By Kyle Montgomery
The Mid-American Conference features dynamic passing attacks, amazing receivers and some great non-conference games. Here’s a quick team-by-team review and look ahead.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS – In 2012 and 2013, the Huskies went 24-4 making it to a BCS bowl game in 2012 and nearly making it back in 2013. But this is 2014, and Huskies all-time great QB Jordan Lynch is gone. The Huskies do however return eight starters from an offense that averaged 39.6 PPG in 2013, including star RB Cameron Stingily who ran for 1,119 yards and 9 TDs last year. Stingily however will miss at least the first four games of the season due to injury and will likely be replaced by Akeem Daniels who missed the 2013 seasons due to a foot injury but ran for 447 yards and 9 TDs in 2012. The Huskies also return Da’Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis at receiver. The duo combined for 1,467 yards and 12 TDs in 2013 despite being hobbled by injuries throughout the year. The biggest question for the Huskies is who will be the successor to Lynch for the Huskies in 2014. Redshirt-Junior Matt McIntosh and Redshirt-Sophomore Drew Hare both have seen playing time in previous seasons, with McIntosh as the projected starter, but head coach Rod Carey has yet to make a decision. On defense, the Huskies return just five starters from a defense that allowed 25.1 PPG in and will have to see improvements in the passing defense which ranked 105th in the nation.
MY PREDICTION – The Huskies begin the season against Presbyterian, but follow it up with a rough stretch of road games where they will travel to Northwestern, UNLV and Arkansas. As long as the offense has steady QB play, be it McIntosh, Hare or Maddie, the Huskies should be able to go 10-2 only with losses to Northwestern and Arkansas and make it to the MAC Championship game as the West Division Champion for the fifth straight year.
BALL STATE – The Cardinals made a bowl game for the second straight year going 10-2 in 2013, but the Cardinals lose QB Keith Wenning and WR Willie Snead in 2014. They’ll need to replace them quickly for the Cardinals to have the same success as they have had the previous two years. The projected successor at QB is Ozzie Mann who only has attempted nine passes in his collegiate career. Mann will have to take control of an offense that returns just five starters, including star RB Jahwan Edwards who has rushed for 3,306 yards and 39 TDs in his career, with two 1,000 yard seasons. Edwards’ running mate Horactio Banks ran for 595 yards in only nine games in 2013 before tearing his ACL. The combo of Edwards and Banks could make up the best 1-2 RB combo in the MAC, and they should see plenty of work given the unproven play at QB. Mann will have a terrific WR in Jordan Williams who caught 10 TDs and had 1,050 yards in 2013. The Cardinals also have Jordan Hogue and Devin Reece, two highly recruited WRs who could make an immediate impact. On defense, the Cardinals allowed 24.7 PPG, good enough for 47th in the nation, a stellar improvement from ranking 96th in 2012. They return six starters from last year’s unit and will need to improve the run game which gave up nearly 200 YPG.
MY PREDICTION-. I predict the Cardinals go 8-4 in ’14 with losses to Iowa, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN – The Chippewas finished strong in 2013 winning their final three regular season games after starting 3-6. Though the Chippewas missed out on a bowl game for the second straight year, it was a good building point for the young team. The offense which struggled, averaging only 23.3 PPG returns nine starters including QB Cooper Rush who threw for 15 TDs, but also threw 15 interceptions. They have the most dynamic WR in the MAC, Titus Davis. Davis has excelled in his first three seasons at CMU accumulating 2,740 yards and 24 TDs, earning All-Conference honors all three years. At RB, the Chippewas return Junior Saylor Lavallii who got eight starts in place of the injured Zurlon Tipton, running for 807 yards and 5 TDs. Lavallii will see plenty of holes open up behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. On defense, the Chippewas return six starters from a unit that allowed 28.6 PPG in 2013. If their run defense can improve (gave up 201.3 YPG), they could become one of the stronger defenses in the MAC.
MY PREDICTION – The Chippewas face Purdue, Kansas and Syracuse in non-conference play.. I think they’ll win one of the three and I project the Chippewas to go 7-5.
TOLEDO – The Rockets missed out on going to a bowl game for the fourth straight year, but finished 7-5. The Rockets return seven starters from an offense that averaged 33.0 PPG, ranking 39th in the nation. The offense will be led by Sophomore RB Kareem Hunt who ran for 866 yards and 6 TDs while backing up the now graduated David Fluellen. He averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry and will provide plenty of big plays behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Receivers are always a bright spot for the Rockets and 2014 should be more of the same with Alonzo Russell, Justin Olack and Dwight Macon all returning. They combined for 1,147 yards and 10 TDs in last year, and should see increased action with the departure of Bernard Reedy. On defense, the Rockets should be improved with the return of eight starters from a defense that gave up 28.6 PPG, ranking 73rd in the.
MY PREDICTION – The Rockets open the season with New Hampshire, but have a very tough non-conference schedule, with games against Missouri, Cincinnati and Iowa State. I predict the Rockets could be a better team, but the schedule has me calling for a 6-6 season.
