Preston's 2010 MAC Preview: Turnover Galore
If there's a conference that's experienced as much loss as the Mid-American has, let me know. Losing the face of the league, Dan LeFevour, and three coaches (Akron's JD Brookhart, Buffalo's Turner Gill, and Central Michigan's Butch Jones) is always tough, but almost every team themselves has lost big pieces of the program.
This season in the MAC should be especially exciting because while there are some very good teams, there's no team that looks flat-out dominant like the Chippewas were the last few seasons. It should be a race to the finish. But every race needs a little pre-game scouting, so let's take a look at every Mid-American Conference team.
After four straight losing seasons, the Zips have fired J.D. Brookheart and are ready to start anew with former Notre Dame assistant Rob Ianello. Ianello has never had a coordinator job in his past, yet will try to instill changes on both sides of the ball; he's switching the offense to a pro-style and switching the defense to a 4-3.
On offense, the quarterback position is one question. Patrick Nicely, pictured, filled in extremely well for injured starter Matt Rogers last season, and now both are fully healthy. I wouldn't be shocked to see Nicely retain the starting job.
His options will be lacking, however. Jeremy LaFrance is a talented senior receiver who will be one of the keys on offense for the Zips.
On defense, middle linebacker Brian Wagner and his 132 tackles (seventh best in the nation) will spearhead the defense, which ranked 59th overall. Despite losing three cornerbacks, the pass defense looks to be right about where it ranked last year, which was 31st.
The Zips look to sport a solid defense next season, but the offense has too many question marks. No running back looks to stand out from the pack and the passing game will have to run through LaFrance.
Projected Record: (4-8, 3-5)
Ball State Cardinals
Ball State was fantastic in 2008 under the quarterbacking of Nate Davis, but really struggled in his absence and are now in their second year without him.
Luckily, MiQuale Lewis, the 5'6", 195 pound running back is back for a fifth year of eligibility and looks to return to 2008 form, when he ran for over 1,700 yards. The offensive line returns three starters and should be able to open holes for Lewis and the crop of backs the Cardinals have.
Receiver Briggs Orsbon (pictured) has caught 119 passes in his first two seasons and looks to give whoever starts at quarterback (last year's starter Kelly Page struggled, so freshman recruit Aaron Mershman will get a shot at starting) a reliable target.
A young secondary, including junior safety Sean Baker and sophomore cornerback Jason Pinkston, looks to be solid along with a few recruits at defensive back. Middle linebacker Travis Freeman led the team in tackles as a freshman and fifth year senior defensive end Robert Eddins was a force on the line, ranking fifth in the MAC with seven sacks last season.
If the Cardinals can get something out of the quarterback position, they may have an outside shot at a bowl.
But the erratic play from last year brought all aspects of the team down, and there's no reason to believe that Kelly Page won't turn in a repeat performance.
Projected Record: (4-8, 2-6)
What happened? After a Mid-American Conference Championship in 2008, the Bulls fell to a 5-7 record and looked nothing like they did in their championship run.
Now, they've lost key players like James Starks, Naaman Roosevelt, and Drew Willy and head coach Turner Gill has dashed to Kansas. At the aforementioned quarterback position, Jerry Davis looks to take over and will be running the no-huddle spread offense, which will be a tough task for a first-year starter.
Luckily, he'll have James Potts, the 24th ranked recruit and one of Buffalo's highest ranked recruits ever, to hand off to. The explosive back has the chance to take it to the house on every single play.
On defense, things are a little more shoddy. The team is switching to a 3-4 but doesn't seem to be prepared. Linebacker Justin Winters is solid, but the defensive line is nowhere near the size it needs to be. The secondary, however, has some stars. Cornerback Domonic Cook is one of the best in the MAC, and safety Davonte Shannon (pictured) is arguably the best NFL prospect in the MAC.
This is a team that will live and die by the run. True freshman James Potts will have to carry the young Bulls offense, and teams will be able to exploit the porous Bulls front seven. This team has a chance to be really good with some experience, but at this point they're just too many pieces away.
