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MAC West Preview and Investing Tips

   by Tom Stryker - 08/20/2005

Our last preview showed you why Miami and Bowling Green are the class of the East in the MAC. Today's look chronicles the teams in the West Division - and who, if anyone, can unseat powerful Toledo as MAC champions.

Ouch might be the best word to use when describing Ball State's outlook for 2005. And that may not be because the Cardinals are that far behind the rest of their division. But their first four games are at Iowa, home against Bowling Green, at Auburn and at Boston College. If third-year coach Brady Hoke and his players can survive that month-long stretch, the rest of the season may be interesting. Any wins may have to be generated by the BSU defense, a unit that returns nine starters. Three linebackers, three deep backs and three down linemen are back to anchor that defensive unit. Offensively, two big surprises have hurt. Wide receiver Dante Ridgeway, who caught 8 TDs a year ago and gained 1,399 receiving yards, declared early for the NFL. Then MAC freshman of the year Adell Givens was dismissed from the team. Junior Joey Lynch and sophomore Cole Stinson, who shared time a season ago, are vying for the quarterback slot.
Ball State Investing Tips
17-8 ATS - Play AGAINST BSU when matched up against a foe that enters off a SU and ATS win
9-0 ATS - Play AGAINST BSU when facing a sub .500 foe that enters off a SU win
13-5 ATS - Play AGAINST BSU on the road coming off back-to-back SU losses

Entering the 2005 season with the least experience of any of the MAC teams is just one of Central's preseason problems. Recent NCAA regulations show that Central is one of the schools with "outlawed" nicknames - and the long-used Chippewas may have to go. Quarterback Kent Smith, a senior, is a bright spot for Central. He threw for 2,284 yards and 16 TDs last season - and his performance will be a factor in whether CMU can match or improve upon its 4-7 mark of a year ago. Junior Jerry Seymour also returns to the backfield. He has produced two consecutive 1,000-plus yards seasons. Three returning offensive linemen will help either protect Smith or open holes for Seymour. Defensive end Dan Bauzin is the headlineer among six returning defensive starters, but help has to be found at safety and linebacker before Central will be able to contain some of the high-power teams it will face in 2005.
Central Michigan Investing Tips
26-13 ATS - Play AGAINST CMU when facing an opponent that checks in off a SU loss
12-5 ATS - Play ON CMU when matched up against a foe that enters off back-to-back SU wins
10-0 ATS - Play AGAINST CMU as a road dog provided its foe is off a double-digit loss

Second-year head coach Jeff Genyk could field the league's most surprising team if the Eagles can stop teams defensively. Eastern posted a 4-7 mark a year ago, but three straight losses were by a combined total of 15 points. The reason for optimism is primarily on the offensive side of the ball - with seven returning starters. There is plenty to crow about with returning senior quarterback Matt Bohnet, who threw for 2,807 yards and 21TDs in 2004. Joining him will be tailback Anthony Sherrell, who gained 854 yards and scored 11 TDs. Placekicker Andrew Wellock is among the best in the country. A year ago as a sophomore he made 35 of 40 field goal attempts. Bookend defensive ends Matt Lisek and Jean Olivier Gagnon-Gordillo return, but they are two of only five starters returning.
Eastern Michigan Investing Tips
14-2 ATS - Play AGAINST EMU versus a non-conference opponent
10-3 ATS - Play ON EMU when matched up against a foe that enters off back-to-back SU wins
14-8 ATS - Play AGAINST EMU as a guest and facing a foe that is off a SU and ATS loss

Recently among the class of MAC teams, that shouldn't change this year for coach Joe Novak (10th year) and Northern Illinois. Novak's teams have gone 27-9 during the last three years and have five straight winning seasons (39-19). There is plenty of ammunition back to help the Huskies, who still can't seem to stop nemesis Toledo (11 straight losses). One big question mark, however, is at the quarterback slot. Josh Haldi has graduated and this year's starter is likely to come from relatively untested Phil Horvath or sophomore Zach Ulrich. Tailbacks Garrett Wolfe and A.J. Harris do return for Northern. That tandem gained nearly 2,500 yards a year ago, along with 22 TDs. Three returning offensive linemen will help, but three starters are missing from the defensive front. All-MAC linebacker Javan Lee does return, but quick development will be needed by the younger, greener defenders, whose maturation process is among Northern Illinois' top priorities in preseason camp.
Northern Illinois Investing Tips
14-5 ATS - Play ON NIU priced as a double-digit underdog
23-8 ATS - Play ON NIU when the Huskies own a sub .500 record
18-7 ATS - Play ON NIU priced as a home dog or a home favorite of -17.5 or less

The Rockets will wear a bullseye on their back this year - favored again to play for the MAC championship. And there is plenty of support for that optimism, including coach Tom Amstutz, who has gone 36-15 entering his fifth season at Toledo. Some 16 starters return from last year's club, a team that won nine of its last 10 games. Bruce Gradkowski, now a senior, will be back at quarterback. A season ago he threw for 3,518 yards and 27 TDs, while completing 70.2 percent of his passes. In fact, Gradkowski is the only quarterback in 1-A history to produce two straight 70 percent-plus seasons. Junior Steve Odom returns (115 catches) and is likely to be a favorite target, along with tight end Andrew Clarke, who sat out the 2004 campaign with injuries. Eight starters are back defensively, including all-MAC linebacker Keon Jackson. Interior linebackers Anthony Jordan and David Thomas also return. The last two games of the season could be pivotal for Toledo when they host Northern Illinois, then close at Bowling Green.
Toledo Investing Tips
25-12 ATS - Play ON Toledo at home
15-5 ATS - Play ON Toledo when the Rockets are off a SU and ATS loss
19-8 ATS - Play ON Toledo when matched up against a foe that enters off a double-digit loss

Despite plenty of negatives after last year's 1-10 campaign, new coach Bill Cubit has plenty of reasons to point to progress for the Broncos in 2005. A total of 14 starters return, including eight on offense for Western - not accustomed to seasons like they endured in 2004. Cubit, the former offensive coordinator at Stanford, can look to his son Ryan for help. Ryan is the returning starter at quarterback. He threw for 1,887 yards and 11 TDs last season. All but one interior line starter returns for the offense, while the defensive front has returning starters at nose guard and tackle. The top three tacklers from a year ago are gone, and the entire defense is likely to switch from Western's 4-2-5 alignment to a 4-3 scheme.
Western Michigan Investing Tips
13-3 ATS - Play AGAINST WMU versus a foe that enters off a double-digit win
15-8 ATS - Play AGAINST WMU if the Broncos scored 35 points in their last game
13-2 ATS - Play AGAINST WMU in a revenge mode

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