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Mid-American Conference Preview 2011
Predicted order of finish
1. Kent State
3. Bowling Green
2. Northern Illinois
3. Western Michigan
4. Central Michigan
5. Eastern Michigan
6. Ball State
Conference Champion: Toledo
Team that could overachieve: Western Michigan
Team that could underachieve: Temple
Coach of the Year: Tim Beckman
Offensive player of the year: Alex Carder-WMU
Defensive player of the year: Roosevelt Nix-Kent
Special Teams player of the year: Eric Page-Toledo
Newcomer of the year: Jamal Womble-NIU
Overview: If you look at each team, top to bottom, this might be the strongest the MAC has been in many years. The conference, especially the east, will be more competitive than they’ve been since the early 2000’s. Expansion is coming in 2012 with the addition of UMass, but other than one or two teams being targeted to fill the low end of a non-aq super conference should a split between the haves and the have-nots occur, it looks like this conference is very stable.
1. Kent State-Projected Record 7-5/5-3
The Golden Flashes have had some talented teams in the past few years, but have never been able to put it all together. This season, new Head Coach Darrell Hazell comes over from Ohio State to try and turn around the struggling program. Kent brings back the best defense in the division lead by DE Roosevelt Nix (10 sacks) and DB Norman Wolfe (5 int’s). Offensively, this team is loaded with a group of sure handed receivers who work the middle of the field well in Sam Kirkland and Tyshon Goode. With four returning starters on the offensive line, there is no reason that QB Spencer Keith can’t improve upon last year’s somewhat dismal numbers, while the running game experiences a bit of a rebirth. Road games at Ohio and Temple are tough, but with a split, we think Kent will take the west in a tie-breaker situation.
Possible Upset: October 8th at NIU
Watch your back!: November 19th vs. EMU
2. Temple-Projected Record 7-5/5-3
From a talent point of view, the Owls are starting to separate themselves from their MAC brethren, but thus far the Owls haven’t figured out what late-season composure looks like. Last year, Temple melted down against Ohio costing themselves a shot at a MAC championship. Steve Addazio takes over for the departed Al Golden, but unfortunately he inherits a major problem at QB. Both Chester Stewart and Mike Gerrardi were mediocre at best in 2010, and prospects don’t look much better this season. The good news is that Temple posseses the best 1-2 running back tandem in the MAC in RB’s Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce. Remember, this is a Temple team that nearly beat Penn State in Happy Valley last year! The Owls lose a lot of talent on defense this year, and will find themselves out-hustled on more than one occasion. Good year, but no east banner!
Possible Upset: September 24th at Maryland
Watch your back!: November 19th vs. Army
3. Bowling Green-Projected Record 6-6/ 3-5
It’s a good thing that the opener at Idaho is finally going to be televised, as the last time the Falcons and Vandals squared off it was arguably one of the greatest bowl games in history in a last second loss in the Humanatarian Bowl. This season, the Falcons are a bit more mature as QB Matt Schilz learned a lot from last season’s 2-10 beatdown. The problem is that BGSU has question marks at the running back position and in the pass rush. The good news is that having a strong offensive line and a soft early season schedule may allow this team to figure out a lot of questions before MAC play begins. Schilz must cut down on the interceptions, and find a second receiver to compliment Kamar Jorden. We feel that coaching goes further in the MAC than most conferences, and in his third year this could be Dave Clawson’s best team.
Possible Upset: October 15th vs. Toledo
Watch your back!: September 17th vs. Wyoming
4. Ohio-Projected Record 6-6/3-5
Frank Solich has done a terrific job at Ohio with two exceptions. The first is winning a bowl game, the second is finding a true QB. While Boo Jackson was serviceable over the past few seasons, Ohio will have a new look at QB in 2011 as Tyler Tettleton, son of former MLB catcher Mickey Tettleton, will take over as signal caller. Tettleton throws well but Ohio has won over the past few years by being methodic and calculating on offense. It may take awhile to figure out what this new offense will operate like with a new QB and the loss of its top two receivers and number one RB. The linebackers receive a gift with the return of Noah Keller, and have a very underrated kicker in junior Matt Weller. If there’s one team in the east that could surprise it is the Bobcats, but with new faces in key places it may be too late by the time they find their new identity.