Projected Record: (4-8, 3-5)
Bowling Green Falcons
In a MAC losing a lot of stars, no team has lost more talent than the Falcons. Every starter in the secondary and all three linebackers are gone on defense. Starting quarterback Tyler Sheehan and record-breaking receiver Freddie Barnes are also gone.
To help replace Barnes, the team will have to rely on the running of the diminutive Willie Geter and junior receiver Adrian Hodges. Geter is an accomplished receiver who caught 42 passes while running for over 700 yards.
Center Ben Bojicic is a powerful run blocker who should be able to open holes.
As previously mentioned, the defense loses every starter except for a few on the line. Eugene Fells will have to step up in the linebacking corps to soften the blow. Defensive tackles Kevin Alvarado and Chris Jones are solid and should help stuff the run.
This team loses a lot of talent, and barring a major shock, should dwell in the cellar of the MAC East.
Projected Record: (2-10, 2-6)
Central Michigan Chippewas
The Chippewa's lost their record-breaking quarterback, Dan LeFevour, to the NFL. They lost their head coach, Butch Jones, to Cincinnati. They lost their top two offensive playmakers, Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson.
And yet, they still have a shot at a bowl.
Ryan Radcliff looks to take over after LeFevour leaves, and while he's not the runner that Dan was, he has a nice arm and can help make plays through the air, although who he will throw to is still a major question.
The defense looks to be solid, yet not great. Linebacker Nick Bellore is a star, and the defensive line sports Sean Murnane, a star defensive tackle that should be able to open up some blockers for the defensive ends, who will have a tough job replacing Frank Zombo, a great pass-rusher for the Chips for four years.
The reason the Chippewas should likely be bowl-eligible this season, however, is their schedule. They definitely have tough games (@Temple, @Virginia Tech, @Northwestern, @Northern Illinois, and @Navy), but the rest of the schedule is very manageable.
Projected Record: (6-6, 4-4)
Eastern Michigan Eagles
The Eagles were the definition of bad last season; an 0-12 finish in head coach Ron English's first season. With a brutal non-conference schedule, Eastern Michigan doesn't look to get a win anytime soon.
That's not to say they have no talent whatsoever.
Running back Dwayne Priest (pictured) ran for 633 yards on 175 carries and looks to break the 1,000 yard barrier for his senior season. But he'll be the only focal point for defense; the offensive line is undersized and neither Alex Gillett nor Devontae Payne impress at the quarterback position.
Ron English's specialty, defense, looks to struggle as well. They lose standout cornerback Chris May, who intercepted six passes last season, and the defensive line is lacking in big run stuffers.
Eastern Michigan might get better one day. However, this 2010 version of the Eagles doesn't look to be anywhere near a bowl bid.
Projected Record: (1-11, 1-7)
Kent State Golden Flashes
If you're wondering who the two players pictured are, you are looking at the future of the Mid-American Conference.
Kent State found two revelations in freshman quarterback Spencer Keith (left) and freshman wide receiver Tyshon Goode. Keith threw for over 2,000 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, finding Goode for 53 of those completions and five of those touchdowns.
Running back Eugene Jarvis missed much of last season and will return for a sixth season after being an All-Conference star in 2007 and 2008.
The defense isn't shabby either. Cobrani Mixon, a former Michigan transfer, enters his senior season after leading the team in tackles last season.
The secondary sports two stars. Brian Lainhart led the MAC with seven interceptions from the free safety position and Dan Hartman wasn't far behind with four interceptions.
A strong defensive recruiting class also looks to shore up the unit that allowed 269 points last season.
Kent State has a lot of young talent on offense and a veteran defense. While they're still a few pieces and experience on offense away from competing for the MAC East title, they look to be bowl-worthy this season.
Projected Record: (7-5, 5-3)
It's tough being a Redhawks fan. Their most notable player is now known more for his sexual decisions than his fantastic play. Everyone confuses them with the Hurricanes.
It stinks... Or does it?
