Tag Archives: Buffalo Bulls

The MAChelorette: Three Schools Courting the AAC

With news out of the Big 12 re-energizing the tectonics of a precarious college football landscape, America’s two favorite reality shows are upon us once again: conference realignment and the Bachelorette.

The Power 5 may add as many as four schools in this new round of expansion, beginning a domino effect that ultimately lands at the foot of the Mid-American Conference. The American Athletic Conference stands to lose members of its own to the Big 12, meaning it may look to conferences like the MAC to replenish its twelve team structure. Of course, this is all purely speculative, but what else is the preseason for?

Frankly, MAC teams should be desperate to improve their standing in an ever-changing college football world. These programs are desperate to find a loving marriage with a shiny, new conference, much like JoJo in the final episodes of ABC’s hit reality show.

Here we have three Mid-American Conference programs poised to join the ranks of the American Conference, hoping to receive a rose reciprocating their affections. Well, that and a $126 million TV deal.

Northern Illinois

A fringe contender for Big 12 expansion, the Huskies have their hearts set realistically on a romance with the American Athletic Conference. And why wouldn’t they? In the past twelve seasons, Northern Illinois has attended a remarkable 10 bowl games, including a berth in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The program struck gold with Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren, launching the program to a decade of mid-major success unrivaled by any MAC foes. From a purely football standpoint, Northern Illinois is a no-brainer. The problem is with NIU’s other athletic programs, which are, as a whole, consistently subpar.

With that being said, NIU athletic director Sean Frazier adds important credibility to the school’s expansion bid. Frazier, a hotshot AD rumored to be in consideration for recent openings at Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, and Minnesota, among others, should appeal to AAC leaders taking a gamble on programs of lesser prestige.

DeKalb, Illinois is certainly no Houston or Cincinnati, but NIU would stretch the AAC’s footprint further Midwest and towards Chicago. The university announced plans to renovate Huskie Stadium in 2014, expanding seating options and, hopefully for the Huskies, AAC appeal.

Northern Illinois is one of the hottest Group of 5 football programs in the country, but is it hot enough for the American Athletic Conference?

VERDICT: First-impression rose. Don’t overthink this, AAC. NIU is by far the sexiest football program in the room, and they’ve proven it on the gridiron. Don’t listen to the grumbling critics of Rod Carey, don’t worry about NIU’s wrestling team, or anything like that.  Choose the Huskies now, fall in love later.

Buffalo

Being the only MAC program that resides in a major media market, there’s reciprocal benefit to the Bulls joining the American. While Buffalo anticipates expansion beneath the umbrella of a $126 million TV deal, the conference reclaims a revenue-critical section of the Northeast it could be losing with the departure of Connecticut. (Does this sound like Temple? It should sound like Temple.)

Granted, after back-to-back losing seasons, Buffalo’s football pedigree certainly leaves a lot to be desired. But keep in mind, this is a conference featuring UCF, a team that turned in one of the FBS’ two winless seasons last year (looking at you, Kansas). Add that to Buffalo’s MAC championships in both men’s and women’s basketball, and suddenly the Bulls look adequately prepared to compete in an improved conference. Buffalo would also boost the AAC’s academic standing, an addition sure to make the hearts of Tulane and Navy swoon.

What’s not to love about the Bulls?

VERDICT: Buffalo receives a rose. What they lack in name brand and football prowess, they make up for in large-market attraction. College football is a material world.  Who says the American Athletic Conference can’t be a material girl?

Toledo

The Rockets represent a perfect mixture of Buffalo and NIU. Toledo boasts well-rounded athletics with a capable football program, an urban location, and access to Ohio’s fertile recruiting grounds- especially critical if the AAC loses Cincinnati. Their attendance ranked second in the conference last season as the Glass Bowl stands among the MAC’s finest stadiums.

Still, Toledo football hasn’t won a conference title since 2004. While they’ve competed in six bowl games since then- and won four of them-, the American Conference won’t be looking for above average MAC programs. They’ll be looking for the best, which Toledo simply hasn’t been. Furthermore, academics prove to be a struggle for Toledo, ranking near the bottom among current conference members.

Despite their flaws, do the Rockets have the moves to secure a date with the AAC?

VERDICT: No dice. Sorry Toledo, sometimes love hurts. The MAC prides itself on stability, and if it’s any consolation, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a stable girl. Pick yourself up and wipe those tears away- there’s #MACtion to be played.

E-mail Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @cole_hankins.

