The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 19, 2012

2012 Mid-American Conference Preview

From the 1970’s through the 1990’s, the Western Athletic Conference usually featured the most wide-open, exciting offenses in college football.  In the 21st Century, it is the Mid-American Conference that has wrested that title away.

 

Welcome to the most exciting conference in college football.  Look at the list of quarterbacks that have graced this conference this century:

 

Akron: Charlie Frye

Bowling Green: Tyler Sheehan

Buffalo: Drew Willy

Kent State: Josh Cribbs

Miami (O): Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Betts

Ball State: Nate Davis

Central Michigan: Dan LeFevour

Northern Illinois: Chandler Harnish

Toledo: Bruce Gradkowski

Western Michigan: Tim Hiller

 

Remember also that Marshall was once a member of this league, and Byron Leftwich was the star quarterback of the league at the beginning of the century.

 

2012 should reinforce the image that the MAC is now the most wide-open passing league in FBS football. 

 

This league has been rather balanced as well.  10 of the 13 teams (including Temple) earned bowl bids in the last four seasons, and six different schools appeared in the MAC Championship Game.  Only Eastern Michigan, Kent State, and Akron failed to earn a bowl bid in the last four years; it will be awhile before the Zips are bowl eligible again, but EMU and Kent State could both challenge for those honors in 2012.

 

There has been one defection and one addition to the league this year.  Temple left to return to the wounded Big East.  Massachusetts moves from FCS to FBS.  UMass has competed with BCS opponents in recent years, losing close games to Kansas State and Michigan, but the Minutemen enter FBS play in a rebuilding mode.

 

At the conference’s media days, the preseason pollsters believed the East Division was rather cut-and-dry, while the West was a three-way race for first.

 

 

MAC East

Votes

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Ohio U

17

119

(5)

2

Bowling Green

0

91

 

3

Miami (O)

0

84

 

4

Kent State

0

76

 

5

Buffalo

0

52

 

6

Akron

0

31

 

7

Massachusetts

0

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAC West

Votes

 

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

 

1

Toledo

7

87

(3)

2

Northern Illinois

5

83

(1)

3

Western Michigan

4

79

(1)

4

Ball State

0

42

 

5

Eastern Michigan

0

34

 

6

Central Michigan

1

32

(1)

 

 

 

 

 

Number in ( ) indicates votes to win MAC title game

 

The PiRate Ratings see this as a much more open race, with three legitimate contenders in both divisions with four more teams talented enough to compete for bowl eligibility.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

MAC East

PiRate

1

Ohio U

94.8

2

Miami (O)

93.5

3

Bowling Green

93.0

4

Kent State

88.7

5

Buffalo

82.6

6

Massachusetts

69.5

7

Akron

69.2

 

   

Rank

MAC West

PiRate

1

Western Michigan

94.6

2

Toledo

93.6

3

Northern Illinois

92.1

4

Central Michigan

89.3

5

Ball State

88.6

6

Eastern Michigan

87.2

 

 

The PiRate Vintage Ratings are a happy medium.  These ratings concur that the East Division could be a one-team race, but these ratings also show the West to be a real dogfight where all six teams will enjoy some happy and some sad days, as the half-dozen beat up on themselves.

 

Vintage Ratings

Rank

MAC East

Vintage

1

Ohio U

98

2

Miami (O)

93

3

Bowling Green

92

4

Kent State

87

5

Buffalo

87

6

Akron

84

7

Massachusetts

79

 

   

Rank

MAC West

Vintage

1

Western Michigan

96

2

Toledo

94

3

Northern Illinois

92

4

Central Michigan

91

5

Eastern Michigan

90

6

Ball State

88

 

 

East Division

Team

Akron Zips

               
Head Coach

Terry Bowden

               
Colors

Blue and Gold

               
City

Akron, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-8

Overall

1-11

               
PiRate Rating

69.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

124

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

84

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

116

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

2-10

 

Terry Bowden returns to the FBS head coaching ranks after 14 seasons.  Former North Carolina State head man Chuck Amato comes with him as his defensive coordinator.  That will be worth a couple thousand more sold tickets, but at most just one more victory this year.