Things are starting to look up for the Redhawks, and it all starts No. 4, Zac Dysert. Dysert was phenomenal as a freshman, throwing for 2,614 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. He has the potential to be the best quarterback for the Redhawks since Ben Roethlisberger.
Protecting him is the solid line, with tackle Brandon Brooks being one of the best in the MAC. At receiver, Jamal Rogers and Armand Robinson will return as seniors to provide Dysert with reliable targets on the outside.
On defense, a few stars have emerged. Jerrell Wedge headlines the linebackers, whereas the defensive line has standouts in D.J. Svabik and John Steele. The Redhawks should be greatly improved from their 1-11 season last year, and with the mix of young talent on this team, they look to be good now and down the road.
Projected Record: (6-6, 5-3)
Northern Illinois Huskies
After two straight bowls, head coach Jerry Kill is looking to take the next step in his third season after taking over from Joe Novak.
And the Huskies look to have the talent. The team has nine starters on Phil Steele's All-American teams. And the first of those should be the key piece on offense; running back Chad Spann looks to be the next great running back for the Huskies. Spann ran for 1,078 yards on just 179 carries with an outstanding 5.8 yard per carry average.
But the passing game isn't lacking either. Chandler Harnish (pictured) enters his third season as a starter and might just be the best quarterback in the MAC. Harnish ran for much for his freshman season, but once he started relying on his arm in his sophomore season, he completed 66 percent of his passes and threw 11 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
Landon Cox is a talented receiver whose 6'3" size allows him to dominate smaller cornerbacks. Trevor Olsen and Joe Pawlak are stud offensive linemen, although the loss of four-year starter Eddie Adamski will sting. He was one of the best Huskies of the past decade and truly was an anchor on that line.
But the defense is what should carry the Huskies. The defensive line features two fierce pass-rushers, one in senior Jake Coffman who made a last-minute decision to return after racking up eight sacks last season, and another in sophomore Sean Proger, who as a freshman, notched six sacks in a reserve role.
Alex Kube, a former Cary-Grove Trojan, is arguably the best linebacker in the MAC and defensive backs Tracy Wilson, Patrick George, and Chris Smith are playmakers.
Projected Record: (9-3, 7-1)
The defending MAC East champion lost last season's starting quarterback Theo Scott, fantastic wide receiver Taylor Price, and a strong core of 16 seniors. Yet they'll be right in the thick of the MAC East race.
Great coaching and great depth.
Last season, when starting quarterback Boo Jackson went down against North Texas, Theo Scott jumped in and led the team to a division title. Now, Theo Scott is back and the wide receiving corps is solid with players like the explosive Lavonn Brazill (pictured) and the 6'4" possession threat Terrence McCrae. Former Southern Cal commit Kenny Ashley comes in as a JUCO transfer who looks to kickstart the running game. Sophomore Jon Lechner looks to be a star at offensive tackle after being ESPNU's 16th ranked tackle recruit in the 2009 class.
The defense will benefit from an experienced secondary. Senior cornerbacks Julian Posey and Shannon Ballard should hold opposing receivers in check, while Gerald Moore was a stud at the safety position. As just a freshman, he won the starting job and intercepted six passes, good enough for second best in the conference. Noah Keller is a fantastic linebacker, who was fourth in the nation with 146 tackles.
While Ohio might not win the East again, they look to be a solid squad that should find themselves in a good bowl game.
Projected Record: (8-4, 6-2)
These aren't your father's Owls. This team has by far the best defense in the MAC, and one of the best in the nation.
It all starts on the defensive line. Adrian Robinson could be a first-round pick come next April, and junior tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is explosive at 6'5", 300 pounds, notching six sacks his sophomore season.
The secondary is taltented as well. Safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and linebacker Elijah Joseph will help in both the pass and run defense with their versatility.
On offense, Bernard Pierce led the MAC in rushing as just a freshman, and looks like he'll be one of the best players in the Conference again this season. Paving the way for him are powerful linemen like Colin Madison and Darius Morris.
