Last year the boys from the Mid American conference collected on five bowl bids. This year the conference could once again earn a nice four to five bids, even without a lot of talent at the QB position.
Gone is record holder Dan LeFevour from a dominant Central Michigan team that seemed to have a strangle hold on one of the league's bowl bids every season. Also gone is Tim Hiller from Western Michigan and Tyler Sheehan from Bowling Green.
This season it appears that the team with the best talent on defense and up front could win the league.
In the East it appears to be Temple's to lose. They return a top notch tailback in Bernard Pierce and have nine of their 10 lineman returning. Head coach Al Golden is also excited about returning seven starters on defense, including defensive POY Adrian Robinson.
But before you go crowning the Owls, watch out for Ohio, who seems to always field a solid club, and keep an eye on Rob Ianello and the Akron Zips. The Zips have 17 guys returning and a new attitude to go with it. I may be smelling sleeper here.
Out West it could be anyone's guess. A lot of people like Northern Illinois and dual threat QB Chandler Harnish. Others are sticking with the program at Central Michigan. Perhaps the most interesting team is Toldeo. The Rockets need some work on defense, and head coach Tim Beckman has devoted the entire off season trying to build one.
Any way you want to look at it, the MAC is shaping up as a conference that will easily place it's automatic bowl berths and grab a few from the other conferences that fail to field enough .500 teams.
So here we go team by team as we preview the MAC starting with the Eastern Division.
Temple Owls 9-4 (7-1) lost to UCLA 30-21 in the Eaglebank Bowl
If you are an Owls fan then first of all I would suggest that you enjoy this year as much as you can for two reasons. One, you are certainly due a conference crown for the first time since who knows when. Second, this will probably Al Golden's last year with the program, as I and many others are predicting a major program to come in and steal him.
On offense the Owls will be lead by maybe the best back that the rest of the country has never heard of, Bernard Pierce. He ran for over 1,300 yards and 16 scores last year despite only starting eight games. The line up front will be more than capable of opening holes for Pierce as they return two all MAC selections in guard Colin Madison and tackle Darius Morris. Golden also grabbed a JUCO talent in Darryl Shine, who could be a big play receiver and/or big time return man.
Perhaps the biggest question facing the Owls is at QB. Both. Chester Stewart should get the job since Caughn Charlton has been moved to TE. Stewart was productive starting the last four games last year, while Charlton was the guy the rest of the way, including the bowl loss to UCLA. QB seems to be the only question mark on offense for the Owls.
Defensively the Owls return seven guys from last year's squad. Many consider the Owls defense stronger and fast than any other team in the MAC. Up front Adrian Robinson leads the way with his 13 sacks from a year ago, and has Elisha Joseph and Muhammad Wilkerson beside him. At backer Temple also is solid, led by Elijah Joseph. Also watch for Nate Smith to possible see some action as Al Golden said he was, “the best pure football player” of the recruiting class. In the secondary Free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett is a possible NFL prospect with his ability to cover and make big hits.
Overall Temple appears to be the best team in the MAC. They are solid where it counts offensively, and have a defense that can actually stop opponents. I am going along with the rest of the so called experts and taking them to win the MAC and head to the GMAC Bowl. If they could beat UCONN and Penn State in back to back weeks, we could have a BCS spoiler on our hands.
Ohio Bobcats 9-5 (7-1) lost 21-17 to Marshall in the Pizza Bowl
The fans in Athens were treated to what many thought was an improbable run to the MAC championship last year. This year expectations are high as the Bobcats look to claim another division title and their second straight bowl game.
Offensively the QB situation could be all based on situation. Boo Jackson was granted another year of eligibility and is more of the option threat. On the other side of the table sits Iowa State transfer Phil Bates who is more of a pocket passer. Look for both guys to get action in 2010.
The Bobcats lost leading rusher Chris Garret from last year's squad, but that unit was 11th in the MAC in rushing. Now pencil in Kenny Ashley, a JUCO transfer that had originally committed to USC. At the receiver spot I look no further than LaVon Brazil who had over 700 receiving yards a season ago. Up front the line has several guys back from a season ago. Expect the Bobcat offense to be better than they were in 2009.
Defensively Ohio should be strong once again, lead by all four returning starters up front. The two tackles in Williamson and Hodge are the big boys that stuff up the middle and allow the line-backing corps to do their thing. Perhaps the best backer in the entire conference is MLB Noah Keller. Last year Keller ranked sixth in the nation with 155 tackles. In the defensive backfield both Gerald Moore and Julian Posey are adequate defenders.
