2008 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Football Preview
The MAC endured a transition year in 2007, welcoming Temple and an odd and unbalanced schedule to the conference. However, 2008 seems ripe for new beginnings. As usual, the MAC is wide open, making it one of the most exciting conferences in all of college football. Unlike last year, non-divisional conference games will count in the conference standings this fall, ensuring that we won’t see a repeat of the MAC East fiasco of 2007, in which Bowling Green lost out on a spot in the MAC Title Game to Miami (OH), despite having an extra conference win.
Speaking of the MAC East, Miami and BGSU are again expected to be the top two powers in the division. Despite Buffalo’s surprising season last year, the Bulls were unable to defeat either team. In fact, if any other MAC East team has a chance at challenging the Red Hawks and Falcons, it’s the Golden Flashes of Kent State. No, I’m not saying that because my fiancé is a Kent alumnus, I’m saying it because it is extremely unlikely that injuries will force them to start their 4th string quarterback again this fall. Kent State suffered a lot of close losses last year and will return 16 starters from a team that beat Iowa State last year. If you’re looking for a surprise team in the East, it’s Kent State. Another team to watch will be Temple, who returns 22 of 24 starters (including kick specialists) from last year! That’s unheard of and could bode well for the Owls in 2008.
The West is ano ther matter entirely. While the East has some established favorites, every team in the West, aside from the poor EMUs, has a legitimate shot at winning the division. Obviously, the two-time defending conference champions CMU will be part of the race all year, but expect Nate Davis-led Ball State to contend for ano ther bowl berth this season. Also, WMU is strong on both sides of the ball and Toledo returns 15 starters from last season. Finally, look for new NIU coach Jerry Kill to lead a turnaround from last season’s 2-10 record. Remember, the Huskies were a winning team every year this decade prior to last season. the MAC West should provide plenty of excitement and intrigue for the whole conference this fall.
MAC EASTERN DIVISION
Bowling Green (Predicted Conference Record: 6-2)
Bowling Green returns 17 starters from last year’s team, which tied for the MAC East Title. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they lost out to Miami on a tiebreaker and didn’t make a title game appearance. However, the Falcons return a stellar offense and a solid defense and will look to improve upon last season with a spot in the MAC Title Game.
Junior QB Tyler Sheehan, who threw for 3,264 yards and 23 TDs last season against only 11 interceptions, is back as one of the MAC’s best quarterbacks to lead the Falcon offense. Other major offensive weapons include running backs Anthony Turner and Willie Geter, who ran for 203 yards against Kent State in last season. Also returning is 2007’s leading receiver, junior Freddie Barnes. If Bowling Green’s inexperienced O-Line can gel, expect the offense to be explosive.
Bowling Green also has one of the MAC’s strongest defenses. After struggling with injuries last season, their defensive line returns a whopping ten players with starting experience and should improve upon their poor rush defense from a year ago. Their linebackers are led by senior Erique Dozier, last year’s leading tackler, and he should lead one of the MAC’s best units. Their secondary boasts 4 upperclassmen starters, who should improve their pass defense and help the Falcons post one of the MAC’s most impressive defenses.
Bowling Green also has a decided scheduling advantage over its divisional rivals, facing major challengers Miami and Kent State at home and passing Temple this year on the East’s rotating schedule. They draw the West’s expected bottom three teams in Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Eastern Michigan, though they have to travel for two of those games. these factors combine to give the Falcons the East’s lightest conference schedule and should help them reach the MAC Title Game.
Biggest Games: October 18th versus Miami, November 1st versus Kent St., Nov. 28th @ Toledo
Miami (Predicted Conference Record: 5-3)
Miami returns 17 starters from last year’s edition, which reached the MAC Title Game. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, they lost both the MAC Title and a bowl bid, as the defeat eliminated their bowl eligibility at 6-7. However, Miami returns one of the MAC’s toughest defenses and should challenge again to play in the Championship Game.
