Preseason 2005: A Look at the MAC
The MAC has changed a bit in recent months. With the loss of UCF and Marshall, things look very different. The problem with the MAC, as has always been the case in recent years, is not at the top of the conference, where the MAC can compare with all the other non-BCS conferences, and even some of the BCS conferences. The problem is at the bottom of the conference, where the MAC is weighed down by some bottom feeders. This year there are four teams that are serious threats to win the conference title, meaning that those four teams out of conference games are critical to earning them some national respect.
1. Bowling Green (9-2, 7-1)- The Falcons return the incredible Omar Jacobs at quarterback. Jacobs threw for over 4000 yards and had 41 touchdowns to just four interceptions a year ago in his first year as the starter. Amazing numbers. Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders combined for over 2000 receiving yards a year ago, meaning that Jacobs still has plenty of weapons to throw the football to. Just when you think the Falcons do nothing but toss the ball around, then you realize that P.J. Pope is returning and he ran for over 1000 yards a year ago. This is one of the best offenses in the country. Only two starters return on the offensive line, and that is the lone weak spot on the offense. The defense rotates lots of people on the defensive line, and three regular starters return. Devon Parks had four sacks a year ago. The lone returning starter at linebacker is Teddy Piepkow, but he's a pretty good one. Four seniors will start in the secondary, meaning that the pass defense is experienced. They lead the MAC in passing efficiency defense a year ago, but still managed to give up a lot of yards. The Falcons go to Wisconsin in week one and travel to Boise State 18 days later for a deeply intriguing match up. If they come out of those unbeaten, they have a shot to go through the season without a loss. The Falcons don't play another truly tough game until November 15 when they play at Miami (OH). The following week they play at home against Toledo. This could be the year they finally win the MAC.
2. Miami (OH) (8-3, 6-2)- Josh Betts returns at quarterback for the RedHawks, which automatically gives them some stability at the position that they were lacking last year. That could bode well early for a team that began the year 2-3 a year ago before winning six straight games. Martin Nance and Ryne Robinson lead the deep receiving corps. The offensive line returns four starters. All this means that Betts should have a very solid season. The running game is the lone question mark. Brandon Murphy is moving into the role. He gained under 250 yards on less than 50 carries a year ago. John Busing, Terna Nande, and Derek Rehage all return to be starters at linebacker for the RedHawks. That's good news, because that makes this one of the best group of linebackers in the conference. Marcus Johnson anchors the defensive line, which only returns one other starter, Jarrod Rich. The secondary will depend on Darrell Hunter to have a big season. He's expected to be the star of the secondary. The RedHawks open at Ohio State, which will not be an easy test, but they may catch them looking ahead to Texas. A trip to Northern Illinois in October and a home date with Bowling Green in November are the most important dates on the schedule.
3. Ohio (4-7, 4-4)- Frank Solich, the former Nebraska coach, is now coaching the Bobcats, and it should be safe to expect a leap in the win column over the next few years. Austen Everson will be the starting quarterback this year. He saw a significant amount of playing time a year ago. Scott Mayle and Anthony Hackett lead a very deep receiving group. This group will be very solid. The offensive line returns just two starters, but Solich is still very high on the group. Kalvin McRae returns to run the football and is expected to blossom in Solich's system. The defense will either succeed or fail based on the line according to Solich. Brett Sykes and Shane Yates return on the line. Matt Muncy returns at linebacker and has potential to be a real star. Tyler Russ and Spencer Tatum complement him well. Dion Byrum and T.J. Wright return to the MAC's top secondary from a year ago. Watch out for the Bobcats defense to make a huge leap this year. If the offense can do anything, this team could post a winning record. Of course, the schedule is brutla. They open with trips to Northwestern and Virginia Tech sandwiching a home game against Pittsburgh. A trip to Bowling Green and home games with Miami and Toledo follows, which will make this very tough.
4. Buffalo (3-8, 3-5)- The Bulls need something (ANYTHING) positive to happen. This could be the year. Tony Paoli is a junior college transfer and will be the Bulls starting quarterback. He lacks experience, but seems to be capable of giving the Bulls the average quarterback play that they long for. Terrance Breaux and Dave Dawson are the receivers that are needed to get going. The offensive line returns three starters and could be a strength. They will be blocking for a solid group of running backs. Steven King, Chris McDuffie, and Jared Patterson all return to give some depth to the running game. They will be leaned upon heavily until Paoli develops. The defense could be one of the best in the MAC. They will be lead by a potentially dominant defensive line. Aaron Sanders recorded 6.5 sacks a year ago. Philip Jacques, Bill Meholif, and Kirk Berry also return on the line. All four are seniors. The linebackers will be lead by Bryan Cummings, who has a knack for coming up with big plays. Aaron Leeper, James Evans, and Gemara Williams help to stabilize the secondary. The conference games include trips to Toledo and Miami, while out of conference they go to Connecticut and Syracuse. This Bulls team looks primed to have a great defense, and if the offense can just produce at all, then they have a chance to win some games. If they aren't going to win games now, when are they?
