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MAC East Preview
by Tom Stryker - 08/22/2008
MAC EAST PREVIEW
The Mid-American Conference is getting ready for its 62nd season. Although the league is mature, last fallâ€™s teams in both divisions played with a host of young players.
As we take a look at this yearâ€™s East Division of the MAC, a lot of those players have grown up. Most teams return the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball. That should make for an interesting East race as all seven teams will take aim at their division crown and a berth in one of three guaranteed MAC bowl games (the Motor City, the International and the GMAC bowl).
Hereâ€™s a quick scouting report on how the MAC East teams stack up this fall.
The Zips return 13 starters â€“ the fewest of any East Division team. Those 13 are committed to building from last yearâ€™s 4-8 (2-3 in MAC play) record.
Most of the work Akron needs has to be on the defensive side of the field where only five starters return from a unit that yielded nearly 30 points a game last fall.
There is better news on the offensive side. Eight starters are back, including quarterback Chris Jacquemain, who completed 56 percent of his passes a year ago for 1,623 yards. But he has to stay healthy. Backup quarterback Carlton Jackson has transferred leaving only redshirt freshman Matt Rodgers as the only other quarterback around.
Senior Chris Keme and sophomore Mike Ward will be mainstays in the offensive line â€“ a unit that returns four starters. Senior Merce Poindexter, who has 11 starts at tight end, also returns.
The special team boasts two special players in kick returner Bryan Williams (second in the NCAA last fall at 31.9 yards per return) and punt returner Andre Jones (11th in the NCAA a season ago with an average of 14.5 yards per return).
Head coach J.D. Brookhart will be in his fourth year at the helm of the Zips. He enters 2008 with a 22-26 mark at Akron.
KEY AKRON TREND: The Zips stand 8-19 ATS in their last 27 priced as a favorite of -8 or more.
Coach Gregg Brandon and his Falcons were one of three teams tied for the East crown last fall and folks around Bowling Green are expecting bigger and better things this season.
Nine starters return on defense, including eight of the top nine tacklers from 2007, All four starters are back in the secondary. The Falcons were 8-5 a season ago and made their third appearance (GMAC) in a bowl game in the last five years.
Quarterbck Tyler Sheehan is back for his junior season. Last year he threw for 23 touchdowns and 3,264 yards and is expected to build on those numbers this fall. He has plenty of help in the backfield with last seasonâ€™s top three rushers all returning. Anthony Turner (519 yards and nine touchdowns), Willie Geter (457 yards) and Chris Bullock (281 yards) will make it tough on BG opponents to key on any one rusher.
It is similar in the receiving corps where Bowling Green returns pass catchers that accounted for 28 of 29 touchdowns a year ago.
If there is a singular concern, it might be the offensive line, a unit that lost three starters.
Brandon plays four straight non-conference games to open the season and only one is at home (Minnesota). The Falcons play Pittsburgh, Boise State and Wyoming on the road.
KEY BOWLING GREEN TREND: The Falcons have won the money in 18 of their last 25 tries priced as a pup of +8 or more.
The Bulls completed a 5-3 MAC campaign in 2007, their best showing since joining the conference in 1999. Head coach Turner Gill was named the MAC coach of the year and Buffalo was one of three teams tied atop the MAC East at the end of the season.
Ten returning offensive starters give the Bulls plenty to be optimistic about. Senior quarterback Drew Willy is back again hoping to improve upon some fancy â€™07 numbers that saw him complete 258 passes with a 68.4 percent accuracy rate and 15 touchdowns.
Junior James Starks returns as running back. Last year he set a school record with 1,103 yards gained and 14 touchdowns. He will be helped with holes likely to be produced by four of five returning starters in the offensive line.
Two talented receivers are back for Willy. Naaman Roosevelt and Ernest Jackson last season combined for 116 receptions and 1,411 yards.
Safety Davonte Shannon is back to lead the defense (8 starters back total). Shannon registered 123 tackles in 2007 and 10 tackles for loss.
A tough non-conference schedule will test the Bulls early. They play at Pittsburgh and at Missouri, and host UTEP and Army in non-league play.
KEY BUFFALO TREND: The Bulls are a remarkable 13-2 ATS in their last 15 games provided they enter off back-to-back SU and ATS losses.
