A week ago, after doing a mini-MAC preview, I promised a full version for the loyal fans of the teams I did not cover. As you can see, I am a man of my word and this is that promise fulfilled.
Home to some of the best talent in America, the MAC is looking to take the stage as a legitimate conference rather than a non-BCS afterthought.
Last season was a step in the right direction, as it produced multiple Cinderella-type stories and a BCS bowl berth, but this year is all about proving that this conference will be consistently competitive and last season wasn’t a fluke.
Can the Ohio Bobcats complete their undefeated run, rather than crumble and fall?
Can Northern Illinois earn another BCS bowl bid?
Can Kent State fulfill the dream they were oh-so-close to last season?
Or will another team come running out of the masses and onto the national stage?
Let us begin.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Projected Record: 11-1
Projected MAC Record: 8-0
All of the hype, national and local, around the Northern Illinois Huskies is real. Plain and simple. When you have Jordan Lynch at QB, it’s easy to see why.
Lynch had an unbelievable 2012 campaign that will certainly earn him Heisman hype in 2013. As a passer, Lynch completed 60.2% of his passes for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns, while only throwing six interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 1,815 more yards and an additional 19 touchdowns.
Add that all up and you’re looking at maybe the best statistical player in the country, with 4,953 all-purpose yards and 44 total touchdowns. You’re not going to find production like that anywhere else in the country.
The scariest part about Lynch and this offense? They could be better in 2013.
Defensively, the Huskies are a little more of a liability. A young group that lost some talent at each position- including three defensive linemen- will need to learn on the fly if they’re going to contend for another BCS Bowl. Even if they struggle, they may get by in the MAC, but that certainly isn’t the goal.
The Huskies could certainly go undefeated this season and we’ll know very early on what they are made of. The opener against Iowa and a battle in West Lafayette against the Boilermakers will decide the fate of this Northern Illinois team. If they can pass both test, no matter how narrowly, they could be well on their way to a second-straight BCS Bowl berth. Should they stumble against either or both opponents, their national notoriety could be very well in jeopardy.
After a one-point loss to the Hawkeyes last season, the Huskies will be ready for their opener. The problem may lie with Darell Hazell and the new-and-improved Purdue Boilermakers. If they go to West Lafayette and rock Purdue, Northern Illinois will be on a fast track to their second straight BCS bowl berth.
Projected Record: 11-1
Projected MAC Record: 8-0
Remember when the Bobcats started last season at 7-0? That wasn’t a fluke. This team is very talented.
This season could be much more of the same, but will hopefully end much better for the fans of Athens, Ohio.
Offensively, the talent and the experience are there. QB Tyler Tettleton will lead an avid air attack while also running around and showing off his incredible athleticism. RB Beau Blankenship will try to replicate his 1,604, 15 TD performance on his way to another career year in the MAC. The Bobcats are going to score points and score them readily.
The defense is very experienced and ready to attack, but needs to stay healthy. Last season, the Bobcats were continually bit by the injury bug, which- as their record showed- hurt them tremendously. If the Bobcats can stay healthy on defense, they may be one of the most balanced bunches in the entirety of the MAC.
The season starts in Louisville, Kentucky against the 9th ranked Cardinals, but is very manageable from there. They don’t have a Northern Illinois on the schedule until the MAC Championship Game- should they make it- and seven of their 12 games are at home.
If there’s one thing that will hold the Bobcats back, it’s going to be the reemergence of the injury bug. While it’s out of their control, they’ll certainly do their best to keep everyone healthy.
Should that happen, the Bobcats and Huskies will be on their way to an epic MAC Championship Game.
Projected Record: 8-4
Projected MAC Record: 7-1
Coming off of a nine win season, the Toledo Rockets are looking forward to trying to rekindle that magic in 2013. Unfortunately, their rough schedule may not allow them to do so.