Photo courtesy of Chad Cooper – Flickr

College Football Playoff Lands MAC on Life Support

Approaching its third year, the College Football Playoff has undoubtedly defibrillated a BCS-weary college football crowd, invigorating the game with a newfound excitement sure to boost competition, TV revenues, and AD expenditures to unprecedented heights. Conferences have realigned to a Power Five structure supporting the best and biggest programs and the playoff committee has coerced teams into streamlining schedules to include more and more top talent, as the NCAA reaps the benefits. For the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the country, vital signs are strong.

The Akron’s and Toledo’s, however, are in critical condition.

Smaller schools in the Mid-American Conference and around the country simply cannot compete with these elevated levels of funding and competition. For better or for worse, the College Football Playoff consolidates both football and financial strength at the top, hyper-commercializing the game and leaving less prolific programs fighting for scraps at the bottom. A case study of the MAC yields all the evidence.

Remember when Mid-American Conference football meant something? Remember when “Mid-American” summarized not just the member schools’ geography, but also their quality of football: average? Think back only a matter of years and memories of MAC studs recall a conference of ages past. Remember a young Ben Roethlisberger rattling off a 4,448 yard passing season in 2003, gunslinging the Miami Redhawks to a 13-1 record? How about Toledo’s 1995 undefeated season led by Wasean Tait (“Little Barry Sanders”), or then-member Marshall catching the ultimate lightning in a bottle: Randy Moss? More recently, how about Jordan Lynch garnering Heisman consideration as Northern Illinois claimed back-to-back MAC championships in 2011 and 2012, culminating in an Orange Bowl appearance? These are the heroes of Mid-American Conference past, establishing the MAC as a watermark of spirited, though average, football.

Passing the contemporary MAC as “average” football is liable to make Bo Schembechler turn over in his grave. Last year, the MAC’s collective out-of-conference record totaled 25-35. Their results against AP Top 25 opponents totaled 1-15 (the sole win being Toledo’s victory over #18 Arkansas). Bottom-feeder Eastern Michigan picked up just one win. Certainly not the pedigree of a thriving conference, to say the least.

Attendance figures mirror these deficiencies. The MAC ranked dead last among Football Bowl Subdivision conference attendance last season, averaging 15,316 fans per game- a number eclipsed by ten FCS schools. Their attendance rate is declining at nearly double the FBS rate, even as teams like Akron have unveiled new stadiums (pictured half-empty above) as recently as 2009. Product on the field is turning south and fans are noticing, opting to spend their Saturdays stationed on the couch watching Power Five heavyweights duke it out with big time TV deals.

Thanks to these deficiencies, MAC athletic departments then face the impossible challenge of spending on par with these heavyweights just to patch together decent seasons. The result? Ludicrous, Enron-esque financial reports that cover their programs’ inherent disadvantages. In 2015, the average MAC program spent $29,361,692 amidst this athletics arm race, turning what appears to be $28,915,830 in revenue. This only tells half the story. The average student subsidy for a MAC program is an incredible 70.3%, meaning students of these universities are forced to pay exorbitant costs for teams already destined to fail given the realities of the game. Schools like Eastern Michigan require even more- an 80.4% subsidy. Clearly these athletic departments are incapable of maintaining reasonable margins with budgets dwarfed by their Power Five big brothers.

Just as it is unreasonable to expect Buffalo to land a spot in the College Football Playoff, it is unreasonable for smaller programs to exhaust funds to keep up with budgets two or three times their size. While football-centric markets like South Bend, Gainesville, or College Station can mount the argument that athletic spending pads enrollment, or inches them that much closer to a national title, Mid-American Conference towns cannot make these arguments. Still, they’re subjected to the ferocious competition of SEC-sized markets.

As the playoff committee continues to place emphasis on strength of schedule, MAC schools will no longer be included as an early-season appetizer for larger schools. Instead, Power Five conferences will inbreed strength and leave smaller, already-suffering schools out in the cold.

Rest assured, MAC football will continue in the short term. But how long will we wait before the playoff stratification is so dramatic so much that these programs literally can’t compete? What’s the answer? Will small programs continue to irresponsibly overspend just to maintain relevance in the Playoff Era? Or will the MAC- and conferences like it- ultimately be removed from life support, left to fend on its own while the rich get richer?

E-mail Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo via Adam Sonnett – Flickr

NCAA Tournament: South Region Preview

The South Region certainly has a number of the household names when it comes to College Basketball programs.  However, scanning the group from top to bottom, it doesn’t appear that anything is going to come easy in this part of the bracket.