One of the RedHawks’ biggest questions going into 2008: Who will start at quarterback? Returning junior Daniel Radabaugh and redshirt freshman Clay Belton are expected to battle for the job. Luckily, they’ll be supported by the fact that Miami returns its top FIVE leading receivers from last season, so there should be plenty of targets for whoever wins the position. This should also help offset the Red Hawks’ inexperience at tailback, where sophomore Thomas Merriwea ther is expected to start. Miami returns 3 starters to what should again be a solid offensive line.
The RedHawks return what should be one of the conference’s top two defenses (along with Western Michigan) this fall. Led by a troika of talented linebackers in seniors Joey Hudson and Clayton Mullins and junior Caleb Bostic, the RedHawks will try and maintain their crown as the MAC’s #1 scoring defense. With a wealth of experience starting on defense, expect them to help carry the Red Hawks early in the year.
Miami has a moderately difficult conference schedule, welcoming in MAC West favorite Ball State and traveling to Northern Illinois and Toledo for their interdivision slate. In their own division, they bypass Akron for a year and have to travel to Bowling Green for a game which could decide the MAC East. Expect to see the Red Hawks on National television frequently, as they have FIVE non-Saturday games. the Red Hawks are more than capable of knocking off the Falcons and making a return the MAC Title Game in Detroit.
Biggest Games: Oct. 11th @ Northern Illinois, October 18th @ Bowling Green, November 11th versus Ball State
Kent State (Predicted Conference Record: 4-4)
Kent State continues the conference trend of a large number of returning starters with 16 returnees. the Golden Flashes struggled through a 3-9 season last year in which they suffered a large number of injuries, especially at the quarterback position, where they were down to their 4th string by the end of the season! Needless to say, a return to health could drastically change their fortunes.
Senior dual threat quarterback Julian Edelman is expected to take the reins in 2008. Edelman, whose season ended due to injury halfway through the schedule last season at Temple, should provide solid, if unspectacular, play for Kent in 2008. Bolstered by the presence of star junior tailback Eugene Jarvis, who ran for over 1,700 yards last season, expect Edelman to have a little more time to find his receivers. Ano ther help for Edelman should be the offensive line, which returns three starters and boasts over 70 career starts. Expect Kent State’s offense to be a tough, ground-based attack in 2008.
The Golden Flash defense’s strength is at the linebacker position, led by returning leading tackler Derek Burrell. the linebackers should also be bolstered by Michigan transfer Cobrani Mixon, making this one of the deepest units in the MAC. However, the Golden Flash pass defense is a question mark, as they project to start two sophomores at safety from a unit that allowed nearly 230 pass yards per game last fall.
Kent State’s conference slate is heavy on division opponents, facing all six in the unbalanced schedule. their only MAC West opponents are Ball State and Northern Illinois. Thus, they seem to very much control their own destiny with 6 division games. Unfortunately for the Golden Flashes, they have to travel to both Bowling Green and Miami in back to back weeks which could provide a tougher challenge than they can handle. Kent State has to win at least one of those games to hope to challenge for the MAC East crown.
Biggest Games: Sept. 27th @ Ball State, Oct. 25th @ Miami, Nov. 1st @ Bowling Green
Temple (Predicted Conference Record: 4-4)
Temple had a decent season (by its own shoddy standards) in its first season in the MAC, finishing with a 4-4 conference record. Of course, the Owls lost all of their non-conference games, but it was a step in the right direction. The Owls return an unfathomable 22 starters from last year and are expected to be right in the thick of things in the MAC East this fall.
The Owl offense is led by senior quarterback Adam DiMichelle, who completed nearly 62% of his passes last season (65.5% in conference play) and has returning leading receiver Bruce Francis tothrow the ball to. the Temple running game is ano ther matter completely, as last year’s leading rusher, junior Jason Harper, is expected to be moved to wide receiver. That would leave redshirt freshman Joe Jones and converted WR Marquise Liverpool to battle for carries in the fall. Luckily, the new running backs should have a little breathing room as Temple’s entire offensive line returns intact.