When Tim Beckman was hired away at Illinois, Toledo brought in Matt Campbell to lead an explosive Rockets offense and has done so thus far. Senior quarterback Terrance Owens will try to fill the massive hole that was left by Austin Dantin, who was one of the better QBs in Toledo history. Owens has the athleticism of a great dual-threat QB, but it remains to be seen what he’s capable of thanks to his lack of experience. In the backfield is the speedy David Fluellen who is certainly more than capable of rushing for over 1,500 yards. Bernard Reedy is set to be Toledo’s speedy-receiver who is capable of turning on the jets and scoring big-time touchdowns. Everything for this offense is set, it’s now just ready for launch.
As for the defense, there’s a ton of turnover. With seven defensive players leaving, the Rockets may be reeling for answers as well as production going into 2013. As was previously mentioned, Campbell was brought in to produce an explosive offense, not an explosive defense. The point is, however, that the Rockets should be able to win shootouts against their opponents and more often than not will do so.
Then comes the brutal schedule.
Toledo starts off the season in Gainesville, Florida against the mighty Gators of the SEC. They then travel to Columbia, Missouri to take on yet another mighty SEC foe in the Tigers. Later in the season, they play the Navy Midshipmen in the Glass Bowl, but even that might be too much to handle. And finally, they take on the mighty Huskies of Northern Illinois in their second to last game of the season. They will lose all of these tough battles and finish a win shy of last year’s total.
While some would consider that successful, the Rockets would not like to take a step back in 2013.
Kent State Golden Flashes
Projected Record: 8-4
Projected MAC Record: 6-2
The Kent State Golden Flashes are coming off of a heartbreaking 2012 in which they were just a couple of plays away from clinching their first ever BCS bowl bid. From that point, however, it seems as if years have gone by. First year head coach Darrell Hazell was hired by Purdue, leaving them listless and without direction in the immediate aftermath of the tough MAC Championship loss.
This year, it’s all about redemption. Oh, and Dri Archer.
Archer is was the all-everything for the Flashes last season and will do his best to make sure that is the case in his senior campaign. Last season, the speedy Archer ran for 1,429 yards on just 159 carries- 9.0 yards a touch- and 16 total touchdowns. He also caught 39 passes out of the backfield for 561 yards and 4 additional touchdowns. He’s already getting preseason Heisman hype and will certainly be the weapon to look out for in the MAC.
Meanwhile, the star on defense is end Roosevelt Nix, who is returning for his senior season. The 5’11, 264 pound monster had 13 tackles for loss, including six sacks, and 34 solo tackles on the season. He’s already getting plenty of NFL looks, but is focused on the task at hand and winning the MAC in his last year in Kent.
The Flashes have a tough out-of-conference schedule that includes a battle with LSU in Baton Rouge and a meeting with the Nittany Lions and Penn State, but in the MAC is business as usual. It’s the battles against NIU and Ohio that will determine just where the Flashes go, but the loss of Hazell is certainly going to hurt.
While it’s not impossible to best last season’s success, the Flashes are certainly going to have a tough time with the four games that highlight their schedule.
Bowling Green Falcons
Projected Record: 7-5
Projected Conference Record: 5-3
The Bowling Green Falcons got the season started off with a moral victory over the Florida Gators, in which they lost 27-14. From there, the momentum took them to eight wins and a streak of six in a row in the middle of it all. This season, there schedule might not be as tough, but the talent in their own conference is definitely better.
For the Falcons offensively, Matt Schilz returns for his senior year and will try to lead the offense while keeping his own job. Normally, a senior wouldn’t have much of a problem keeping his place on the field, but Schilz’ drop in numbers last season forced the Falcons coaching staff to make a competition.
After a sophomore year in which he threw for 3,024 yards and 28 touchdowns, Schilz only passed for 2,585 yards and 14 TD passes in his junior campaign. The drop in numbers can be contributed to a lack of accuracy, as Schilz’ completion percentage dropped from nearly 60% to just over 55%.
Schilz narrowly won the starting over Matt Johnson, but will need to step it up in the first couple of games if he wants to finish the year as the starter.