Path of Much Resistance

Outside of top seeded Kansas, who should be able to navigate fairly easily through the first couple of rounds into the Sweet 16, there could be some serious bumps for the rest of the region.  Maryland, Villanova, and even Iowa spent a portion of the season ranked among the elite.  While Villanova was very close to plucking a top seed, they’re not typically built for tournament play.  UConn is at its old tricks again, underwhelming us during the regular season, only to become a thorn in everyone’s side in March.  I doubt they can make a deep run, but we’ve seen it too recently to completely dismiss them.  Arizona is another blue blood that had an up and down year, but has the talent on hand to cause problems.  And then there’s Miami.  The Hurricanes are a difficult team to trust, but Jim Larranaga has the ability to coach these guys up, and has made a run before.  The South could become a mosh pit with these squads tripping over each other on the way to the Regional Final.

Can Maryland recapture their Mojo?

As I mentioned, for a portion of the season, the Terrapins were considered to be right up there among the elite teams.  Mark Turgeon is a strong coach, and for much of the season, looked ready to ride this talented bunch straight to the Final Four.  However the stretch run was less than stellar, going 5-5 over their last 10 games.  Can they get back to early season form?  The talent is there, but can they put it together?  The Terps are one of the more balanced teams in College Basketball.  Melo Trimble is one of the best point guards in the country, and his running mate Rasheed Sulaimon is experienced and provides additional scoring.  They also have a ton of size up front with Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, and Damonte Dodd.  Carter and Stone are capable post scorers, and hit the glass.  Then there’s the X-factor in Jake Layman, who at 6-9 can stretch the defense on the perimeter, or contribute on the interior as well.  Maryland better show up with their best to avoid an early upset.  If they do, watch out.

Ghosts of Tournaments past Haunt Villanova

Despite the fact that Jay Wright has brought an awful lot of success to Villanova since he arrived in 2001, the Wildcats never seem to live up to their full expectations.  Part of the reason is that Wright’s style of play lends itself to winning a ton of regular season games; but not necessarily for the grind of the three-week tournament.  Nova is always perimeter heavy, so if they get cold from the field, they can be gone in the blink of an eye.  Last year they got out muscled by the big frontcourt of North Carolina State.  That tends to be the other major issue for Villanova.  The perimeter players are wrapped around one big – Daniel Ochefu this year – and when they run into a team with a powerful, skilled frontcourt, they struggle.  Fortunately their road doesn’t appear as fraught with danger early on, so they may be able to win a couple of games, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t.

Will the Shockers make one more run from the Play-in Game?

It’s been a really fun couple of years for Wichita State.  As a big fan of the Missouri Valley Conference, and of Mid-majors getting their shot at glory, I’ve really appreciated what the Shockers have been doing since 2013.  This year they have to start in Dayton against Vanderbilt, a team who woefully underachieved.  Does Wichita State have one last gasp in them?  It’s hard to pick against them winning a couple of games with Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker in control.  Will this group pull it all together after an inconsistent year, with the possibility that this is also Greg Marshall’s last season on the bench at Wichita State?  If other schools are smart, it’s only a matter of time before one of the power conference schools gives Marshall the right offer.  This version of the Shockers definitely doesn’t have the talent around Baker and Van Vleet that they’ve had in the past.  But with so much parity in College Basketball this year, they may just have enough gas left in the tank for a valiant run.

Bulls, Jackrabbits and Rainbow Warriors

Who’s capable of pulling the big upset?  That’s a question everyone asks while filling out their bracket.  For all of the talk about College Basketball lacking an elite team, I have a feeling that we may have a chalk-laden bracket this season.  However, in the South Region, keep an eye on Buffalo, South Dakota State, and Hawaii.  Buffalo was in the Tourney last year, and pushed West Virginia to the brink before getting eliminated.  Much of that team returns, so the Bulls could certainly do the same to Miami this year.  South Dakota State has the right mix to be a dangerous tournament team.  The Jackrabbits love to shoot the three, have senior guards, and they have a presence on the interior in 6-9 Mike Daum.  A slow start from Maryland coupled with hot shooting, and the Jackrabbits could be a Cinderella.  Hawaii gets the benefit of being hidden away out west, where most of us never see them play all season.  Even their conference title game didn’t start until 11:30pm in the East.  Similar to the Jackrabbits, the Rainbow Warriors have that necessary mix of a veteran backcourt, coupled with a strong big man in Stefan Jankovic who puts up 15 ppg, along with 6 boards.  If you’re looking to take a shot in the dark on a double-digit seed, one of these may be your play.

