MAC FOOTBALL PREVIEW
July 22, 2012Tri-Eastern Conference
MAC FOOTBALL PREVIEW: ADAM DERENGOWSKI, EIHSS SPORTS
MAC football was not safe from the long arms of conference realignment this off season. The Mid-Major conference saw a promising Temple team, which finished in the top three in the East Division three out of the last four years, bolt for the siren call of the Big East foiling their plan for a two division, seven team league.
Although the landscape of MAC football has changed the personality of the league remains constant, a quarterback driven league filled with pass happy playbooks and big time playmakers at the skill positions. With ten out of the thirteen MAC squads returning their starting quarterback look for a healthy dose of offense and a league in which parity will reign supreme.
MAC Conference Picks
Head Coach Frank Solich is on his way to creating a winning tradition that is the envy of his MAC coaching counterparts. The tradition will continue to grow in a year that gives Solich 12 returning starters including 3rd Team All-MAC Junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who ran the offense to perfection throwing for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns adding 10 Td’s with his legs. Although, Tettleton must adjust to a new receiving corps after losing his main target LaVon Brazil to the NFL look for Tettleton to develop a good on field rapport with incoming Freshman wideout Chris Murray.
The defensive side of the football may be where the true excitement lies for coach Solich saying, “This could be the best defense I’ve had in nine years at Ohio.” A deep group of defensive linemen blended with playmakers like defensive back Travis Carrie could help the Bobcats outdo their sack performance from a year ago of 22 in 14 games.
2.) Miami (OH)
A rocky season a year ago for Miami could translate to a much improved season in 2012. Offensively the Redhawks returns quarterback Zac Dysert who may be one of the best pocket passers in the MAC boasting career numbers of 8,530 passing yards and 48 touchdowns all while maintaining a 64 percent completion rate. With an experienced receiving corps that includes Junior Nick Harwell who grabbed 97 passes for 1425 yards a year ago, look for the RedHawks’ offense to put up big numbers.
A slew of new defensive coaches could push the Miami defense to new levels regardless of having a solid season in 2011. The new coordinator Jay Peterson is looking to implement a more aggressive and tough defense starting with an experienced defensive line anchored by Third team All-Mac Defensive Tackle Austin Brown.
3.) Kent State
There was no hiding the offensive woes of Kent State for much of the 2011 season; it was only when quarterback Spencer Keith picked up his performance in the last five games of the season did the Flashes begin to be competitive in games. This year however could be a different story for Kent State with a solid returning offensive line and a pair of speedy tailbacks in Trayion Durham and Dri Archer.
The Flashes are going to have to rely fairly heavily on their defense to be consistently good to keep them competitive in games as they have for the past few seasons. They return 8 starters from a defense that a year ago ranked 21st in total team defense allowing 326 yards per game. Senior Linebackers Luke Batton and C.J. Malauula led the team in tackles a year ago and will look to do the same in 2012.
Buffalo showed flashes of a team that was willing and able to compete with the crème of the MAC crop last year with a 1 point win against Ohio and a 1 point loss to eventual MAC champs Northern Illinois. The problem however is that the Bulls failed to bring that same performance to every game in a 2011 season that also saw them losing by 28 at Miami (OH) and a 34 point loss at Temple.
Junior running back Branden Oliver will be used early and often to relive the pressure on either junior quarterback Alex Zordich or Freshman QB Joe Licata. Oliver ran for 1400 yards and amassed 306 carries.
An experienced linebacking group should provide a large boost to the Bulls defense and new coordinator Lou Tepper. The secondary does however need to make an improvement in their ability to make plays and create turnovers.
5.) Bowling Green
The Falcons boast a quarterback in Matt Schilz who could potentially make his mark on the MAC after a year in which he gained a firm grasp of the offense regardless of his lack of a solid receiving corps due to injuries. Schilz will have some assistance in the backfield with last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year, running back Anthon Samuel.
The Bowling Green defense returns 7 starters who were given a trial by fire in 2011, which could be a blessing in disguise. The Falcons ranked 77th in the country by giving up an average of 26 points per game including allowing over 40 points three times. The frontline may have experience, however torturous it may have been, but overall the defense lacks depth which could spell disaster on this side of the ball.
What to say about the Zips, a team that has been snake bit in recent years, only winning 2 games in the last 2 seasons while averaging 14 points per game, but the winds could be changing with a new head coach in Terry Bowden.
Bowden will install some well needed changes to make an attempt to revive the long dormant offense at Akron that could only muster 277 yards per game in 2011. A no huddle offense to speed up the game and put defenses on their toes will be the first change making things a bit easier for sophomore running back Jawon Chisholm who is coming off a solid freshman campaign.
