2013 College Football Preview: The MAC

The Mid-American Conference is coming off its most successful season, having finally cracked the BCS and sending Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl (by the way, screw you again Herbie). This season will be much like every other season in the MAC. The top six will be amoung the better mid-major teams in the county and the bottom seven will be amoung the worst teams in the nation. Such is the ultimate conundrum for mid-major conferences and something that will likely plague the Group of Five when the playoff goes into effect next season. The champions seem a foregone conclusion, but there is plenty of good football that will be played not involving NIU. The league will also try to better last year’s 2-5 mark in bowl games.

WEST DIVISION

Northern Illinois Huskies
2012 Final Standings: 12-2 (lost to #13 Florida State 31-10 in Orange Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 7-1 in MAC West (1st), 11-2 overall, bowl game win)
Pivotal Games: Sept. 28 @ Purdue, Nov. 20 @ Toledo

Jordan Lynch, Jordan Lynch and Jordan Lynch. ::opens envelope:: What is the what will carry NIU to a third straight MAC title? Alright, that might be oversimplifying a bit. But not much. Lynch was the offense last year with 3,138 passing yards and a 25-6! ratio. He also lead the team with 1,815 rushing yards and another 19 scores. Also, the offensive line returns intact with 72 career starts. The key will be finding some playmakers to take some of the heat off of Lynch. The Huskies also return a 1st Team All-MAC SS Jimmy Ward to lead one of the better secondaries in the league. Depth on defense will be an issue, but the offense is built for shootouts.

Toledo Rockets
2012 Final Standings: 9-4 (lost to #18 Utah St. 41-15 in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 6-2 in MAC West (2nd), 8-4 overall, bowl game win
Pivotal Games: Oct. 26 @ Bowling Green, Nov. 20 vs. NIU

If NIU slips up along the way, or if Jordan Lynch gets hurt, the Rockets are ready to step up. Dual-threat QB Terrance Owens has the starting job all to himself this season and is poised for a breakout season. He’ll be tossing to the MAC’s best receiving corps, lead by 1st Team All-MAC WR Bernard Reedy. An inexperienced defense will have to step up, as only 4 returning starters.

Ball State Cardinals
2012 Final Standings: 9-4 (lost to UCF 38-17 in Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg)
2013 Predictions: 6-2 in MAC West (T-2nd), 8-4 overall, bowl game loss
Pivotal Games: Sept. 28 vs. Toledo, Nov. 13 @ NIU

2nd team All-MAC QB Keith Wenning returns to lead the 2nd-best offense in the league. The skill positions all return, including 1st Team All-MAC WR Willie Snead (1,148 yds, 9 TD). The top 8 receivers and 4 of the top 6 rushers are back meaning the Cards will be able to keep pace with any of the MAC’s offenses. The issue is the defense. 6 starters return, but those 6 starters surrendered nearly 30 points a game and gave up 442 passing yards a game, good for 9th in the league. If those numbers get shored up, Ball State can make a run at a division crown. But they look like they’ll be just a step behind NIU and UT.

Western Michigan Broncos
2012 Final Standings: 4-8 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 5-3 in MAC West (4th), 6-6 overall (bowl game loss)
Pivotal Games: Oct. 5 @ Toledo, Nov. 16 vs. Central Michigan

It looks like a rebound year for the Broncos. After losing star QB Alex Carder, Tyler Van Tubbergen has the starting gig to himself and a shot to improve the passing output. MAC Freshman of the Year Jamie Wilson will be his top target after notching 792 yards and 6 TDs a year ago. The top 4 rushers also return to fill out a RB committee. The defense won’t have to try to bail out the offense this year, which is good because it often couldn’t. There could be some growing pains as they switch to a 4-3 front but with 7 returning starters, they should be able to get the job done in a division full of high-octane offenses. They’re also breaking in the youngest head coach in the FBS (PJ Fleck, 32 years old!) whose bringing in a new offensive scheme. Getting past some growing pains will determine just how far the Broncs can go.