The South Region will get started on Tuesday night with what should be the best of the First Four games between Wichita State and Vanderbilt.  In classic March Madness fashion, I suspect we’ll be in for a bumpy ride.  It’s going to be fun seeing how this Region starts to take shape after Thursday and Friday.  Let the games begin.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: laserbub/Flickr.

The University of Akron – An Example of MAConsistency

The Akron Zips, mired in a school year that has seen significant backlash towards school president Scott Scarborough and funding cuts almost entirely across the board in athletics, has somehow stayed the course this season and is on the verge of closing out another successful run at the Mid-American Conference East’s top spot. Since Keith Dambrot took over in 2004, the Zips have never lost more than fourteen games in the regular season and have made the NCAA tournament three times. Four regular season titles and three MAC championships aren’t bad, either.

The key to their consistency has been steady defense.  A Dambrot coached defense has never given up more than 70 PA/G in any of his twelve seasons at the helm of Akron’s program. They play a grind it out type of basketball that sees them inching away a lot of close victories. For the 2015-2016, they have a DRtg of 98.3, compared to a ORtg of 111.4.  That is a huge margin of difference. Their grind it out style of basketball that sees them relying on their defense has seen success in a Mid-American Conference that sees all but one of its teams averaging more than 70 PPG in the 2015-2016 season.

Offense has played a huge role as well, to its credit. As stated before, they have an ORtg of 111.4. Their closest two competitors in the conference to that stat? Toledo and Central Michigan, both having an ORtg of 109.28 and 109.34, respectively. But to that point, Toledo and Central Michigan both have a DRtg of 102.43 and 108.20, respectively. What this shows in any case is that Akron is incredibly good at controlling the pace on offense. While we are on the topic of pace, Akron has only had three games this season where they have registered less than ten assists. They are 1-2 in those games. Akron succeeds when they pass the ball effectively, as does any good team.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Akron this season, though. Akron will need to shore up it’s rebounding effort for the upcoming MAC Tournament in March. Their leading rebounder is Isaiah Johnson, who averages 7.4 rebounds per game. Their second leading rebounder? Kwan Cheatham Jr with 4.8 rebounds per game. They are 9th in their conference in rebounds per game overall, a stat that won’t bode well against teams like Toledo and Kent State in the tournament.

Will Akron have a cakewalk to a division title this year? Not necessarily, as Akron at 10-4 only leads Kent State and Ohio by one game in the conference and Buffalo by two games in the conference. It will be a photo finish to end the MAC East’s regular season, one that will almost certainly see Akron succeeding in some capacity yet again.

The Bobby Hurley Era Begins at Arizona State

The Bobby Hurley era at Arizona State has begun and it is apparent that there is plenty of work to be done before the program is challenging anybody for the conference title. The Sun Devils lost their home opener on Friday night to Sacramento State 66-63 at Wells Fargo Arena.

Whenever a new coach comes onto the scene for a school there is always a buzz with the program, but when the coach has some name recognition like Bobby Hurley there is something a little extra in the air with fans, players, and coaches.

When Hurley was hired in the off-season it was seen as a move to jump start a program that had been stuck in mediocrity and wasn’t making any inroads to challenge their rival to the south, the Arizona Wildcats, who is a national brand in terms of basketball. Those of us who follow college basketball know the past of Bobby Hurley. The competitive former Duke Blue Devil, who led them to a couple national championships, and basically was a thorn in the side of many teams and their fans.

Hurley not only comes with his Blue Devil pedigree, but he had some good success at the University of Buffalo. Buffalo? Yeah, Buffalo. He was named the head coach at Buffalo in 2013 and immediately made an impact on the program. He guided them to a MAC East Division crown and let people know he could coach. In 2014 he built upon that by guiding Buffalo to their first MAC Championship and their first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. With that success he became a hot commodity in college basketball and Arizona State was looking for a new coach, after firing long time coach Herb Sendak. Coach Hurley took the challenge of leading and resurrecting the men’s basketball program at ASU.

What kind of team does Hurley have at Arizona State? Well, he has a bunch a guys that are slender, long, and fairly young. Most of the players range from 6’4”-6’7”, with the only player bigger than that being Eric Jacobsen at 6’10”. The experience factor is really there for his players and that is going to create some issues for Hurley to keep the excitement around the program and to get the players he is going to want to have at Arizona State.

