July 16, 2012
By Marc Lawrence
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In the battlefield of conference shuffling and expansion gone wild, Temple is old news and Massachusetts is new in the 2012 MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE.
And while the Minutemen will not be eligible to play in the MAC title game or a bowl contest this season, UMass is thrilled to be transitioning into the FBS wars this campaign.
Entering its 66th year of gridiron competition, the MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE will once again play a balanced schedule, meaning each team will play eight conference games in 2012.
Here's hoping the ledger is more balanced than its been the last three years when only five teams in the MAC West Division managed to finish the season with a winning record. This on the heels of the 2008 campaign when only Buffalo was on the plus side of the ledger inside the East Division.
Sixteen players from the MAC dotted Super Bowl rosters last year, 15 the year before. That was more than the Pac 12 and the Big East, with only the SEC, the Big 10 and the ACC accounting for players in the big game than the MAC. The Pittsburgh Steelers have had the most success using the MAC as a fertile breeding ground. Two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Miami, OH) and league defensive MVP James Harrison (Kent State) each hail from the MAC.
This is definitely a league that is wide open and one that likes to mix things up. Nine different teams have appeared in the last seven MAC Championship games while 12 different MAC schools have appeared in a bowl game in the last eight seasons.
And speaking of bowls, keep this note handy once the bowl games roll around: after going 3-13 SU and 2-13-1 ATS in bowl games from since the 2008 calendar year, the MAC went 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS as bowlers last season.
Amazingly, when traveling as favorites on the non-conference road the lightweight MAC is a staunch 17-8-1 ATS laying points, including 11-1 SU and 9-2-1 ATS versus foes without a win on the season.
All of which reminds us that when it comes to backing teams with the dichotic tendencies of those that reside in the MAC, it should be served with one of our favorite warning notices: caveat emptor… let the buyer beware!
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
AKRON - (*7/6)
Team Theme: T-BOWING
After suffering 1-11 blowout seasons the last two years, the Rubbermakers changed tires, replacing Ron Ianello with Terry Bowden - from the same dadgum Bowden coaching clan we've learned to love in the past. The first order of work for coach T-Bow, who led Northern Alabama to three consecutive Division II appearances the last three seasons, will be to improve a rush offense that has averaged less than 120 RYPG each of the last three seasons. Good news is the Zips will host only one foe that had a winning season last year. That's a good thing considering they are 1-17 SU and 3-14-1 ATS away versus greater than .400 MAC foes of late. That and the fact there are only 65 scholarship players dotting this year's roster.
Stat You Will Like: Bowden is 15-2 SU and 11-6 ATS in lined games versus losing teams.
PLAY ON: at Tennessee (9/22)
BOWLING GREEN - (*8/10)
Team Theme: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
Last year the Falcons featured 81 players that were either sophomores or younger (including 33 of 53 players on the two-deep roster) and were coming off a 2-win campaign in 2010. This year they return 18 starters from unit that improved by 3 wins while gaining 90 YPG on offense, 23 YPG on defense, 6 PPG on scoring offense and 5 PPG on scoring defense. Further examination finds 9 of the top 10 linemen, the top 4 linebackers and all 5 secondary starters back from a 4-2-5 defense. For head coach Dave Clawson, it's that magical combination where youth turns to experience in one fell swoop. Behind veteran QB Matt Schilz, the Falcons look to soar in 2012.
Stat You Will Like: The Falcons are 7-3 SU and ATS away during the regular season from Game Nine out the last five years.
PLAY ON: vs. Kent State (11/17) - *KEY off BB losses
BUFFALO - (8/8)
Team Theme: THIS IS OUR TIME
While most teams would be fear-stricken looking to find a replacement for a graduated quarterback who immeasurably improved a marshmallow offense last season, coach Jeff Quinn instead remains the antithesis of panic. "I think this is our most talented group of QB's since I've been in Buffalo," says Quinn. "We have players who we all feel can help us win football games, each with their own unique talents." It certainly doesn't hurt knowing that QB Jerry Davis, who started 8 games in 2010, is among that group. After averaging more than 30 PPG at home last year, the Bulls will assuredly rely on new DC Lou Tepper, who won over 100 games as a head coach at Illinois.
Stat You Will Like: The Bulls are 2-10 ATS in their last 12 games as conference home favorites.
PLAY AGAINST: at Northern Illinois (10/13)
KENT STATE - (*9/9)
Team Theme: BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE
The Golden Flashes finished 5-7 in Darrell Hazell's first year as head coach, the third straight season they finished with that record. Kent hasn't finished above .500 since 2001 but Hazell believes his team made progress in 2011. After starting the season 1-6 and 0-3 in MAC play, the Flashes won four straight and had a chance to become bowl eligible before a season-ending loss at Temple. The first priority in 2012 is to play disciplined (76 penalties) and that should be the case as 18 starters, led by three-year starting QB Spencer Keith (6,041 passing yards/33 TD's) return to Dix Field. 'Flash' Back to 2001: The Golden Ones return to the winner's circle.