Central Michigan Chippewas
2012 Final Standings: 7-6 (def. Western Kentucky 24-21 in Little Caesars Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 3-5 in MAC West (5th), 4-8 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Nov. 16 @ Western Michigan, Nov. 29 vs. Eastern Michigan

The Chips have waited until the end of summer camp to name junior Cody Kater as the starting QB. Despite starting a QB that only threw 4 passes last season and working with a senior left tackle whose spent most of the last two seasons injured, expectations for the passing game are actually high. 2nd Team All-MAC RB Zurlon Tipton will keep defenses honest, taking some pressure off the first-year starting QB. A porous defensive line and the worst secondary in the league will likely put the Chips behind the 8-ball early. This looks to be a rebuilding year for Central and the only thing they’ll be competing for is the Michigan MAC Title.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
2012 Final Standings: 2-10 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 0-8 in MAC West (6th), 2-10 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Aug. 31 vs. Howard, Oct. 12 @ Army

Why is Howard at pivotal game? Same with Army? Well, that’s because those are the only two games I think they’ll win. The mediocrity continues in Ypsilanti as 4 return from the worst defense in the MAC last year. QB Tyler Benz isn’t bad, but the weapons surrounding him aren’t great and he loses his favorite target from a season ago. Not much else to say about this. Too bad they don’t draw UMass out of the East. They might have beaten last year’s win total with that.

EAST DIVISION

Bowling Green Falcons
2012 Final Standings: 8-5 (lost to #24 San Jose State 29-20 in the Military Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 7-1 in MAC East (1st), 9-3 overall, (bowl game win)
Pivotal Games: Oct. 26 vs. Toledo, Nov. 12 vs. Ohio

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a BG graduate so there is a bit of homerism here. Which is why I’m predicting we’ll break our 3 bowl game losing streak. But most agree with me that BG sports the best defense in the MAC and one of the better in the nation. Nine starters return from a unit that allowed just 13 points a game in MAC play a year ago. Even with the loss of 6th round draft pick Chris Jones, the Falcons will be tough to score on. The offense is also quite experienced, with 8 returning starters including senior QB Tyler Schilz, who is poised for his best season yet. The rushing game took a hit when freshman standout Anthon Samuel transferred to FIU, but last year’s #2 rusher Andre Givens is ready to step up. I’ve thought this a few times in the last few years, but I really think this is the Falcons year. We haven’t been to a MAC title game in 10 years, where a young but just as douchey Ben Roethlisburger has his way with our secondary. Bowling Green is an upset away from double digit wins.

Ohio Bobcats
2012 Final Standings: 9-4 (def. ULM 45-14 in the Independence Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 6-2 in MAC East (2nd), 8-4 overall, bowl game win
Pivotal Games: Nov. 12 @ Bowling Green, Nov. 19 vs. Kent State

Injuries did in the Bobcats after they started off with a massive upset at Penn State. They have the trifecta that has been a formula for success in college football. QB Tyler Tettelton (2nd TM MAC), RB Beau Blankenship (1,604 yds, 15 TDs, 2nd Tm MAC) and WR Donte Foster are all back. To address the injury situation, head coach Frank Solich actually limited full contact drills over the summer to keep his players as healthy as possible. Graduation took its toll on both lines and that’s the biggest question this year. The only hurdle between the Bobcats and the MAC title game is BG and their defense.