The issues at Arizona State that Bobby Hurley faces are big. A program that hasn’t done anything for years, facilities that are not the greatest, and when you put those two things together, you get a fan base that is luke warm at best. The Sun Devils play in front of a half empty arena every game and that has not gone unnoticed by recruits who want to come to ASU, but want to feel like they are supported by the community. It’s a challenge for the Sun Devils that the only remedy is going to be winning and with the current assembled team that is going to be a tough thing to accomplish.

After his first game on Friday night in which his new Sun Devil team lost 66-63 to an upstart Sacramento State team, it is obvious that there is much work to be done before the Sun Devils will be challenging for anything in the Pac-12.

Even though this is a Power 5 program for Hurley, he has the incredible task of molding the young players that he has and somehow getting them to play bigger than they are. As I stated earlier, they are not incredibly big with only one player over 6’7”, so they are going to have to play some very fundamentally sound basketball. That means, blocking out, using some of their athleticism to get to rim and not letting bigger teams set their defense. If defenses are set when Sun Devils go on offense, I’m not so sure they will be able to win with their outside shooting. Their shooting looked sketchy at best against Sacramento State and with a full tilt of Pac-12 competition coming that does not bode well for them.

For the 2015 season Hurley is going to have to get a couple of good wins to keep the excitement level with the fans going and to keep them coming to Wells Fargo Arena. I see a bottom half of the Pac-12 finish, no NCAA appearance, and major reconstruction of a program happening. It just may be a few years until Hurley gets things turned around. He doesn’t have “that guy” that he can go to in a crunch time situation yet. Can he get those guys to come to Tempe? We just have to wait to find out.

Akron Zips Can’t Avoid Potholes in MAC Tournament Format

The road to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the Akron Zips was full of as may potholes as most of the roads around Northeast Ohio. On Friday night, one of those potholes was too big for the Zips to avoid, as they lost 68-59 to the Buffalo Bulls in the semifinals.

The road that began at home on Monday with a win over Northern Illinois and then continued to Cleveland where the Zips defeated Western Michigan and Kent State was a long and winding one that took its toll on the Zips.

“All these games wear and tear on your body,” Akron junior wing Jake Kretzer said. “We were ice batching after every game up in our hotel rooms, doing whatever we could do to get the win.”

Akron has always prided itself on being a program that doesn’t make excuses, but you simply couldn’t watch the game on Friday night and not notice how exhausted the players in the blue uniforms looked by the time it was all over. And who could blame them? As if playing three games in four nights coming in wasn’t enough, the Zips had played a knock-down, drag-out affair with Kent State the night before.

“If you watched that game last night, it hard to figure out who you would want to play. Those two teams slugged it out,” Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley said when asked if he would have rather played Akron or Kent State. “Maybe just knowing that Akron played three straight days and down the stretch we were able to get to the glass a lot, I think that benefitted us having some fresh legs.”

And then the part that isn’t as obvious to onlookers during the game would be that Akron had to be worn out in the mental phase of the game as well. After all, this was their fourth straight game this week in a win-or-go-home scenario.

“Mentally, it’s crazy,” Kretzer said. “We’ve been away from school all week. We’ve been thinking about winning this MAC tournament.”

Despite how tired Akron may have been, they knew that the man roaming their sideline wasn’t going to let them give up or give in, even when Buffalo started the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 39-32 lead after Akron had worked to get the deficit to just one at halftime. Head Coach Keith Dambrot expects more of his team and he demands such from the players.

“Coach kept our heads in it and kept saying ‘show toughness, I don’t want to see any tiredness out there’”, Kretzer said. “So we kept showing toughness and kept playing as hard as we can.”

What the night showed was how difficult it is for a team who doesn’t at least grab one of the top four seeds in the MAC’s tournament format that is now in its fourth season. By getting the No. 7 seed, Akron played Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and would had to play Saturday to win the tournament had it won on Friday. Meanwhile, Buffalo getting the No. 2 seed meant that the Bulls earned a bye straight into the semifinals along with No. 1 seed Central Michigan, whom they will face in Saturday’s championship game.

“We had played three games, they had played no games so they had a little more juice than we had,” Dambrot said. “Simple as that. You can sit there and analyze it all you want, they more energy than we had.”

Just how difficult is it for teams who play on Monday to get to the championship game? In the four years of the current format, only Eastern Michigan last season had made it as far as the semifinals before Akron did it this season. In fact, this year marks the third year in a row that the top two seeds will meet for the championship and the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The only exception to the rule was Ohio in 2012, who ironically won the tournament as the No. 3 seed and then went on to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. That Bobcats team is also the last MAC team to win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

By winning three games, Akron became the lowest seed to make the tournament semifinals in the current format and reached the semifinals for the 10th straight season. Akron had played in seven consecutive tournament championship games before having that streak snapped last season.