Coach Doug Martin knows there is nowhere to go but up for the Golden Flashes after last yearâ€™s 1-7 league mark (3-9 overall).
Entering his fifth season, Martin has 15 returning starters, but is thin on experience in the defensive secondary on a unit that gave up nearly 400 yards a game last fall. He also has to get some better passing numbers to go with All-MAC running back Eugene Jarvis.
Jarvis scored 10 touchdowns a year ago, while gaining 1,169 rushing yards. He enters the fall as the leading returning rusher in the nation.
Julian Edelman was the statistical leader at quarterback last fall, passing for 1.318 yards (1,859 in 2006), but Giorgio Morgan could challenge.
The Golden Flashes open with two tough games, home against Boston College, then on the road at Iowa State. Their other two non-conference games are against Delaware State and Louisiana Lafayette.
KEY KENT STATE TREND: The Golden Flashes are a stiff 7-20 ATS when matched up against an opponent that enters off a blowout victory of 10 points or more.
Fourth-year head coach Shane Montgomery saw his RedHawks tie for first in the MAC east last year (5-2, 6-7), has 17 starters back, will get to play six home games, yet the jury is still out on how strong Miami can be.
The numbers seem to indicate it could be an awesome fall. On the defensive line, three of four starters return and a battery of the best linebackers in the league (Clayton Mullins, Joey Hudson and Caleb Bostic) would help any defense. Mullins was the MAC defensive player of the year in 2007. In addition to the 17 starters, Miami has five veterans returning to its placekicking and punting team.
The RedHawks lost their captain quarterback Mike Kokal, but Daniel Raudabaugh, who started seven games, does return. Radabaugh threw for 2,431 yards with 12 touchdowns, but he had 12 passes intercepted.
Three graduating senior running backs depleted that corps. The top returner in the backfield is Thomas Merriweather, who only ran for 143 yards last fall.
Miami needs to retain its solid defense (best scoring defense in the MAC last year), while boosting its offensive output. The Redhawks were 11th of 13 teams in scoring offense in 2007.
Miamiâ€™s non-conference games include Vanderbilt, Michigan, Charleston Southern and Cincinnati.
KEY MIAMI TREND: The Redhawks are a tremendous 21-9 ATS priced as a favorite of -4.5 or more provided Miami enters with momentum off back-to-back SU wins.
Former Nebraska head man Frank Solich has produced some surprises at Ohio in his three previous seasons, but a middle of the pack finish last year (4-4, 6-6) has Bobcats fans clamoring for more.
The Ohio defense was porous, finishing in the lower third of the nation in many statistical categories. That will be a focal point when fall drills open soon.
But there will have to be work done on the offensive side as well. Veteran Brad Bower has graduated and likely heir Theo Scott completed 57.8 percent of his passes while appearing in 10 games. Scott threw for five touchdowns in his 63 completions.
The biggest loss may that of running back Kalvin McRae. Gone are his career 4,398 rushing yards, 49 touchdowns and 5,248 all-purpose yards.
There is plenty of work to do on both sides of the line, even though 15 starters return.
Ohio plays three of its four non-conference games on the road â€“ Wyoming, Ohio State and Northwestern. The Bobcats will host VMI.
KEY OHIO TREND: Coming off a SU and ATS loss, the Bobcats have struggled something fierce posting a woeful 5-18-1 ATS mark provided their opponent arrives off a SU loss.
Not too often are football eyes smiling when it comes to the Owls, but third-year coach Al Golden has 22 starters back from a team that was 4-4 in the league, but 4-8 overall in 2007.
Quarterback Adam DiMichele, who was hurt late in the season, is back. He threw for 1,595 yards and 12 touchdowns before going down.
The top returning rusher is Jason Harper, who gained 586 yards last season, while the top returning receiver is Kevin Kilbride, who caught 47 passes for 731 yards.
After a couple of seasons of starting almost entirely freshmen and sophomores, Templeâ€™s success will hinge on the overall team strength. Golden knows he has plenty of experience at all positions, but can his talent rise to another level with another year of experience?
The Owls non-conference schedule includes a home game with Connecticut and road tests at Army, Penn State and Navy.
KEY TEMPLE TREND: On foreign soil coming off a pointspread loss of 10 points or more last, the Owns havenâ€™t been worth a hoot posting an ugly 9-24 ATS mark.
