The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 27, 2009

2009 Mid-American Conference Preview

2009 Mid-American Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

In the second in our series of conference previews, we look at what just may be the most exciting league with the most wide-open styles of play.  Once just a light version of the old Big Ten, the Mid-American Conference has its own unique personality.  There are no three yards and a cloud of dust teams left.  Today, the MAC more closely resembles the old American Football League of the 1960’s.

Last year, Buffalo and Ball State were expected to be middle of the pack teams in their divisions, but the Bulls and Cardinals surprised the so-called experts and met in the conference championship.  Buffalo pulled off the big upset of the then unbeaten Cardinals, and then in an even bigger surprise Bull head coach Turner Gill spurned offers to move into a BCS conference coaching position to stay in Buffalo.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Ohio U was to get really lucky and host Ohio State, it would be expected that the Buckeye fans would find a way to get to Athens and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same Ohio U team hosted Hawaii when the Rainbows played at Idaho the week before, then the Bobcats could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.


Mid-American Conference Preseason PiRatings



Prediction *

















  Ohio U








  Bowling Green




  Kent State




  Miami (O)












  Central Michigan




  Eastern Michigan




  Western Michigan




  Ball State








  Northern Illinois









*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but


on expected changes to rating during the year






CMU expected to defeat Temple in the MAC


Championship Game



MAC East

Buffalo: The Bulls still have some offensive weapons in running back James Starks and receiver Naaman Roosevelt, but they have a glaring hole where quarterback Drew Willy has graduated.  There are holes to fill in the offensive line as well, but the Bulls should still score about 25-28 points per game.  Defensively, the secondary and linebackers return intact from last year, but the defensive line faces major rebuilding.  In a league where almost every team has an explosive offense, just one defensive weakness can be enough to lose a ball game.  Buffalo could actually improve their conference record and fail to repeat as East Champions.

Temple: The Owls were arguably the weakest team in major college football in 2005 and 2006, but Coach Al Golden has the program headed in the right direction.  Temple narrowly missed out on an eight-win season, but finished 5-7 because they lost three different games on the final play.  This should be the year where the Owls finally break through with their first winning season since 1990 and first bowl invitation since 1979.  The defense should improve its yardage allowed by 30 to 50 yards and points allowed by three to five.  In a league where all the contenders can easily score 28 or more points per game, allowing less than 20 should be enough for the Owls to be a serious contender for the division title.  TU needs to come up with more balance on offense, as the Owls have failed to average 100 rushing yards per game in the last four seasons.  This is the one contender that will need to win games 21-17 instead of 38-34.

Ohio U: Coach Frank Solich has another contender in Athens this year, as the Bobcats should top 250 passing yards per game with two competent quarterbacks and three quality receivers.  If the rebuilt offensive line develops, then Ohio could emerge as the East champion.  Their defensive liability against the run could cost them against the better running opponents, and that spells trouble when they play at Ball State and Buffalo in consecutive games.

Akron: The Zips christen a new stadium this year.  Gone are games at the Rubber Bowl, as they move to the on-campus Infocision Stadium.  Coach J.D. Brookhart finds his seat not hot yet, but quite tepid.  If Akron fails to show improvement with a new high percentage passing offense, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that there could be a coaching change.  An experienced offensive line will need to step up and provide excellent protection for quarterback Chris Jacquemain who has a tendency to throw interceptions when under pressure.  The Zip running game will take a step back after losing 1,300+ yard runner Dennis Kennedy.  Defensively, the Zips should be stronger the farther back in the formation.  Akron should be one of those MAC teams to top 30 points per game, but they should give up 35.

Bowling Green: This Falcons have enjoyed winning seasons in six of the past eight years with one breakeven year, but things are about to turn south.  New coach Dave Clawson faces an immediate rebuilding situation.  The defense has been decimated with graduation, and the fairly experienced offense should struggle learning a new system.  Clawson’s offense proved to be too hard for Tennessee to implement last season, and the lack of production cost Phil Fulmer his job.  Quarterback Tyler Sheehan will see defenses begging him to hand the ball off, as the Falcons will struggle to run the ball against the better defensive front sevens.  Defensively, BGU is going to be weak in the all-important cornerback positions, and that could spell big trouble.  The Falcons will be forced to play their secondary deeper than normal, and opponents will average at least a yard more per play.  Look for Bowling Green to average 21-24 points per game but yield 30-35 and struggle to win more than two times.

Kent State: It’s been 37 years since the Golden Flashes made their one and only bowl appearance, and it’s going to be 38 after this season.  Kent State should be one of the top two rushing teams in the MAC, but they probably have the league’s weakest passing attack.  Defensively, Kent State gave up 32 points per game last year, and they will probably repeat that performance.  Their key game is September 19, when Iowa State visits Dix Stadium.  The Flashes handed that game over to the Cyclones last year in Ames, and if they pull off the mild upset, it could domino into a couple of extra wins.  If they lose that game, then KSU will be lucky to escape double digit losses.