Unfortunately for this year’s Zips, the potholes were just too large to miss on their way to championship game.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Graduation Day: Khalil Mack

The fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, outside linebacker Khalil Mack, is the highest draft selection ever in the history of the University of Buffalo football program. Mack has done more for the Buffalo football program than any other coach or player in its 120 year history.

2013 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, seventy five career tackles for a loss, twenty eight career sacks and sixteen forced fumbles (a NCAA all-time record). The numbers don’t lie; Mack had a stellar career in the Mid-American Conference. Some would argue that these numbers came against lesser or even inferior competition, watch the tape, Khalil Mack was a beast against Ohio State this past season putting up great numbers and making plays only a pro would. Only a two-star recruit out of high school, Mack blossomed at the University of Buffalo, far exceeding anyone’s initial expectations.

Unlike Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack has a good reputation of being a hard worker and does not take plays off. University of Buffalo will sorely miss his presence on defense, a presence that earned him first team all-MAC honors three years in a row. For four years Mack has been all over the field, a tackling machine, he can drop back in pass coverage or break through the line and terrorize the quarterback. It was his versatility that made him so valuable to the Bulls defense.

Khalil Mack

Mack came back for his senior season and earned All-American honors from the Associated Press. He also earned praise from his head coach, Jeff Quinn and fellow defensive teammates. Because of Mack and playing on national television, University of Buffalo has had its highest rated recruiting class in the history of its football program. “Humble” and “great listener” were just some of the words used by the coaching staff to describe Mack and despite being a NFL draft prospect this season he would often stay after practice to workout with teammates. This type of character is rare and Quinn knows it, not only was Mack a complete player for the Bulls he was and still is a great person. He could have declared early for the 2013 draft, instead he decided to come back to Buffalo to earn his degree.

Mack will make a great pro. Opposing offenses caught on to his act early in his college career and he has put up huge numbers despite being double-teamed on most plays. He is a smart player who can play in any defensive scheme and his skills are polished having played for all four years at Buffalo. Clowney is a freak who can lay huge hits and the Texans had to take him with the first pick, but Mack is not far behind him in terms of overall ability and skill plus he has a better work ethic. Mack often showcased his playmaking ability when it really counted on third down and after watching him this past season in games, it’s clear that he can be a playmaker at the next level.

The Bulls defensive coordinator, Lou Tepper, has coached former NFL All-Pros in Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy and he believes Khalil Mack is every bit as good. Mack also has the prototypical size for a NFL linebacker at 6’3” and 251 pounds. Mack’s size coupled with his pure athleticism and speed made it easy for him to man-handle much larger offensive linemen in college. He may not dominate in the NFL like he did in the Mid-American Conference but if he keeps up his relentless drive and motivation anything is possible.

Bobby Hurley's Act Quickly Growing Old

by Ryan Isley

Imagine a 2-year-old stomping his feet and throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a Toys ‘R’ Us because his parents wouldn’t buy him the toy he wanted. That would be Buffalo Bulls head coach Bobby Hurley on the sidelines during his team’s games.

During the Bulls’ 83-71 loss to the Akron Zips on Tuesday night, Hurley put on a show that took away the attention and the spotlight not only from the game, but from his team. Hurley was relentless in his berating of the officials, not just once in a while, but for the entire 40 minutes. It was so bad that every time a whistle blew, people – including the officials – immediately looked at Hurley to see his reaction.

That reaction? It was a sight to behold.

There were times that Hurley’s cheeks matched the rosy redness of Santa Claus, only it wasn’t because he was jolly. There were instances where he resembled Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil, only instead of a cartoon, it was real life.

Hurley spent more time on the floor than most of his players Tuesday night, with much of that time spent yelling at officials or making hand gestures towards them on every call. It was as if Hurley had forgotten that he gave up the uniform and sneakers for a shirt and tie long ago. During each timeout, Hurley spent most of the time in the ears of the officials while his assistant coaches were talking to the team.

There was more than just verbal abuse of the officials as well. When Akron’s Quincy Diggs drew a foul on Buffalo’s Jarod Oldham just 4:04 into the game near the Buffalo sideline, Hurley actually seemed to say something to Diggs. Both downplayed it after the game, with Diggs saying that Hurley asked him if he fouled Oldham instead of the other way around. But when Diggs hit a 3-pointer and drew a foul as he was knocked into Hurley later in the first half, it seemed as if Hurley had even more to say to Akron’s leading scorer on the night.