EASTERN MICHIGAN – The Eagles will look for a fresh start under new coach Chris Creighton. He inherits a team that has gone 4-20 the past two seasons, struggling on both sides of the ball. Last year, the Eagles averaged only 18.8 PPG while giving up 45.2. The cupboard is not bare though, as the offense returns eight starters including RB Bronson Hill who ran for 1,101 yards and 5 TDs. The receiving corps is led by TE Tyreese Russell who had 594 yards and 3 TD. The Eagles need vast improvement from the defense that 510.8 YPG.
MY PREDICTION – The Eagles start the season with Morgan State, but go on a rough three game road stretch against Florida, Old Dominion and Michigan State before entering conference play. I predict the Eagles to go 2-10 and see their struggles continue.
WESTERN MICHIGAN – The Broncos went 1-11 in 2013 under first year head coach P.J. Fleck and will look for a definite improvement in 2014. The Broncos offense, which struggled in 2013 averaging just 17.2 PPG, returns seven starters including Zach Terrell who started the final six games of 13 for the Broncos. Terrell struggled as freshman last year, throwing for 1,602 yards and 8 TDs, along with 8 INTs. Terrell will have to hold off 6’5”, four-star recruit Chance Stewart who could see snaps very early in the season if Terrell falter. Dareyon Chance will get the chance to be the feature back for the Broncos, after splinting touches the past two seasons while rushing for 1,639 yards and 7 TDs. At receiver, the Broncos Freshman All-American Corey Davis returns after catching 941 yards with 6 TDs On defense, the Broncos return five starters from the defense that allowed 35.4 PPG. They did only allow 169.2 YPG through the air, ranking fourth in the nation.
MY PREDICTION – The Broncos non-conference schedule sees a road trip to Purdue, followed by two winnable games at Idaho and against Murray State, and ending with a tough road game at Virginia Tech. I predict the Broncos struggles continue in 2014 going 1-11, but start to build toward the future with a good recruiting class.
BOWLING GREEN – The Falcons were a big surprise in 2013 going 9-3 in the regular season, then destroying Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship. The high-flying Falcons averaged 34.8 PPG, and featured an incredible defense that only allowed 15.9 PPG, good for eighth in the nation. Though the Falcons are the projected MAC favorite, they lose head coach Dave Clawson along with eleven starters from 2013. Dino Babers comes over as head coach, inheriting an offense led byMatt Johnson who started all but the first game for the Falcons. He put up sensational numbers throwing for 3,467 yards and 25 TDs, while gaining 238 yards on the ground with 5 TDs. He’ll get to hand off to Travis Greene, one of the best RBs in the nation. He ran for 1,594 yards and 11 TDs in his first season as a starter, after being converted from receiver. The receiving corps features all new starters, but they do have some experience in Ryan Burbrink, Heath Jackson and Ronnie Moore who combined for 1,388 yards and 12 TDs last year. The stellar defense from 2013 may not be as good as it was last year as they lose six starters, including three from a secondary that ranked sixth in the nation in passing defense at 170.6 YPG.
MY PREDICTION – The Falcons non-conference schedule sees them host Western Kentucky, Virginia Military and Indiana the first three weeks before traveling to a very intriguing game at Wisconsin. Should the Falcons win three of those games, I see them going 11-1 with another berth in the MAC Championship game in Detroit.
BUFFALO – The Bulls were a definite surprise in the MAC in 2013 going 9-3 in the regular season before losing to San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Bulls return seven starters from an offense that averaged 30.3 PPG in 2013, but do lose star RB Branden Oliver who carried the offense for three seasons. All five starters on the offensive line are back, along with QB Joe Licata who threw for 2,824 yards and 24 TDs. Even though he underwent hip surgery in the offseason, he is expected to be 100-percent for the season opener. Replacing Oliver will be no easy task as he carried the ball 310 times last year, but there seems to be two viable options in Anthony Taylor who ran for 399 yards and 3 TDs, including two 100-yard games and Devin Campbell, who had 502 yards in 2012. The defense for the Bulls oses seven starters, including Khalil Mack, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft
MY PREDICTION – The Bulls should get three of four in non-conference play, as they face Duquesne, Army, Norfolk State and Baylor. I project a solid 9-3 season in 2014.
AKRON – Though they have not had a winning season since 2005, the Zips showed promise in 2013, going 5-7 and winning four of their last five games. The Zips return eight starters from an offense that only averaged 20.2 PPG in ’13, including Junior QB Kyle Pohl who showed some promise throwing for 2,438 yards and 14 TDs last season. Pohl’s decision making improved, as though as he did throw 10 Interceptions, he only threw four in the final eight games of the season! The Zips feature a stellar running attack featuring three-year starter Jawon Chisholm who has 2,783 yards and 18 TDs in his Akron career, and Junior Conor Hundley who ran for 425 yards last year as Chisholm’s backup. The Zips return their top three WRs, Zach D’Orazio, L.T. Smith and Fransohn Bickley who combined for 1,402 yards and 9 TDs. In 2013, The Zips gave up 28.6 PPG, ranking 73rd in the nation. They return six starters and could very well put up better numbers than they did last season.