The bottom line in Athens is that people are expecting big things out of the Bobcats this year. Everyone will know how good they are after a visit to Ohio State in late September. I see the Bobcats as challenging for the East again, but falling short to Temple. They finish second with an at large bid to the Humanitarian Bowl.
Akron Zips 3-9 (2-6)
First year head coach Rob Ianello inherits possibly the best talent among first year coaches. He also inherits a state of the art facility, and an area where recruiting should be easily accessible. Many have considered the Zips a sleeping giant for the past few years, and it is just a question of if and when they wake up during the Ianello era.
Offensively the Zips return two very talented QB's, lead by Patrick Nicely who threw for over 1300 yards and 6 scores as a true freshman last year. Matt Rodgers also returns at QB after suffering a season ending injury last year. At tailback it could be anyone's guess as to who the starter may be. The leading returning rusher is Broderick Alexander with his whopping 198 yards. Look for him to get his opportunities along with Erick Howard and Alex Allen who earned a sixth year of eligibility. Four of the five receivers from last year's team is now gone, leaving Jeremy LaFrance as the go to guy. The Zips must find some guys who can step up and be targets for their young QB. The line looks okay, returning three starters from a year ago.
The defense will be better in 2010, there is no question about that. Gone is the 3-3-5 scheme, and in is a new 4-3 style. This should help increase the sack total from 11 a season ago, and cut down on the yards per carry average. Up front guys like James Harvey, Hasan Hazmine, and Almondo Sewell will benefit the most from the 4-3 and should have solid seasons. Sophomore backer Brian Wagner recorded 132 tackles as a true freshman a year ago, and expect the same type of production in 2010. A big question may be in the secondary where they will have to learn to live with four starters instead of five.
Akron has a chance at heading to a bowl game, but games against Syracuse, Indiana, and Kentucky could damage their chances. Look for them to win some games, challenge at .500 overall, and finish third in the East.
Kent State Golden Flashes 5-7 (4-4)
Perhaps the Golden Flashes have the biggest opportunity to shock the conference in 2010. They lost a total of three games by 12 points last year, and were missing their stud running back for all but one game. Expectations are high for Doug Martin's squad as they look to go bowling this season.
On offense it starts and ends with tailback Eugene Jarvis who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing almost all of last season. He ranks fourth on the all time school list for rushing yards with over 3,400, and owns the single season record with 1,669, which he set in 2007. QB Spencer Keith was impressive as a true freshman throwing for over 2,100 yards and 14 scores. Keith had off-season shoulder surgery, but should be healthy by fall practice. The main question for the Flashes is on the offensive line. Last year that unit did not push anyone around, ranking 114th in rushing yards and at times not being able to protect Keith.
Seven starters return on defense, including linebacker Cobrani Mixon who had three sacks and 108 tackles. Overall the defense only allowed just a shade over 22 ppg, which is not too shabby. All conference punter Matt Rinehart had a lot to do this as he was dynamic at pinning teams deep. Also watch for corner Josh Pleasant to have a standout year and challenge for an all MAC spot.
Kent State should be very competitive in 2010, the question may be how many games can they actually win? If they can split the non conference and go 5-3 in the conference then they should be bowling, but 5-3 is easier said than done, as I think they will fall just short of a bowl bid and finish tied with Akron for third.
Bowling Green Falcons 7-6 (6-2) Lost 43-42 to Idaho in the Humanitarian Bowl
Youth is running rampant in Bowling green as just 8 starters return from last year's bowl bid earning squad. Many look to this year as a rebuilding year as QB Tyler Sheehan and big play receiver Freddie Barnes are both gone. 2ndyear head coach Dave Clawson will have his work cut out for him if he wants a return trip to bowl season in 2010.
On offense the Falcons have more question marks than most teams in the conference. Four guys will challenge for the starting job, and as of now it is as wide open a competition as you can get. Coach Clawson has said that he won't name a starter until right before the September 4 opener at Troy. The lone returning big threat is tailback Willie Geter who ran for 705 yards and nine scores last year. Up front the lineman are young with the exceptions being Ben Bojicic and Tyler Donahue. This unit will have to step up big to help the running game and ultimately help a young QB. The WR spot is also a competition at this moment with Calvin Wiley and Tyrone Pronty being the most experienced.
The defense needs to find a way to stop teams. If they could have been just a little bit better in 2009, the Falcons would have won more than just seven games. Six returning letter-man are back on the defensive line, while all three starting linebacker jobs are up for grabs. In the defensive backfield Keith Morgan and Adrien Spencer return. Overall it should be another struggling year for the Falcons on this side of the ball.