Hurley’s arguments didn’t appear valid throughout the first half, as his team actually shot eight more free throws and were called for two fewer fouls than Akron in the first 20 minutes. In fact, Hurley should have been thanking the officials because if not for their refusal to call fouls and violations on MAC Player of the Year candidate Javon McCrea, the game might have been over sooner than it actually was.

The reactions and explosions from Hurley continued well into the second half, to the point where Akron fans started chanting “Bobby’s Gonna Cry.” Hurley no doubt heard the chants, as he shot a glare towards the Akron student section – the AK-Rowdies – after a made 3-pointer by the Bulls.

It finally boiled over for the officials with 12 minutes to play, as they gave Hurley a technical foul after warning him just a few minutes prior. At the time of the technical, Akron led the game 51-50. Reggie McAdams made one of the two technical free throws, and Akron went on a 20-8 run to take a 71-58 lead with 3:16 remaining before Hurley and the Bulls decided to draw the game out by fouling.

After the game, Hurley was still not happy about the officiating as he met with the media. When asked if there was an altercation with Diggs early in the game, Hurley denied it but did say he had problems on the night.

“I had my issues with some other people today that weren’t on Akron. I am not going to go into that,” Hurley said, referencing the officials. “It has been a pattern for me this year with some of that stuff, with those guys.”

With that comment fresh in mind, I asked a follow-up question:

“Coach, do you feel like you bring some of that on yourself though with the way you act on the sideline?,” I asked.

Before I could even get the last couple of words out, Hurley was already answering the question.

“No, I don’t. I feel like I see other coaches in my league doing very similar things when I watch film,” Hurley said. “I watch a lot of film so I see everything that is happening all over the league when I watch film and I repeatedly see the same demonstrative responses to bad calls and I feel like I am targeted unfairly and I have been targeted unfairly this year.”

Now, I have seen plenty of MAC games this season as well and while I have seen coaches show emotion and question the officials, I have not seen anyone do it for the entire game as Hurley had done. So I asked another follow-up concerning the technical foul and the timing of it.

“At the same point, do you maybe think you put your team in a bad situation by getting a tech tonight and by being on the officials the entire game?,” I asked.

“I don’t really think that I need to answer your questions about that,” Hurley said, starting to glare at me as if I was wearing a striped shirt. “In my technical fouls most of the season, my players have responded to me because they respect that fact I will fight for them. I don’t think it did because I believe he missed one of two free throws.”

I started to ask another question but was quickly interrupted by the first-year head coach.

“It seemed like it was a big part of the game, though…,” I started.

“I get your joke. You have no idea what you are watching,” Hurley responded.

That was the end of the press conference, as Hurley got up and continued shooting looks at me as he walked away from the table. The stares of daggers continued well after he had exited the room, as he peered in from the hallway, again in my direction. I felt as if the line of questioning was fair and in bounds, even if Hurley felt otherwise.

I am not really sure what Hurley thought was a joke about my question. I didn’t find anything funny about a head coach putting his team in a position where they needed to come from behind because he couldn’t keep his cool under pressure. But then again, it wasn’t the first time this season that a Hurley technical foul has cost his team a game.

Last month in Buffalo’s 74-68 loss to Bowling Green, it was another technical on Hurley that gave the Falcons the opening they needed to pull off the upset. With his team leading 66-64 and just 2:28 remaining, Hurley was called for a technical foul. Bowling Green hit both free throws to tie the game and ended the game on a 14-2 run to win the game after trailing 66-60.

Akron head coach Keith Dambrot has been there, so he has an idea of what Hurley is going through in his first year.

“The only advice I would tell him is he has the pedigree and the future to be a star. He could be Shaka Smart,” Dambrot said. “There is no sense in hurting himself. He has to harness the competitiveness. But he can do it. This is his first year as a head coach. I had 14 technicals the first year as a head coach and I was doing it in the NAIA at Tiffin so nobody saw it. I was probably just the same.”

The Bulls are now 12-5 in conference play and would win the MAC East with a win against Bowling Green on Saturday or an Akron loss Friday to Kent State. But instead of people talking about the team who will be no lower than the No.3 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament, the focus of the game – and the season for that matter – has been the antics of Hurley.

At some point, Hurley needs to realize that what he is doing is hurting his team and garnering a reputation that he might have problems shaking if it keeps up. Instead of blaming others and pointing fingers, he might need to take a good hard look in a mirror in the not too distant future. The petulant and adolescent behavior isn’t helping his team, nor is it earning him the respect from the officials who he constantly lambasts during a game and in his postgame comments.

