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Mid-American Conference Football Preview

   by Ben Burns - 08/26/2009

We’ve got less than two weeks to prepare for the college football season.

This week, we break down the MAC, a conference that is changing and one known for pulling off major upsets.

A Toledo team that finished 3-9 went into Michigan last season and won. Bowling Green opened the year by winning at Pittsburgh.

Who’s got upset potential this year?

MAC Power Rankings

(ATS numbers are for last three years).

1. Central Michigan Chippewas

ATS: 23-14-2 (Home: 11-3. Away: 9-10-2)

The Chippewas are the pick to the win the MAC by almost everyone. Ten returning defensive starters and prolific senior quarterback Dan LeFevour are the reasons why.

This program turned the corner in 2005. It had been on a nice ATS run, especially at home. But oddsmakers caught up to them last season. CMU finished at 5-7 against the number, its first losing ATS season mark in three years.

2. Buffalo Bulls

ATS: 23-14-1 (Home: 7-7-1 Away: 14-5)

Don’t be surprised if Buffalo doesn’t get off to a crisp start. Head coach Turner Gill hired new offensive and defensive coordinators in the offseason. The Bulls also are breaking in a sophomore quarterback behind a line with just two returning starters.

Buffalo does have two of the conference’s best playmakers in running back James Starks and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt and what Gill says is the best defense he’s had.

Even if they start slow, the Bulls will be in the mix for the MAC East title.

3. Ohio Bobcats

ATS: 20-14-1 (Home: 8-5. Away: 11-7-1 ATS)

Frank Solich’s team couldn’t catch a break last season. The Bobcats were plagued by injuries and turnovers. They were 112th in turnover margin and finished 4-8 straight up.

But a closer look reveals a team that managed to stay in games despite the turnovers and injuries. They went 7-4 ATS.

Fourteen starters, including almost every skill position, return from the scrappy Bobcats.

There should be some value betting on Ohio this year. Solich has posted three straight ATS winning seasons.

4. Western Michigan Broncos

ATS: 16-18-2 (Home: 6-6-1. Away: 8-10-1)

The Broncos are tied with Bowling Green for the fewest returning starters in the MAC. But the ones they have do coming back are good ones, including senior quarterback Tim Hiller, 1,000-yard rusher Brandon Rush and all-conference linebacker Austin Pritchard.

5. Toledo Rockets

ATS: 15-19 (Home: 10-7. Away: 5-11)

This team could surprise. New coach Tim Beckman inherits 16 returning starters to begins his Toledo tenure. Senior quarterback Aaron Opelt heads into his fourth year as the Rockets’ starter, after passing for more than 2,100 yards last season. Opelt has his top receivers, top two rushers and all five starting offensive linemen back.

Bonus note: The Rockets’ have one of the most underrated home-field advantages in the nation. Toledo is 31-15 ATS at the Glass Bowl since 2000.

6. Temple Owls

ATS: 19-15-2 (Home: 9-4. Away: 8-10-1)

Take a hard look at the under when playing the Owls this season.

They return nine defensive starters. Defensive tackle Andre Neblett, end Junior Galette and cornerback Jamal Schulters are all all-conference talents.

The offense will be breaking in a new quarterback.

The Owls are 8-16 under the past two seasons under coach Al Golden.

Bonus: Temple is 7-2-1 ATS as a home dog under Golden.

7. Eastern Michigan Eagles

ATS: 14-20 (Home: 4-7. Away: 10-11)

The Eagles have been MAC’s worst team for three years running. Enter former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English, who has 17 returning starters, including versatile senior quarterback Andy Schmitt to turn things around at EMU.

The Eagles upset Central Michigan to end last season. They’re on the rise in the MAC.

Bonus note: Since 1999, the Eagles are 6-20 ATS in non-conference play.

8. Northern Illinois

ATS: 15-20 (Home: 5-9. Away: 10-8)

The Huskies have already lost two defensive linemen for the season. That’s especially painful on a defense that returns just four starters.

Bonus note: The Huskies are 1-9 ATS as home favorite the past three seasons.

9. Akron Zips

ATS: 16-19-1 (Home: 7-6. Away: 8-10-1)

This program appeared to have peaked with 2005’s Motor City Bowl berth. Since then, it’s been downhill for coach JD Brookhart and the Zips, who are 7-16-1 ATS against conference competition the last three seasons.

10. Bowling Green Falcons

ATS: 18-18 (Home: 3-10. Away: 13-6)

In the past, hiring Tennessee’s offensive coordinator as your head coach might have been exciting. But anyone who saw Clawson’s offense during his one miserable season (last year) in Tennessee knows otherwise.

Clawson inherits just 10 returning starters, only three on defense.

It’s probably a good idea to take a wait-and-see approach with the Falcons.

11. Ball State Cardinals

ATS: 23-13 (Home: 8-6. Away: 15-5)

Why would coach Brady Hoke leave Ball State for San Diego State if the Cardinals were capable of building off of last year’s success?

Offensive coordinator Stan Parrish was promoted to take over for Hoke. The 62-year-old has a career head coaching record of 2-31-1 in stops at Marshall and Kansas State.

Only one starter on the offensive line returns to block for starting quarterback Kelly Page, a redshirt freshman that had the “deer in headlights look,” according to Parrish after a mid-August scrimmage.

Fade the Cardinals.

12. Kent State Golden Flashes

ATS: 13-21 (Home: 4-8. Away: 9-10)

The headline on the Kent (OH) Record Pub’s web site said, “Poor play on KSU’s O-line raises serious flags in scrimmage.”

Yikes.

13. Miami Redhawks

ATS: 14-21-1 (Home: 4-10-1. Away: 10-9)

Ex-Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Haywood takes over the Redhawks, who hit rock bottom last year, going 2-10.

The offense has not adjusted smoothly to Haywood’s scheme. Scrimmage reports suggest the defense has been dominating. That’s a defense with only five returning starters.

Haywood might get things turned around eventually, but not this year.

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