The Mid-American Conference is somewhat of an enigma this year. Many feel that it is a one-man pony show with Central Michigan taking the lead as the preseason favorite. Over in the MAC East, the Turner Gill-led Buffalo Bulls continue to be the media darling with their come-out-of-nowhere year last year. Are both of these teams ready to live up to expectations? Does CMU have enough depth and will they able to replace the starters they lost on the O-Line? Will Buffalo have a repeat year as the beast of the East with the departure of QB Drew Willy and the gross turnover margin in their favor last year?
Coaching changes were the big offseason story. New coaches in the MAC include Tim Beckman (Oklahoma St DC) to Toledo, Ron English (Louisville DC) to Eastern Michigan, Mike Haywood (Notre Dame OC) to Miami OH & Dave Clawson (Tennessee OC) to Bowling Green. And since Ball State's former head coach Brady Hoke left for San Diego State last year, they promoted their OC Stan Parrish to the top position for this upcoming season.
When you think of the MAC, you think Quarterback and this year is no exception with CMU's Dan LeFevour, WMU's Tim Hiller, BGSU's Tyler Sheehan and EMU's Andy Schmitt leading the way. Both LeFevour and Hiller are considered darkhorse candiates both in their senior year.
Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill has a young but talented team in his second year as head coach. One of the biggest issues the Huskies face is trying to replace DE/OLB Larry English, who went 16th overall in the NFL Draft to the San Diego Chargers. Both NIU and Western Michigan graduated a lot of players at WR and will have to fill those spots with freshmen.
While the MAC West appears to be the most talented, offensive-minded teams like Akron & Bowling Green stand a chance to make some noise in the East. Temple is looking for their first winning season since 1990 under Al Golden. Ohio, Temple and Buffalo look to rely on strong defense to put together successful seasons for 2009.
Read on as we continue to preview the MAC with help of the best writers who cover this oft-overlooked conference on the internet.
The usual suspects you will see this year in this feature include Ball State blogger juggernaut Over The Pylon, Mike Gibson's critically acclaimed Temple Football Forever, the always consistent BG-themed FalconBlog and new Toledo Rocket on the block Midnight Blue and Gold.
1. What school wins the MAC?
Over The Pylon: As much as it pains me to say this, I'll have to go with Central Michigan. I have some pretty significant concerns about their offensive line with 3 new starters, and they lost Brian Brunner and Ontario Sneed. We'll see just how good they are in their season opener. A win over Arizona and it's going to be a long year for the rest of the MAC. A thorough rear kicking, and it's wide open.
FalconBlog: Central Michigan. Central has the most complete team, the best QB, and a team that should have won last year but didn't, so they will be hungry. The only thing that could stop them is a really tough schedule, including a game against WMU in Kalamazoo. Every other team in the MAC has a flaw of one kind or another, especially some teams with unsettled QB positions.
Temple Football Forever: Central Michigan
Midnight Blue and Gold: Looking at all the contributing factors, it seems likely to us that Central Michigan will win the MAC this year. Lots of returning players, strong schemes and an unmatched QB.
Fire Up Chips: If CMU can protect Dan Lefevour, then they should win in what appears to be a rebuilding year for most teams in the MAC.
Rasor on the Zips: CMU. Too strong. You won't find many passing attacks as deadly as the Chips'.
Red and Black Attack: The writing on the wall is clear: Central Michigan is back to take the MAC title just like they did the season before last and the season before that. QB Dan LeFevour is just too good and his corps of receivers is unstoppable with Antonio Brown and friends. If the defense can be any sort of decent, then watch out.
Throw this prediction out the window if A. LeFevour gets hurt, B. The O-Line can't block anybody , C. The Chips can't focus or are badly coached into oblivion.
Will anybody be able to stop the run/pass combo of Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour this year?