This is becoming a disturbing trend for Hurley and Buffalo and even for the MAC. Hurley might feel like he is being targeted unfairly, but it would be impossible to not notice his jumping up and down and screaming on the sidelines as if he shares DNA with Jim and John Harbaugh.

Hurley needs to remember that sometimes life just isn’t fair.

And sometimes, you don’t get that shiny new toy – no matter how much you cry.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

 

 

 

‘The Quincy Diggs Show’ Was a Hit for Akron Tuesday Night

by Ryan Isley

Move over Mark Harmon – there was a new star on Tuesday night television this week. His name is Quincy Diggs.

With the Akron Zips needing a win on Tuesday night and Mid-American Player of the Year candidate Demetrius Treadwell saddled with foul trouble, it was Diggs who stepped up in Akron’s 83-71 win over the Buffalo Bulls.

“(Akron head coach Keith Dambrot) told me at halftime ‘I need you to play’ and he put the ball in my hands,” Diggs said.

Diggs scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, including eight points in a 1:50 stretch from 5:29 left to 3:39 to go, with Treadwell on the bench with four fouls.

“When Treadwell went out, (Diggs) made shots at the end of the clock,” Dambrot said of Diggs. “He can get a shot any time he wants. We just spread it out and let him go a little bit and he made some really good plays.”

The Zips trailed the game 47-42 with 14:49 to play after leading for almost the entire first half and holding a 35-30 lead at halftime. Akron responded by going on a 14-3 run to take a 56-50 lead with 10:47 left. Included in that run was a 3-pointer by Reggie McAdams, which was his first basket since February 12 after missing five games with mononucleosis.

Akron held Buffalo to 71 points on 44.4% shooting, including 28.8% from 3-point. The Zips also forced the Bulls to commit 15 turnovers, which they turned into 23 points.

“At practice we went back to fundamentals and everyone was mad but we know we needed it,” Diggs said. “It showed today and it showed in the last game at (Bowling Green) too.”

The defensive showing was in stark contrast to what had happened when the two teams met in Buffalo two weeks ago, where the Bulls beat Akron 96-90 on 63.3% shooting from the field and committed just eight turnovers.

“I thought that was an aberration at Buffalo,” Dambrot said. “It happens every once in a while. We made so many mistakes there and they made shots and we didn’t guard.”

Treadwell scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds. Most of his offensive damage came at the free throw line, where he hit nine of his 12 attempts, including seven in the final 1:47. Nick Harney – in his third game back from suspension – scored 14.

The Zips will now end the regular season at home on Friday night when they welcome the Kent State Golden Flashes into the JAR with a chance to lock up the No.4 seed in the MAC Tournament with a win.

Will it be Diggs again in the starring role, or will someone else step up for the Zips?

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

The Campus Corner: 2013 MAC Prevew

MAC LogoA 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 

Steve Bigach, Jordan LynchAll 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.

 

Ohio Bobcats

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.Beau Blankenship

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.

 

Toledo Rockets

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.

Terrance OwensWhen 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.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.

Matt SchilzFor 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.NCAA Football: Navy at 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.

Keith WenningAs 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.

 

Buffalo Bulls

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.

Joe Licata

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.

 

Miami Redhawks

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.

Austin BoucherSenior 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

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.

 

Akron Zips

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.Jawon Chisholm

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.

Tyler BenzThe 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.

 

UMass Minutemen

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.Charley Molnar

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:

MAC East

  1. Ohio Bobcats 11-1 (8-0)
  2. Kent State Golden Flashes 8-4 (6-2)
  3. Bowling Green Falcons 7-5 (5-3)
  4. Buffalo Bulls 5-7 (4-4)
  5. Miami Redhawks 2-10 (2-6)
  6. Akron Zips 3-9 (1-7)
  7. UMass Minutemen 1-11 (0-8)

MAC West

  1. Northern Illinois Huskies 11-1 (8-0)
  2. Toledo Rockets 8-4 (7-1)
  3. Central Michigan Chippewas 7-5 (5-3)
  4. Ball State Cardinals 7-5 (5-3)
  5. Western Michigan Broncos 3-9 (2-6)
  6. Eastern Michigan Eagles 1-11 (0-8)

MAC Championship Game: Ohio Bobcats vs. Northern Illinois Huskies.

35-28 Northern Illinois over Ohio.