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Mid-American Conference Preview
by Matt Fargo - 08/11/2009
The MAC is a conference that parity reigns supreme. Sure there are the perennial doormats but even those teams make a surprise run or at the very least, pull off an upset or two along the way. Starting with the MAC East, it wasn’t too long ago that Miami was always near the top and fighting it out for the division championship. That is no longer the case. Since the RedHawks last division title in 2004-05, there have been four difference champs with Buffalo making the surprising run last season. It should be anyone’s division, almost, once again in 2009.
Buffalo Bulls 8-6 SU, 8-5 ATS, 9-4 O/U
Summary: With a division with so many questions for so many teams, it makes sense to give Buffalo the early edge. The Bulls had seven wins combined from 2002 through 2006 then posted five victories in 2007 before winning eight last season including six in the MAC to claim the crown. The Bulls were fortunate to beat Temple on a last second Hail Mary as well as win three other games in overtime. It was very possible that Buffalo could have gone 4-10 instead of 8-6 but I give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was good coaching and leadership that pulled out those wins. Gone is four-year starting quarterback Drew Willy so there will be a big dropoff in that regard but there are other pieces in place for Buffalo to compete again.
Schedule: The schedule is very top heavy with three tough non-conference games, two on the road at UTEP and at UCF with the other at home against Pittsburgh. In MAC play, the Bulls get Bowling Green and Ohio at home this year but got the short end as their two games in the West are against the two favorites, Central Michigan and Western Michigan.
Bottom Line: Because of the close wins last season, the law of averages say that those will reverse themselves out. I’m not so sure about that however as I mentioned, coaching has a lot to do with it. Turner Gill is one of the top young coaches around and he has completely turned this program from a bottom feeder into a contender in only three years. Buffalo is hoping for its second ever bowl game this season.
Betting Forecast: Buffalo is 17-8 ATS in the MAC under Gill and I still don’t think it gets the respect it deserves. Look for more of the same this year.
Ohio Bobcats 4-8 SU, 6-4-1 ATS, 5-6 O/U
Summary: It has been an inconsistent ride since Frank Solich took over the Bobcats five years ago. He has had only one winning season in Athens and that was in 2006 when Ohio won the MAC East and went to a bowl game for the first time since 1968. Instead of building momentum, the last two years have been downers but this could be the year that things turn back around. That is certainly a good thing but it is more because of the mediocrity around the Bobcats as opposed to the strength of the team. Still, this team is due for breaks as it has been -14 in turnover margin the last three years so some bounces could come their way this season. The running game will once again be the emphasis with the quarterbacks playing a bigger role in that.
Schedule: Ohio has a tough test at Tennessee in its fourth non-conference game but it could feasibly be 3-0 heading into that one from wins over Connecticut, North Texas and Cal Poly. The MAC schedule starts with two road games at Bowling Green and Akron who will both be looming to win the East as well. The Bobcats two games against the West are at Ball St. and at home against Northern Illinois.
Bottom Line: Ohio has just as good of a shot of winning the East as four or five other teams do. It will come down to the defense that lost a lot of talent as well as how the duel quarterback situation pans out. The Bobcats had their worst rushing season since 2004 before Solich took over and that is something he takes personally. If Ohio can go from -12 in turnovers last year to positive this year, the division could be going here.
Betting Forecast: Ohio has gone 9-4 ATS the last two years following a loss and that is coaching. A loss at Tennessee means the next game at Bowling Green is worth a look.
Bowling Green Falcons 6-6 SU, 7-4 ATS, 4-7 O/U
Summary: Gregg Brandon put together a 44-30 record in six years at Bowling Green and had just one losing season in his time but he was let go after last year. That shows how important the administration thinks it should be winning every single season. The Falcons brought in Dave Clawson who was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee where he obviously struggled. However, the defenses in the SEC and the MAC are far from close so he should be just fine. His biggest challenge will be to improve a defense that was adequate last season but must replace eight starters including the entire defensive line. The offense was better than the final ranking last season and will improve even more and may need to carry the load.
Schedule: The Falcons will be challenged early and often and that could either strengthen the team or send it reeling early. They host a tough Troy team to open the season and then travel to Missouri nine days later. A road game at Marshall follows before hosting a game with Boise St. The two teams from the West are Central Michigan and Toledo and both are at home.
Bottom Line: Good things could happen at Bowling Green if the defense can find its identity. The Falcons will be able to outscore a number of opponents but the offense will not be able to win every game, especially early on. Had the defense not lost as much as it did, Bowling Green would be the favorite to win the East. If it starts out 0-4, that could be a serious hit but an upset along the way is possible.
Betting Forecast: With the potent offense and the revamped defense, don’t be surprised to see the Falcons reverse that 4-7 O/U mark from last season.
Temple Owls 5-7 SU, 7-4-1 ATS, 5-7 O/U
Summary: Temple finished last season with five wins, the most since 1990 so it was considered a big year for some but the Owls still considered it a disappointing season. They expected more and if not for losing three games on the final play, Temple would have been bowl eligible. Expectations are high once again as head coach Al Golden has turned one of the worst programs in the country to a team that has the ability to win the MAC. Temple needs to replace quarterback Adam DiMichele and that is a big challenge. Everything else looks to already be in place, especially the MAC’s top ranked defense that should be even better this year with nine starters coming back. The frustrations that took place last season could very well be a springboard into 2009.