2. Who is the biggest dark horse candidate to take the MAC title?
Over The Pylon: If the MAC in 09 follows the 08 formula, then whomever from the East eeks their way into the title game will beat the best team in the conference. Me? Bitter? Only a little. I would say Toledo or NIU would be my pick here if they didn't play in the West. For the Rockets or Huskies to win the conference, Central, Western, and Ball State all have to stumble several times. That ain't happenin'. That leaves schools in the East. Temple is a stout defensive team, but they get Ohio and Akron both on the road. Because of that, I'll go with BG. They'll be the East's rep in the MAC Championship, where they hope to pull a Buffalo. Regardless of what happens, Clawson's reputation will take a major league boost.
FalconBlog: I'm not sure what qualifies as a dark horse in the MAC East. In a sense, they are all dark horses. And because I think Central is the only complete team in the MAC, I don't see a dark horse coming out of the West. Anyway, I'll take Kent. They have a lot of returning players from a team that was not as bad as it appeared last year, and their new QB was effective when pressed into action as a true FR two years ago. If they can open Jarvis up and he stays healthy, this could be a dark horse team.
Temple Football Forever: Ohio University
Midnight Blue and Gold: We feel Toledo has the potential to be a dark horse candidate to win the MAC. Most previews have us sitting at 4th in the West come season end, but with all the improvements happening at UT under Beckman, Toledo has a legitimate shot to be markedly better than past years and contend for a MAC title.
Fire Up Chips: I like two teams in the state of Ohio with the Ohio Bobcats and the Toledo Rockets. I know that some aficionados have picked Ohio - namely Phil Steele - but even before his publication came out this spring I liked Ohio to win everything.
Why? I really like their QB Boo Jackson. I know they have an open competition right now but I expect him to come out on top. I saw him nearly beat my CMU team - Boo was stripped in the end zone in the final minutes of the game to preserve our win. And I watched him dismantled an Akron team that was playing for an outside shot to MAC Championship game in November.
With Toledo they bring so much talent back, and if you heard their new coach at MAC Media day he seems like he will bring the discipline back to the program that will return them to prominence.
Rasor on the Zips: The Zips are young, but deep. They could be the strongest in a weak East.
Red and Black Attack: I'm simply in love with the Ohio Bobcats this year. I feel as though this is the best team of the Solich era. They have 14 returning starters this year and were a little unlucky in 2008 with a -12 turnover margin along with some tough losses. Expect a big turnaround by the QB Boo Jackson-led Bobcats this year in party town Athens with a strong D to boot. Call me a Phil Steele disciple, but Sports Illustrated has also jumped on this boat as well.
3. What team is the most overrated in the conference?
Over The Pylon: Buffalo. Hands down. This is a team that basically had everything break their way last season. From last second hail mary's to fluke victories, the Bulls rode those to a 7-5 record. 7 of their games last season were within a touchdown, meaning the Bulls just as easily could have lost the 4 they won. They were +19 in turnovers, and that can not only be pointed to as a reason they were successful, but also as a stat that will be nearly imposssible to replicate in 09. I know Turner Gill was lauded as THE COACH to hire in the offseason. No one did. Wonder why?
FalconBlog: Buffalo. They won a bunch of close games last year (including two absolute miracles) with a huge turnover margin they are unlikely to repeat. They lost their QB and don't have a clear replacement. Everyone may be in love with Turner Gill, but I think the Bulls are being way over-estimated.
Temple Football Forever: Buffalo
Midnight Blue and Gold: With only 4 returning starters on defense, NIU is the most overrated team in the conference. They're picked to be third in the West - we just don't see that happening.
Fire Up Chips: Western Michigan has to replace its entire defense so I don't think they deserve to be picked to finish 2nd in the MAC West and especially not first as the Sporting News proclaimed.
I was listening to Mike Leach - head coach of Texas Tech - on ESPN radio and he said something I couldn't agree more with:
"It's not how many skill players you return which will determine your success but the strength of your offensive and defensive lines."