Temple has a very solid defense returning. their strength will be in the front seven, where defensive End Junior Galette led the team in 2007 with 7.5 sacks. Also back are leading tacklers Dominique Harris (junior) and Jamal Schulters (sophomore). Unfortunately, both are members of the secondary, so the linebacking corps needs to improve this fall. However, all three starters return and sophomore Amara Kamara could be the difference-maker for the Owls on defense this year.
One factor working against the Owls is their conference schedule. they draw all three directional Michigan schools in the interdivision slate, which means that they face off against 2 of the best teams in the MAC West in CMU and WMU. This is slightly offset by the absence of Bowling Green on the divisional slate (unbalanced schedule rears its head again), but the Owls still have stiff road tests at Miami and Kent State. the most brutal stretch they face is from September 27th through October 11th, in which they face WMU, Miami, and CMU in consecutive weeks. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the entire stretch is preceded by a visit to Penn State! Temple may have its strongest team in years, but they’re still a long shot to reach the MAC Title game or their first bowl since 1979.
Biggest Games: Sept. 27th versus WMU, Oct. 4th @ Miami, Oct. 11th @ CMU
Buffalo (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
The Bulls, long a laughingstock of college football, managed one of their best seasons to date in 2007, going 5-7 and finishing with a 5-3 conference mark. Buffalo managed to hold onto Head Coach Turner Gill, who was a finalist for the job at Nebraska (his alma mater), and coach Gill will be rewarded with 18 returning starters and a good chance at bowl eligibility.
The Bulls are led by senior quarterback Drew Willy, who threw for 15 TDs last season and completed over 68% of his passes. He’ll have plenty of targets, as the Bulls return their top three wide receivers, led by junior Naaman Roosevelt, who hauled in 63 passes last year. On the ground, the Bulls boast a thousand yard rusher in junior James Starks, who will run behind a solid offensive line which returns 4 starters. The Bulls should have a multi-dimensional attackthis fall.
The Bulls’ biggest question will be their front seven on defense. After losing star DE Trevor Scott and his 10 sacks to the NFL, Buffalo will be looking for someone to step up. the Bulls’ secondary should be solid, led by their leading returning tackler, sophomore SS DaVonte Shannon. However, if Shannon leads the Bulls in tackles for a second straight year, it could be a bad sign for the Buffalo defense, which will need to improve if the Bulls’ record is to do the same.
Buffalo has a tough draw on the conference slate. Though they only have 2 opponents from the West on the schedule, those two opponents are CMU and WMU, two of the league’s top teams. Buffalo has no divisional bye, but they have to travel to East favorite Bowling Green. The Bulls (along with Ball State) have a conference high 6 non-Saturday games, so expect to be able to watch plenty of their games on TV this fall! Buffalo needs to win two of those games at Akron and Ohio if they hope to improve their record from last season.
Biggest Games: Sept. 27th @ CMU, Oct. 11th versus WMU, Nov. 4th versus Miami, Nov. 21st @ Bowling Green
Akron (Predicted Conference Record: 2-6)
Akron suffered through its 2nd straight tough season in 2007, finishing with a 4-8 record overall. The Zips actually began last season fairly solid, including a win against Army, but lost 5 of their last six games down the stretch in their second losing season in a row following their 2005 MAC championship. Akron only returns 13 starters from last year’s team and could be looking at a tough season.
Junior Chris Jacquemain enters 2008 as the starting quarterback for the Zips. Jacquemain split time last season with the departed Carlton Jackson and threw nearly as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. A big negative for Jacquemain is the graduation of receiver Jabari Arthur, who caught an incredible 86 passes for over 1,100 yards and ten touchdowns last season. Last year’s leading rusher, senior Bryan Williams, was moved to strong safety in the spring to make way for Miami (FL) transfer Andrew Johnson, a one time top 100 recruit. Easily the most highly recruited tailback in the conference, Johnson should be a big upgrade on offense for the Zips, running behind an experienced O-Line with 4 returning starters. At worst, Akron should be able to run the ball well this fall.