MY PREDICTION – The Zips face Howard, Penn State, Pitt and Marshall in non-conference play. I think they continue to improve and I predict a 6-6 season.
MIAMI (OHIO) – The Redhawks have gone from being MAC Champions in 2010 to a team that didn’t even win a game in 2013. Their is hope for the Redhawks, even though their offense averaged only 9.8 PPG in 2013, ranking last in the nation. Chuck Martin, who was the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame takes over as head coach, bringing with him dual-threat QB Andrew Hendrix who graduated and will automatically be eligible to play. Hendrix will lead an offense that features a combination of RBs in Junior Spencer Treadwell and Senior Robert Williams III who will need to combine for more than the 237 yards they did last year to take the pressure off of the QB. The receiving corps features one of the most dynamic players in the MAC in Dawan Scott. Even though he was hobbled by injuries, he led the Redhawks in receiving last year with just 425 yards, but also was 2nd on the team in rushing with 231 yards. The Redhawks will search for improvement to a defense that allowed 35.7 PPG, ranking 106th in the nation.
MY PREDICTION – The Redhawks begin the season hosting Marshall and Eastern Kentucky before traveling to Michigan and Cincinnati. I predict the Redhawks to go 5-7 and Martin turns turn the program around!
OHIO – The Bobcats have made it to a bowl game for five straight seasons and hope to continue that streak in 2014. Though they lose three-year starting QB Tyler Tettleton, they will turn to experienced Junior QB Derrius Vick. Vick threw for 526 yards and 5 TDs in two seasons as Tettleton’s backup and will look to build on that in his first season as a starter. The Bobcats also lose two-year starting RB Beau Blankenship to graduation, but Daz’mond Patterson who ran for 211 yards as the third down back in 2013 and showed some receiving skills with six grabs for 77 yards and a TD the Bobcats bowl game. Senior Chase Cochran who had 689 yards and 4 TDs last year should be the main target of Vick. On defense, the Bobcats return eight starters from a defense that allowed 27.5 PPG. They’ll look to limit the amount of big plays given up, as that was their weakness.
MY PREDICTION – The Bobcats open the season with road games at Kent State, Kentucky and Marshall, before hosting Idaho in week four. I predict the Bobcats to go 5-7, and their bowl streak comes to an end.
KENT STATE – The Golden Flashes suffered a disappointing 2013 that saw them go 4-8, just one year after nearly winning the MAC Championship. The Flashes return just five starters from an offense that averaged 20.8 PPG, but do return QB Colin Reardon who threw for 1,957 yards and 12 TDs, along with 336 yards on the ground while starting 11 games as a Freshman. Reardon will have one of the strongest RBs in the MAC to hand off to in Trayion Durham. Durham, who has run for 2,712 yards and 24 TD’s in his Kent State career, saw a disappointing 2013 running for only 766 yards after running for 1,316 in 2012. The receiving corps will be headlined by Chris Humphrey who was the leading WR for the Flashes last year with 613 yards and 3 TDs, and Senior Casey Pierce who led the team in receiving TDs with five. The Golden Flashes also return just five starters from a defense that allowed 26.9 PPG and will need to improve their rushing defense where they ranked 94th in the nation.
MY PREDICTION – The Golden Flashes start the season with home games against Ohio and South Alabama before traveling to Ohio State, Virginia and Northern Illinois. The rough schedule does not bode well for the Golden Flashes and I predict them to finish 3-9.
MASSACHUSETTS – The UMASS Minutemen have certainly not had the jump they were hoping for when they made the move to Division I, going 2-22 in two seasons. But the Minutemen hope for a turnaround of any sorts in 14 under new Head Coach Mark Whipple who will begin his second stint as head coach at UMASS. The Minutemen offense that averaged just 11.7 PPG in ’13 (124th in the nation), but do have a weapon in dual-threat QB Blake Frohnapfel who transfered from. Frohnapfel appeared in 10 games in two seasons at Marshall; throwing for 386 yards and 5 TDs along with 164 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. At RB, the Minutemen return Sophomore RB Lorenzo Woodley who was injured but proved his worth when healthy gaining 221 yards along with 2 TDs in his only two starts. At WR, the go-to target will be
Tajae Sharpe who went for 680 yards and 4 TDs and could put up big numbers with a proven QB at the helm. After Sharpe, the receiving corp is an inexperienced one that has potential from Penn State transfer Alex Kenney and JUCO transfer Jalen Williams. On defense, the Minutemen return seven starters..
MY PREDICTION – The Minutemen open the season with a tough non-conference schedule, hosting Boston College and Colorado before traveling to Vanderbilt and Penn State. I predict the Minutemen to go 2-10 and begin to show some improvement under Whipple.