The bottom line is that sometimes you have to rebuild and retool programs. The question is how long will it take Dave Clawson to do it? All four non conference games will be tough, along with games against Temple, Ohio, and Central Michigan could spell a rough season for Bowling Green. Look for them to struggle at times, but come on strong at season's end as they finish fifth in the division.
Buffalo Bulls 5-7 (3-5)
Turner Gill is gone and now the Jeff Quinn era can begin. The era has already been rocky as starting QB Zach Maynard has transferred to Cal. The good news is that the Bulls have a stacked running back corps, with more bad news being that they are attempting to move to the spread.
Offensively the Bulls have a lot of depth at running back with Brandon Thermilius and Jeffvon Gill. Also look for burner James Potts to see a lot of action as he was a highly touted recruit. The quarterbacking situation appears to be the biggest problem, with Jerry Davis being the favorite since he is the only one with any experience. But, if he struggles look for true freshman Alex Zordich to take over. The WR spot also has some questions about depth with Terrel Jackson being the most seasoned guy on the roster. Up front four starters return and that should help the Bulls out if they decide to run the ball frequently.
The defense is lead by the starters in the backfield. Safety Davonte Shannon has NFL written all over him, and corner Dominique Cook should be a solid corner. Up front is where the issues will lie. DC Willie Inge will look to adjust to multiple 3-4 looks to help get more gaps filled. LB Justin Winters should benefit the most from this, but again the question here will be how well the front seven play as a whole to stop teams from running the ball.
You can't build a city in a day, just like you can't rebuild a program in your first year. Jeff Quinn is going to have his hands full with all the changes he wants to bring in 2010, but you will start to see results by season's end. Look for the Bulls to finish sixth in the division, but win two of their final three games to end 2010.
Miami Redhawks 1-11 (1-7)
If it weren't for the Eastern Michigan Eagles last year the Redhawks would have gone win-less. This year second-year coach Mike Haywood looks to take giant steps forward instead of hanging around the MAC basement.
Offensively the unit returns 10 starters from a year ago, including QB Zac Dysert who threw for over 2,600 yards in 11 games. He may be the lone bright spot of this unit. Last year the running game was dead last in the FBS. Look for the addition of Michigan transfer Vince Helmuth at fullback to help out that cause. Thomas Merriweather had a good spring game, running for over 100 yards, so he figures to be penciled in at back. Up front the line was pretty bad last year. Improvement is the only thing that can happen among this group.
On defense seven starters return, but transfer end Jason Semmes and freshman DT John Steele could have the biggest impact. In the middle they have a very talented middle linebacker in Jerrel Wedge, and with the addition of UCONN transfer CJ Marck, this unit should be much better. The backfield looks to also be upgraded, but maybe not as much as in other areas. CB Brandon Stephens is solid, but will need help from whomever wins the other starting job.
The players are getting there and so is the talent. The Redhawks shouldn't start talking bowl game yet, but they should start talking about winning three to four games in 2010. To do this would be considered a good season in my opinion, since they have non conference games versus Florida, Mizzou, and Cincinnati. But, I see the Redhawks finishing last again with signs of promise along the way.
Northern Illinois Huskies 7-6 (5-3) lost 27-3 to USF in the International Bowl
Northern has gone to back to back bowl games and even beat Purdue last year. But, the Huskies are still 0-11 against winning teams in the Jerry Kill era, which is something they will have to improve on if they are to take the next step. The Huskies are solid on defense and have a mobile, strong armed QB in Chandler Harnish. Expectations are once again high and fans are expecting nothing short of a MAC championship in 2010.
On offense it all begins with the quarterback. Chandler Harnish has battled injuries throughout his career, but when healthy he leads a very potent attack that is one of the best on the ground. Chad Spann ran for over 1000 yards and 19 scores a year ago and will take a large share of the carries. Also look for JUCO transfer Jasmin Hopkins to be a major player along with Iowa State transfer Cameron Bell. The O-line has talent, but lacks experience in some spots. It will be interesting to see how well this unit gels because if the Huskies cannot run the ball well, they may be in trouble real fast. Also there is concern at WR as many feel that they are not adequate enough.
On defense the Huskies will return 9 starters from a unit that finished 30th nationally. Up front tackle D.J. Pirkle should be back after shoulder surgery in January, along with Brian Lawson and Sean Pronger. In the middle Alex Kube and Pat Schiller should be steady at linebacker. The big area where the Huskies need improvement is in the secondary. That unit allowed opponents to complete over 60 percent of their passes and had just four INT's. Everyone is back, so this should be easier to accomplish.