Akron’s defense could best be described as porous in 2007, allowing over 400 yards of offense per game. Akron plays a 3-3-5 defense, which includes a safety/linebacker hybrid position. the Zips’ defensive line appears to be solid and will benefit from another transfer, junior Ryan Bain, who was last seen playing for Iowa in 2006. The Zips lose 2007’s leading tackler, Brion Stokes, and don’t have a lot of experience at linebacker. In the secondary, the Zips lose 3 starters from last season and their depth was so bad that they had to move their leading rusher from last season to safety! That’s never a good sign for any defense.
Akron’s schedule misses Miami in a bye year and 3 interdivisional games: Ball State, Toledo, and Eastern Michigan. Luckily, the Zips’ 4 home games (Bowling Green, Ball State, Buffalo, and Toledo) appear to be their more difficult games, so if the Zips can defend their home turf, they could find themselves in the middle of the pack in the MAC East. However, with so many teams returning so many starters and Akron tying for the fewest number inthat category, it seems like a tough task for a young team. Akron will be lucky to finish with last season’s 4-8 mark this fall.
Biggest Games: Sept. 13th versus Ball St., Oct. 4th @ Kent St., Oct. 11th versus Bowling Green, Nov. 28th @ Temple.
Ohio (Predicted Conference Record: 1-7)
The Ohio Bobcats surprised many fans last year by finishing with a 6-6 record. Despite only returning 10 starters from 2006, the Bobcats rebounded from a 2-4 start to finish bowl eligible. The ‘Cats also showed a marked improvement in their offensive performance in Frank Solich’s third season at the helm. However, the Bobcats return a conference-low 13 starters in 2008 and could find themselves struggling mightily this fall.
The Ohio offense is a run-based attack (with Solich, a Tom Osborne disciple, is that a surprise?) that loses its leading rusher and its starting quarterback from last year. Junior Theo Scott is expected to take over full time at quarterback and is a threat on both the ground and through the air. He was Ohio’s 2nd leading rusher last season, averaging over 5 yards per carry. At tailback, junior Chris Garrett and redshirt freshman Donte Harden are expected to carry the load, but both are very much lacking in experience. That’s not good, considering Ohio’s O-Line only had 2 players start in all 12 games last fall and both graduated. Ohio’s offense has potential, but is very green.
Luckily, the only way you can describe the Bobcat defense as ‘green’ is if you’re commenting on the color of their uniforms. Ohio returns 6 players on the defensive line with extensive playing time and they bring back DE Ernie Hodge, who was suspended for much of 2007. At linebacker, they return 2 of the 3 starters and are led by senior Michael Brown, who finished 2nd in tackles in 2007. Finally, the secondary boasts 3 returning starters. Unfortunately, the only opening on defense was very ably filled by last season’s leading tackler, safety Todd Koenig, who has since graduated. The Ohio defense should be an improved unit from last season, but they might not have enough teeth to carry the team early in the year while the offense finds its footing.
Ohio also has the misfortune of a tough conference schedule, drawing CMU and WMU as their only MAC West foes. They also have to travel to rivals Miami and Akron, but host Bowling Green. In all, the Bobcats could be in for the worst season during Frank Solich’s tenure, with an inexperienced team and a tough schedule. Even the MAC doesn’t seem to have high hopes for the Bobcats, scheduling only 3 non-Saturday games for the ‘Cats. It could be a long season in Athens.
Biggest Games: Oct. 4th @ WMU Oct. 11th @ Kent St., Nov. 8th versus Bowling Green, Nov. 28th @ Miami.