MAC WEST PREVIEW
Trying to pick a winner in the Mid American Conferenceâ€™s West division is going to be tough, as three teams â€“ Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Ball State â€“ all have the personnel, experience and talent to capture the West crown.
One thing is certain. If the MAC East is a bit down this fall, the MAC West has plenty of power.
And MAC followers are looking for some improvement, especially after Central, Western and Ball State all were beaten in bowl competition at the end of last season.
Hereâ€™s a team-by-team look at the MAC West.
It may take most of the season to determine just how good the Cardinals are. They close with road games at Miami (a MAC East contender) and Central Michigan, before hosting Western in the regular season finale.
But, coach Brady Hokeâ€™s club figures to be in the thick of the title hunt with all 11 offensive and seven defensive starters returning. The Cardinals are an amazing 9-2 in their last 11 road conference games.
It all starts at quarterback and that is where Ball State is strong with junior Nate Davis, who threw for 3,667 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2007. (Only six interceptions).
The Cardinals probably boast the leagueâ€™s best receiving corps, headlined by Dante Love, who had 1,398 yards receiving last fall. Louis Johnson is another big time pass catcher, accounting for a 24.8 yard average on his 17 catches.
Eight of the top 10 offensive linemen are back, with only Dustin Brown and John Purdy graduated. The defensive line, meanwhile, loses three starters to a unit that allowed 204 yards rushing each game â€“ a number that will have to be improved upon this fall.
Hoke, 22-37 at Ball State, will see his club meet Northeastern, Navy, Indiana and Western Kentucky in non-conference play.
KEY BALL STATE TREND: The Cardinals are a surprising 5-10 ATS coming off back-to-back SU victories.
After winning a second straight MAC championship, the Chippewas have to be considered a prime threat for a three-peat. Heach coach Butch Jones, 8-6 a year ago, but 6-1 in the MAC West, has plenty on hand to help make that run.
Quarterback Dan LeFevour, now a junior, hopes to improve upon his sparkling 2007 numbers of 3,652 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns and 19 rushing touchdowns. He has his top two receivers back as well, Bryan Anderson (90 catches for 1.132 yards) and Antonio Brown (102 catches for 1,003 yards). Four starters return to an offensive line that helped CMU average nearly 35 points a game last fall.
The hopes of the Chippewas could fall to the defense, a unit that is sprinkled with eight starters returning. The secondary has to improve after allowing 34 touchdown passes last year, but six members of the returning secondary have starting experience.
The team leader in tackles a year ago is gone (Red Keith), making the linebacking corps a bit greener, but the defensive line should be stronger despite the loss of tackle Steven Friend and nose guard Ronnie Ekdahl.
Central plays both Western Michigan and Ball State at home in league play. Its nonconference schedule is a tough one with road games at Georgia, Purdue and Indiana. The Chips will play Eastern Illinois at home.
KEY CENTRAL MICHIGAN TREND: The Chippewas stand 15-3-1 ATS in their last 19 tries priced as a favorite provided they own a won/loss percentage of .500 or better.
Coach Jeff Genyk may have the best club in his five years at the helm of the Eagles, but a rash of good things have to happen or Eastern will be in the cellar of the MAC West once again.
Tough road league games (at Bowling Green, Ball State and Western Michigan) will test the Eagles, as will a regular season finale at home against Central. The non-conference ledger includes Indiana State, Michigan State, Maryland and Army.
The Eagles were 3-4 in the MAC in 2007, a season that featured victories over both Western and Central Michigan. Eastern was 10th in the league in scoring defense, allowing more than 31 points a game that produced the overall 4-8 record.
If the defense is to improve it will have to come from the linebacking and deep-back area. Middle linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw may be the best of the bunch. He has 35 game starts under his belt and 330 career tackles. The defensive front line is full of holes after the graduation of tackle Mason Jones, defensive end Eric Young.
Andy Schmitt likely will be the Eagles quarterback again. He threw for 1,613 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. Leading rusher Pierre Walker (839 yards and 10 touchdowns) is gone and only quarterback Schmitt had more than 200 yards rushing (other than Walker).
Four of the top five receivers will be back in camp, led by Jacory Stone (462 yards) and DeAnthony White (357 yards).