 

Bowden shook things up immediately during the Spring.  He promoted Dalton Williams, a transfer from Stephen F. Austin with knowledge of the offense Bowden uses, to number one quarterback; returning starter Clayton Moore transferred to Jackson State.  Williams put up good numbers in the Southland Conference, but he was a three-year backup at the FCS level.

 

The Zip receiving corps was going to be rather strong, but one of the key targets, A. J. Price, lost his battle with the books and is ineligible.  Keith Sconiers and Marquelo Suel teamed up for 81 receptions and 1,056 yards last year, but there is little depth behind the big two.

 

The running game has not set the woods on fire in the last three years, and even with the return of top rusher Jawon Chisholm, we believe the running game will continue to disappoint.  Expect the Zips to struggle to reach triple digits in rushing average this season, especially since the offensive line figures to be a little weaker than it was in 2011.

 

The defense could not force turnovers last year, and the Zips stayed on the field far too long (52% of the scrimmage plays).  Akron surrendered more than 200 yards on the ground and through the air, and opponents averaged better than 38 points per game against them.

 

Middle linebacker Troy Gilmer is the star on this side of the ball.  He could register 100 tackles this year, but unfortunately many will be five or more yards past the line of scrimmage.

 

The pass rush was appalling last year, dumping enemy quarterbacks just 11 times.  In half the games, the Zips never got to the QB.  It will be tough to improve by much, because the player that recorded 32% of the teams’ sacks has used up his eligibility.

 

Akron hosts UMass four days after the Presidential election.  That game may decide if the Zips are to register a vote in the conference win column.  A September home game with FCS opponent Morgan State will guarantee them at least one win.

 

Team

Bowling Green Falcons

               
Head Coach

Dave Clawson

               
Colors

Orange and Brown

               
City

Bowling Green, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

93.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

82

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

93

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

7-5

 

Fourth year head coach Dave Clawson knows how to go with the flow and recognize the theme of the MAC.  His Falcons can pass the ball all over the field, and with junior quarterback Matt Schilz back in the fold, BGU should gain better than 250 passing yards per game for the third time in Clawson’s four years in Bowling Green.

 

The question is, “who will be on the other end of those passes?”  Last year’s top two receivers are gone, and the two combined to catch more than 57% of the completed passes, score 75% of the passing touchdowns, and gain more than 60% of the receiving yards.  This new unit will rely more on possession receiving and less on breaking long gainers.  Tight end Alex Bayer should be called on to contribute more this year after grabbing 20 passes a year ago.

 

The running game returns Anthon Samuel, last year’s key runner.  Samuel rushed for 844 yards, averaging almost six yards per carry.  If it weren’t for a deep stable of reserves, Samuel could top 1,000 yards.  Keep an eye on former Pitt back Andre Givens.

 

The reason the Falcons should contend for the East Division crown is a much improved defense with loads of returning experience.  Of course, BGU must improve on last year’s poor defensive showing (29 points/406 yards) in order to compete for the division title.

 

Middle linebacker Dwayne Woods and outside linebacker Paul Swan should team for about 180-200 tackles.  Where those tackles are made will be the key to how improved this defense can be.  Woods made 14 stops for negative yardage last year, while Swan added just 1.5.

 

Considering the pass rush was not all that stellar, the secondary did a good job, holding opponents to less than 57% completions.  There is some depth here, so look for the defense to improve its passing yardage allowed by as much as 25 yards per game.

 

Bowling Green figures to be in contention for the East title heading into a Wednesday night game at Ohio U in November.  That could be the game that decides who advances to the championship game.

 

 

 

Team

Buffalo Bulls

               
Head Coach

Jeff Quinn

               
Colors

Royal Blue and White

               
City

Buffalo, NY

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

82.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

109

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

 

The Bulls have not been a MAC juggernaut since joining the league, but at least they won the conference championship four years ago, which is better than their similar-nicknamed professional team from their town.

 

Buffalo is one of a handful of MAC teams that does not have a tested quarterback that can toss the ball all over the field.   Alex Zordich will begin the year as the starter under center, but redshirt freshman Joe Licata is likely to eventually emerge as the starter after he broke all kinds of passing records in the Western New York high school ranks; however, the Empire State is not a hotbed for defensive backs.  Expect more mistakes from two untested players.

 

The receiving corps has some talent, but not enough for the MAC.  Alex Neutz and Fred Lee need to step up, or else the new quarterbacks are going to have a lot of mediocre Saturdays.

