3. Bowling Green
4. Kent State
7. Miami (Ohio)
1. Northern Illinois
2. Western Michigan
4. Central Michigan
5. Ball State
6. Eastern Michigan
Stories to Watch in the MAC
Central Michigan moves on without star. There was no better player in the MAC last season than Dan LeFevour. The record-setting Chippewas quarterback moves on after a stellar career at CMU in which he did virtually everything a MAC quarterback can realistically do. He finished his CMU career at just a shade under 13,000 passing yards, became the first college quarterback ever to pass for 12,000 yards and run for 2,500 in a career, and became the MAC's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He led the team in rushing last year. Yeah, good luck replacing him. It's not the end of the world, because inexperienced sophomore Ryan Radcliff spent two years (including a redshirt year) learning under LeFevour. While coach Butch Jones is gone to Cincinnati, it's unlikely that new coach Dan Enos will change much. The offense will still have some wide-open feel to it, even if it's not like it was with LeFevour. CMU also loses top receivers Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, who moved on to the NFL. The defense has some young talent, but lacks experience, so it could be a rough year for Enos, even if his stated goal is to turn Central Michigan into a Boise State-type program.
LeFevour is not the only missing star quarterback. Lost in all the LeFevour love is the loss Bowling Green is dealing with. Well, it's actually two huge losses. Quarterback Tyler Sheehan graduates second on the Falcons' all-time career passing list (missed the top spot by 163 yards). Sheehan was a steady, accurate thrower in an offense that demands such. He wasn't a productive runner like LeFevour, and he didn't win any conference titles or bowl games at Bowling Green, so he's more easily forgotten, unless you're a Falcon fan. Also gone is receiver Freddie Barnes, who smashed the college record for receptions in a season by catching 155 of Sheehan's 373 completions last year. Barnes reached 1,770 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, and finishes second on the Falcons' all-time receiving yards list. Redshirt freshman Matt Schilz is favored to take the quarterback job, while senior Tyrone Pronty and juniors Ray Hutson and Adrian Hodges should be prominent receivers in a more spread-out attack. Bowling Green could make some noise if coach Dave Clawson can find a way to overcome a severe lack of experience all over the roster, along with a schedule that includes trips to Troy, Tulsa, and Michigan in the first four weeks.
Can Temple improve again? Al Golden has been the Owls' head coach for four years. In each season, the team's record has improved from the year prior. Temple has gone from 0-11 before Golden arrived to 1-11, 4-8, 5-7, and 9-4. It would be a stunner if Golden made an improvement for a fifth straight year, but it can't be ruled out. Temple hasn't won ten in a season since 1979, so the challenge is daunting. The Owls have 16 returning starters, including star running back Bernard Pierce, who shocked many with a super freshman season. Junior Chester Stewart is expected to start at quarterback, and leading receivers Michael Campbell and Joe Jones both return. Plenty of starting experience returns to the defense, especially the secondary. The schedule is a bit friendlier than usual, with only the sorta-annual road trip to Penn State looking like an unattainable goal. Outside of that, Temple should have at least a puncher's chance to win each game, meaning a ten- or 11-win season is a real possibility for a program that was a total laughingstock in college football just a few years ago.
The struggles continue. No end in sight to the issues at Eastern Michigan or Miami, thought progress is coming. At EMU, coach Ron Prince is trying to fill the program with his type of players, and it's going to take time. The Eagles have plenty of it, however, because they're 41-119 since a 6-5 season in 1995 that marks their last winning season. English has a ton of experience back from last season, but the impact is coming from the players he's recruited. As a defensive coach, his first priority is getting a more competitive group on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, the Eagles allowed nearly 40 points per game, over 275 rush yards per game, and were outgained by an average of 150 yards per game. Miami won last year, but that home win over Toledo shouldn't confuse anyone. They were awful. For Mike Haywood to get anything better this year, it won't take as much work as what English has ahead of him, but it is still a significant hill. From a recruiting, talent, and experience standpoint, Miami is significantly behind the top teams in the East -- Temple and Ohio. If Miami is to get a lot better, it may rest on the shoulders of senior running back Thomas Merriweather, who has only started 13 games and run for 981 yards in his Miami career. He was a talented recruit who has been through a lot at the school, so we'll see if he can stay on the field and make that long-awaited impact.
Best of the rest
For Ohio, there's a real shot at a repeat in the MAC East. Frank Solich has another solid team led by first team All-MAC linebacker Noah Keller, who was all over the field defensively last year. The Bobcats have a road date with Ohio State, but an otherwise manageable schedule. ... Sixth-year senior running back Eugene Jarvis and quarterback Spencer Keith return for Kent State. The Golden Flashes lost their last three to miss out on bowl eligibility last year, but they should be able to top the .500 mark this year thanks to a ton of talent in their offensive backfield. ... Former Cincinnati assistant Jeff Quinn is the new boss at Buffalo. He's been an interim coach for two bowl games in his career, both following Brian Kelly. Now, he runs his own program for the first time. Former coach Turner Gill left this team in a good place, even though they had a losing season last year. The challenge for Quinn will be integrating new skill-position starters while installing the spread offense. ... There's reason for hope at Akron, thanks to a shiny new stadium and a talented young coach. Rob Ianello has an impressive resume that includes a stop at Notre Dame as their recruiting coordinator. He has a solid staff with him that brings loads of big-school experience. The expectation here is that Akron will rebuild from a stretch of four straight losing seasons, but Ianello has his work cut out for him short-term while he builds a more competitive roster. ... Northern Illinois keeps building and building. This is a good team that will contend for a MAC title this year. The Huskies have juniors and seniors all over the place, including junior quarterback Chandler Harnish and senior running back Chad Spann, both of whom will have big seasons this year. On defense, end Sean Progar was awesome as a freshman, and he will only get better. ... If sophomore quarterback Alex Carder steps in for the graduated Tim Hiller at Western Michigan, the Broncos might emerge as a true threat. Carder has a ton of experience around him, especially at wide receiver. Also impressive is a defense that could feature a stout secondary. Safeties Mario Armstrong and Doug Wiggins should lead the way. ... Tim Beckman surprised some by getting five wins out of a transitional year at Toledo. The Rockets will improve this year, especially if Beckman -- a defensive coach by trade -- can make this team's defense better. Toledo allowed nearly 40 points per game, offsetting a surprisingly effective offense in 2009. ... Stan Parrish might only be 4-41-1 as a Division I head coach, but half of those wins came last season, as Ball State finished 2-3 after an 0-7 start. I know it doesn't sound like much, but the Cardinals can bank on further improvement this year now that they've solved the quarterback puzzle. Sophomore Kelly Page is going to be a really good one in this program.
Preseason MAC Superlatives
Best QB: Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois
Best RB: Bernard Pierce, Temple
Best WR: Eric Page, Toledo
Best offense: Temple
Best defense: Northern Illinois
Best coach: Frank Solich, Ohio
Coach in the most trouble: Ron English, Eastern Michigan
Best non-conference game: Connecticut at Temple, Sept. 18
Worst non-conference game: Nicholls State at Western Michigan, Sept. 11