KEY EASTERN MICHIGAN TREND: The Eagles have soared coming off back-to-back SU and ATS losses posting a respectable 12-3 ATS mark.
Following a miserable 2-10 2007 season and entering 2008 with a new head coach, not much may be expected of the Huskies. But, hold on, if you are looking for 2008 surprise MAC team, it could just be new coach Jerry Kill and Northern Illinois.
First of all, at least 18 starters, including 17 senior starters return. Four of last yearâ€™s 10 losses were by a total of 11 points â€“ and the team was injury plagued and hurt by a turnover margin of -17. Kill, who was last at Southern Illinois, compiled a 55-32 record there. In his 14 seasons as a head coach, his mark is an impressive 104-57. It could all turn around this fall.
Quarterbacks Dan Nicholson and Ryan Morris are back, although Nicholson sat out spring ball to recover. He threw for 1,633 yards last fall, with Morris adding another 727 passing yards.
Veteran Justin Anderson headlines the running backs after his 1,245 yard, 8-touchdown performance in 2007. Tight end Brandon Davis is gone, but the rest of the primary receivers are back, including Matt Simon (969 yards, 18.6 average) and Britt Davis (391 yards and an 11.8 average).
Those offensive performers have to produce more than the 19.1 points per game of 2007. Only Temple was worse at 16.4.
Northernâ€™s linebackers return intact, and seven players return with starting experience on the defensive line.
Tough non-conference games at Minnesota and Tennessee dot the schedule. Home non-league games include Indiana State and Navy.
KEY NORTHERN ILLINOIS TREND: As an underdog priced at +8 or more, the Huskies have barked loudly posting a sizzling 22-10 ATS record.
A rugged finish in 2007 (losses at Ball State and at Bowling Green) sank Coach Tom Amstutzâ€™ Rockets to a 5-7, 3-5 mark last fall. Toledo had one of the highest powered offenses in the league (second at 32.9 ppg), but the worst scoring defense in the conference (39.2). Itâ€™s likely that that the offense can still put up big numbers, and the defense should be visibly improved as well.
But the Rockets must visit Ball State and Western Michigan in league play and have some real non-conference challenges with games at Arizona, at Michigan and home against Fresno State and Florida International. They also have to meet East Division contenders Miami and Bowing Green.
Leading the Rockets offensively will be junior quarterback Aaron Opelt and standout receivers Stephen Williams and Nick Moore. Opelt threw for 1,756 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2007, while Williams and Moore combined for 133 catches and 1,900 yards and 15 touchdowns.
A big offensive loss will be that of top running back Jalen Parmele, who ran for 1,511 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Three starters return to the defensive line and five of the top six linebackers from a season ago. Senior free safety Tyrell Herbert, injured in 2007, is back to give the Rockets what may be the MACâ€™s top secondary.
KEY TOLEDO TREND: The Rockets have exploded at the Glass Bowl posting a sweet 17-3 ATS record provided their opponent arrives off a SU win.
Remember when the Broncos started 17 freshmen in 2005. Well, the 2008 version of the Broncos is all grown up. Eight starters return to the offense, and 11 starters to the defense â€“ and nine of those are veteran seniors.
Head coach Bill Cubit was 5-7 and 3-4 last season, but has to be considered one of the prime challengers for the MAC West title in 2008. Circle games of Oct. 18 (Central Michigan) and Nov. 25 (at Ball State). Those two could go a long way toward determining the Broncos postseason chances.
Junior quarterback Tim Hiller and a couple of outstanding receivers, Jamarco Simmons and Branden Ledbetter, will fuel the offense, along with veteran running back Brandon West.
Hiller passed for 3,021 yards and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore, while Simmons and Ledbetter combined for 122 receptions for 1,530 yards and 12 touchdowns. West ran for a 4.6 average in his 848 rushing yards.
Western returns its entire two-deep batch of defensive linemen and four starters in the defensive backfield with 112 career starts among them. It is a veteran unit that is expected to build upon last yearâ€™s MAC No. 5 scoring defense of 28.9 points a game.
The Broncos open at Nebraska, host Illinois late in the season, and also face Idaho and Tennessee Tech in non-conference play.
KEY WESTERN MICHIGAN TREND: The Broncos are a surprising 7-21 ATS when matched up against an opponent that enters off a straight up win of 10 points or more.