chart turned up lame.  That leaves Northern Illinois transfer Barrington Scott to take most of the snaps this year.

 

Lembo’s teams at Elon were known for passing the ball more than 50% of the time and running to gain two yards on 3rd and one or at the goal line.  Quarterback Keith Wenning should benefit from the new offensive philosophy.  Wenning could more than double his 2010 passing numbers (1,313 yards), but he needs to cut down on his interceptions.  His 14 picks gave him an interception percentage of almost 6%.

 

Wenning has his top three receivers returning this year.  Jack Tomlinson, Briggs Orsbon, and Otis Brown only teamed for 76 receptions and 1,026 yards.  Look for true freshman Willie Snead to eventually emerge as a starter and top target.

 

The best part of the 2011 offense could be the offensive line.  Four starters return as well as a fifth part-time starter.  Ball State should improve from 22 points to about 27 points per game this season.

 

A porous defense in 2010 prevented the Cardinals from contending from bowl eligibility, and it could prevent BSU from doing so this season.  The Cardinals gave up more than 30 points and right at 400 yards per game last year, and while this year’s defense returns some talented players, the new offense may force that defense to be on the field for more than 70 plays per game.

 

The strength of this side will be in the secondary.  Safety Sean Baker made seven tackles behind the line last year and defended 10 passes, six as interceptions.  Cornerback Jason Pinkston had 11 passes defended.

 

Two of the three starting linebackers return this season, but there are no stars in this unit.  The linebacking corps looks like all-Americans compared to the quartet lined up in front.  Ball State will be weak in the trenches, and opponents will exploit that weakness.  After giving up 4.6 yards per rush and recording just 14 sacks, there is nowhere to go but up for this unit, but we do not see much improvement here.

 

Ball State plays at Eastern Michigan on November 5, and last place should go to the loser of that game.

 

Eastern Michigan finished 2-10 last season, which was actually a two game improvement over 2009.  Coach Ron English is on the hot seat, and another 2-10 season will probably send him to the unemployment line.

 

The Eagles should continue to show some improvement on the attack side with a better passing game.  Quarterback Alex Gillett completed 55.5% of his passes for 1,633 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Gillett led EMU in rushing with 786 (more than 900 without sacks).

 

What makes Gillett’s passing numbers all the more worthy was the fact that he did not have any speedsters running pass routes.  Defenses knew he could not go deep, because is receivers could not separate from defenders and get open deep. 

 

The running game outside of Gillett will be a major question this season.  True freshman Ryan Brumfield could emerge as the eventual starter, but he will still share the load with Dominique Sherrer and Javonti Greene.  With Gillett a threat to keep the ball, this trio of backs should top four yards per carry.

 

The offensive line is no longer a major liability.  It is at least mediocre, and that could be enough to bring EMU out of the basement in the West.

 

The defense has a long way to go to respectability.  The Eagles gave up 44 points and 450+ yards per game last year, and they could neither stop the run nor pass.  Seven starters return to this side of the ball, but four newcomers could all start and help improve EMU’s numbers by as much as 10 points per game.

 

Linebackers Justin Cudworth, Sean Kurtz, and Blake Poole will all start after transferring from junior colleges.  Cornerback Marlon Pollard will immediately become the star of the secondary, and he could exceed the number of interceptions EMU had as a team last season.  Okay, the team only intercepted two passes in 2010.

 

The defensive line is still a major problem.  It is small and slow.  After dumping enemy quarterbacks just 10 times and giving up an eye-popping 6.1 yards per rush, the four returning starters have some easy numbers to improve upon.  However, we believe opposing teams will still line up and run the ball down EMU’s collective throats.

 

The Eagles should start the season 2-0 with wins over Howard and Alabama State.  After that, there are two or three winnable games.  If EMU fails to finish 4-8 or better, look for a coaching change at the end of the season.

 

MAC Official Preseason Poll

 

East

1st Place Votes

Points

Miami (O)

4

97

Ohio U

8

96

Temple

4

88

Kent State

 

57

Bowling Green

 

48

Buffalo

 

37

Akron

 

25

 

 

 

West

1st Place Votes

Points

Toledo

8

83

Northern Illinois

5

81

Western Michigan

2

77

Central Michigan

1

55

Ball State

 

27

Eastern Michigan

 

24

 

 

 

Championship Game Winner

 

Toledo

 

5

Northern Illinois

 

3

Miami (O)

 

3

Ohio U

 

1

Western Michigan

 

1

 

MAC PiRate Ratings

 East

PiRate #

Prediction

Miami (O)

89.4

6-2/7-5

Temple

84.1

6-2/7-5

Ohio U

80.8

7-1/9-4

Kent State

80.6

4-4/6-6

Bowling Green

78.9

1-7/2-10

Buffalo

71.9

2-6/3-9

Akron

69.7

0-8/1-11

 

 

 

West

 

 

Toledo

91.4

7-1/9-4 *

Western Michigan

89.4

6-2/7-5

Northern Illinois

88.5

7-1/8-4

Central Michigan

83.4

3-5/4-8

Ball State

76.3

2-6/2-10

Eastern Michigan

69.6

1-7/3-9

 

 

 

* Toledo picked to win MAC Championship Game

Next: The Conference USA Preview, Wednesday, August 17

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