The Zips on posses a pair of bookends on the defensive line with returners John Griggs and Nico Caponi who bring some much needed experience to a very youthful defense that lost their leading tackler from a year ago due to transfer.
The new kids on the MAC block will most likely go through a semi rough transition from the FCS to the FBS. The Minutemen do however posses an offensive line that boasts experience and an average weight of 308 pounds which means Junior quarterback Kellen Pagel will get a little extra time in the pocket and a better chance at adjusting to the speed of the game.
UMass will look to their defense as a great strength with a wealth of experience and a number of playmakers in the secondary the Minutemen can cover up some of their offensive inadequacies.
1.) Western Michigan
The Broncos have a few things going for them this season, the first, they have senior quarterback Alex Carder back after completing a stellar junior campaign in which he threw for 3,873 yards and 31 touchdowns. The second is that they get divisional foes Toledo and Northern Illinois at home in Waldo Stadium where they went 5-0 a year ago.
Western Michigan does have some issues they will have to overcome including losing nearly all of the experience at the skill positions, including almost 80 percent of their production at the wideout spot. The defense will also be forced to adapt to the new 3-3-5 system that has been ushered in with new coordinator Rich Nagy.
2.) Northern Illinois
The Huskies of Northern Illinois surprised many conference prognosticators a year ago when they made a run to the title game against Ohio, and overcame a 20 point half time deficit to win their first MAC title in 28 years and then scored a bowl victory over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Repeating the feat won’t be as easy without quarterback Chandler Harnish who led an extremely potent offense which boasted the 11th best yard per game average in the country a year ago. Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch has big shoes to fill but possess great athleticism and an ability to run with the football and with the assistance of a good corps of receivers Lynch may be able to make an impact.
Depth on defense is a big positive for the Huskies who return 8 starters from a year ago including a secondary that had 13 interceptions a year ago. Safeties Jimmie Ward and Dechane Durante will lead the forceful secondary.
How fitting that the Rockets a year ago had one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football ranking in the top 10 in both scoring offense and total offense. They will once again attempt to dispel the old “if you have two quarterbacks you have none” concept as they bring back senior QB Austin Danton and junior Terrance Owens to direct the offense. If they can produce anywhere close to the numbers they put up a year ago expect the Rockets to get back to that 9-4 mark they set a year ago.
Defensively Toledo can look forward to a defensive line that has a knack for forcing quarterbacks to rush throws and make plays with their legs anchored by senior T.J. Fatinikun who led the team in tackles for a loss with 7.5 a year ago.
4.) Ball State
After seeing how poorly the Cardinals defense performed a year ago it is shocking when you realize that they ended up going 6-6 with impressive performances against Ohio in Athens where they squeaked out a 23-20 win.
Junior quarterback, Keith Wenning, will return to the starting quarterback spot and will be well protected with an experienced offensive front line. Although after a solid offensive 2011 season head coach Pete Lembo felt there was room for improvement installing a no huddle offense in hope that the Cards will pack a much bigger punch with more big play ability.
It may take a while to build this defense that gave up an average of 35 points per game a year ago including giving up 45 points twice against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo and Toledo at home. The secondary may have another difficult season unless the defensive line can put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
5.) Central Michigan
Senior QB Ryan Radcliff gained some much needed experience a year ago as the Chippewas went 3-9 and finished 6th in the West Division, something that he will have to utilize in order to fend off a possible quarterback battle with transfer Cody Kater who began his career at Cincinnati. Radcliff however has one big advantage and that was his stellar performance in MAC games, leading the league in passing yards against MAC teams. With an experienced offensive line that possess great size the Chippewas will be able to improve on their 92nd ranked scoring offense from a year ago.
Defensively Central Michigan struggled to stop offenses last season giving up 35 or more points 7 times a year ago including a 27 point blowout at the hands of Toledo. The Chippewas did gain some valuable experience for players in the secondary as well as the defensive line and return their leading tackler in Jahleel Addae who led the team with 107 tackles from the safety position.
6.) Eastern Michigan
One thing the Eagles can do is run the football who possessed the 14th best rushing attack in the country in 2011 led by their quarterback Alex Gillett who is back for his senior season but with nothing promised or given to him. Head coach Ron English and Offensive Coordinator Ken Karcher are looking to bring more balance to the offensive side of the football after only averaging 126 yards per game last year through the air. Gillett has some much better options in the wideout spots and will be asked to utilize them much more effectively in 2012, if he doesn’t don’t be surprised to see Gillett’s spot in the starting lineup in serious jeopardy.
Defense was the major key to Eastern Michigan finishing at 6-6 but with only 4 returning starters don’t expect the defense to be able to carry the load that they had to last year. The front four for the Eagles will have some major improvements to make before the fall in order to put pressure on pass happy offenses in the Mid American Conference.