The non conference schedule is anything but easy with games at Iowa State, Illinois, and Minnesota. But the Huskies appear to be the best team in the West on paper, and should gain enough wins to be bowl eligible and win the West. I have them winning seven to eight games and earning a trip to the title game and the Pizza Bowl.
Central Michigan Chippewas 12-2 (8-0) Beat Troy 44-41 in the GMAC Bowl.
Dan LeFevour is gone, but the Chippewas still have a very talented program. New head coach Dan Enos takes over for Butch Jones who has moved to Cincinnati. Enos inherits a team that has gone to four straight bowl games and has competed seemingly every year for the conference crown. With only 11 starters back, he will turn to some of the solid recruits his predecessors acquired over the past several years.
The quarterback situation is not as bad as what it could be when losing a four year starter. Ryan Radcliffe appears to be the starter heading into fall practice, and he does have some game experience. If he stumbles out of the block look for both Derek Rifenbury and A.J. Westendorp to get a shot. The Chips' also lose both rushing leaders in LeFevour and Bryan Schroeder who left the program. They will turn to a plethora of guys to fill the void including Paris Cotton, Kevin King, and Carl Volny. Central also loses two big play makers on the outside including return specialist Antonio Brown. Look for the Chippewas to be a run heavy team and TE David Blackburn to have a career year.
Defensively the Chips' look to be okay. The best players on the field are linebackers Nick Bellore and Matt Berning. Both had over 100 tackles last year and have an eye for the ball. Up front the line has some guys that can make plays. Sean Murnane and John Williams are two of these guys at tackle. In the secondary everyone needs to be replaced. Any time you have to replace your entire secondary you can expect some rookie mistakes. This could be an Achilles heel for Central's defense.
Overall the Chippewas will be battling to make it to a fifth straight bowl game. Non conference games at Northwestern, Navy, and Virginia Tech will make it a 5-3 conference minimum to earn a bowl game. Fortunately they have Eastern and Western Michigan, Ball State, Miami, and Bowling Green. The Chippewas go .500 and earn a fifth straight bowl game, I am predicting the Independence Bowl.
Toledo Rockets 5-7 (4-4)
If the Rockets are going to contend for the division and a bowl game they must improve a defense that was one of the worst in the FBS, and stop turning the ball over. Second-year coach Tim Beckman is hoping that both can be corrected and the Rockets can avoid a fifth straight losing season.
On offense the Rockets will have a very solid offensive line, lead by a group of 300-plus pounders that have experience. Why is this so important? Well, the Rockets have a ton of talent at tailback and will be working in a new quarterback. Aaron Opelt has graduated, which means someone will have to step up and earn the job.
Many feel that it is Austin Dantin's to lose, but do not discard Alex Pettee and David Pasquale. Morgan Williams will lead a corp of backs that have a lot of talent. Adonis Thomas, Jake Walker, and Darius Reeves will also get their chances to step in and carry some of the load. At wide-out Eric Page assumes the number one duties. He had over 1,100 yards last season and is a guy that can do it all.
On defense Tim Beckman is making improvement a top priority. The Rockets ranked 116th nationally and seemingly gave up 20 points or more every week. This year Beckman has a lot of guys that he can plug in at almost every position. Ends Alex Johnson and Douglas Westbrook had better play well because the Rockets have a total of seven guys who can play end and six at tackle.
This is certainly a deep unit, however it is unproven at best. Watch for Jayrone Elliot to be a guy that makes a play as a true freshman. At linebacker Archie Donald is solid, and both safeties can make plays. The big question in the secondary is who will step up and actually stop teams from throwing the ball.
The bottom line is Toledo has a shot at bowl eligibility, but it all comes down to how well they run the ball, and if they can actually stop someone. Arizona, Purdue, Wyoming, and Boise are brutal non conference opponents and even a 4-4 conference record will not get it done. The Rockets finish third in the West with five wins at the most.
Ball State Cardinals 2-10 (2-6)
Last year was certainly not anything close to what the 2008 season was. The Cardinals started 0-7 before winning two of their final five. At times they looked like they were going to break through, but just could not get it done. On the hot seat is Stan Parrish, who is hoping that more consistency leads to more “W”s.