MAC WESTERN DIVISION
Ball State (Predicted Conference Record: 6-2)
Ball State had an excellent 2007, capped off by their first bowl game in over a decade, losing to Rutgers in the International Bowl. The Cardinals’ 7 win season may have actually been highlighted by a loss: a 41-40 defeat in Lincoln, Nebraska at the hands of the Cornhuskers, the 2nd straight season that the Cardinals put a scare into a major traditional power (Michigan battled Ball State to a 34-26 decision the previous year in the Big House). The Cardinals return 18 starters from that team and look to improve all the way to a MAC Championship in 2008.
The Cardinals are led by possibly the most spectacular QB in the MAC, Nate Davis, who combined for 35 TDs and nearly 4,000 yards of offense last season. Davis is a true difference maker whose 5-1 TD to interception ratio last year was one of the nation’s best. The explosive Cardinal offense is also driven by two seniors: receiver Dante Love (who had a mind-boggling 100 receptions, 1,400 receiving yards and 10 TDs in 2007!) and tight end Darius Hill, who caught 11 TDs last fall. Ball State’s running game will be bolstered by a full season of health from sophomore Frank Edmonds, who will run behind a solid offensive line which returns 3 starters and numerous experienced backups. This will be one of the MAC’s best offenses in 2008.
Ball State’s defense was hit or miss last year, allowing over 30 points 4 times and allowed opponents over 200 rush yards per game! The D-Line should be an improved unit, returning junior Brandon Crawford and his 8 sacks. At linebacker, the Cardinals again have the services of senior Brian Haines, who led the 2007 edition in tackles. One Achilles heel for the Cardinals in recent years has been a very poor pass defense. However, the secondary returns 3 upperclassmen starters and should be very improved from last season. That should be the mantra of the defense in 2008: Just improve. If they do so, Ball State could be a dominant team in the MAC West.
The conference schedule appears to be challenging, but not overly so. From the East, the Cardinals draw a road trip to Miami and Akron and welcome Kent State to Muncie. Miami and Kent are expected to be 2 of the top teams in the MAC East, so the Cardinals should be tested. However, the Cardinals are 9-2 in their last 11 conference road games! In their own division, they have major rivals CMU and WMU in back to back weeks to close out the season, following the trip to Miami. The foresight of the Mid-American Conference to put the Cardinals on National TV a lot this fall (a conference-high six non-Saturday games!) should pay off down the stretch as the final 3 games should help decide both divisions in the MAC. Look for the Cardinals to continue their improvement and win the MAC West in 2008. Furthermore, they are this writer’s choice to win the MAC Championship Game and represent the conference in the Motor City Bowl.
Biggest Games: Sept. 27th versus Kent St., Nov. 11th @ Miami, Nov. 19th @ CMU, Nov. 25th @ WMU
Central Michigan (Predicted Conference Record: 5-3)
The Chippewas had a banner year in 2007, finishing with a 6-1 conference record en route to a MAC Crown and a Motor City Bowl berth. Central Michigan has now won two straight conference titles in dominating fashion, winning the last 2 championship games by an average margin of 23 points! The Chips return 16 starters from last season’s team and should be the bettor’s favorite to win the conference again this fall.
CMU is led by junior quarterback Dan LeFevour, who combined for nearly 5,000 yards of offense last fall and 46 total touchdowns! Only Tim Tebow had more rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks in 2007! Nate Davis of Ball State is the only QB remotely on LeFevour’s level in the entire conference. The only downside to LeFevour’s numbers were the 13 interceptions he threw last fall. LeFevour returns for his 3rd season as the starter, but it is very unlikely that he’ll have a similar season to last year. After all, LeFevour and Vince Young are the only two quarterbacks in NCAA history to both pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same year, so it is really hard to imagine him doing it again.