 

The running game features the leading returning MAC rusher in Brandon Oliver (1,395 yards and 13 TD), but if the passing game does not keep defenses honest, Oliver will not repeat those numbers.  Backup James Potts has never lived up to his potential, as he was expected to star for the Bulls.  This could be his year to emerge as a capable backup.

 

One thing in the Bulls’ favor is a decent offensive line with experience and depth, albeit no real stars.

 

The Buffalo defense is in better shape than the offense.  If the offense can hold onto the ball or eat the clock to limit defensive reps, the stop troops could yield around 24-26 points and 350-375 yards per game, which in the MAC means it is good.

 

Former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper takes over as the defensive coordinator.  Tepper uses a 3-4 defense, and he has an exceptional pass rusher in outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who tied for the MAC lead in tackles for loss with 20 ½.  The defensive front sounds like a government committee with the ends named, “Way and Means.”  The duo form a strong bond, but the Bulls need a reliable nose tackle to stuff the “A” gaps and keep pressure off the linebackers.

 

Buffalo has a tough non-league slate with just one winnable game, so this team will not challenge for bowl eligibility this year.  In fact, if the Bulls do not improve on their 3-9 record of last year, third year coach Jeff Quinn could be feeling a little fire in his seat.

 

Team

Kent State Golden Flashes

               
Head Coach

Darrell Hazell

               
Colors

Navy and Gold

               
City

Kent, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

88.7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

98

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

110

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

5-7

 

40 years!  That’s how long it’s been since the Golden Flashes made their one and only bowl appearance.  It’s been so long that current Alabama coach Nick Saban and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel were teammates on that team, and longtime NFL coach Dom Capers was a green assistant coach.

 

There is a chance that the 40-years sojourn outside of the “land of bowldom” could end this year, but only if Coach Darrell Hazell can find some weapons on offense.

 

Kent State led the league in defensive yardage allowed last year, but their offense finished dead last, gaining just 254 yards per game.

 

Spencer Keith returns at quarterback for his senior season, but he is not assured of retaining his starting spot.  Keith completed just 51% of his passes and averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt.  Newcomers David Fisher, a junior college transfer, and true freshman Colin Reardon are in the mix.

Tyshon Goode is one of the few MAC-worthy players on this side of the ball.  The senior caught just 24 passes last year, and he needs to double that total this year if KSU is to contend for bowl eligibility.

 

Trayion Durham rushed for 630 yards and four scores last year, but he averaged just 3.4 yards per rush.  Look for those number to improve this year, because the offensive line returns four starters and welcomes a surprise fifth starter.  Guard Pat McShane left Indiana two years ago and gave up football.  The KSU coaching staff did not even know he had enrolled and was on campus, until he came into their offices in late Spring and told them he wanted to return to the game.  He has performed so well, he has ascended to the top of the depth chart.

 

As good as the Golden Flashes’ defense was in 2011, it should be even better in 2012, and that is why they have to be considered a contender for bowl eligibility and even a dark horse in the East Division race.

 

Eight of the top nine tacklers return this year.  The most talented unit is the secondary, where Kent State has quality good enough to play in the Big Ten.  The quartet of Norman Wolfe and Sidney Saulter at cornerback and Calvin Tiggle and Luke Wollet teamed up for 10 interceptions and nine more passes knocked away.  Even with the loss of stud cornerback Josh Pleasant, this will be the top secondary in the league, possibly the only one capable of yielding less than 180 passing yards per game.

 

The defensive line and linebackers are equally competent for MAC standards.  Middle linebacker Luke Batton and outside linebacker C. J. Malauulu finished one-two in stops, teaming for 185 tackles and 16 ½ for losses.

 

Up front, Jake Dooley and Roosevelt Nix teamed for 27 ½ tackles for loss.  Nix is also a plus dropping off in pass coverage.

 

Kent State’s schedule gives the Flashes a chance to sneak into division title contention.  They face the three teams figured to contend for the title in the final three games.  By then, Miami, Bowling Green, and Ohio could all have penned losses on each other, and KSU could have the upper hand.  It’s possible, but not all that probably.  Still, this is the best team in Kent in many years.  The season starts out with nine days off between game one and two; 11 days off between games two and three; and 10 days off between games three and four.

