MAC Football Preview by Kyle Montgomery

Big Questions

  • Will Northern Illinois make an unprecedented sixth straight MAC Championship game?
  • Or does Toledo finally step up to topple NIU?
  • Does Western Michigan match last year’s success?
  • What does Matt Johnson’s return mean for Bowling Green?
  • Is this the year Akron finally makes it back to a bowl game?
  • Will UMASS make a bowl game for the second time in school history?

Big Games

  • 11/3 – Northern Illinois at Toledo (Could decide West Division champion)
  • 10/10 – Massachusetts at Bowling Green
  • 10/17 – Akron at Bowling Green
  • 11/7 – Akron at Massachusetts
  • 11/11 – Bowling Green at Western Michigan
  • 11/17 – Toledo at Bowling Green
  • 11/18 – Western Michigan at Northern Illinois
  • 11/27 – Western Michigan at Toledo

Big- Impact Newcomers

  • WR: Robbie Rhodes – Bowling Green (Transfers from Baylor, should add to deep WR corp)
  • QB: Tra’Von Chapman – Akron (Transfers from Pittsburgh, should battle for starting job)
  • WR: Kenny Golladay – Northern Illinois (Transfers from North Dakota)
  • RB: James Gilbert – Ball State (Highly touted Freshman, could be starter)
  • WR: Connor Arlia – Kent State (Transfers from West Virginia)
  • LB: Torey Hendrick – Buffalo (Originally committed to Iowa, comes to Buffalo in 2015)

Team-by-Team Previews

East Division

Akron – The Zips posted another 5-7 record in 2014, and missed out on making a bowl game for the ninth straight season. However, this will be Terry Bowden’s fourth season with the Zips, and expectations are high. The Zips return 12 starters (six on both sides of the ball), and get back three-year starting QB Kyle Pohl, who looks to end his career in Akron on a high note. Pohl had a disappointing season last year throwing nine INTs with just eight TDs.  He  could be on a short leash this year as Pittsburgh transfer Tra’Von Chapman has made his case to start the first game of the year. Whoever the starter is week one will have a good half back to hand the ball off to in Senior Conor Hundley, who ran for 540 yards and 4 TDs in only six starts last season. On defense, the Zips were very good in 2014 where they allowed 23.1 PPG (31st in the nation), and getting six starters back from that unit should help the Zips put up similar statistics in 2015. The Zips get a tough schedule to start the season as they travel to Oklahoma in week one and host Pittsburgh in week two, but I fully expect the Zips to finally break their bowl drought and go bowling for the second time in school history!

Bowling Green – The Falcons went 8-6 in 2014 while making it to a second straight MAC Championship game, where they were throttled by Northern Illinois. This season, the Falcons return 15 starts (ten on offense, five on defense), and also get their star QB Matt Johnson back from a torn ACL. Johnson was poised for another excellent season in 2014 (3,467 yards and 25 TD’s in 2013), but tore his ACL in the first game of the season and the Falcons were forced to turn to James Knapke for the remainder of the season. The running game for the Falcons will feature one of the top backs in the MAC in Travis Greene, who ran for 949 yards and 12 TDs in his Junior season, despite having 1,594 yards as a Sophomore. The Falcons will also get all four of their top receivers back in 2015, and look for Sophomore Roger Lewis to improve upon his stellar Freshman season where he caught 73 passes for 1,093 yards and seven scores. Also look for Chris Gallon (720 yards and 6 TDs in 2012) to re-enter this star receiving corp after missing the last two seasons after coming off of ACL surgery, along with Baylor transfer Robbie Rhodes. This Bowling Green team could put a special season together in 2015, so long as their defense can step up and lower their abysmal 33.9 PPG they allow to opposing teams in 2014, and if they can pull out a win or two early in the season when they play Tennessee, Maryland and Memphis in the first three weeks. Expect this Falcons team to head back to the MAC championship for a third straight year.