Possible Upset: September 24th at Rutgers
Watch your back!: September 3rd at New Mexico State
5. Miami-Projected Record 2-10/2-6
Years ago, the University of Colorado made an amazing run at the national championship after the death of QB Sal Aunese. Last season was Miami’s equivelant. The Redhawks have a lot less talent than most teams in the conference, but Mike Haywood was able to convince his squad that they were better than they were. This season, the Redhawks will soar back to Earth. It’s not that they aren’t talented-they have two strong QB’s in Zac Dysert and Austin Boucher, but the coaching change combined with a brutal schedule will not help their cause. Miami must play at Kent, Toledo, Ohio, and Temple. Two new coordinators, a rough pre-conference schedule and the loss or Armand Robinson will spell doom for the Redhawks in 2011.
Possible Upset: November 16th vs. Western Michigan
Watch your back: November 3rd vs. Akron
6. Akron-Projected Record 3-10/ 2-6
Akron is a really sad story. The Zips are the owners of one of the nicest non-aq football facilities in the country, yet they can’t win a ball game, and the student body doesn’t give a rip! Head Coach Rob Ianello has his work cut out for him, but we feel he’s still the man for the job. The Zips will start a new QB (most likely) in transfer Clayton Moore. Moore will be surrounded by inexperience at nearly every position with the exception of three spots on the offensive line. Akron has some talented defensive players in LB’s Brian Wagner and Matt Little. There are probably five or six winnable games this season, but it’s hard to believe that Akron will begin playing winning football with so many new faces right away. It will be another losing season at Akron, and next year is looking a bit dim as well.
Possible Upset: November 12th vs. Kent State
Watch your back!: September 24th vs. VMI
7. Buffalo-Projected Record 2-10/2-6
Jeff Quinn must be a little bit red-faced after chasing QB Zac Maynard out of town only to see him named as the starter at Cal for the 2011 season! The good news (?) is that QB Jerry Davis will return, the bad news is that with no running game in site, his 16 interceptions will probably not go down too much. With the exception of talented LB Khalil Mack, and DE Steven Means, the defense will be one big learning experience with eight new starters in the fold. With Stony Brook on the schedule, the Bulls will win one game, but two could be a stretch in 2011.
Possible Upset: September 17th at Ball State
Watch your back!: September 10th vs. Stony Brook.
1. Toledo-Projected Record 10-2/8-0
The Rockets are back! After a four year hiatus from being a factor in the MAC, Tim Beckman has righted the ship in the glass city. It’s difficult to look at the offense led by All-American Eric Page and RB Adonis Thomas, and see anybody able to score point-for-point with this year’s unit. Traditionally, high powered offenses do well in the MAC, but the scary thing for the rest of the conference is that the Rockets have…wait for it…a defense!! Nine starters return this season, including talented LB Dan Molls and a very solid pass rush in DE’s Malcolm Riley and TJ Fatinikun. The secondary, led by Desmond Marrow, is arguably the best secondary Toledo has fielded. Beckman is really wowing people with his ability to recruit kids that probably shouldn’t play at Toledo, but he needs to be careful. When kids like highly recruited WR James Green rarely see the field, it becomes a recruiting tool for other schools to convince recruits why they shouldn’t take a chance on a school like UT. Beckman needs to teach his team to avoid letdowns (see last year’s game against Wyoming) and step up in the spotlight. This season, the Rockets will get a chance to do just that with a road game at Ohio State and a home game with Boise. Every MAC fan should be pulling for Toledo to pull off a shocker and put this conference back in the national spotlight! As for Toledo fans, anything less than a MAC championship and this year is a disappointment-bowl game or not!
Possible Upset: September 17th vs. Boise
Watch your back!: October 22 vs. Miami
2. Northern Illinois-Projected Record 9-3/6-2
There are a lot of question marks surrounding this team due to some major losses in key positions, but NIU returns a plethora of talent and a star QB in Chandler Harnish. The senior signal-caller was unstoppable last season under center with 21 passing td’s and 800 yards rushing as NIU won the most games in school history. The issue is whether new HC Dave Doeren will use Harnish in the same manner as Jerry Kill did. Kill was a master of playing it safe and not over-estimating what his players could do. For the Huskies to be successful in 2011, Doeren and OC Matt Canada will need to replicate last season’s playbook as closely as possible. The problem is that 9 times out of 10, remakes are not nearly as good as the original. The running game won’t be an issue with the loss of Chad Spann as NIU has depth in the backfield in Jamal Woble and Jasmin Hopkins, but don’t expect a clear starter to put his mark on the position until week 3 or 4. The defense loses a lot of talent and experience and will struggle against the run, but the LB’s and DB’s will be better than expected. Luckily, NIU will host a dangerous Western Michigan team, but a second place finish is in the cards as Toledo will have their revenge on national TV for last years 65-30 beatdown in DeKalb. This is NIU’s last shot at a bowl game before rebuilding comes a ‘callin in 2012.