On offense the quarterback position could be up for grabs if Kelly Page has a bad fall, or a bad start. Both Aaron Mershman and Keith Wenning both have the tools to step in and take away the starting job. Up front the O-line was one of the main weaknesses. This year they have a year's more experience and all return. They return to block for MiQuale Lewis, who was granted a fifth season after an injury plagued 2009. Look for him to put up big numbers and be the focal factor for opposing defenses. The Cardinals also return two talented receivers in Briggs Osborn, Dan Ifft, Connor Ryan, and Torieal Gibson.
On defense Ball State has two solid linebackers in Davyd Jones and Travis Freeman. Jones led the team with 100 tackles last season while Freeman put up 93. They also have a big play-maker at safety in Sean Baker. Up front the defense needs improvement, but return guys who got the playing time and experience they needed a year ago.
The Cardinals will put up more wins than they did in 2009, there is no question about it. The question is how many of them can they get, and can they challenge in the West. I am taking them to finish fourth in the West, but an improved defense, a healthy MiQuale Lewis, and an improved offensive line could lead them to a surprise in the West.
Western Michigan Broncos 5-7 (4-4)
Bill Cubit also has the daunting task of replacing a star quarterback in Tim Hiller. He also has the task of trying to figure out why his team last year did not live up to expectations. What he will find is that the Broncos need to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
On offense there are several candidates to fill Hiller's shoes with Alex Carder being the front runner. If he does win the job, he should have a decnt O-line to protect him, with Dann O'Neil, a Michigan transfer, leading the way at right tackle. The Broncos also graduated their top rusher in Brandon West who went for over 1,000 yards a season ago. Who takes over for him is anybody's guess right now. Outside the Broncos have a plethora of talent at receiver. Robert Arnheim, Jordan White, and Cheb Ravenell all have solid skills and the potential to have big seasons if the Broncos have solid quarterback play.
The over haul is being done on the Western defense. Up front Jerry Rice's nephew, JUCO transfer John Rice should bring plenty of pop along with freshman Travonte Boles. At LB Deauntay Legrier is a solid tackler, while both safeties can also make big plays. The question will be how well the western corners can cover, and if the front four can make plays, otherwise Berry and Wiggins will not be able to step up and do their thing.
Western Michigan is rebuilding. That is all I can say. The chances of them winning the conference, or go to a bowl game are slim to none. Three of their four non-conference games will be tough, and they have two tough trips to Akron and Central. The Broncos will finish fifth and look to 2011 for their year to bounce back.
Eastern Michigan Eagles 0-12 (0-8)
There is only one way for the Eastern Michigan program to go, and that is up. After last year's win-less campaign Ron English feels that he has some of the pieces to improve and change the culture in Ypsilanti.
The Eagles offense saw their future last year when quarterback Alex Gillett took over for an injured Andy Schmitt. Gillett had over 1,200 all purpose yards and is a dual threat QB. Also seeing time at QB will be Devontae Payne, who is more of a pocket passer.
Both will play, and if one shines more than the other, then you have your starter of the future. Center Eric Davis is a stalwart on an otherwise so so offensive line, and the receiving corps is lacking in big play threats. However TE Ben Thayer provides a big target across the middle, and the Eagles do have several speedy little backs, including Dwayne Priest and Dominique Sherrer.
Up front is where the strength and the depth may lie. Junior DE Javon Reese was second on the team in tackles for loss, and senior tackle Ryan Leonard is a run stopping specialist. English also brought in a JUCO monster in Lavon McCoy who plays tackle and goes about 400 lbs. At LB Tim Fort will be asked to step up and replace the production of graduated backer Andre Hatchett. Fort is solid and has a good nose for the ball. The Eagles will also get production from Louisville transfer Latarrius Thomas. The question will be how well the rest of the secondary plays and how many big plays this unit can make.
Rome was not built in a day, and the Eastern program will not be built in a year. The Eagles have four non-conference games that are seemingly impossible to win. Army, Ohio State, Vandy, and Virginia are already licking their chops. The best thing for the Eagles is to get a victory or two and build on that. I think they will win at least a game, but will finish in last place in the West.
So there are my predictions for the 2010 MAC football season. I think that Temple is going to be the best team in the conference with Northern Illinois and Ohio being right on their heels, and Central Michigan eking out another bowl bid.
I am going to say that the conference MVP will be Bernard Pierce of Temple, the defensive POY will be Ohio backer Noah Keller, and the coach of the year will be Al Golden.
As always these are just my predictions, I could be wrong, so feel free to post your thoughts below.
Also look for more predictions of every FBS conference, including the independents each week. I also write a weekly article that comes out on Friday called the Friday Tailgate that goes more into depth on what to watch for this upcoming season. So be sure to check those out.