Buffalo – The Bulls went 5-6 in 2014 and were a potential canceled game against Kent State away from going 6-6 and becoming bowl eligible for the second straight season. In 2015, the Bulls return eleven starters and also get Joe Licata back after he had an excellent 2014 season, where he threw for 2,647 yards and 29 TDs, all in just eleven starts. Licata will look to improve upon those numbers in 2015, as he gets back four of his top five receivers including Senior Ron Willoughby, who caught 50 passes for 771 yards along with nine TDs in an excellent season. The Bulls also feature one of the top running backs in the conference in Senior RB Anthone Taylor, who had a remarkable Junior season in which he ran for 1,403 yards and 12 TDs. The Bulls will need to improve on defense if they want to have a successful 2015 season, as they allowed 31.5 PPG (96th in the nation) to opposing teams in 2015. The Bulls get a couple of tough non conference games (@ Penn State, @ Florida Atlantic, vs. Nevada) early in the season, and with a defense that is sub-par, it will be tough for the Bulls to make a bowl game in 2015.

Kent State – The Golden Flashes continued their downfall in 2014 posting a 2-9 record, just two years after they went 11-3. This year, the Golden Flashes return 17 starters from last years team, and they will look to put together their first winning season under head coach Paul Haynes. The leader of this Kent State team will undoubtedly be Colin Reardon, who enters his third season as the teams starter. Reardon, a Junior, will need to limit his mistakes in 2015 as he threw 16 INT’s to only 14 TDs last season, although he has plenty of ability to be one of the top QB’s in the MAC this season. Leading the running attack for the Golden Flashes will be Junior Nick Holley, who ran for 516 yards and three scores in only nine starts last season, and figures to put up bigger numbers in 2015. The Golden Flashes get two tough road games early in the season against Illinois and Minnesota, and it could be another long season for this team as they just don’t have the star power on offense to make them a top-tier MAC team.

Miami (Ohio) – The Redhawks were an underwhelming 2-10 in 2014 under new head coach Chuck Martin. The Redhawks posted a fourth straight losing season, and will look to improve upon that win total in 2015. The big question mark surrounding the Redhawks right now is who will be the QB throughout the season for this team. With Andrew Hendrix graduating, it appears that either Drew Kummer or Gus Ragland will be the starter in 2015, with Ragland having the slight advantage. The running game also has a question mark around it for the Redhawks, as many figured redshirt freshman Alonzo Smith will be the starter in week one, but Spencer McInnis (246 yards in 2014), could also see some carries throughout the season. Their could be a lone bright spot on a relatively down Miami team in Rokeem Williams (682 yards and 3 TDs) and Jared Murphy (600 yards and 4 TDs), who put up decent Sophomore campaigns. The Redhawks defense will need to step up in 2015 as they allowed 31.8 PPG (99th in the nation) to opposing teams last season, but they get eight starters back from that unit so the numbers should be improved. This could be another long season for Redhawks fans, as this team only has one game that seems like a lock to win in their opener against Presbyterian, but expect them to improve throughout the year.

Ohio – The Bobcats were a steady 6-6 in 2014, but missed out on going to a sixth straight bowl game. This season, the Bobcats return a whopping 18 starters (ten on offense, eight on defense), and should benefit from getting a healthy Derrius Vick back in 2015, as he only started seven games last season. Vick was decent in his limited action last season putting up 1,156 yards and eight scores through the air along with 390 yards on the ground, proving he can be a decent dual-threat QB. The Bobcats will have a very good running back in 2015 as well as Sophomore AJ Outlette returns after gaining 785 yards in 2014 to go along with seven scores in just six starts. The Bobcats will also look for Daz’Mond Patterson to put up better numbers in 2015, as he was limited to 348 yards on the ground in limited action last season. The Bobcats will open the season with three winnable games against Idaho, Marshall and SE Louisiana, so as long as they can pull off three or more wins in conference, this Ohio team should be bowling once again in 2015

