College Football Mania: MAC Preview

By: Lawrence Foster

The Mid-American Conference draws attention every year as a conference that seems to always fall short of expectations.  However, this conference has the opportunity every year to produce a surprise, and the 2011 campaign should prove to be no exception.  Looking at the Conference from its two division standpoint, hit the break to see where Squeeze Situation’s The Professional believes the teams will land.

MAC EAST DIVISION

1.) Temple:

The East is going to be a two team race, and I think Temple’s change to Steve Addazio and a presumably more balanced offense will lead to the Eastern Division crown for the Owls.

In the past, Temple has been heavily reliant on the run, and last year Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown combined to rush for more than 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns. That will help whoever the Owls decide to start at quarterback (As of this writing a starter has not been named). The battle is between Chester Stewart and Mike Gerardi, but from everything I have read, the starter should be Clinton Granger. Granger, nicknamed “Juice,” seems to be the perfect fit in Addazio’s spread attack.

If Addazio goes the smart route and starts Granger, big things will be in store for Temple. If he goes with one of the incumbents, all bets are off.

2.) Ohio:

In 2011 we will see just how far an offensive line can carry a team. The Ohio Bobcat line returns three starters (Joe Flading, A.J. Strum and Eric Herman), who will try to keep Quarterback Tyler Tettleton’s jersey clean.

But the most important thing the line will do is open running lanes, because the passing game ranked 102nd in the country last year, and Ohio should be expected to focus heavily on a consistent running attack.

The defense, which ranked 41st in the nation last year, lost eight starters, so a bit of a drop on that side of the ball should be expected. The Bobcats will need Linebacker Noah Keller to return to his All-MAC form of 2009 after suffering an injury in 2010. Really this two-team race between Ohio and Temple will come down to their meeting and even though Ohio has the home field advantage in that game, I see them losing that game and the division.

3.) Kent State:

The Golden Flashes haven’t qualified for a bowl game since 1972, and haven’t had a winning season since 2001 when now Cleveland Browns Wide Reciever Joshua Cribbs was quarterback.

If Kent State hopes to move up the East ladder, they will need to prove on a running game that ranked 100th in the nation. The hope is that the offensive line is now more experienced after the 5-7 campaign last year, and will be able to open up holes for running back Jacquise Terry.

Spencer Keith will be given the reigns of the offense at quarterback and will have dynamic Wide Recievers in Sam Kirkland and Tyshon Goode to throw to. The pressure will be on Keith to take a step in the right direction after throwing just eight touchdowns to his 11 picks in 2010.

Defensively, Roosevelt Nix will continue to cause havoc in opponent’s backfields. Last  season Nix had 10 sacks and as a result, the Golden Flashes ranked 47th in the nation in passing yards allowed per game.

4.) Miami (Ohio):

If the Redhawks were a toy on the playground of the MAC, they’d be the see-saw. They have had so many ups and downs over the last decade that Miami (Ohio) fans must single-handedly keep the motion-sickness medication industry in business.

Considering that the Redhawks won the MAC title in 2010, recent history suggests a drop in 2011 and that is why I ranke them fourth in the East. If you don’t learn from history you are bound to repeat it and I will not be that person.

In 2011 the Redhawks will return eight starters on offense and as of this writing, the starter of the quarterback battle between Zac Dysert and Austin Boucher had not been decided. If I were a betting man, my money would be on Dysert who threw for 2,400 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010.

On defense, Miami (Ohio) will return nine starters including linebackers Jerrell Wedge and Evan Harris, who combined to stop the ball carrier more than 190 times in 2010. Even with that much returning on both sides of the ball, the Redhawks will be hard pressed to crack the Top 3 in the East Division.

5.) Buffalo:

In 2008, the Bulls appeared to be headed in the right direction under Turner Gill as they capped off the season with the programs first bowl bid. Fast forward to 2011 and Gill is gone (that was no surprise) and the Bulls are once again an afterthought at most in the MAC.

In the two seasons since the “dream” season of 2008, Buffalo has went 7-17. The only good thing going for second-year coach Jeff Quinn is that with Bowling Green and Akron in the East, they won’t be the doormat. If Buffalo wants to leave the cellar, they are going to have to fix an offense that ranked 111th in the nation.

Jerry Davis returns at quarterback after throwing for 16 touchdowns and interceptions last year. While 16 interceptions don’t help matters, the real problem for the Bulls offense is the running game that scored just three touchdowns last year and averaged a yawn-inducing 3.1 yards per carry. They need more production from an offensive line that returns three starters and running back Branden Oliver who ran for 298 yards last year.

Considering how putrid the offense was in 2010, the Bulls defense held up remarkably well, but the loss of both safeties and a cornerback will make matching or improving on last year’s production difficult.

6.) Bowling Green:

The Cardinals are starting another era now, the Pete Lembo era. One positive for Lembo is that 16 starters return from the 2010 squad. The bad part of that is, those starters went 4-8.

Quarterback Keith Wenning returns after a 14 touchdown, 14 interception season and the rest of the offense is coming off a season in which it averaged just over 300 yards a game. Even though Wenning is the incumbent, it is no sure thing that he will finish the season as the No. 1.

First of all he has to pick up his second offense in as many years and Lembo runs a no-huddle offense. If Wennnig can’t pick up the offense, or improve his play from 2010, look for Kelly Page to take over at quarterback. Think Bowling Green misses Nate Davis? How bad could it get in Muncie? There is a very real possibility that the Cardinals only chance for a win will be against Buffalo.

   7.) Akron:

And bringing up the rear are the Zips. If you have read the previews for the rest of the MAC’s East division, you will realize that to be last is saying something considering how bad this division is. There isn’t much to look forward to in Akron this year.

