Mid-American Conference Preview

By Kyle Montgomery

West Division

NORTHERN ILLINOIS – Last year, the Huskies season was like a dream, as they became the first MAC school to play in the BCS, facing off against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Though they lost 31-10, it was a seven point game in the fourth quarter.  New head coach Rod Carey takes over for Dave Doeren after serving a variety of roles under Doeren.  He’ll get back stud QB and MAC Player of the Year Jordan Lynch. Lynch enters his senior year after throwing for 3,138 yards last year, with 25 TD passes. He also had a stunning 1,815 yards on the ground and 19 rushing TDs.  Besides Lynch, running backs Akeem Daniels and Keith Harris Jr. return.  Last year, Daniels had 706 total yards with 11. At WR, the Huskies lose second all-time leading WR in school history in Martel Moore and will need to replace him. The man who is most likely to step up for the Huskies is TommyLee Lewis. Lewis, a Junior, is one of the fastest players in all of college football and will utilize his speed in more than one way as he is used in the rushing game and in the return game. On the other side of Lewis is Junior Da’Ron Brown. Brown is potentially poised for a breakout season in ’13 as Lewis is not a WR who Lynch can throw to as his security blanket, and Brown could step up to be that guy. On defense, the Huskies return four starters from a defense that allowed 19.9 PPG in ’12, which was 21st in the nation. Though they may struggle on defense a little with seven new starters, but their offense could help secure wins where the defense struggles.

MY PREDICTION – The Huskies open the season against the Iowa Hawkeyes who beat the Huskies 18-17, giving Northern Illinois its only regular season loss. I predict the Huskies will go 12-0 and make it to the MAC Championship as the West Division Champion in a game that could determine if they crack the BCS again.

Toledo The Rockets look to make a bowl game for the fourth straight year and have a shot to do so under head coach Matt Campbell.  In his first year as head coach, Campbell led the Rockets to a 9-4 record and a bowl win. The offense will be led QB Terrance Owens who will enter his fourth year as starter.  He is a dual-threat QB who has led the Rockets to three bowl games.  Last season, Owens threw for 2,707 yards with 14 TDs and added 395 yards and 5 TDs on the ground.  Running back David Fluellen returns for his senior season, after rushing for 1,498 yards and 13 TDs last year.  At receiver, the Rockets return two of the MAC’s leaders in yards in Bernard Reedy and Alonzo Russell. “Speedy Reedy” had for 1,113 yards receiving, and rocked the return game with 1,095 return yards and four TDs. On the opposite side is Alonzo Russell, who 960 yards to go along with 5 TDs. On defense, the Rockets return four starters from a defense that allowed 28.4. The Rockets could struggle on defense more than last year.

MY PREDICTION – The season launches with their two toughest games of the year at Florida and at Missouri.  I predict the Rockets recover from an 0-2 start to finish the season 8-4.

BALL STATE The Cardinals were on the most surprising teams in the nation last year, going from 5-7 to 9-4, and making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2008.  Seven starters are back on offense, including QB Keith Wenning, who threw for more than 3,000 yards along with 24 TDs He’ll feed the ball to RB Jahwan Edwards, who rushed for over 1,4000 yards with 14 TDs, and an impressive 6.1 YPC. At receiver, the Cardinals have two All-MAC ends in Willie Snead and Jamill Smith. Snead, was Wenning’s security blanket in pressure situations and had 1,148 yards receiving along with 9 TDs. On the opposite side, Smith had 706 receiving yards with six TDs and also had 62 yards rushing and threw a TD pass from the Wildcat. He also was used in the return game and posted 996 total return yards. On defense, the Cardinals allowed 32.0 PPG in ’12 which was 96th in the country. They return six starters from that unit and will need better play to take the pressure off the offense.

MY PREDICTION– In ’12, the Cardinals start off with a schedule that could easily see them start 4-0, but could slip up with a stretch of games against Toledo, Virginia and Kent State. I predict that the Cardinals go 8-4 in ’13 with close losses to Toledo, Virginia, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois.

WESTERN MICHIGAN The Broncos were a depressing 4-8, just one year after making it to a bowl game for the first time in three years. Though their 4-8 record didn’t turn a lot of heads, they lost five games by one possession, and didn’t have their starting QB for six games as well. This year P.J. Fleck takes over as head coach and Tyler Van Tubbergen, who started six games in place of the injured Alex Carder, takes over as starting QB.  Tubbergen threw for 1,825 yards (over 300 YPG), along with 15 TDs in six games last year.  The Broncos have three talented receivers back, and and a solid running back. On defense, the Broncos return seven starters from a unit defense that allowed 29.7 PPG, good for 76th in the nation.  With the experience coming back, the Broncos defense should improve.