UMASS – The Minutemen went 3-9 in their third year back as an FBS team and first year under new head coach Mark Whipple. In 2015, UMASS returns 19 starters (ten on offense, nine on defense), and there is a talk surrounding this team being a sleeper in the MAC. Leading the charge for the Minutemen will be First-Team All MAC QB Blake Frohnapfel, who put up a great first season after transferring from Marshall. Frohnapfel, a Senior, threw for 3,345 yards and 23 TDs last season (in just ten starts), all while adjusting to a new program and a new team. This year, expect those numbers to be better as he will get nine other starters returning around him, including star wide out Tajae Sharp, who had a great season in 2014 catching 85 passes for 1,281 yards and seven TDs. The Minutemen will also feature a two-headed tandem at tail back and the majority of the carries will be split between Shadrach Abrokwah (578 yards and seven TDs last season) and Lorenzo Woodley (415 yards and five TDs in eight games last season). Defense was still an issue for UMASS in 2014 as they allowed 33.0 PPG (105th in the nation), but with nine starters back, they should begin to hold opponents to a lower point total. This will be an interesting season for Minutemen, as they open the year on a bye before playing at Colorado, against Temple and at Notre Dame during a three week stretch. I fully expect this team to exceed expectations and potentially creep into a bowl game this season.

West Division

Ball State – The Cardinals were 5-7 on the year in 2015 and failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 2011. The Cardinals record was probably a little deceiving, as in their seven losses two of them were by four points or less. In 2015, the Cardinals return an impressive 18 starters and will turn to Sophomore QB Jack Milas to lead the offense. Milas started six games (3-3 record) for the Cardinals last season, and put up decent numbers (1,302 yards with nine TDs) in the time he saw last season. The Cardinals lose their all time leading rusher in Jahwan Edwards, but will turn to Freshman James Gilbert (three star recruit) to lead the rushing attack in 2015. The Cardinals top to wide outs both return in 2015 as Jordan Williams (753 yards and 6 TDs) and KeVonn Mabon (717 yards and 5 TDs) both return to help Milas and the offense. The Cardinals get a tough task in week two when they travel to Texas A&M and another task when they go to Northwestern in week four, but this could be a Ball State team that surprises a lot of people this year and potentially sneak into a bowl game.

Central Michigan – The Chippewas had another successful season in 2014 posting another winning record of 7-5 in the regular season, before losing 48-49 in a heart breaker bowl game to Western Kentucky. This season, the Chippewas return just ten starters from last season, and will look for QB Cooper Rush to put up another decent season in 2015. Rush, a Junior, threw for 3,157 yards and 27 TD’s in his Sophomore campaign, and despite not having a strong corp of receivers, he could put up relatively similar numbers this season. The go-to receiver for Rush is destined to be Jesse Kroll, who caught 36 passes for 582 yards and four scores last year in just nine starts, and aside from him, look for either Corey Willis and Anthony Rice to step up this season. Leading the rushing attack for the Chippewas in 2T 015 will be Devon Spalding, who ran for 371 yards and four scores in seven games last season. The Chippewas have a very tough schedule to start the season (Oklahoma State, @ Syracuse, @ Michigan State), and posting a winning record and going to another bowl game will be tough for the Chippewas in 2015.

Eastern Michigan – The Eagles went 2-10 for the third consecutive year in 2014 and in the first year under head coach Chris Creighton. It was another disappointing year for the Eagles, who seemed to be turning around the program in 2011 when they went 6-6, but it has gone back down the hill the past three years. This season, the Eagles return 13 starters from last years team, and will be led by an underrated QB in Reginald Bell who threw for 1,297 yards and nine starts along with 562 yards and four scores in only eight starts last season. Bell will look for Senior Dustin Creel and Indiana transfer WR Kevin Davis to both step up this season, as EMU didn’t have a go-to wide out in 2014. The defense will definitely need to improve for the Eagles in 2015 as they ranked among the worst in the nation (125th to be exact) by allowing 40.9 PPG to opposing teams. This season won’t get any easier for the Eagles, but they do have a couple of winnable non-conference games against Old Dominion, Wyoming and Army, so topping last year’s win total of two games isn’t out of the realm of reality for the Eagles in 2015.