5. Akron (3-8, 2-6)- The Zips will be hard pressed to replace Charlie Frye at quarterback, but Jabari Arthur, Luke Getsy, and John Ferguson will give it a try. Domenik Hixon is an excellent receiver for them to be throwing the ball to, while Jason Montgomery is very good as well. The offensive line returns just one starter, but he's a good one in Tim Crouch. The running game should be OK with Brett Biggs leading the way. The defense could be dominated by the linebackers and the secondary. Jay Rohr and Bran Howe return at linebacker while Dion Elie leads the secondary. Reggie Corner, Dionte Henry, and Chevin Pace are also expected to be a big help in the secondary. The line is a cause for some concern, but Kiki Gonzalez is a very solid lineman and should help free up some of his other linemates by demanding to be double teamed. The schedule is not too difficult outside of the road date with Purdue to open the season. The other non-conference games are a trip to Middle Tennessee and a home game with Army, both of which are winnable. They must go to Miami and Bowling Green, but get Northern Illinois at home. This team is a long way from being a contender in this conference this year, but last year's biggest bowl snub (and only bowl snub for that matter) could pull off a few surprises along the way.
6. Kent (2-9, 1-7)- Michael Machen will replace the irreplaceable Joshua Cribbs at quarterback. He spent three years in professional baseball, which have helped him become more mature, thus making him the most likely candidate to start at quarterback this fall. Five starters return on the offensive line, which is a big plus. That will help out the new quarterback. The receivers are also deep. Najah Pruden and Derrick Bush are the two best receivers. Pruden is a top deep threat. The running game is a huge weakness. The leading returner, Kevin Beverly, carred the ball just 19 times a year ago. Luke Tillman is expected to share the load with Beverly. The defense was solid a year ago. Justin Parrish returns at linebacker, where he may just be the conference's best. He had 14 sacks a year ago. Daniel Muir and Roger Attieh lead the defensive line, and they both are solid run stoppers. The secondary will be lead by Usama Young and Jack Williams. The defense is clearly the strength of the Flashes. If the Flashes couldn't get to a winning record with Cribbs at quarterback, what gives them any chance of pulling off a winning record without him? They need to count on their defense early in the season and hope someone steps up at quarterback and running back. If that happens, they could get back to four or five wins.
1. Toledo (9-2, 7-1)- If not for Omar Jacobs, Bruce Gradkowski would be the player garnering all the national attention from the MAC at quarterback. Last year was a bit of down year for Gradkowski, though he still threw for 27 touchdowns and over 3500 yards. Steve Odom is the team's best receiver after catching 53 passes a year ago. He's a solid target. The running game witll be lead by Scooter McDougle and Trinity Dawson, along with newcomer Dajuane Collins. All have big play potential. They will be running behind a line that returns three starters and should be among the MAC's best yet again. The defense wil be anchored by the linebackers. David Thomas and Anthony Jordan make one of the better duos in the conference. The secondary will be lead by Keon Jackson, who recorded three interceptions last year. Antonio Malone and Nigel Morris are also solid contributors. The defensive line was inexperienced last year, and it showed as they struggled to get pressure on the quarterbacks a lot of the time. But with Tyree Pollard returning and only expecting to get better, the line should make some leaps this season. Going to Fresno State on September 27 is a very interesting contest. The last two games against Northern Illinois and at Bowling Green are also very tough games. However, if the Rockets can win at Fresno, they should be 9-0 heading into those last two games.
2. Northern Illinois (9-2, 7-1)- Phil Horvath will be the starting quarterback for the Huskies, but he got plenty of experience last year. He threw six touchdowns and seven interceptions a year ago. Sam Hurd has a lot of potential at wide receiver and will probably become Horvath's favorite target. The offensive line is also very deep and very talented. Three starters return to anchor that group. The running game will be lead by Garrett Wolfe and A.J. Harris. Wolfe rushed for over 1600 yards a year ago and Harris ran for 120 in the bowl in over Troy. The defense will be lead by the defensive line. This group is very deep and will be lead by the talented Ken West. West recorded three sacks in back to back games a year ago, and had eight on the season. Javan Lee needs to shine at the linebacker position. He's the lone returning starter and is expected to have a huge senior season. The secondary will be lead by the twins, Adriel and Alvah Hansboro. Ray Smith is also a very talented safety. Trips to Michigan and Northwestern to start the season will be very very tough. They do get Miami at home, but must travel to Toledo. The Huskies have the talent to win the MAC, especially if the defense develops. But they haven't beaten Toledo since 1989, and how can we expect that to stop this year?