 

 

 

Team

Massachusetts Minutemen

               
Head Coach

Charley Molnar

               
Colors

Maroon and White

               
City

Amherst, MA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

FCS Member

Overall

5-6

               
PiRate Rating

69.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

123

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

79

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

122

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

1-7

Overall

1-11

 

A first year head coach takes over the reins of a first year in FBS team, and there is a lot of rebuilding to do at the same time.  2012 does not appear to be a banner year for UMass.  The Minutemen will be underdogs in all 12 games this year, as they do not face a FCS opponent.

 

Quarterback Kellen Pagel is the son of former Cleveland Browns QB Mike Pagel.  He began his career at Bowling Green and returns to the MAC to lead the Minutemen.  UMass will run a no-huddle hurry-up offense similar to what Hugh Freeze ran at Arkansas State last year.  Expect UMass’s pass attempts per game to increase by 5-10 this year.

 

The rest of the skill positions will be manned by new starters.  The Minutemen must replace a 1,000-yard rusher as well as their top five pass receivers.  There is experience returning in the trenches, but the starting quintet is far from being FBS caliber.

 

Things are a little bit brighter on the defensive side, but there are no players capable of earning first team All-MAC honors.  Middle linebacker Perry McIntyre registered 116 tackles with 11 ½ going for losses, and he anchors an experienced trio at linebacker.

 

The Minutemen play at Akron on November 10, and this could be there best chance to break through with a win.  Anything more will be an exceptional accomplishment.

 

Team

Miami (Ohio) Redhawks

               
Head Coach

Don Treadwell

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Oxford, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

               
PiRate Rating

93.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

81

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

93

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

92

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-6

 

Coach Don Treadwell comes from two excellent coaching trees.  He assisted former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.  Treadwell believes in old-fashioned football with the establishing of a running game to set up the pass.  He had to call an audible last year in his first season in Oxford.  Miami averaged just 73.8 yards per game rushing.  The number was skewed by an inordinate number of sacks, but still this team’s leading rusher, Erik Finklea, rushed for just 328 yards.

 

The Redhawks made up for the lack of a running game with one of the best passing attacks in college football.  Zac Dysert passed for more than 3,500 yards and 23 touchdowns, while connecting on close to 2/3 of his pass attempts.  If he stays healthy, he should pass Ben Roethlisberger as the school’s all time leading passer some time in late October or early November.

 

One of the top receivers in the league returns to provide Dysert an excellent target.  Nick Harwell caught 97 passes for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns. 

 

If the running game is to improve enough to put Miami over the top, the offensive line has to gel early this year.  Four starters return, but the one starter lost was the best blocker on the team.

 

The defense was not as strong as Kent State, but the Redhawks performed admirably on this side of the ball, limiting opponents to 23 points and 364 yards per game.  While the top three tacklers used up their eligibility, there is quality talent remaining.

 

Cornerback Dayonne Nunley earned 1st team all-conference accolades last year after intercepting three passes and batting away 13 others.  He is equally proficient against the run.

 

Up front, end Jason Semmes and tackle Austin Brown will contend for all-conference honors. 

 

The schedule is a bit difficult and does not do the Redhawks any favors.  Miami starts the season at Ohio State and plays at Boise State in game three.  They also must play at Cincinnati in early October.  They face Bowling Green on the road but get Ohio and Kent State at home.  Miami must be considered a serious contender, but the rushing attack must top 100 yards per game for the first time in four seasons.  Dysert needs some help.

 

Team

Ohio Bobcats

               
Head Coach

Frank Solich

               
Colors

Green and White

               
City

Athens, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-4

               
PiRate Rating

94.8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

76

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

98

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

72

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

10-3*

* Picked to win MAC Championship Game

 

Frank Solich went 58-19 (75.3%) in six seasons at Nebraska, and he was shown the door.  In the eight years since, the Cornhuskers have yet to win 75% of their games in any season.  Solich came to Athens, and in his time here, he has guided the Bobcats to multiple MAC East titles and trips to four bowls.  Ohio owns 27 wins in the last three seasons, and Solich’s team should continue to dominate in the league again this season.

 

Quarterback Tyler Tettleton returns for his junior season after completing 64% of his passes for better than 3,300 yards and 28 touchdowns as a sophomore.  Tettleton also ran for 658 yards and 10 scores.