MY PREDICTION – The Broncos open the season with three very tough road games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa. This could spell trouble for the Broncos. They should be able to recover from that, and potentially finish the season bowl eligible. I predict the Broncos will go 6-6 and become bowl eligible in P.J. Fleck’s first season as coach.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN The Central Michigan Chippewas finished strong last year, winning their last three regular-season games to become bowl eligible. They defeated Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Bowl to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2009. This year, the Chippewas return 13 starters including star running back Zurlon Tipton, who exploded for the Chippewas, rushing for 1,492 and 19 TDs along with 287 receiving yards last season.  Leading receiver Titus Davis, returns after going for 860 yards and 8 TDs, and averaging 20 yards per reception.  On the opposite side of will be Courntey Williams and Andrew Flory who combined for 600 yards and 6 TDs. Cody Kater takes over at QB, giving the Chippewas a dual-threat Dan LeFevour-esque.  On defense, the Chippewas will need to improve after allowing 32.4 PPG, ranking No. 96 in the country. They do return seven starters, and they should be better.

MY PREDICTION – The Chippewas start a tough road game at The Big House, and seven of their first ten games, are on the road.  I project the Chippewas to go 4-8 this year unless they can win some road games and pull off an upset or two in the MAC.

EASTERN MICHIGAN –The Eagles have not had a winning record since 1995, and have not made a bowl game since 1987. Last year was a disappointment, as they fell to 2-10, a year after going 6-6. The Eagles did however have two bright spots, Tyler Benz who stepped in as QB and started the final nine games, and running back Bronson Hill. Benz, a Junior, threw for 1,511 yards with 14 TDs.  Hill literally popped out of nowhere, when he ripped off a 68-yard TD run against Kent State, shocking everyone as up until then, Hill had only had carried the ball three times all season.  Hill then started the first game of his career against Toledo and blew the stats sheet up by rushing for 283 yards and 4 TDs. He ended the season with 905 rushing yards and six TDs, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.  He returns as the starter this year, and should see an increase in carries, yards and TDs. The Eagles also return their three starting receivers, Donald Scott, Dustin Creel and Demarius Reed, who combined for 646 yards and 4 TDs. Returning at tight end will be Tyreese Russell who caught 3 TDs as the backup last year.  Last year, the Eagles defense allowed 37.6 PPG, one of the worst marks in the nation. Five starters are back to a unit that needs to vastly improve to take pressure off of their offense.

MY PREDICTION – The Eagles begin their season with a home game against Howard, followed by road trips against Penn State and Rutgers.  I predict the streak of not having a winning season continues and the Eagles go 3-9.

East Division

OHIO The Ohio Bobcats finished 9-4 last year and are a pre-season favorite to take home the MAC East Championship.  The Bobcats return seven starters on offense from an offense team that averaged 31.7 PPG, including three-year starter at QB, Tyler Tettleton.  He already is the Bobcats all-time leading passer , and also has rushed for 878 yards in his three seasons at Ohio.  Last year, he passed for 2,844 yards, with 18 TDs and rushed for 244 yards with four TDs.  The Bobcats welcome back Beau Blankenship, one of the best running backs in the nation.  Blankenship transferred from Iowa State two years ago and rushed for 462 yards as a sophomore, and then exploded last 659 yards receiving, with eight TDs.  Last year, the Ohio defense allowed a solid 24.8 PPG, ranking No. 42 nationally.  It will be a challenge to maintain that level as only five starters are back

MY PREDICTION – In non-conference play, the Bobcats face Louisville on the road and host Marshall.  I predict the Bobcats will finish 10-2 and take the East Division Championship.

BOWLING GREEN – The Falcons welcome back an incredible 19 starters from a team that finished 8-5 and earned their first bowl appearance since 2009.  Matt Schilz returns for fourth season as starting QB for the Falcons. Schilz, threw for 2,585 yards and 14 TDs.  If he can throw for 2,449 yards this year, he’ll become the leading passer in Bowling Green history.  He’ll have plenty of targets to throw to, as the top four receivers return.  Last year, the Falcon defense ranked No. 10 in the country, allowing only 16.8 PPG per game.  Nine starters are back, and the Falcons expect similar success this season.