3. Eastern Michigan (4-7, 3-5)- Matt Bohnet returns at the quarterback position for the Eagles and he should produce some big numbers this year. He has a cannon for an arm. Eric Deslauriers caught 84 passes for almost 1300 yards a year ago, and has potential for another monster season. A.J. Bennett also could put up some nice numbers this year. The offensive line returns just three starters, but they only allowed 14 sacks a year ago, and the depth is solid. Therefore, this should be a good unit again in the MAC. Nelson Drew is expected to be the starting running back and it is hard not to be excited by Drew's aggressive running style. The defense will need to see a lot of improvement. They ranked 114 last year in total defense. Olivier Gagnon-Gordillo and Kevin Howe, along with transfer Josh Hunt, will be counted on heavily to help turn the fortunes around on the line. The linebackers may be the deepest group on the defense, but there are no true stars. Steven Bednarik is the best returning linebacker. The secondary will rely heavily on Rontrell Woodruff and Corey Parker to play some decent defense. If they do not, the whole secondary could crumble. Trips to Toledo and Northern Illinois along with a home date against Miami make winning the MAC a near impossibility. This team would take just making another baby step and improving on their .500 conference record from a year ago.
4. Ball State (3-8, 3-5)- Joey Lynch is the projected starting quarterback for the Cardinals. Bryan Williamson is expected to step up and become the go to receiver. The offensive line returns three starters, but they also gave up 39 sacks a year ago. The running game will be headed up by Charles Wynn, a senior who needs to show something in his last season. He ran for almost 250 yards a year ago. The defense is expected to improve a lot over last year. Tom Kellar returns on the line after an injury kept him down much of last year. Kellar could be one of the better defensive linemen in the MAC. The linebackers have four players they can shuffle in and out. Wendell Brown, Donta Smith, Jason Siemon, and Brad Seiss all have the talent to start for the Cardinals. Erik Keys returns as the key cog in the secondary. Bowling Green and Toledo both come to play at Ball State and a trip to Northern Illinois is not so bad. The defense returns nine starters, and if they come through, then this prediction seems to be likely. If it does not come through, then a winless season is a possibility.
5. Western Michigan (4-7, 3-5)- The Broncos return a lot of talent. Ryan Cubit is the starting quarterback. He is very experienced and is hoping to improve on his 14-to-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio from a year ago. The offensive line returns four starters, which could help this group improve over their numbers from a year ago. Greg Jennings is one of the better receivers in the country. He had 1092 yards receiving a year ago. Tony Scheffler is the best tight end in the MAC. Trovon Riley is expected to really have a breakout season this year at running back. The defense will need some vast improvement from the defensive line. Paul Moersch and Joe Alvarez return on the defensive line, but looking for help. The linebackers are also very thin. Paul Tithof's is the team's leading returning tackler, and also racked up four sacks last year. The secondary is also very young. Chad Feldpausch and Scooter McIntosh are the two biggest names in the secondary, but the coaching staff things E.J. Biggers could be a star right off the bat as a freshman this year. Trips to Toledo, Bowlinbg Green, and Northern Illinois are all brutal for the Broncos. A winning record is not outside the realm of possibility though for a team looking to make a major step up this season.
6. Central Michigan ( 2-9, 2-6)- Kent Smith returns at quarterback and must get the team to score in the red zone. The Chippewas ranked 79th in scoring while cranking out almost 400 yards a game. Not good. He'll be throwing the ball to Justin Harper and Damien Linson, two very talented receivers. The running game will be lead by Justin Seymour, who ran for almost 1300 yards a year ago. The offensive line returns three starters, which means Seymour could see more of the same this season. The defense will be lead by lineman Dan Bazuin, who recorded three sacks a year ago. Steven Friend and Tony Thompson also return on the defensive line. Thomas Keith is one of the better linebackers in the MAC and lead the team in tackles a year ago. The secondary was young a year ago, so this year the Chippewas are hoping that last year's freshman can turn into this year's stars. The Chippewas went 4-1 at home last year and get Northern Illinois and Toledo at home this year. Finding a way to win one of those would be huge. If they can survive early in the season against Indiana, Miami (OH), and Penn State, then a late season run is possible if they keep on winning at home.
Bowling Green will put up huge numbers on Toledo. The Rockets offense will match them for much of the game, but in the end Jacobs is just too good and the Falcons finally win the MAC, 41-27.
QB Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green
RB P.J. Pope, Bowling Green
RB Brett Biggs, Akron
WR Greg Jennings, Western Michigan
WR Martin Nance, Miami
TE Tony Scheffler, Western Michigan
OL Rob Warren, Bowling Green
OL Kory Lichtensteiger, Bowling Green
OL Ben Lueck, Northern Illinois
OL Brian Van Aker, Northern Illinois
OL John Greco, Toledo
DL Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan
DL Aaron Sanders, Buffalo
DL Devon Parks, Bowling Green
DL Justin Parrish, Kent
LB John Busing, Miami
LB Terna Nande, Miami
LB Anthony Jordan, Toledo
DB T.J. Wright, Ohio
DB Darrell Hunter, Miami
DB Keon Jackson, Toledo
DB Jelani Jordan, Bowling Green
K Andrew Wellock, Eastern Michigan
P Matthew Miller, Ohio
KR Domenick Hixon, Akron
PR Ryne Robinson, Miami