Northern Illinois – The Huskies put together another phenomenal season in 2014 going 11-3 and posting their fifth straight double-digit win season along with their third MAC Championship in four years. This season, the Huskies return 13 starters from that team, and will look for Junior QB Drew Hare to have continued success from his Sophomore season. Hare threw for 2,322 yards and 18 TD’s (to only two INT’s) and ran for an impressive 900 yards and eight more scores throughout last season. The run game for the Huskies will not only be lead by Hare, but also Junior RB Joel Bouagnon who ran for 655 yards and five TD’s in seven starts last season. The receiving corp for the Huskies will be one of the strongest in the MAC in 2015 as they get speedster TommyLee Lewis back from injury, along with Juwan Brescacin who put up a relatively good 2014 season (445 yards and 6 TD’s) and North Dakota transfer Kenny Golladay. This season, the Huskies should open the season 2-0 as they square off at home against UNLV and Murray State, but in week three they get the tall task of going on the road to face Ohio State. When it all comes down to it for the Huskies in 2015 however, it should be fully expected that the Huskies post another great season and potentially contend for yet another MAC Championship.

Toledo – The Rockets had a good season in 2014 going 9-4 with a 63-44 victory in the GoDaddy bowl against Arkansas State (rematch in week four of the season between these two). The Rockets return 13 starters from last year’s squad, and also get Alabama transfer QB Phillip Ely back from a Torn ACL. Ely should put up big numbers in 2015 as he benefits from having a terrific cast of position players around him, including first-team all MAC RB Kareem Hunt. Hunt, a Junior, boasted impressive stats in 2014 rushing for 1,631 yards and 16 TD’s, in only ten games! The only bad news for Hunt is he is suspended for the first two games of the season, so Sophomore Terry Swanson (732 yards and 6 TD’s last year) will have to fill in early in the season. The receiving corp Toledo boasts this year is one of the best in the MAC as they get both Corey Jones (842 yards and 5 TD’s in 2014) and Alonzo Russell (770 yards and 8 TD’s in 2014) back after great seasons last year. The Rockets will have to step it up on defense this year as last year they ranked 86th in the nation where they allowed 29.3 PPG, and get eight starters back from that unit, so improved statistics should be expected in 2015. The Rockets face a relatively tough non conference schedule as they travel to Arkansas in week two before hosting Iowa State and Arkansas State in weeks three and four, but expectations should be high for this team in 2015 and I see them contending in their first MAC Championship since 2004.

Western Michigan – The Broncos had one of the biggest turnarounds in college football last season posting a 8-5 record after going 1-11 in 2013 under second year head coach PJ Fleck. This season, the Broncos return a whopping 16 starters from last year’s impressive team and will feature what should be one of the top offenses in the MAC with QB Zach Terrell at the helm. Terrell, a junior, posted an impressive Sophomore campaign where he threw for 3,443 yards and 26 TDs to go along with 264 yards and three more scores on the ground. A huge part of what made the Broncos so successful in 2014 was the play of RB Jarvion Franklin who ran for 1,551 yards and a whopping 24 TDs, all as a true freshman! Franklin should enter 2015 with limited expectations, as putting up 24 TDs again would just be outrageous. Western Michigan will also feature two of the best wide outs in the MAC this season as they see both Corey Davis (1,408 yards and 15 TD’s) and Daniel Braverman (997 yards and 6 TD’s) both return for their junior campaign. The Broncos open the season with a brutal stretch of games (Vs. Michigan State, @ Georgia Southern, @ Ohio State), and if they can withhold that barrage and win a handful of games in conference, expect the Broncos to go bowling once again in 2015.

Predicted Standings

East

  • Bowling Green; 9-3 (7-1)
  • Akron; 7-5 (6-2)
  • Ohio; 6-6 (3-5)
  • UMASS; 6-6 (5-3)
  • Kent State; 3-9 (2-6)
  • Buffalo; 3-9 (2-6)
  • Miami (Ohio); 2-10 (0-8)

West

  • Toledo; 10-2 (6-2)
  • Northern Illinois; 9-3 (6-2)
  • Western Michigan; 7-5 (6-2)
  • Ball State; 6-6 (3-5)
  • Central Michigan; 4-8 (3-5)
  • Eastern Michigan; 2-10 (1-7)

Projected Mid-American Championship Game: Toledo vs. Bowling Green

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