Buffalo Bulls
2012 Final Standings: 4-8 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 4-4 in MAC East (3rd), 5-7 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Oct. 26 @ Kent St., Nov. 19 @ Miami, OH

Much like Kent State, Buffalo returns a star running back (Branden Oliver, 821 yds, 5 TD) and a strong defense (7 starters return from the 2nd best defense in the MAC). The difference here is that sophomore QB Joe Licata also returns after getting thrown in the fire last year, stepping in for an injured Alex Zordich. Zordich is still around, giving the Bulls some depth under center. The lines are also both solid and the linebacking corps is the league’s best. They get the nod over Kent State because their schedule is much easier. They get their BCS beatings out of the way early and host BG and Ohio. They also get Western and Eastern Michigan out of the West and have a chance of sneaking up on UConn. The QB situation will determine if Buffalo stays up here or falls

Kent State Golden Flashes
2012 Final Standings: 11-3 (lost to Arkansas St. 17-13 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl)
2013 Prediction: 2-5 in MAC East (T-4th), 5-7 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Nov. 2 @ Akron, Nov. 19 @ Ohio

Good news: 3-time 1st Team All-MAC DT Roosevelt Nix and 1st Team All-MAC RB/KR Dri Archer return. Bad news: dual-threat QB and all-time leading passer Spencer Keith and three of the top 4 tacklers are gone. It will be tough to replicate last year’s record-setting win total, ending up an incompletion away from a BCS bowl. Archer and receiver Josh Boyle will have to give new QB freshman Colin Reardon all the help they can. If they can help him produce, the offense has a shot to keep up with the pace the defense will set. However, a brutal stretch early could grind them out. They have to travel to LSU and Penn St. in back to back weeks, head out to Western Michigan and then come home only to be welcomed by Northern Illinois. The Flashes will need an upset in conference to pull off bowl eligibility, but I see a lot of let down here this year.

Miami Redhawks
2012 Final Standings: 4-8 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 2-5 in MAC East (T-4th), 4-8 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Oct. 26 @ Ohio, Nov. 19 vs. Buffalo

Miami loses the school’s leading passer Zac Dysert, but still brings back 8 starters on offense. However, they also bring 5 back on a defense that allowed a school-worst 34.9 points a game. They should be better because they should be healthier, and having 6 East games helps (only draw CMU out of the West). The non-conference schedule is easier as well, making Miami hard to peg. Senior QB Austin Boucher hasn’t started a game since 2010 and only threw 13 passes a year ago, but if he can perform well early there’s a good chance Miami can top last year’s 4-win total. There’s just a big a chance that the defense won’t turn the corner and MAC offenses will have a field day at Yager Stadium.

Akron Zips
2012 Final Standings: 1-11 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 2-5 (T-4th), 2-10 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Nov. 2 Kent St.., Nov. 16 @ UMass

In the second year of head coach Terry Bowden’s systems, the Zips will improve. They can only do better than the 11th-best offense and the 12th-best defense in the league. I know that’s really backhanded praise, but this is a team that is trying to essentially do a frame-off restoration to a program that didn’t have a great pedigree to begin with. There a few bright spots on this year’s squad though. Top rusher Jawon Chisholm would have broken 1,000 years had he not been banged up down the stretch. He gets to run behind a more experienced line as well. The defense looks to be the anchor holding this team back again this year. Only a vast improvement can save this unit from finishing in the bottom 2 in the conference. They may sneak up on someone, hence the improvement on last year’s win total.

Massachusetts Minutemen
2012 Final Standings: 1-11 (no bowl game)
2013 Prediction: 0-8 (7th), 1-11 overall, no bowl game
Pivotal Games: Sept. 7 vs. Maine, Nov. 16 vs. Akron

In year 2 of UMass’ FBS experience, not much seems to be changing. QB Mike Wegzyn has a full year of starts under his belt and should improve. Redshirt freshman Stacey Bedell will get first crack at running back, as a training camp injury will keep Lorenzo Woodley out of action for at least the first week or so. This is a young offense that will have to gel in order to improve, but it should. Leading receiver TE Rob Blanchflower will be the spark plug. The defense returns 3 starters from a secondary that was pretty good in conference (228 ypg, 5th). They get their winnable games at home and will take steps forward. This is a long journey and while they may not be obvious this year, UMass is on the road to being competitive in the league.

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