Possible Upset: September 10th at Kansas
Watch your back!: October 8th at Kent State
3. Western Michigan-Projected Record 8-4/5-3
When choosing between NIU and WMU for the third spot, one major factor came into play-letdowns! WMU has had a couple of disappointing seasons since Bill Cubit arrived including 2007 and last year’s mediocre 6-6 mark. The good news is WMU has the tools for a big year in 2011. QB Alex Carder received a gift in the off-season with the announcement that WR Jordan White (94 catches, 1378 yards) was returning. This is a team that that Bronco nation should be quite high on; the problem is that we think they will perform better out of conference than in MAC play, hence the letdown tag. The defense has a strong pass rush in DE Paul Hazel, and a lot of AQ talent woven throughout the roster. The real question is can they finish? In 2010, Western had a home letdown against Idaho, let NIU off the ropes at home, and didn’t seem to know how to put away Eastern Michigan early. There is no doubt that Carder and White will put up big numbers, but the Broncos need to stop sleep-walking and grab what is theirs. Another 6-6 or worse season, and it may be time to get a coach in who can get this team over the hump.
Possible Upset: October 1st at UConn
Watch your back!: October 8th vs. Bowling Green
4. Central Michigan-Projected Record 4-8/3-5
The Chips’ struggled mightily last season posting a 3-9 mark in HC Dan Enos’ first season. Four of their losses were by a combined 12 points, with three of those losses coming on the road. This season, CMU has a rough schedule as they play at Kentucky, Michigan State and NC State but they luck out by getting both NIU and Toledo in Mt. Pleasant! The real problem for CMU is the major holes on defense. Both Matt Berning and Nick Bellore have moved onto the NFL and the talent level in the secondary is questionable at best. QB Ryan Radcliffe will either cut back on his 17 interceptions from a season ago, or face losing his job under center. RB Paris Cotton is solid, but the heart of this team is WR Cody Wilson. Few colleges even gave Wilson a sniff after HS, but the sophomore had a breakout season in 2010 with 83 catches for 1137 yards! The bottom line for this team is they are uneven and have a brutal five game stretch that includes four road games. Losing all five games is a possibility and could seal CMU’s fate with another under .500 season.
Possible Upset: September 17th at Western Michigan
Watch your back!: October 15th vs. EMU
5. Eastern Michigan-Projected Record 5-7/3-5
It may seem crazy picking EMU out of the cellar, but after a shaky start, Ron English seems to be bringing some energy to this program. The Eagles are starting to appeal to transfers more than they have in the past, and they actually have a little more depth on defense. EMU’s secondary will be strong with the addition of UCLA transfer Marlon Pollard and a full year from Latarrius Thomas. Four returning starters upfront will also help EMU’s awful defense against the run. Offensively, QB Alex Gillett really needs help and better protection. RB Ryan Brumfield should surprise a lot of folks with his ability, and will be used a lot in the screen game. Will EMU win six games? No. However, if you look at the lineup top to bottom, this is a team that could screw up somebody’s season and set themselves up to make a run at six wins in 2012.
Possible Upset: October 15th at Central Michigan
Watch your back!: September 10th vs. Alabama State
6. Ball State-Projected Record 0-12/0-8
We made no qualms about the fact that hiring Pete Lembo was a mistake. I’m sure he’s a good coach, but he is not what this team needs right now. BSU is struggling mightily post Brady Hoke, and Lembo does not have the resume to recruit the way a Tim Beckman or Dave Doeren does. BSU loses talented RB Eric Williams who left the team earlier this year and has big question marks at QB and in the pass rush. BSU will bring back a lot of starters on both sides, but the level of talent has dropped considerably over two seasons. Not playing a FCS team will only hurt in a season when they could use one to get some snaps under a new scheme, and the October 1st game at Oklahoma could be a 70 point loss. It’s hard to say much about the Cardinals; they had no identity under Stan Parrish, and it may take awhile to find one under Pete Lembo.
Possible Upset: November 5th at EMU
Watch your back!: September 17th vs. Buffalo