 

The rest of the skill positions need a quick infusion of new talent.  A two-headed monster appears to be set at running back.  Ryan Boykin will be backed up by Beau Blankenship.  The duo teamed for 897 rushing yards in reserve roles last year.

 

There could be a slight drop-off in the passing game with the graduation of the top two receivers, but Donte Foster and tight end Jordan Thompson form a solid nucleus here.

 

The offensive line has no equals in the league, especially inside. 

 

Ohio has one of the top three defensive lines and defensive backfields in the league, and if the linebacking unit can develop and improve, Ohio will run away with the league title this year.

 

The top stud on this side of the ball is cornerback Travis Carrie, who intercepted four passes and knocked away 13 others in 2011.  He is also one of the top punt returners. 

 

The four starters in the trenches include all-league end Tremayne Scot who recorded eight tackles behind the line last year. 

 

Ohio gets the first crack at Penn State this year, facing off in Happy Valley on September 1.  The Bobcats could contend for the upset.  If they happen to pull it off, they could be 7-0 when they face Miami at the end of October.  If they should happen to be 8-0 after that game, they could even run the table.  We can see this team winning no fewer than 10 games if they stay healthy.  We bet the folks in Lincoln, Nebraska would love to see their beloved team win 80% of their games for the first time since Solich was coaching there.

 

West Division

Team

Ball State Cardinals

               
Head Coach

Pete Lembo

               
Colors

Red and White

               
City

Muncie, IN

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

               
PiRate Rating

88.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

88

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

106

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

3-9

 

Ball State has improved from two to four to six wins in the last three seasons.  Can they get to eight wins this year?  We believe that is highly unlikely.  The Cardinals suffered heavy losses on the defensive side of the ball, including seven of their top 11 tacklers from a year ago.  Additionally, this year’s schedule is tough; BSU will be an underdog in all four non-conference games (at Clemson, at Indiana, South Florida, and at Army).

 

The defensive line returns just one starter.  Nathan Ollie earned 2nd team All-MAC honors at tackle last year with six sacks and 10 total tackles for loss.  A couple of transfers from big time programs will try to plug the holes.

 

Middle linebacker Travis Freeman returns after finishing second in the league with 134 tackles.  He too earned 2nd team All-MAC accolades.

 

There are questions in the defensive backfield with limited experience returning at safety. 

 

Ball State gave up 35 points and 510 total yards per game last year (three times giving up over 600 yards in a game).  Those numbers will not win football games, even in the wide-open MAC.

 

BSU finished 4-4 in the conference and 6-6 overall even though they gained 130.9 fewer yards per game.  That’s because they won five of their games by 2, 3, 3, 4, and 7 points and lost games by 30, 42, and 56 points.

 

Keith Wenning returns at quarterback for the Cardinals, after he broke single season records in Muncie as a sophomore.  Wenning completed 64% of his passes for 2,786 yards and 19 touchdowns.

 

Wenning won’t have his top two receivers from a year ago, but BSU does return an all-conference caliber receiver in Jamill Smith, who should see his receptions rise from 40 to as much as 70 this season.

 

Jahwan Edwards rushed for close to 800 yards last year, and with a solid offensive line, he could threaten the 1,000 yard mark this year.  The offensive line is actually the biggest asset on this team.

 

Ball State could increase its offensive production to 28 points and 400 total yards this year, but the Cardinals are going to take a step back in the won-loss record.

 

Team

Central Michigan Chippewas

               
Head Coach

Dan Enos

               
Colors

Maroon and Gold

               
City

Mt. Pleasant, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-6

Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

89.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

91

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

100

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

3-5

Overall

4-8

 

The media gives CMU little respect this year (except for one voter that placed them first in the MAC West).  Third year coach Dan Enos welcomes back 16 starters this year, and this team did upset conference champion Northern Illinois last year.

 

The Chippewas have an excellent quarterback to contribute to the MAC riches at this position.  Ryan Radcliff passed for nearly 275 yards per game last year, picking up 25 touchdowns.  He welcomes the return of four of his top receivers from a year ago, including a game-changer in Titus Davis.  Davis averaged close to 19 yards on his 40 receptions a year ago, and defenses will not be able to concentrate their efforts on stopping him.  Cody Wilson is likely to catch 55-60 passes this year, while Courtney Williams and Jeery Harris provide quality at the other wideour.