While Schilz needs to be the guy, Bowling Green can also rely on redshirt sophomore running back Travis Greene, who won the starting job over three experienced backs. The explosiveness Greene displayed in camp was too much for the Falcons to overlook and will hopefully allow them to take some pressure off of their QB.
The defense should be an absolute strength for the Falcons, but losing four starters is no easy task to replace. The secondary is definitely the best part of this defensive group, which is good considering the many passers that the MAC shows off.
Their schedule is very laid out and balanced, but could still give them fits. After spending their second weekend of the season in Kent, the Falcons head to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers, who are primed for a good year of their own. Three laughers in a row- Murray State, Akron, and UMass- are followed by a matchup with the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. The rest of the season includes a home game with Toledo, a trip to Oxford to face the Miami Redhawks, a senior night meeting with the Ohio Bobcats, and two final away games at Eastern Michigan and Buffalo. If they could somehow pull out a W against Ohio and/or Kent, the Falcons could match last seasons win total of eight.
Overall, the Falcons are a good team, but maybe not good enough to compete for a MAC Championship.
Central Michigan Chippewas
Projected Record: 7-5
Projected MAC Record: 5-3
Things looked mighty bleak for the Chippewas with four games left in 2012, but after four straight W’s, the Chips are looking to build upon the streak and improve upon their .500 record.
At the outset of this season, all eyes were on the QB competition between junior Cody Kater, sophomore Alex Niznak, and freshman Cooper Rush, and now that Kater has won the job the offense is looking to move forward. A talented runner in addition to an efficient passer, Kater’s ability to be a dual-threat QB is going to make this Chips team that much more dangerous. Of course, it always helps to have a good group of receivers to help out the first year QB and that is exactly the case with Central Michigan.
Truly the biggest question for this Central Michigan team comes on the offensive line.
How on earth do you replace the number one pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Eric Fisher?
Fisher was absolutely the biggest star on this Central Michigan team just a year ago and leaves a giant hole on the left side of the line. That duty will be taken by the almost forgotten sixth-year lineman, Jake Olson, who has battled injuries throughout his career. The monstrous, 6’8, 305 pound Olson was a freshman All-American six years ago and had it not been for injuries, Fisher may never have gotten the chance to be the star that he was.
The problem overall is not the offense, however. It’s the defense and especially the secondary. After allowing 3,129 of the 5,621 total yards of offense from opponents, the secondary is going to need to step up and make plays should the Chippewas want to make any sort of run this season.
Opening against Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Chippewas may actually have a chance in their other three out-of-conference opponents- New Hampshire, UNLV, and NC State. Should they pull out W’s in two of those three games, the Chips could be looking at an 8 win season in Mt. Pleasant. To top things off, the Chips should again win their final four games against Ball Tate, Western Michigan, UMass, and Eastern Michigan.
Ball State Cardinals
Projected Record: 7-5
Projected MAC Record: 5-3
Lead by three offensive weapons- Keith Wenning, Willie Snead, and Jahwan Edwards- and a favorable schedule, the Ball State Cardinals are primed for a very successful season in the MAC.
Wenning is coming off of knee surgery as well as a very successful 2012 campaign, and his ability to rebound from both will determine where this Cardinals team is headed. Heading into his senior year and his fourth season as the Cardinals starter, Wenning has thrown for 7,254 yards, 57 touchdowns, and 35 interceptions. His best year yet in 2013 would put him amongst the greatest Ball State players of all time.
As for Wenning’s weapons, the first is the small, speedy wide receiver Willie Snead, who caught 89 passes for 1,148 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. If Snead can add upon those statistics in his junior year, he could very well become the best receiver in the MAC.
Then there’s junior running back Jahwan Edwards- who is also one of the MAC’s best. In 2012, Edwards ran for 1,410 yards on 232 carries and scored 14 TDs, which gives him a total of 25 thus far in his career. The big power runner will look to keep things between the tackles as Wenning and Snead spread the ball through the air.
