MAC Football Preview

    
August 24th, 2009

Can the Bulls repeat as champions?

By Raphielle Johnson

 

2008 saw the completion to one of the biggest turnarounds in recent college football history, with Turner Gill leading the Buffalo Bulls from the dregs of college football to the top of the Mid-American Conference. The Bulls knocked off Ball State in the conference championship game, earning a trip to the International Bowl. They may have lost that game and starting quarterback Drew Willy (graduation), but most importantly they did not lose Coach Gill.

 

Despite a few interview opportunities he’ll be right back on the sidelines, hoping that players such as WR Naaman Roosevelt and RB Brandon Thermilus (James Starks will likely miss the entire season due to a torn labrum in his shoulder) can lead the Bulls to another title. Zack Maynard takes over for Willy under center, and while he’s got many options to go to with the football he’ll also have to deal with three new starters on the offensive line. Defensively, look for the Bulls to be one of the conference’s stronger units with nine starters returning. The key for Buffalo: avoiding a “hangover” following a season of success the likes of which hadn’t been seen at UB for a very long time.

 

Their biggest challenger in the East could very well be Temple, another program looking to drag itself up from the bottom of college football. Al Golden’s team went 5-7 in his first year in Philadelphia, but they did win four league games. Adam DiMichele has graduated, but the Owls do have quarterbacks with starting experience in Vaughn Charlton and Chester Stewart. Outside of quarterback the Owls are a solid football team featuring a number of young yet talented options on both sided of the football. Far more competitive than people expected them to be last season, Temple has the talent to challenge the Bulls and possibly win the conference.

 

Ohio, Akron and Bowling Green could slot in behind those two in any given order, but good luck figuring out which of the three would have the best chance to shove their way into the top two. Ohio will always run the ball and play sound football under Frank Solich, but the growth of the passing game will determine whether or not the Bobcats can win the division. JD Brookhart’s Akron Zips return nine starters on offense with QB Chris Jacquemain leading the way. But in order for Akron to put together their first winning season since 2005 a defense that finished tenth in the MAC in total defense must improve.

 

Bowling Green welcomes a new head coach in Dave Clawson, who was extremely successful at Richmond before taking over as offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008. He will have some dependable options on offense in QB Tyler Sheehan and WR Freddie Barnes to work with, but there will be some work to do defensively. A unit that ranked second in the conference in total defense returns just three starters and have to replace all-conference DE Diyral Briggs.

 

 

Kent State is another team to keep an eye on, with the Golden Flashes returning fifteen starters, led by the diminutive yet productive RB Eugene Jarvis. Jarvis rushed for just over eight hundred yards in 2008, missing three games due to injury. His health becomes even more important due to the graduation of QB Julian Edelman. Four starters are back on the offensive line, and the defense returns starters at all three levels. The wildcard in regards to their contention for a division crown will be the play of sophomore QB Giorgio Morgan; if he can play mistake-free football the Golden Flashes have a chance to earn their first winning season since 2001.

 

Miami of Ohio also has a new head coach in Mike Haywood, and he’ll have quite the rebuilding job to do in Oxford. The Redhawks have a proud football history but they’ve finished 2-10 in two of the last three seasons. Senior Daniel Raudabaugh returns to lead the offense, and that unit ranked ahead of only Temple in total offense. The Redhawks weren’t much better defensively, ranking ninth in the conference in total defense. Just five starters return to that unit, led by three returnees in the secondary.

 

In the West, it’ll most likely be a two-horse race between Central Michigan and Western Michigan. The Chippewas return the conference’s best quarterback in Dan LeFevour, and head coach Butch Jones also has receivers Kito Poblah, Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown back in the fold. But the Chips have just one starter back on the offensive line, and the fact that they have ten starters back on defense is undermined by the fact that CMU was dead last in the conference in total defense last season. If the defense can round into shape they’ve got a chance to get through a tough early-season schedule and get back to the top of the MAC.

 

As for the Broncos, they’ve got some holes to fill defensively but the offense is in good hands thanks to the return of all five starters on the offensive line and QB Tim Hiller. Hiller threw for 286.5 yards per game in 2008, tops in the conference by thirty yards per game. Brandon West will be back for one more run as well, hoping to improve upon numbers that ranked him sixth in the conference in rushing yards a season ago. The Broncos were fourth in the MAC in total offense but just eighth in total defense. That number has to improve if they’re to win the conference this season.

 

Northern Illinois was the worst offensive team in the conference yet still reached a bowl game in the first season under Jerry Kill due to a defense that finished tops in the conference by nearly fifty yards per game. Defensive end Larry English is now in the NFL and just four starters return on defense, but things may be looking up for the offense. QB Chandler Harnish started ten games as a freshman and is one of seven starters back on that side of the football. If the NIU offense can make some strides they’ll be in the running for third place in the West.

 

Toledo, Ball State and Eastern Michigan all welcome new head coaches in 2009, with the Rockets having the best chance of finishing in the top half the of the division. New head coach Tim Beckman takes over a team that returns sixteen starters, including QB Aaron Opelt and running backs Morgan Williams and DaJuane Collins. Growing pains could be more plentiful for Ball State’s Stan Parrish and Eastern Michigan’s Ron English. The Cardinals have just four starters back on an offense that led the MAC in total offense a season ago. The load will become heavier for RB MiQuale Lewis with the loss of QB Nate Davis and four starters on the offensive line.

 

As for EMU the program has won four games in a season three times this decade. That’s the high-water mark for the perennial MAC doormat, something the former defensive coordinator at Louisville hopes to change. Seventeen starters return to Ypsilanti, including nine to an offense that ranked third in the MAC last season. But no matter how many yards Andy Schmitt threw for the Eagles struggled to win games due to a porous defense. Schmitt did lead the Eagles to an upset win over the Chippewas in the season finale, throwing for 516 yards and five touchdowns in the 56-52 stunner. In the final two games of the season Schmitt attempted 76 (Temple) and 80 (CMU) passes; if he has to do that this year the Eagles will more than likely fail to surpass their three-win total of 2008.

 

 

As for who wins the MAC title look for Central Michigan’s defense to show signs of improvement, winning the conference provided LeFevour stay healthy. If not, the door opens for either Buffalo or Western Michigan to grab the title. But rest assured it will be another season of wild games and surprising results in the Mid-American Conference.

 

Storyline: Offense vs. defense. The Bulls are pretty solid on both sides of the football, but the other major contenders need to make improvements on either the offensive (Temple) or defensive (CMU, WMU) side of the football.

 

Players of the Year: QB Tim Hiller (Western Michigan) and LB Nick Bellore (Central Michigan)

 

How they’ll finish

            East      1. Buffalo                                             West    1. Central Michigan

                        2. Temple                                                         2. Western Michigan

                        3. Ohio                                                             3. Northern Illinois

                        4. Akron                                                          4. Toledo

                        5. Kent State                                                    5. Ball State

                        6. Bowling Green                                              6. Eastern Michigan

                        7. Miami (Ohio)

 

Next: MAC East and West ultimate schedules