 

No back stood out last year, so new starter Anthony Garland will not be much of a step back at this position.  In fact, once Garland began to see more action last season, he proved to be the best runner on the team.  Look for him to double his yardage (378) of a year ago.

 

The defense is not as talented as the offense, but that can be said for at least half if not more of the MAC.  CMU yielded 33.3 points and 428.8 yards per game last year, and those numbers should improve ever so slightly this season.

 

The one concern here is at linebacker where only one starter returns.  Shamari Benton is a serviceable middle linebacker, but he won’t appear on any all-conference watch lists.

 

The secondary is the strongest unit on this side of the ball, with safeties Jahleel Addae and Avery Cunningham returning after finishing one-two in tackles with 186 combined stops.  Addae picked off four passes last year and made the All-MAC first team.

 

The defensive line did not do its job of getting to the quarterback last year, and CMU recorded just 1.1 sacks per game.  Tackle Matt Losiniscki led the Chips with just two sacks.

 

CMU has two important home games back-to-back in mid-October.  They host Navy on a Friday night and Ball State the following week.  If they win those two games, then the Chippewas will see their record improve by a game or two.  If they lose both games, then Coach Dan Enos will be on the hot seat, because CMU will suffer through its third consecutive three-win season, or worse.

 

Team

Eastern Michigan Eagles

               
Head Coach

Ron English

               
Colors

Dark Green and White

               
City

Ypsilanti, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

               
PiRate Rating

87.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

103

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

90

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

102

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

4-4

Overall

6-6

 

Ron English looks like a miracle worker in Ypsilanti after moving east a couple dozen miles from Ann Arbor in 2009.  His Eagles have improved from zero to two to six wins in his first three seasons, and if the breaks can go their way, EMU could sneak into bowl eligibility this season with a much-improved offense.

 

EMU’s contribution to the league’s exceptional QB talent pool is Alex Gillett.  Gillett passed for just a little over 1,500 yards last year, but English is from the old school and prefers to grind it out on the ground.  The Eagles ran the ball nearly 75% of the time last year.  Gillett’s yards per pass attempt (7.6) placed him in the middle of the pack in the league.

 

Gillett has a big target at his stead in tight end Garrett Hoskins.  At 6-2 and 255, Hoskins can cause matchup problems for safeties when he splits the seams in the middle zones.  His route running on play-action helped delay run support by opposing secondaries.

 

Gillett led the team in rushing with 736 yards (factoring out sacks, he rushed for more than 850).  Three other backs that topped 500 rushing yards return this year, so the Eagles will pound the ball on the ground with efficiency once again.  Look for EMU to rush for 225-250 yards per game.

 

An improved offensive line returns all five starters from a year ago with quality talent at every position.

 

The defense improved by leaps and bounds last season, chopping the points allowed by almost 20 and yards allowed by more than 100.  There are concerns in the defensive line, where three starters must be replaced, including the top pass rusher. 

 

The second line of defense will be spearheaded by outside linebacker Justin Cudworth, who led the Eagles with 83 tackles last season.

 

English must come up with two new starting safeties, but he welcomes the return of both starting cornerbacks from a year ago.  Marlon Pollard and Marcell Rose teamed up for 13 passes defended, with Pollard landing on the All-MAC third team.

 

The Eagles have a big special teams’ weapon in Demarius Reed.  Punters will try to punt away from him, and even when he cannot return punts, he will help give the Eagles better field position by forcing punts to angle toward the sidelines.

 

EMU has a critical non-league tilt at home with Army in October.  They must win this game to have a shot at bowl eligibility, because they definitely will lose two other non-MAC games playing on the road against Purdue and Michigan State.  In league play, they have winnable games against Ball State, Kent State, and Central Michigan.  They need to take care of business in these three and then pull off one upset to become bowl eligible.  Last year, the Eagles shocked Western Michigan by winning as a double-digit underdog, so this team is more than capable of getting a sixth win.  Unlike last year, when they defeated two FCS schools to finish with six wins, if they replicate the record this year, they will be eligible to bowl.