With that quote in mind Central Michigan is overrated. We are the clear favorite yet we have lost several starters on the O-line and D-line. Of course I think we win the whole thing, but our dreams of the "perfect season" could go up in smoke if our line can't protect Dan Lefevour.
Rasor on the Zips: Buffalo. Don't underestimate the loss of Drew Willy and six linemen (offense and defense).
Red and Black Attack: Western Michigan. Last year their secondary was absolutely oozing with talent bursting from the seams. They turned out a pedestrian season finishing in the middle of the pack of pass efficiency defense. This year they lose all of those good players including two NFL draft picks (Delmas & Biggers) along with All-MAC Fryar (KC Chiefs UFA) and the #4 tackler in Wilson. Going from 168 starts to only 9 means big trouble in Kalamazoo. Not to mention they also lose their top 2 receivers in All-American Jamarko Simmons & "Spida" Julien along with TE Branden Ledbetter. With all those losses, I can't see WMU placing second in the West like most media outlets are doing.
What's in store for the Buffalo Bulls after their cinderella MAC Championship season?
4. Who is the player of the year in the MAC?
Over The Pylon: The media is in love with Dan LeFevour, so clearly he'll win this award in reality. But guys like Tim Hiller from Western Michigan or MiQuale Lewis from Ball State certainly stand the chance of upending LeFevour. I will say whomever's team wins the West, they'll win the Player of the Year. Because they'll have earned it.
FalconBlog: This is such a boring pick, but I'm going to go with Dan Lefevour. He is in an interesting position. A few MAC QBs of this caliber have gone pro before their senior season, and not had too much success, at least in the draft. There is a trap, because if your senior season is only as good as your junior season, it looks like you might have topped out. On the other hand, Lefevour has come back and has a chance to show what he can do. Since I think CMU will win the MAC, I also think he will be MVP.
Lame, I know. Anyway, just for fun, let me give you some dark horse candidates:
Temple Football Forever: Dan LeFevour
Midnight Blue and Gold: Central Michigan QB, Dan LeFevour
Fire Up Chips: Antonio Brown will be the best receiver in the MAC in 2009 and it won't even be close. With respect to Freddie Barnes, Naaman Roosevelt, and Jacory Stone...you can't touch the athleticism of Antonio Brown. With Dan Lefevour throwing him the ball he should get the nod at the end of the season.
Rasor on the Zips: LeFevour. What a fun player to watch!
Red and Black Attack: QB Danny LeFevour has so many weapons to choose from, including his feet. His O-Line looks a little shaky though. QB Tim Hiller of WMU will have ridiculous stats because I believe most of the time his team will be playing catch-up to teams because of their weak defense.
5. What are the most likely BCS upsets this year by MAC squads?
Over The Pylon: Season openers stand a great chance as major BCS teams might be a bit rusty, overlooking the MAC, and primed for upsets. The most likely upsets this season won't really be all that great since the BCS teams being beaten are far from world beaters, but Arizona may very well lose to CMU and Michigan may drop one to WMU.
FalconBlog: Does Indiana count? If so, Akron hosts Indiana and I like that as a BCS upset. In case Indiana doesn't count, I would point MAC fans to OU hosting Connecticut and Kent hosting Iowa State, a team they should have beaten on the road last year.
Temple Football Forever: Temple over Penn State (I couldn't resist that one)
Midnight Blue and Gold: While anything is possible in college football, three games float to the top of the MAC/BCS upset pool. CMU vs. Arizona, WMU vs. Indiana, and Toledo vs. Colorado all seem primed for MAC upsets.
Fire Up Chips: Does anybody know what Indiana is doing? They have ten times the budget of any of our respected teams but they are recruiting like Indiana State. I think Western Michigan takes them.
I really like CMU over Boston College a well.
Rasor on the Zips: Akron over Indiana and Syracuse, CMU over Arizona. Didn't have time to look through everyone's schedules. Akron gets two of the worst BCS schools in the nation, so there are some homer picks.