The Ball State defense is certainly not on the prolific level of the offense and in fact has plenty of question marks that could prevent the Cardinals from winning a MAC Championship. Allowing 30 points per game last season, those numbers will certainly not suffice in 2012. They also have to deal with three new starting linebackers who will be responsible not only in the running game, but in the passing attack as well.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, their schedule is most definitely on their side. A home game against Army and a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia to take on the Cavaliers are the only two tests outside of the MAC. The MAC itself isn’t all that bad, as they don’t play Ohio or Bowling Green.
This could be the team to beat in the MAC or it could be a simply good team. That’s for this defensive unit to decide.
Projected Record: 5-7
Projected MAC Record: 4-4
The Buffalo Bulls are looking to bounce back from their four win season in 2012, but a tough schedule may forbid them from doing so.
Things started pretty terribly for the Bulls last season, but as soon as sophomore QB Joe Licata took over the offensive reigns, the Bulls had new life. Winning three out of the last four games, Licata finished 2012 with 86 completions on 163 attempts for 1,045 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions.
The big performance from Licata brings about the dilemma of how to deal with senior QB Alex Zordich.
Zordich lost the starting job last season after throwing just nine touchdowns in eight games- including four in one game against Morgan State- and seven interceptions. While he was bad through the air, he was great on the ground. In those eight games, Zordich ran for 500 yards on 100 carries, proving that he could still lead the offense if need be.
The Licata passing efficiency and the Zordich change of pace running attack could be lethal for the opponents of the MAC, but it’s important for head coach Jeff Quinn to balance them well if they are going to be efficient on offense.
While there is a two-headed monster that will roam the backfield on offense, there’s just one monster on defense, but he’s a big one.
Outside linebacker Khalil Mack is coming off of a banner 2012 in which he made 94 solo tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks, all while leading one of the best defenses in the MAC Conference. He’s joined by fellow linebackers Jake Stockman and Lee Skinner to make up the best ‘backers in the MAC.
This season should be absolutely no different for the Bulls, as they will once again be one of the best defenses in this conference.
The problem with the Bulls this season is their out of conference schedule, in addition to the questions on offense. The Bulls start the season in Columbus this Saturday and then take a trip to Waco to take on Art Briles and the mighty Baylor Bears. They then come home to face two very different opponents in Stony Brook and Connecticut before beginning MAC play.
That’s where the offense comes in. If the offense can gel with Licata and Zordich in the backfield, this team could be a much different one than we saw a year ago. Should they not, they’ll be looking at the same record as they had last year.
Something in the middle would be more likely than a replication of last season or a sudden burst of efficiency from the offense.
Projected Record: 2-10
Projected MAC Record: 2-6
This whole season for the Miami Redhawks will be spent missing the QB of yesteryear, Zac Dysert. You don’t replace 12,016 yards, 73 touchdowns, and nearly 1,000 completions. It’s just that simple.
Senior Austin Boucher has had some past experience in this Miami air raid attack, but again it’s not enough. Boucher may be serviceable, but he’s certainly not going to take this Miami team to the next level.
In terms of a rushing attack, forget it. Last season, Dysert had the most carries on the team, just above Jamire Westbrook who ran for just 361 yards on the season.
The saving grace of this team is their defense, but that’s not going to be enough. They bring back a ton of talent and are deep in experience, which definitely helps. The problem is, in a league with extraordinary offensive talent, you’re going to need to win shootouts and the Redhawks won’t.
Western Michigan Broncos
Projected Record: 3-9
Projected MAC Record: 2-6
One could feel bad for the Western Michigan Broncos in a way. QB Alex Carder was supposed to lead the Broncos to a successful season on the way to a nice career in the NFL, but an injury forced him to miss six straight games in the middle of the season.
After a 2011 in which Carder produced 3,873 passing yards and and 31 touchdowns, Carder was well on his way to similar numbers when he injured his hand and missed those six straight games. The Broncos, at 2-2 coming in, lost four of their next six and were never fully able to recover.
Tyler Van Tubbergen did fill in quite nicely for Carder, but did have a problem keeping the ball out of the hands of the other team.
This season should be a decent one for Tubbergen and the Broncos offense, but without Carder it’s not the same.
