Well it's that time of year again-it's almost football season. With MAC Media Day kicking off on Friday in Detroit I figured I would weigh in on Mid-American Conference.
Now last year gave us a few shockers in Buffalo and Ball State (seriously, even without Dante Love they almost ran the table). And as much as I loved seeing Larry English with Vern Smith No. 2; I still think BSU's Nate Davis was the true MAC MVP. Though don't me wrong, English was deserving of it.
So what does this year have in store? If it's anything like last season; it should be a fun ride to Detroit. Let the preview begin!
First thing I see looking at the conference are the quarterbacks. Tim Hiller (Western Michigan) and Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan) have outside, but serious, shots at garnering some Heisman talk. Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green looks to be the next best, especially in a tight MAC East that produced a ton of points last season. We had the chance to see a young quarterback in Chandler Harnish take the reins at NIU. If he improves in the passing game and decision making he will be top MAC quarterback soon. Along with them there's experience in Andy Schmitt (Eastern Michigan), Aaron Opelt (Toledo) and Dan Raudabaugh (Miami-OH) who are either seniors or saw significant playing time last season.
Winning the MAC East this year is Bowling Green. Again, I think Sheehan shows up this year big for the Falcons and their offense will be tough to stop. Although, as in most years, the division is up for grabs. I'll go with the following to finish out: 2) Temple, 3) Ohio, 4) Buffalo, 5) Akron, 6) Miami-OH, 7) Kent State.
Winning the MAC West will be a bit tougher to decide. I'm going with Central Michigan. If LeFevour can stay healthy they are the best team in the MAC and I'll also pick them to win the MAC title. Western Michigan is great with Hiller and running back David West but LeFevour has more weapons with Antonio Brown (check out his pic. Scary.), Bryan Anderson and Kito Poblah. Here's how the rest goes: 2) Western Michigan, 3) Northern Illinois, 4) Ball State, 5) Toledo, 6) Eastern Michigan.
This year's MAC MVP I see going to Hiller. As I said, he has less weapons than LeFevour and as English proved last year, you don't always have to win the conference. Hiller is an NFL-type talent and might be a limp a little out of the gates while recovering from off-season knee surgery. If he propels himself to a good season and WMU to victories (they do host CMU this year, by the way) he should solidify himself as the player most valuable to his team.
Freshman to watch to this season is Buffalo linebacker Darius Willis. He's 6-2, 235 and was offered scholarships and recruited by pretty much every Big 12 school, Oklahoma included. Buffalo was where he could start as a true freshman. Willis had some issues with his SATs last season that forced him to not enroll until January. He was recruited as a quarterback also. He's likely to start at middle linebacker. Don't be surprised to see him pop up on some All-MAC lists.
Riding this year's dark horse is Temple. The Owls aren't known for football but have certainly come into their own since joining the MAC. I know I have them No. 2 in the East but I still find it hard to believe (along with others) that Temple has a chance to make the trip to Detroit and possibly go bowling. I would also still keep an eye on Ball State. They still have MiQuale Lewis in the backfield and Brandon Crawford manning the defensive end position. Might be time to see if my Davis for '08 MVP was out of line or not.
The two best players I haven't mentioned are Toledo safety Barry Church and Kent State running back Eugene Jarvis. Church is on the watch lists for the Bronco Nagurski Award (top defensive player) and also the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back). He was named third team All-American by Phil Steele's College Football Preview and can become the second Toledo player to be named first team All-MAC for four seasons. He's been creating havoc for MAC opponents. Averaged 7.8 tackles per game and broke up six passes, forcing three fumbles last season.
Jarvis, listed at 5-5, 170, had 801 yards and nine touchdowns last season but only played in nine games. He averaged 4.9 yards a carry and 89 yards a game. He also had 273 receiving yards and one touchdown. Ignoring his size he's one of the elite MAC backs. Quarterback Julian Edelman led the team is rushing in his absence with 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also threw for over 1,800 yards with 13 touchdowns. Back to Jarvis, he has gained comparison to former NIU back Garrett Wolfe and for good reason. To his credit, he didn't have the offensive lines that Wolfe had behind him.
NIU will face a pretty moderate schedule this season. The key, as always, will be the running game. Biases aside one of Justin Anderson, Me'co Brown or Chad Spann need to establish themselves as the No. 1 back. Harnish will wear down quickly throughout his career if he has to lead the Huskies rushing and passing attacks. Jason Onyebuagu and Eddie Adamski will anchor the line with Trevor Olson to do their part. Here's how I see NIU's season going:
@ Wisconsin - L
Vs. Western Illinois - W
@ Purdue - L
Vs. Idaho -W
Vs. Western Michigan (Homecoming) - L
@ Toledo - W
@ Miami-OH - W
Vs. Akron -W
Vs. Eastern Michigan - W
Vs. Ball State - W
@ Ohio - L
@ Central Michigan - L
So total record at 7-5, which should land NIU in another bowl game providing the MAC East doesn't show up this season. I think the Purdue, Akron and Ohio games could really go either way, so 9-3 tops, 5-7 at worst for the Huskies in 2009. I don't see them having the secondary or pass rush to get to Hiller and LeFevour. Remember, last year versus CMU LeFevour was still hurt. While Ball State is a sleeper they're not as good and it should be a close game but I don't see NIU losing at home, not if they go in on a four game streak.