 

Team

Northern Illinois Huskies

               
Head Coach

Dave Doeren

               
Colors

Red and Black

               
City

Dekalb, IL

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

11-3

               
PiRate Rating

92.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

85

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

94

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

6-2

Overall

8-4

 

Coach Dave Doeren took over the reins in DeKalb after moving 70 miles south from Madison, Wisconsin, where he proved to be an excellent defensive coordinator for the Badgers.  In his first year as the leader of his own team, Doeren merely won the conference championship and the GoDaddy.com bowl to finish with an identical 11-3 record left by prior coach Jerry Kill.

 

NIU is not the clear-cut favorite in the tough West Division, namely because they are one of a handful of league schools without an experienced quarterback.  Chandler Harnish (led team with 1,379 yards rushing and passed for 3,216 yards) will be tough to replace, and the fact that only three starters return to this side of the ball will make it all the more difficult for new starter Jordan Lynch.

 

The Huskies have to start over at running back as well.  Trying to replace Jasmin Hopkins and his 956 rushing yards will be Akeem Daniels.  Daniels actually averaged a little more per attempt than Hopkins.  Leighton Settle and Jamal Womble will provide depth.

 

The news is a little better at receiver with the return of leading pass-catcher Martel Moore as well as two other key players in Perez Ashford and Da’Ron Brown.

 

With the unfortunate leg fracture to guard Logan Pegram, nary a starter returns to the offensive line, leaving this unit with just two career starts.  This will force the offense to bog down against the better teams on the schedule, and it would not surprise us if the Huskies fall to about 25-27 points per game after averaging better than 38 last year.

 

NIU can still compete in the MAC this year because the defense is going to be much improved.  The Huskies won the league title despite surrendering more than 30 points and 400 yards per game.  Of course, NIU gave up 60 points to Toledo and still won the game!

 

When the defense lines up at Soldier Field in game one, ten players will have starting experience.  The defensive line is the best in the division.  Ends Alan Baxter and Sean Progar teamed for 11 sacks and 23 ½ total tackles for loss.

 

The back seven are not quite as talented as the front four, but neither the linebackers nor the defensive backs should be considered liabilities.  Linebacker might be a concern, but Tyrone Clark could help solve the riddle if he can shake off the rust after missing last season.

 

The four returning starters in the back line teamed for 31 passes defended with nine interceptions.  Being a year older bodes well for this unit and when combined with a stronger pass rush, expect NIU’s pass defense to be better this year.

 

Northern Illinois will contend for the MAC West title, and they could repeat even with two conference losses.  This division is deep with talent, so don’t expect the Huskies to win 11 games for the third consecutive season.

 

Team

Toledo Rockets

               
Head Coach

Matt Campbell

               
Colors

Midnight Blue and Gold

               
City

Toledo, OH

               
2011 Record              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-4

               
PiRate Rating

93.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

79

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

94

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

88

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

5-3

Overall

6-6

 

What can you say about a football team that at times scored more points than its basketball team?  Toledo looked more like an Arena League team last year.  The Rockets gave up 63 points in back-to-back games and almost won both games!

 

Overall, UT’s offense scored more than 42 points per game and gained more than 480 yards per game last year.  Down the stretch, the Rockets averaged an incredible 558 yards per game (277 rushing and 281 passing)!

 

The Rockets could regress by 50-75 yards per game this year, because the offense suffered heavy graduation losses.  Fortunately,  both quarterbacks Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin return.  The duo will continue to split reps after teaming for better than 3,400 passing yards and 33 touchdowns.  As crazy as this league is, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if Coach Matt Campbell finds a way to get both passers into the game for a surprise formation.

 

Running back David Fluellen is expected to be the new starter and keep the Toledo ground game rolling along, but he has been nursing a foot injury in preseason practice.  This could become a concern if he isn’t ready to go in September.

 

Toledo lost a lot of pass catching talent, but they had so much depth here last year, there is enough talent returning to keep the passing game strong.  Bernard Reedy is one of those diminutive, speedy threats that defenses hate to face.  He grabbed 40 passes last year and averaged 19 yards per catch with nine touchdowns.  The rest of the receiving corps is inexperienced but talented.

 

There is rebuilding to do in the offensive trenches.  Two starters return, and both earned honors last year, but this unit will give up more sacks in 2012.