Red and Black Attack: Indiana (are they even a BCS team?) loses both at Akron and home against WMU. Akron over Syracuse as well. And just because I'm sadistic: WMU & EMU BOTH over Michigan at the Big House. Ohio over UConn at home. NIU (not Toledo) over Purdue in West Lafayette. I would say CMU over Arizona & BC, but the Chips never care about non-conference games.
6. What new head coach will have the most successful season?
Over The Pylon: Tim Beckman has the opportunity to turn some heads in a challenging MAC West. Beckman comes into a team with plenty of talent and a defense in need of a change. Luckily for him, only 7 lettermen on the entire squad graduated, and he's a defensive coach. He may not be competing for a MAC title this year, but it will be quite the successful season for him. Clawson will lead the Falcons to the MAC Championship game, and Mike Haywood will have a good year at Miami.
FalconBlog: This hurts to say, it really does, but I think it is Tim Beckman. UT really under achieved last year and has some talent, and they were really, really young. Beckman has walked into a really nice situation and I think he is modeling an Urban Meyer approach that has produced quick turnarounds before.
I think that Bowling Green could compete, but has a few more obstacles due to losses on defense (we were an underachieving veteran team). Miami looks to be pretty bad. Ball State lost a ton of talent and doesn't figure to compete in Parrish's first year either. EMU will be better but not enough to make a dent in the West.
Temple Football Forever: Clausen, Bowling Green
Midnight Blue and Gold: It's difficult not to sound like a homer on this answer, but we have to go with our gut on this one. Tim Beckman, at Toledo, will have the most successful first season at the helm of his program. While it pains us to say this for obvious reasons, I think Dave Clawson will have a successful year too, not based on his time at Tennessee, but based on his time at Richmond before that. He took a weak program and really got them to play together and made the best of the talent he had and put his team in the playoffs during his last season with the Spiders. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets BGSU turned around, maybe not a complete turnaround in the first season, but a good start.
Fire Up Chips: I think head coach Tim Beckman is going to right the ship at Toledo after hearing him speak at MAC media day which is good for the conference but bad for me as a CMU fan (lol).
Rasor on the Zips: BG's Dave Clawson. An experienced quarterback will allow the Falcons to succeed in many division games.
Red and Black Attack: I have to go with Tim Beckman as Toledo returns 106% of their roster from last year including their waterboy, cheerleaders and equipment managers. And his name isn't Dave Clawson. I just can't see him recovering from his disastrous season last year at Tennessee to do anything at BG this year.
Will new Toledo Head Coach Tim Beckman be able to utilize all the returning talent of the Rockets?
7. Will any MAC coach be leaving the conference after 2009?
Over The Pylon: Probably not. The league's turnover last season means the traditional training grounds of coaches at Miami, BG, etc. all have new faces without a national buzz. Should Turner Gill have another lucky year, which he won't, he'll be on several AD's short lists.
FalconBlog: Tim Beckman. (Just kidding. A little).
Butch Jones is the real answer. If the Chips can win the West again, he should be outta here.
Temple Football Forever: Turner Gill
Midnight Blue and Gold: About the only coaching change we can see at the end of the 2009 season, after the whirlwind changes last season (5 coaches), would be Turner Gill. If Buffalo strings together the kind of season they did last year, he's likely to get offers from other school and could possibly be courted out of the MAC.
Fire Up Chips: I predict that CMU coach Butch Jones will become the new coach at Indiana, as long as CMU has the 8 + win season everybody is predicting.
Rasor on the Zips: CMU's Butch Jones. It's about time, isn't it?
Red and Black Attack: For success - It's a race to become the new coach of Indiana (or any other BCS opening) for CMU's Butch Jones, WMU's Bill Cubit and Buffalo's Turner Gill. As for getting fired, KSU's Doug Martin could burn through his hot seat with another losing season.