The rest of the CMU offense includes two returning 1,000 yard receivers: junior Bryan Anderson and sophomore Antonio Brown. Both caught over 90 passes last year and will be excellent targets for LeFevour in 2008. At tailback, look for seniors Justin Hoskins and Ontario Sneed to help reduce LeFevour’s rushing load. They’ll be running behind a strong offensive line which returns 4 starters from last season. The offense will be the strength of this team and is probably the gold standard for the conference.
However, the Chips have a lot of work to do on the other side of the ball, especially in pass defense. They allowed an unfathomable 304 yards per game passing last year! No wonder they allowed more than 30 points in a game NINE times last season! Up front, their defensive line is led by junior DE Frank Zombo, who had over 60 tackles and 7.5 sacks last year. They will need to be improved in 2008 if the defense is to take some steps forward, especially considering that the Chips will be without tackling demon Red Keith, who led the Chips in tackles for FOUR consecutive years! He will be sorely missed and his graduation leaves behind an inexperienced, young linebacker corps. Central Michigan’s defense has to improve or they’ll have difficulty making it back to Detroit for the 3rd straight year.
Central Michigan got a good draw on the conference schedule, facing Temple and Buffalo at home from the East and traveling to face Ohio. All three games are very winnable for the Chips. In their own division, CMU has a favorable schedule as well, hosting top challengers WMU and Ball State. While Central Michigan is only picked second in the West, they could easily finish higher, especially if the defense improves. It would not be surprising at all to see the Chippewas gunning for their third consecutive MAC Championship.
Biggest Games: Oct. 18th versus WMU, Nov. 19th versus Ball State, Nov. 28th @ EMU
Western Michigan (Predicted Conference Record: 5-3)
Western Michigan struggled to a 5-7 record last season. However, the Broncos improved noticeably down the stretch and the highlight of their season was a victory at Big Ten opponent Iowa in a game which dashed the Hawkeyes’ bowl hopes. In conference, WMU went 3-4 but suffered some tough breaks and injuries. Much ofthis WMU team is entering their 3rd year as starters and is expected to have the top defense in the conference.
WMU returns junior Tim Hiller at quarterback. Hiller was solid but unspectacular, passing for over 3,000 yards and 20 TDs, but throwing 15 interceptions. Returning with Hiller is top receiving option Jamarko Simmons, a senior who caught 84 passes last fall. The Broncos also return their leading rusher from 2007, junior Brandon West. He should pass the 1,000 yard mark running behind a stellar offensive line unit which returns 4 starters. WMU’s offense should improve this fall, perhaps enough to push the Broncos into contention for the Western Division Title.
The real strength of the Broncos will be their defense, which only 2 seasons ago held the opposition to 76 yards rushing per game. The defensive line returns starting senior defensive ends Zach Davidson and Greg Marshall, who combined for 13 sacks last fall. They should be the anchors of a stout defense. At linebacker, the Broncos have 2 returning starters, including 2007’s leading tackler, senior Boston McCornell. the secondary returns intact for the second straight season (combining for 112 career starts between the four starters) and all are seniors. Expect the best defensive backfield in the MAC, asthis unit led the NCAA in interceptions two years ago. In fact, expect this defense to carry WMU all year, as they’re a very talented group.
Western Michigan’s schedule sets up very well for them to chase CMU, as they have the same draw from the East: Akron, Ohio, and Temple. However, WMU has to travel to both CMU and Ball State, which could be a daunting task. Finally, the closing kick for the Broncos is very difficult, facing EMU, 2007 Rose Bowl participant Illinois, Toledo, and Ball State in consecutive weeks. Western Michigan’s defense is excellent and it would not be surprising to see the Broncos in the MAC Championship Game. However, their offense unlikely to be strong enough to put up enough points to defeat ei ther Ball State or CMU on the road, making it unlikely that Western Michigan will finish above 3rd in the MAC West.