 

Defense has been an afterthought at the Glass Bowl in recent years.  UT has given up an average of 34 points and 400 yards per game for the past five seasons.  With only three of the top 11 tacklers returning this year, it could be another rocky road for the Rockets.

 

If there is a team strength on this side of the ball, it is at linebacker.  Dan Molls and Robert Bell teamed for 148 stops and eight tackles for loss in 2011. 

 

Up front, the line relies on lone returning starter T. J. Fatinikun at end.  He is the leading returning sack man, but he only registered 2 ½ sacks.

 

The secondary returns just one starter, and with all the fantastic quarterbacks in this league, expect UT to be lit up again in 2012.

 

The schedule could be detrimental to the Rockets’ chances this year.  Opening on the road at Arizona and Wyoming, UT then hosts Bowling Green.  It isn’t unlikely, that Toledo could be 0-3 when they host Coastal Carolina in game four.  They then must play at Western Michigan, so a 1-4 start is possible.  If they are 2-3 instead, then Toledo should rebound to reach bowl eligibility.

 

Team

Western Michigan Broncos

               
Head Coach

Bill Cubit

               
Colors

Brown and Gold

               
City

Kalamazoo, MI

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-3

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

94.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

77

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

96

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

79

               
2012 Prediction              
Conference

7-1

Overall

9-4

 

Western Michigan has been close several times, but the Broncos have not won the MAC West Division since 2000, and they have not won a MAC Championship Game.  That all could change this year, but only if Coach Bill Cubit can find a way to stop all the great passers in this league.

 

WMU surrendered 29 points and 435 yards per game last year, giving up 117 points to the other two top division contenders (Northern Illinois and Toledo).

 

The defensive line has a pair of quality ends in Freddie Bishop and Paul Hazel, who teamed for eight sacks and 14 ½ total stops for loss.  The loss of tackle Drew Nowak and his league-leading 20 ½ total tackles for loss will be hard to make up, and the Broncos will rely on their defensive tackles to plug gaps and keep blockers away from the linebackers.

 

WMU employs a new 3-3-5 defense, and linebacker is the biggest problem.  Hopefully, an infusion of talent from the Juco ranks will help improve this unit.

 

The back line features the leading returning tackler in Johnnie Simon.  Simon filled up the stat sheet last year with 114 tackles, 3 ½ sacks, 10 ½ total stops for loss, and nine passes defended.

 

If the defense can trim the points allowed to 25, then WMU stands a terrific chance of winning the West.  The reason for this is the Broncos have the best quarterback in a league full of great quarterbacks.

 

Alex Carder could be the next NFL star to matriculate from the MAC.  In his junior season, Carder completed 65.7% of his passes for 3,873 yards and 31 touchdowns.  If he remains healthy, he will more than likely top 4,000 yards through the air (he missed one game last year).

 

Carder will sleep comfortably this season knowing he has a talented, experienced, and deep offensive line protecting him.  Added to four returning starters up front is the transfer of former Michigan State guard John Deyo.

 

The only question on this side of the ball is at receiver, after the Broncos graduated their top three receivers from a year ago, including Jordan White and his 140 receptions, 1,911 yards, and 17 touchdowns.  What’s left is a deep unit of better than average but not spectacular receivers.

 

At running back, Tevin Drake leads a quartet of backs that should all see action.  Drake is more of an all-around threat as a runner and pass catcher.  Antoin Scriven is a between the tackles north-south runner who can pick up three yards on third and two.  Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance are speedsters that can get to the corner and pick up a lot of yards if there is daylight.  This quartet will improve upon last year’s rushing numbers.  Look for WMU to top 130 yards per game on the ground and average better than four yards per attempt.

 

One concern is with the kicking game.  Freshmen could start at placekicker and punter after the Broncos lost a pair of quality kickers.

 

The non-conference slate is manageable.  It isn’t impossible for WMU to go 4-0 against Illinois, Eastern Illinois, Minnesota, and Connecticut, although we believe they will split these four games.  The Broncos benefit in the conference schedule, as they now host Northern Illinois and Toledo after having to play them both on the road in 2011.  Road games against Central Michigan and Kent State could be tricky, but Coach Bill Cubit should finally get the monkey off his back and advance to the MAC Championship Game.

 

Coming Monday, August 20: The Mountain West Conference.  There could be some surprises this season.

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