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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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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