Last year the Zips opened up the season with 11 consecutive losses and ranked 119th in offense. Most times fans can think “It can’t get any worse.” That mindset here would be wrong. Akron has lost its top two receivers and running backs from 2010. The defense wasn’t any better last year as they allowed over 35 points a game. Akron fans may be better off waiting until next year.

MAC WEST PREVIEW

1.) Northern Illinois:

Quick, how many wins did the Huskies have last year? Unless you are a MAC or Northern Illinois junky you most likely “guesstimated” between six to eight wins. That would be wrong.

The Huskies rattled off 11 wins last year and destroyed Fresno State 40-17 in the Humanitarian Bowl.  Striking while the iron was hot, now former Head Coach Jerry Kill took the head job at Minnesota, as Dave Doeren has been tabbed as Kill’s replacement. Doeren inherits a team that will have most of its offensive starters returning from 2010, but loses some key components to that team.

The biggest loss was running back Chad Spann, who rushed for nearly 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2010. That type of productivity will be difficult to replace, as the weight of expectation will now fall on Senior Running back Jasmin Hopkins. While replicating Spann’s stellar 2010 year is unlikely, the numbers may be comparable due to what is, without question, the best offensive line in the league.

The rest of the skill position players return, as quarterback Chandler Harnish will be under center again and his main targets in Wide Receivers Willie Clark and Nathan Palmer return. The other side of the ball may be an issue for the Huskies as only two starters return on defense. Normally that would pose a problem, but with an experienced and potent offense in 2011, Northern Illinois can afford defensive growing pains.

2.) Toledo:

Toledo is the team that will give the Huskies a run for their money in the MAC West. Last season the Rockets qualified for their first bowl berth since 2005, and with 18 starters returning this year, expectations are understandably high.

As of this writing Head Coach Tim Beckman had not named a starter at quarterback. The battle to land the No. 1 gig has been between south-paw Sophomore Terrance Owens and Junior Austin Dantin. Whoever wins that battle will have the benefit of handing off to Senior Adonis Thomas who ran for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. They will also be able to throw to Junior Eric Page who hauled in 99 receptions last year.

Defensively, the Rockets allowed 133 rush yards a game in 2010.  With three lineman returning, and tackling machines Dan Molls and Isiah Ballard manning the second level, the defense should at minimum duplicate its 2010 season when they finished 56th in the nation in total defense.

In many publications and with many of the talking heads, Toledo is being mentioned as the odds on favorite to win the West. I can see why so many people are picking the Rockets to finish better than the Huskies, but my gut is telling me Northern Illinois will end up on top. It’s good to be bold every once in a while.

3.) Western Michigan:

When throwing the ball, Western Michigan is one of the best in the MAC. Junior Alex Carder led an offense that scored at least 41 points five times last season. In 2010, Carder threw for 30 touchdowns and had only 12 interceptions and the belief is that he can improve on those already impressive numbers. That is a possibility in part because Senior Jordan White was granted a sixth year of eligibility in 2011.

White hauled in 94 passes for nearly 1,400 yards last year and with another year of work with Carder, he could easily top those numbers this year. While the passing game was impressive the rushing attack of the Broncos was lackluster. No running back rushed for more than 405 yards and as a team they averaged just 126 yards a game on the ground. Western Michigan doesn’t need a running back like Chad Spann, they just need a back to can give them between 850-1,000 yards, because with the passing game the Broncos have, a star running back isn’t needed.

4.) Central Michigan:

Quarterback Ryan Radcliff had a tough assignment in 2010: Replace four year starter Dan LeFevour. All things considered, Radcliff didn’t do a bad job as he threw for more than 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. The blemish on Radcliff was his 17 interceptions, but that is to be expected in the first year as a starter.  The experience of last season should lead to fewer mistakes by the signal caller.

Cutting the turnovers was a major point of emphasis for the Chippewas in the offseason; in 2010 they lost four games by seven points or less. Cutting the turnovers by even 25% could mean an extra win or two for Central Michigan.

Defensively, the Chippewas allowed 26 points a game in 2010, and unfortunately it will be hard to improve on those numbers considering they lost linebackers Nick Bellore and Matt Berning, as well as defensive tackle Sean Murnane. If Central Michigan can cut back on the turnovers and find a running back or a combination of backs who provide any type of threat to opposing defenses, the Chippewas could finish as high as No. 3 in the MAC West.

5.) Ball State

Having three out of the first four games at home should prove to be crucial to a Ball State team that is attempting to rebound from a wildly disappointing 4-8 season last year.  Home games against Indiana, Buffalo and Army should provide an opportunity for sophomore quarterback Keith Wenning to recover from an awful 14 touchdown, 14 interception season.

The Cardinals allowed 30 points per game last year, which was a primary reason for the team’s struggles.  Only two of the team’s top five recruits are on the defensive side, with both players entering college specializing on the Defensive line.  Ball State should have no problem adjusting to a weakened schedule this year.

After their first four games, Ball State hits the road to take on Oklahoma.  There is pretty much no chance that Ball State will win that game, and unlikely that the Cardinals get back to the MAC championship as they continue to rebuild.

6.) Eastern Michigan:

After an abysmal 2-10 record last season, the road forward looks pretty rocky for the Eastern Michigan Eagles.  With back to back games on the road against Michigan and Penn State, two early season home matches against FCS teams (Howard and Alabama State) should give the Eagles a bit of confidence.

The team surprisingly finished in the top 50 in overall rushing average, gaining 173.3 yards per game.  Junior Alex Gillett returns to improve upon his 13 touchdown, 13 interception 2010 campaign.  Gillett also led the team in rushing, gaining 766 yards during the season. Gillett will be a weapon that EMU was unable to utilize last year, but are looking forward to using this year.

 

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