Schedule: Army, Navy and Penn St. dot the non-conference schedule as they do most years along with Villanova and coming away 2-2 in those games is likely. The MAC schedule is fairly tame with the toughest road games being at Toledo, Akron and Ohio. The Owls miss Central Michigan and Western Michigan in the West and get Buffalo at home this season.
Bottom Line: The turnaround at Temple has been a great story but the Owls still have not gotten where they want to go. If the quarterback situation pans out, this could finally be the year since the defense is going to be solid. Because the quarterback plays such a big role, Temple is placed in the middle of the pack but it could very well be holding the division title come November.
Betting Forecast: Temple is 7-2-1 ATS as a home underdog under Golden and it is possible it is in that role against Buffalo and Ball St. so key an eye on that.
Akron Zips 5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS, 9-3 O/U
Summary: Akron has not won the MAC East since 2005 and as a matter of fact, that is the last time that the Zips have had a winning season. That certainly makes one thing clear and that is head coach J.D. Brookhart is on the hotseat. The addition of Shane Montgomery, the former Miami (Ohio) head coach to lead the offense and Walt Harris, the former Pittsburgh head coach to lead the quarterbacks, can only help the offense and that was not the bad part last season. The defense was the issue as the Zips finished 90th overall and 95th in scoring. If they can firm that up, they have a great shot at winning the division. The problem is that just like Akron, the four other teams in front all have roughly the same shot in the wide open MAC East.
Schedule: If it isn’t the defense, the schedule could be the downfall. The Zips face two Big Ten teams out of conference as well as playing a game at an improved Syracuse team. Within the MAC, Akron has two games at home and two on the road against the four teams listed ahead of it here but it also has to travel to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois from the West.
Bottom Line: The chances are as good as any of the four teams already written about for the Zips to win the MAC East. They have nine starters back on offense, one that averaged a solid 30.0 ppg last season and the offensive minds brought in will only help make the unit stronger. I see the schedule being the only real issue standing in the way as the first three MAC games could put them 0-3.
Betting Forecast: Akron is just 3-10-1 ATS following a win over the last three years but with the new assistants, this coaching trend could reverse itself if given the opportunities.
Kent St. Golden Flashes 4-8 SU, 4-6 ATS, 7-3 O/U
Summary: Kent St. has a streak in the MAC that it is not proud of. The Golden Flashes have not been to a bowl game since 1972 and that is the longest drought of any current team in the conference. Kent St. has been bowl eligible twice since 2001 but it did not get selected and likely won’t again unless it wins the MAC Championship. Unfortunately that probably will not happen and head coach Doug Martin could be out of a job. It finished 36th in the nation in total offense but it must replace quarterback Julian Edelman who led the team in both passing and rushing. That is tough player to replace and it just isn’t going to happen right away. The defense stumbled numerous times last season but let’s not forget that this is the MAC and we always see a team surprise that shouldn’t.
Schedule: Three of the four non-conference games are against BCS teams, two of which are on the road so it looks like three losses are a given. As far as the MAC schedule, it is one of the easier ones of any team in the whole conference. The Golden Flashes face only two teams from the West and the toughest is at home against Western Michigan. The two toughest in the East are at Temple and Ohio.
Bottom Line: Strange things happen in this conference and Kent St. has just as good of a shot as any other team at this point. I just do not see how a team can lose 3,190 total yards from one player and expect to compete the following season. The schedule sets up well as it starts easy in conference action and a few wins could start something and give us a real big sleeper.
Betting Forecast: Kent St. is 3-10 ATS since 2002 as a home favorite. We will see a couple early chalk lines so tread very lightly if looking to back the Golden Flashes.
Miami (Ohio) RedHawks 2-10 SU, 4-6 ATS, 5-5 O/U
Summary: The only certain, or as close to certain as possible, is that the RedHawks will bring up the rear in the MAC East. While the six other teams above them have a legitimate shot at the division, some more than others, that chance is slim for Miami. A new head coach in Mike Haywood, along with new offensive and defensive coordinators mean new schemes and a rebuilding project is on the way. The good news is that this team of coaches has a big pedigree so the future should be here sooner rather than later. Miami has been outscored in each of the last three years and has not been to a bowl game since 2004. That seems impossible for a team that was near the top of the conference for years. Unfortunately, that won’t change this season.
Schedule: Making matters even worse is a schedule that does not let up. The non-conference games are against Kentucky, Boise St., Cincinnati and Northwestern and those are sandwiched around two MAC road games to start the year. Even though four of the final five games are at home, three are against teams potentially in the hunt for a division title.
Bottom Line: There is hope for the RedHawks who have taken a huge fall since the glory days of Josh Betts and Ben Roethlisberger. Following a 5-3 conference record in 2007, last year was supposed to be the big turnaround for head coach Shane Montgomery but it turned into a disaster as Miami went 2-10 and 1-7 in the MAC. Those victory totals may be tough to surpass with the brutal schedule that lies ahead.
Betting Forecast: Miami is just 4-11 ATS at home over the last three seasons but with the low expectations, we will get some good home dog spots. Stay tuned for the value.