Biggest Games: Oct. 18th @ CMU, Nov. 1st @ EMU, Nov. 25th @ Ball State
Toledo (Predicted Conference Record: 4-4)
The Rockets suffered through a tough 5-7 season in 2007, a disappointment for one of the MAC’s most consistent teams. It was Toledo’s first back-to-back losing season in nearly three decades. The Rockets started a dismal 2-5, but their wins were both by 1 point: One over Iowa State and the other over Liberty - talk about a disparity in competition! The Rockets return 15 starters from last year’s team and will hope to end the run of losing season this fall.
Toledo’s expected starting quarterback is junior Aaron Opelt. He was under center for 4 of the Rockets’ 5 wins last fall, so he seems to be the best option under center. Opelt will be aided by the return of Toledo’s top 2 receivers; senior Nick Moore and junior Stephen Williams, who combined for over 130 catches last fall. The Rockets lose over 1,500 rushing yards via the graduation of Jalen Parmele, who was a 6th round draft pick in April. Expected to carry much of the load will be junior DaJuane Collins, who toted the rock a hundred times last fall. The Rockets lose two 4-year starters on the O-Line, but should be able to respond fairly well, bringing back a large number of experienced players. The O-Line should give its young quarterback some time to throw and should open some holes for the running game. The Rockets should be looking at a fairly decent offensive year in 2008.
Toledo can only hope that their pass rush improves from last fall, when the entire team combined for an NCAA-low NINE sacks! That’s awful. Luckily, the Rockets return 3 starters on their defensive line and should be expected to improve that sack total on their own. At linebacker, the Rockets’ return 2007’s top tackler, Lester Richmond, who plays a hybrid LB/DB position. The linebackers are rather inexperienced and will be a question mark for the Rockets. However, the Rockets boast one of the MAC’s top defensive backfields, returning all their starters from a unit which was rocked by injuries last fall. If the Rockets can stay healthy, their secondary should be a major plus this fall.
Toledo’s schedule is fairly challenging, welcoming expected top East contenders Miami and Bowling Green to town. However, the Rockets have only lost 6 games at home since 2000, so the Rockets should play those two and divisional foes CMU and Ball State very tough this fall in defending their home turf. The Rockets’ schedule has 2 brutal stretches, one in October which features trips to Michigan and Northern Illinois sandwiched by games against Ball State and CMU, and the other being the season’s closing kick, which features a trip to WMU before hosting both MAC East powers. Toledo has a challenging schedule and will be hard pressed to better last season’s 3-5 conference mark. However, if the Rockets can discover a pass rush, they should manage to slightly improve their results. Bowl eligibility, however, seems a long shot at best.
Biggest Games: Oct. 4th versus Ball St., Oct. 25th versus CMU, Nov. 15th @ WMU, Nov. 28th versus Bowling Green
Northern Illinois (Predicted Conference Record: 3-5)
2008 marks the first season for Northern Illinois under the stewardship of head coach Jerry Kill, who took over for NIU legend Joe Novak after the latter’s retirement this past off-season. Last season’s 2-10 was probably not the way which Novak would have wanted to end his distinguished coaching career, but Kill, who previously coached at D-1AA Southern Illinois, will be looking to improve that record dramatically this fall. With 21 returning starters, the Huskies will put coach Kill in position to do so.
The Huskies don’t have a settled starter at quarterback going into the fall. Senior Dan Nicholson had most of the snaps last year before an injury ended his season, but he threw more interceptionsthan TDs and missed all of spring practice. The situation is truly up in the air. Luckily for whoever the starting quarterback end up being, last year’s leading rusher, junior Justin Anderson, returns along with an offensive line which loses only 1 starter. Expect the Huskies to run the ball a lot in the early going. Senior Matt Simon is Northern Illinois’ top receiving option from a group which suffered a lot of injuries last fall. NIU’s offense and their season depend on the caliber of quarterback play they get. This offense has potential, but it all depends on the man that ends up under center.
