Monday, August 22, 2011

2011 College Football Preview: MAC

As usual, my 2011 College Football Preview includes information compiled from a variety of sources, most notably the work of Phil Steele. Check out his preview publications and material on his website. I also scour local newspapers and school websites for updated information, but it should be noted that all information contained in team and conference previews is only current up to the date of that post's publication.

Predicted Order of Finish
East Division

1. Ohio
2. Temple
3. Kent State
4. Miami
5. Bowling Green
6. Buffalo
7. Akron

West Division

1. Northern Illinois
2. Toledo
3. Western Michigan
4. Central Michigan
5. Ball State
6. Eastern Michigan

Top Storylines to Watch in the MAC

New regime, same Huskies? Jerry Kill may be gone to Minnesota (with both coordinators going with him), but Northern Illinois is still loaded for another run at the MAC title. The Huskies return eight starters on offense for new coach Dave Doeren, the former co-defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. One of them is quarterback Chandler Harnish, who stands to set the school's all-time passing yardage record if he stays healthy. Senior back Jasmin Hopkins hopes to pick up where departed star Chad Spann left off. Spann scored 22 touchdowns on the ground and ran for nearly 1,400 yards, so his shoes are going to be tough for Hopkins to fill. Doeren's challenge comes on defense, where NIU loses nine starters, but projects to start eight juniors and seniors. The schedule is tough, with Army (home), Kansas (road), and Wisconsin (neutral) in back-to-back-to-back weeks before the MAC season starts.

How good will Western Michigan be? The Broncos went 6-6 last year, but Bill Cubit returns 15 starters, including eight on a defense that got better throughout last season. It culminated in the Broncos yielding just ten points in the last two games (both wins). The key to Western's further improvement this season is junior quarterback Alex Carder, who threw for 30 touchdowns last year. Leading receiver Jordan White (94 catches, 1,400 yards, ten touchdowns) is back. With so many bodies back, it will be hard for Western not to run the ball better. Sophomores Tevin Drake and Brian Fields lead the running game this year. Middle linebacker Mitch Zajac and Miami transfer Doug Wiggins, a safety, are the key players on that defense, one that will be tested right away with games against Michigan and Illinois, along with Central Michigan, in the first month of the season. Road trips to Northern Illinois and Toledo will make it a tough division to win this season.

Ohio might be a quarterback away. Since taking over at Ohio, Frank Solich is 40-36, but his Bobcats have made three bowl games in five years. This year might be the best team he has fielded there, meaning it could be the best team Ohio -- a school currently sporting an all-time bowl game record of 0-5 -- has ever had. The Bobcats return their linebackers intact, have loads of potential on the defensive line with senior Curtis Meyers and junior Carl Jones, and have all five starters back on the offensive line. Senior Donte Harden and Iowa State transfer Beau Blankenship should at least be able to match what Ohio got out of their running backs last year. The question is at quarterback, where Boo Jackson graduates third on the school's all-time passing yardage list. Sophomore Tyler Tettleton and redshirt freshman Kyle Snyder appear to be the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart. Tettleton is probably a slight favorite to start, thanks in part to his athleticism. The schedule isn't terribly meaty, so Ohio should be favored in the East and should get to another bowl this season.

Temple in transition. No more Al Golden at Temple, as the young prodigy ended a very impressive five-year run at what had become one of the worst programs in the country and moved on to Miami. Former Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio takes over. Golden didn't leave the cupboard bare for Addazio, as the Owls won eight games last year (inexplicably did not get a bowl invite), and they return 12 starters. The offense should be energized by the return of running back Bernard Pierce, whose 2010 season was washed away by injuries. Quarterbacks Mike Gerardi and Chester Stewart are back, with Gerardi possibly favored to start because of his advantage over Stewart in accuracy. All-MAC defensive end Adrian Robinson is back, as is senior cornerback Kee-Ayre Griffin, who should contend for all-league honors. Temple is an interesting team because they have so much talent, and the key to their season being a success will be how quickly they adjust to Addazio.

The Rest of the Story

Even with a new coach in Darrell Hazell, Kent State could be a real darkhorse contender this year. The Golden Flashes had a great defense last year, but couldn't score points. Look for improvement there, and possibly Kent State's first bowl since 1972. ... No more Mike Haywood at Miami, and the RedHawks try to build off a ten-win season with new coach Don Treadwell. His experience tutoring the offense at Michigan State -- where Sparty has been a pretty good running team over the years -- should help at Miami, where the RedHawks averaged 98 yards per game rushing last year. ... 14 starters return for Dave Clawson at Bowling Green. The Falcons won twice last year, but should at least double that as sophomore quarterback Matt Schilz grows up. ... It was rough for Buffalo last year, but you can expect the offense -- a huge problem last year -- to get significantly better in the second year of Jeff Quinn's spread attack. ... Akron won once last year, and losing the entire rushing attack from last year won't help them improve immediately. Look for coach Rob Ianello to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores, something that will help him in a year or two, but not as much in the here and now. ... Don't spend a lot of time overanalyzing their heartbreaking bowl loss to Florida International, because Toledo will be a MAC contender. Tim Beckman gets 18 starters back, had virtually his entire offense intact, and the Rockets project to start four seniors in the secondary. Those are good things, for sure. ... Central Michigan struggled last year with Mike Enos as the new coach. His second year will be smoother, with junior Ryan Radcliff set at quarterback, junior receiver Cody Wilson back, and some impact players on defense. ... Former Elon head coach Pete Lembo is going to try to turn things around at Ball State, where Brady Hoke's departure led to two awful seasons under Stan Parrish. This might take some time, but Lembo did good things at Elon, and he should get the job done here, too. ... Eastern Michigan hasn't had a winning season since 1995. They haven't won more than four games in a season once since then. Ron English is 2-22 in two seasons, and while the Eagles appear to be improved on paper, there is still a long way to go for English to get EMU caught up in terms of talent with the rest of the MAC.

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