MY PREDICTION – This year, the Falcons open the season against a strong Tulsa team that will challenge the Falcon defense and they face Mississippi State from the SEC in week seven.  I predict the Falcons will go 10-2 and finish 2nd in the East Division, but this is a team that has the potential and the schedule to be a BCS Buster!

KENT STATE – The Golden Flashes were a huge surprise last year, going 11-1 in the regular season and making it to the MAC Championship, only to fall short in double-overtime to BCS team Northern Illinois. With only 11 starters returning, and a new head coach, the Golden Flashes could struggle this season.  They do get back perhaps the most dynamic backfield in college football in Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.  Durham, had rushed for 1,346 yards and 14 TDs and he wasn’t even the leading rusher for the Flashes! The leading back was Dri Archer, perhaps the most dynamic player in the nation.  All Archer did last year was rush for 1,482 yards, averaging an astounding 9.0 YPC, have 561 yards receiving, and average 36.9 yards per return!  He scored 23 TDs on a little more than 200 touches!  On defensek, the Flashes allowed 24.5 PPG last year, but only five starters return.

MY PREDICITON – The Golden Flashes open at home against Liberty, then face a very rough stretch of games where they play Bowling Green, LSU, and Penn State.  I predict the Golden Flashes finish the season 6-6, on make it to their second straight bowl game.

BUFFALO – The Bulls return 16 starters from last year’s team that finished 4-8, and it seems they have the potential to make it to a bowl game, the first under head coach Jeff Quinn.  The Bulls have two experienced QBs and I expect the Bulls to use a two-QB system with Joe Licata as the passing QB and Alex Zordich as a running QB.  Licata started four games for the Bulls as a Freshman and proved to be the better pocket passer of the two, throwing for 1,045 yards and seven TDs, with three INTs. . Zordich was the better runner, as he ran for 501 yards, while Licata had a net of -54 yards. At RB, the Bulls return one of the best unknown RB’s in the nation in Branden Oliver. Oliver, a Senior, fought injuries his Junior year and rushed for 821 yards while only playing in six games! In his sophomore season he
was a 1st Team All MAC selection, while racking up over 1,850 total yards of offense.  At WR, the Bulls return Alex Neutz, another All-MAC selection.  The Bulls defense allowed 28.5 PPG, which was 69th in the country.  With seven starters back, the Bulls defense should improve and be a top 50 defense in the nation potentially.

MY PREDICTION – The Bulls have a tough non-conference slate, opening at Ohio State, followed by a trip to Baylor. I expect the Bulls to be 5-7 in ’13 and come up just short of making a bowl game.

MIAMI (OHIO) The Redhawks went 4-8 last year, and have 14 starters back. Though they lose their all-time leading passer Zac Dysert, they do bring back Austin Boucher who has proven himself worthy as a starter. Boucher, stepped in for an injured Dysert in 2010 and led the Redhawks to a MAC Championship game victory!  He started four games that year and threw for over 1,000 yards. On defense, the Redhawks return only six starters from a less-than-stellar unit that allowed 34.9 PPG.

MY PREDICTION – The Redhawks have a tough non-conference slate, opening the season with games against Marshall, Kentucky, Cincinnati and Illinois which could see them start 0-4.  I predict the Redhawks to finish 4-8 and come up short of making a bowl game for the third straight year.

AKRON – The Zips have 14 starters returning from a team that was a disappointing 1-11 last year Kyle Pohl takes over at QB. He was impressive with the little playing time he got, throwing for 366 yards and 5 TDs in the two games he played in. He’ll be able to hand the ball off to one of few bright spots for the Zips in RB Jawon Chisholm.  He rushed for 953 yards and 5 TDs last year while starting ten games. The leading receiver is gone but Jerrod Dillard, and his 9 TD receptions are back.  On defense, the Zips return seven starters from a defense that allowed 35.7 PPG, which was bad enough for 107th in the nation. The Zips will need to improve on defense to become competitive.

MY PREDICTION – The non-conference schedule includes tough games against UCF and Michigan.  I predict the Zips will go 2-10, though I think they’ll make steps on the way towards a winning season.

UMASS – The Massachusetts Minutemen were a dismal 1-11 in their first year in the FBS. The Minutemen had the worst offense in the nation, averaging only 12.7 PPG. The good news is that only four starters return from that unit. On defense, UMass gave up 40.2 PPG, bad enough for 121st in the country! They do return seven starters on that side of the ball, and they should improve.

MY PREDICTION – The Minutemen face Wisconsin, Kansas State and Vanderbilt in non-conference play.  I expect the Minutemen to have a repeat of last season and go 1-11 with their lone win coming against Maine.

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