Last year’s Husky defense was led by senior Larry English, who registered 10.5 sacks in his first year back from an ACL injury. It is not unreasonable to expect him to improve further and the rest of the D-Line should get better with him. the Huskies also return their top 4 leading tacklers, two of which, senior Bradley Pruitt and sophomore Alex Kube, are expected to start at safety. The Husky defense suffered injuries at every level last fall and it is unlikely that they’ll be nearly as hard hit this year. Expect this defense to be vastly improved from last year’s team, which allowed over 30 points six times.
The Huskies have the toughest schedule draw in the conference, facing the East’s topthree entrants in BGSU, Miami, and Kent State. they also have to travel to both Ball State and Western Michigan and close the season with a very toughthree game stretch featuring road games at Ball State and Kent State surrounding a big home matchup with 2-time conference winner Central Michigan. the Huskies should have a much better teamthan last year, but their difficult schedule and quarterback questions will make it hard for the Huskies to break into the upper half of the MAC West in 2008.
Biggest Games: Oct. 25th @ Bowling Green, Nov. 5th @ Ball St., Nov. 25th @ Kent St.
Eastern Michigan (Predicted Conference Record: 2-6)
Despite a 4-8 record, Eastern Michigan actually had a decent 2007, beating both of its in-state MAC Rivals and stretching powerhouse Michigan to a slim eight point win in the Big House. However, EMU is a perennial bottom-dweller in the MAC West and has had only six winning seasons in the last thirty years, the last of which was in 1995! The Eagles return 15 starters and could be a better team than last season without improving in the win column.
Junior Andy Schmitt is expected to start for EMU at quarterback this fall after splitting time last fall with sophomore Kyle McMahon. Schmitt threw for 14 TDs against only 6 picks and should provide a measure of stability at the position for the first time in a couple of years. Unfortunately, the Eagles lose 2007’s leading rusher Pierre Walker and there could be a running back by committee situation early in the year. The tailbacks will run behind a fairly experienced, if undersized, offensive line which returns 3 starters from last year. The EMUs also return 5 players who caught TD passes last year, so there should be plenty of targets for Schmitt to throw to. EMU should see an improvement on offense this fall, especially if a leader can emerge at running back, but they’re still lagging behind their conference opposition.
On defense, the Eagles will be hit hard by the graduation of Defensive Tackle Jason Jones, who was an early 2nd round pick in the NFL draft. They return only 2 combined sacks from last year on the defensive line, sothis could be a unitthat needs a lot of work. At linebacker, senior Daniel Holtzclaw returns after leading the team in tackles in 2007. However, the Eagles could be without their 3rd leading tackler, junior Andre Hatchett, who missed spring practice because of academic troubles. In the secondary, EMU returns every starter from a unit which had 16 interceptions last fall, led by sophomore safety Ryan Downard, who led the way with six picks.
The schedule is moderately difficult for the EMUs, having to travel to Bowling Green, Ball State, and Western Michigan. However, they face an odd, but difficult closing kick, beginning with trips to Ball State and Western Michigan in back to back weeks. However, they then have the next two weeks off before traveling to Temple and hosting Central Michigan in the season finale. Eastern Michigan may have a better teamthat last year, but they have a tough slate and should struggle again in an improved MAC conference. Don’t expect them to improve upon last season’s 4-8 mark.
Biggest Games: Nov. 1st @ WMU, Nov. 28th versus CMU
THE BOTTOM LINE IN THE MAC
The MAC is traditionally one of the most wide-open conferences in college football, so it would not be a surprise if almost any of these teams ended up challenging for the MAC Championship. However, the conference strength appears to be in the West, where Nate Davis and Dan LeFevour are the two most exciting players in the conference. The Ball State – CMU game on November 19th could easily decide the MAC title. Expect a fun and exciting season that even the casual fan will be able to follow on ESPN during every day of the week but Saturday. After all, that’s how the MAC gets its publicity! The season begins for the conference on Thursday, August 28th.
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