8. Who has the most ridiculous mascot in the MAC?
Over The Pylon: Without doubt, Akron. I've never really been to Akron, but something tells me the odds of running into a kangaroo in central Ohio seems like something that would surprise me. If it were an intimidating, fear inducing mascot it would be one thing, but it's a freakin' kangaroo. And I can't confirm this, but I'm pretty sure he's one of those kangaroos. You know, the kind that has to move to Massachusetts to get married.
FalconBlog: The Rockets. This isn't new. Going back to the old days when their mascot was a marital aid through now then their mascot is less phallic but perhaps even stupider.
Temple Football Forever: Don't follow the mascots. Sorry.
Midnight Blue and Gold: Akron Zips - a kangaroo ? Really ?
Fire Up Chips: CMU.
Central Michigan was chopped down by the tomahawk of political correctness, so we are stuck with a stupid flying C. I don't see any coach, given the stressfulness of the job, looking to get in a fight with campus liberals over it.
Rasor on the Zips: Toledo. Assuming it's still a giant phallic rocket.
In case you weren't aware, the mascot of the Akron Zips is in fact a kangaroo.
9. Are you bullish (PUN!) or bearish on Buffalo making another run in the MAC East?
Over The Pylon: Based on my answers above, bearish doesn't even begin to cover it. There's an old saying that the sun shines on every dog's ass once. Last year it was the Bulls' turn to do some rear end sunning. I will own that this is clearly bitterness fueled hatred, but at least it's hatred with a reason, which is better than 95% of the hatred fueling college football now.
FalconBlog: Bearish. They won a bunch of close games last year (including two absolute miracles) with a huge turnover margin they are unlikely to repeat. They lost their QB and don't have a clear replacement. Everyone may be in love with Turner Gill, but I think the Bulls are being way over-estimated.
Temple Football Forever: Bearish.
Midnight Blue and Gold: The East division is down, so Buffalo has a shot to win the East again this year.
Fire Up Chips: Bearish. Everybody loves the Buffalo story. They are much like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays last year, George Mason's final four run in 2007, and the New York Giants Super Bowl run in 2007 - 2008.
How did those teams follow up?
I predict 5 wins for Buffalo in 2009.
Rasor on the Zips: Bearish. See above.
Red and Black Attack: Bearish. It will be hard to replace QB Drew Willy and the Bulls won 3 OT games last year. Most of their 8 victories last year were fueled by Hail Marys or their +50 turnover ratio. Buffalo last year actually had negative net yardage per game last year at -2.1 ypg, good for 8th in the league. Expect a drop-off, despite returning 8 on D and offensive stars RB James Starks & WR Naaman Roosevelt.
10. Who is in your title game and which teams make bowl games?
Over The Pylon: I'll go with an BG-CMU MAC Championship game. CMU wins a close one and earns the berth to the Motor City Bowl. The other MACers going Bowling? BG, Ball State, and WMU.Miami stands an outside shot at 6-6, but that would surprise me.
FalconBlog: OK...here goes. I will have more posts on this later, but I see CMU beating Temple. Anyone could win the East, but Temple has a very strong defensive front and I think has as good a shot as anyone at winning the East. I think they will join WMU and NIU in bowl games.
Temple Football Forever: Central Michigan vs. either Temple/Buffalo/Bowling Green in the East?
Midnight Blue and Gold: Title game should line up to be Central Michigan vs. Buffalo. Wouldn't be surprised to see CMU, Buffalo, and WMU all being invited to bowl games.
Fire Up Chips: I like Central Michigan versus Ohio. In another scenario I see Toledo versus Bowling Green.
Rasor on the Zips: CMU over Akron in Detroit. NIU, WMU and BG are also likely candidates.
Red and Black Attack: Central Michigan vs Ohio in a 2006 rematch. Both those teams plus NIU & some other team that lucks out gets to a bowl game.