Miami of Ohio: This once proud program known as the cradle of coaches for producing numerous big-time coaches (Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Ara Parseghian, Weeb Eubank, Paul Dietzel, Jim Tressel, and Randy Walker among others) has become the doormat of the MAC.  After going 2-10 last year, Coach Shane Montgomery was let go.  New coach Mike Haywood inherits a team bereft of talent.  Quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh improved late in the 2008 season, but he’s got to prove that he can be more consistent and put touchdowns on the board.  A weak 2008 defense should regress even more in 2009, as the top four tacklers are gone.  The Redhawks will not compete in their out of conference part of the schedule with games against Kentucky (on a neutral field), at Boise State, at home against Cincinnati, and at Northwestern.  Home games with Bowling Green and Northern Illinois give Miami its best chance to avoid a winless season.

MAC West

Central Michigan: In a very competitive league, the Chippewas appear to be the top banana.  Quarterback Dan LeFevour should be the next big MAC passer to matriculate to the NFL.  To add to their riches, CMU has three excellent receivers in Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson, and Kito Poblah.  The offensive line has to be rebuilt, but LeFevour gets rid of the ball quickly and can get out of the pocket and run the ball when needed.  Great running quarterbacks make it easier on a green offensive front.  Green is not a word to apply to the defense.  CMU returns 10 starters and 15 of their top 17 tacklers.  The Chippewas surrendered better than 30 points and 420 yards per game in 2008, and those numbers should improve by seven points and 40-50 yards.  CMU should easily top 30 points per game and maybe approach 40, so the Chippewas should dominate in the league in 2009.  CMU won’t be this year’s Ball State because their non-conference schedule includes games against Arizona, Michigan State, and Boston College all on the road.

Eastern Michigan: Yes, this is not a typo.  The Eagles could be a big surprise this year in the MAC.  New head coach Ron English knows a thing of two about defense, and EMU should improve just enough on the stop side to turn the close losses of last year into wins this year.  EMU’s offense will be considerably better this year, and the Eagles quietly gained almost 420 yards per game in 2008.  Quarterback Andy Schmitt has the talent to pass for 3,000 yards, and wide out Jacory Stone should top 1,000 yards in receptions.  Josh LeDuc could top all MAC tight ends in receptions and yardage, and he provides a nice target in the middle of the field.  We’re not ready to call EMU a contender in the West, but this team beat Central Michigan 56-52 in the regular season finale last year.  It wouldn’t surprise us if the Eagles post their first winning season since 1995, but they more than likely will come up just short due to a depth problem on the defensive side.

Western Michigan: A rebuilding defense that probably surrenders 425 yards and 28-35 points per game will keep WMU from seriously challenging CMU for the West title this year.  Offensively, The Broncos are not that far behind their rivals in Mt. Pleasant.  Quarterback Tim Hiller is just behind LeFevour in talent and should be on an NFL roster in 2010.  Hiller should top 4,000 yards passing if he stays healthy, and it wouldn’t surprise us if he reaches the 40 touchdown pass mark.  WMU has its best chance to upset Michigan when they kick off the season at The Big House.  If they win that one, the fans in Ann Arbor will be ready to reach out to Les Miles.  The Broncos host CMU on October 17, and if they can pull off the upset, then they have a chance to sneak away with the division title.  The trouble game for the Broncos could be the November 14 contest at Eastern Michigan, which follows a week after playing at Michigan State.

Ball State: The Cardinals enter the 2009 on a two-game losing streak and without the head coach who won led BSU from two to four to five to six to 12 wins.  New coach Stan Parrish owns one of the worst career coaching records on the FBS level, having gone 2-31-1 (2-9, 0-10-1, and 0-11) at Kansas State 20-plus years ago.  It won’t be his fault when the Cardinals regress to the lower half of the West standings.  Quarterback Nate Davis is gone after putting up even better numbers than LeFevour, and his replacement will be someone with zero experience.  Kelly Page will be seeing the wrong colored jersey in his face too many times, as the offensive line was shredded by graduation.  Star running back Miquale Lewis returns after rushing for 1,736 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, but we expect his yards per carry to drop from 5.4 to 4.5 or less.  Ball State should still post a winning record, but they will do so because they have the easiest non-conference schedule in the league.

Toledo: The Rockets break in a new coach in Tim Beckman.  Beckman inherits an experienced offensive line but the other side of the line needs some rebuilding.  Quarterback Aaron Opelt is the only reason why we don’t have the Rockets rated high enough to compete in the division.  TU should be able to consistently run the ball, but teams may frequently put eight defenders in the box to force the Rockets to beat them through the air.  After losing nine times in 2008, we expect Toledo to improve, but by no more than one game.  Their non-conference schedule does them no favors, as they open with Purdue on the road, host Colorado, face Ohio State in Cincinnati, and venture to Florida International, where they will render in the Florida steam.

Northern Illinois: This is a program that is about to head downhill in the short term.  First year coach Jerry Kill guided the Huskies to six wins and a bowl bid, but NIU lost too much on defense and just enough on offense to prevent improvement this year.  It all adds up to a possible overall last place finish in the MAC.  Cheer up Huskie fans; your team is really young with enough talent to be really good in two years.  For now, hope NIU takes care of business against Western Illinois and Idaho and finds a way to pull off a conference win at home.

Next up: A quick look at the Independents.  Can Charlie Weis keep the fans happy at Notre Dame?  Will Army finally beat Navy?

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