The defense has always been the problem in Kalamazoo and this season should be no different. They have little depth and experience up front and are working on a new scheme in the secondary, all of which lead to a rough and tumble season on the defensive end.
Maybe the worst thing about this Broncos season is their out of conference schedule. Three Big Ten opponents- two of which are very quality opponents- round out the games outside of the MAC conference. Once in MAC play, the Broncos biggest game may come against their rivals to the east when they play Eastern Michigan. That game may decide which team has one or two wins in the MAC.
Projected Record: 3-9
Projected MAC Record: 1-7
In 2012, Terry Bowden was given the assignment of guiding this football program back to relevance and in year one, things didn’t seem all that different. Again, for the third year in a row, the Zips won just a single game. Something, however, was different.
Bowden brings an energy and a plan to Akron and that plan will start it’s nascent stages in 2013.
With a glaring hole at the QB position, the Zips will look to running backs junior Jawon Chisholm and Conor Hundley to carry the offensive load, but that’s still not going to be nearly enough for the offense to be a productive one.
The defense is going to be an experienced one and that is what may win them more than their one-game-a-year average. They have a decent front seven, but it’s the secondary that’s the concern.
After finishing last in the MAC in touchdowns allowed and interceptions, the Zips are going to have to defend the pass if they want to have any chance of winning more than a single game.
As previously mentioned, while three wins may not be a ton, it’s a much needed step in the right direction. For the Zips and Bowden, 2013 will certainly be considered a success.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
Projected Record: 1-11
Projected MAC Record: 0-8
Ron English is trying to turn things around for the Eastern Michigan Eagles, but that may just have to wait another year. The talent in this conference is just too much for the Eagles to handle right now and it will show.
The good news is that the Eagles have their QB of the future, Tyler Benz, and he is ready to take the reigns of the EMU offense.
In just his sophomore season, Benz completed 114 passes for 1,506 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading the Eagles to a win over Western- only their second of the season.
Look for Benz in the future, but give him a year to figure it out and develop his skills in English’s system.
Defensively, the Eagles are no better and could even be quite worse. They dropped from the 34th total defense in the country in 2012 to the 112th ranked total defense last season. Sure, experience helps, but it’s still going to be pretty bad overall.
A win against Howard may be the only W on their schedule, but look for a good game between Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan after last year’s upset.
Projected Record: 1-11
Projected MAC Record: 0-8
The University of Massachusetts Minutemen are still trying to adjust to life in Division I football and that’s perfectly ok. Hey, they even beat the Akron Zips last season to get their first FBS W.
This season for UMass is going to be another tough one, but it’s all part of the process.
Head coach Charley Molnar, in his just his second year with the Minutemen, has already started hard on the recruiting trail and those recruits are going to be thrown into the fire right away.
On both offense and defense, the Minutemen are going to be young and inexperienced, which again, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it sets them up for a great future of experienced veteran leaders.
Unfortunately, UMass only plays one opponent that could set them up for a win and that’s a game with the University of Maine. Every other game is going to afford them a very serious challenge.
UMass could certainly steal a game in the MAC, but don’t expect too much from Molnar and his recruits in year two.
How They’ll Finish:
- Ohio Bobcats 11-1 (8-0)
- Kent State Golden Flashes 8-4 (6-2)
- Bowling Green Falcons 7-5 (5-3)
- Buffalo Bulls 5-7 (4-4)
- Miami Redhawks 2-10 (2-6)
- Akron Zips 3-9 (1-7)
- UMass Minutemen 1-11 (0-8)
- Northern Illinois Huskies 11-1 (8-0)
- Toledo Rockets 8-4 (7-1)
- Central Michigan Chippewas 7-5 (5-3)
- Ball State Cardinals 7-5 (5-3)
- Western Michigan Broncos 3-9 (2-6)
- Eastern Michigan Eagles 1-11 (0-8)
MAC Championship Game: Ohio Bobcats vs. Northern Illinois Huskies.
35-28 Northern Illinois over Ohio.