The quarterback position, however, is a major concern. Chester Stewart threw more interceptions than touchdowns last year and barely completed 50 percent of his passes. The Owls will have to rely on Pierce on offense.
Projected Record: (10-2, 8-0)
You don't often see a Mid-American Conference freshman make huge waves nationally like Eric Page did. His 82 receptions were 20th best in the nation and his 1,159 were 12th best, over names like Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Baldwin, and Ryan Broyles. Although 6'5 Stephen Williams and his 79 receptions and 1,065 yards are gone, Page looks to provide new starting quarterback Austin Dantin a fantastic target. And if Cordale Scott, a former Illinois receiver who transferred to Toledo, can play, the passing attack for the Rockets could be lethal.
The biggest question mark will be the defense; defensive end Douglas Westbrook led the team in interceptions with only three, and he's one of the few starters on a defense that lost 10 starters. The team has recruited heavily on defense the past few years, so a couple young, talented players could surprise, but there's no specific standout besides Archie Donald, who was a third-team MAC All-American at the linebacker position.
The Rockets won't win the MAC West this year, but they're a talented team. Give them credit for scheduling extremely difficult out-of-conference games; home games against Wyoming and Arizona and away games at Purdue and Boise State give them a chance to potentially pull a big upset.
Projected Record: (7-5, 5-3)
Western Michigan Broncos
Much like Central Michigan, the west side of the Great Lakes state has lost talent all-around. The four-year starter at quarterback, Tim Hiller, is now an Indianapolis Colt. Running back Brandon West, who ran for 1,000 yards for two consecutive years and was also the Broncos outstanding kick returner, is gone. Matt Stevens, the Broncos reliable blocker and red zone threat at tight end, is gone. The entire interior of the line is gone.
It'll be a tough job replacing all these players, but the Broncos have some replacements lined up. Aaron Winchester is short, but has proven to be able to spark a big play.
The quarterback competition between senior Drew Burdi and sophomore Alex Carder is pretty neck-and-neck, but whoever wins will have a fantastic group of receivers to throw to. Robert Arnheim (pictured) caught 59 passes in his sophomore season and looks to be the leader of an experienced group featuring seniors Jordan White, Chleb Ravenell, and Juan Nunez.
On defense, the team loses starters and a coach as well. Dave Cohen is now the defensive coordinator after heading Hofstra football for a few years. He'll take over a team trying to replace two starters on the line (nose tackle Cody Cielenski and defensive end Justin Braska) and starting cornerback Andy Dorcely and linebacker Austin Pritchard.
However, this defense does have some talent. The secondary, outside of Dorcely, looks to be solid with starting safeties Doug Wiggins and Jamail Berry returning, and a new coordinator could bring fresh concepts that could revitalize the Broncos D.
The Broncos have talent, and if everything goes right, they could compete in the West. However, there's too many question marks at key positions to put too much faith in the Broncos.
Projected Record: (3-9, 2-6)
1. Temple Owls (10-2, 8-0)
2. Ohio Bobcats (8-4, 6-2)
3. Kent State Golden Flashes (7-5, 5-3)
4. Miami Redhawks (6-6, 5-3)
5. Akron Zips (4-8, 3-5)
6. Buffalo Bulls (4-8, 3-5)
7. Bowling Green Falcons (2-10, 2-6)
1. Northern Illinois Huskies (9-3, 7-1)
2. Toledo Rockets (7-5, 5-3)
3. Central Michigan Chippewas (6-6, 4-4)
4. Ball State Cardinals (4-8, 2-6)
5. Western Michigan Broncos (3-9, 2-6)
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-11, 1-7)
Championship Game Prediction!
In what's sure to be a smashmouth football game, Chandler Harnish and the West Champion Huskies take on Bernard Pierce and the East Champion Owls.
While both sport fantastic defenses and powerful run games, I pick the Huskies in an upset because of the quarterbacks. Temple's play at quarterback was erratic last season, and Chandler Harnish has shown great improvement over his first two seasons in DeKalb.
My prediction for the 2010 Mid-American Conference champions - The Northern Illinois Huskies!