Stat You Will Like: The Flashes are 3-35 SU and 8-28-2 ATS in games against opponents off a win of more than 20 points.
PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (11/10)
MIAMI OH - (*8/7)
Team Theme: A CHANGE OF FORTUNE
Things looked promising, on paper at least, for first-year HC and Miami grad Don Treadwell when he signed on last season. He inherited a 10-win team with 17 returning starters that witnessed the largest turnaround in FBS history from the previous year. With four losses by 7 points or less, Treadwell quickly found out how the law of averages works. With a wealth of experience in the trenches, a two-headed QB attack, a slew of skill-position returnees and one of the best mid-major 'D' lines in the country, things could once again turn around in a hurry in Oxford. With Temple gone, look for the 'Hawks to feast on the East in 2012.
Stat You Will Like: Last year the RedHawks had 13 total seniors. This year's team may have as many as 13 senior starters.
PLAY ON: at Ohio State (9/1)
OHIO UNIVERSITY - (*6/8)
Team Theme: BOBBING FOR MORE APPLES
How important was having all five offensive linemen back for OU last season? A 3-0 start for the first time since 1976, a 10-win season for the first time since 1968 and a first-ever bowl victory says it all. Through it all, QB Tyler Tettleton developed into arguably the top performer in the league. He's back along with all three of those aforementioned interior linemen, making the defending MAC East champs, once again, the team to beat. Squaring off at home against five FBS foes that failed to post a winning record last year helps, too. After being the MAC apple last season, let's just hope there is enough ATS value to nibble on this year.
Stat You Will Like: The Bobcats are 20-4 SU and 18-6 ATS versus .250 or less opponent under Solich.
Team Theme: JUST A MINUTE
It didn't even take UMass a minute to say yes to a step up in class when the MAC came calling. Unfortunately, new HC Charley Molnar and new DC Phil Elmassian will need a lot more than a minute to repair a rush defense that was manhandled by FCS opposition last year, including a whopping 386 yards allowed on the ground to James Madison in a season-ending 34-17 loss. Molnar realizes his team will be outclassed early on. "We are playing a 1-A schedule with 1-AA players," said the former Notre Dame offensive coordinator. They will be also playing all of their home games at Gillette Stadium this year and next. No 'minute to win it' at Amherst this season.
Stat You Will Like: The Minutemen will not be eligible for the MAC championship and bowl participation until 2013.
BALL STATE - (*8/5)
Team Theme: LEMBO IN LIMBO
Despite a defense that went backwards 112 yards a game, Pete Lembo led the Cardinals to 6 wins in his first season on the sidelines in Muncie. It's a defense that has declined each of the last three years in a row, allowing season-high yards in four of its final five games. "We are very young and inexperienced at safety. The defensive line is another position where we graduated some seniors. So, again, we will be young and inexperienced. We need to improve across the board." On the flip side, JR QB Keith Wenning, who has started 22 games, directs a no-huddle offense that went 185 passes with no picks until the Oklahoma game last season.
Stat You Will Like: The Cardinals allowed only 11 sacks last season, which tied for 12th best in the nation.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Eastern Michigan (8/30)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN - (*9/8)
Team Theme: GREEN ENVY
For the second year in a row the Chips went green, with 24 players making their first career start, including 10 true freshmen. Add that to the 19 who made their college debut the previous season and suddenly third-year HC Dan Enos has a 'Pleasant' nucleus forming in 2012. SR QB Ryan Radcliffe, who has started 24 straight games and ranked in the Top 20 in the nation in passing yards each of the past three seasons, leads the attack and will be protected by an offensive line that returns six players with starting experience. We love 17-returning starter squads who were 1-10 ATS the previous year. Remember - what goes down can come up!
Stat You Will Like: The Chippewas will play seven home games this season for only the 3rd time in modern history.
PLAY ON: vs. Ball State (10/20)
EASTERN MICHIGAN - (*9/5)
Team Theme: ENGLISH MAJOR
The MAC daddy's of Michigan (beat CMU and WMU) haven't hit the alleys since 1987 but dual-threat QB Alex Gillett (3,100 yds passing, 1,500 yds rushing) had them knocking on the door last season. And with nine returning starters back on offense, 2012 just may find them 'scoring' high marks with bowl officials. Thanks to a 'D' that improved by an inconceivable 20 points and 105 YPG, Ron English garnered MAC Coach of the Year honors as his Eagles won six games - one more than the previous three seasons combined. To top it off, 21 players who made their collegiate debut in 2011 should make the Eagles 'Major' MAC players again.
Stat You Will Like: The Eagles have rushed for more than 2,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Central Michigan (11/10)
NORTHERN ILLINOIS - (4/11)
Team Theme: LEAD DOGS
After guiding NIU to its first MAC title in 28 years, it appeared coach Dave Doeren was headed to Kansas. Then Charlie Weis came along and Doeren returns to the sidelines in DeKalb for a second straight season. That's a good thing for the defending MAC champs who will be looking to rebuild an offense that was decimated by graduation, including conference player of the year, QB Chandler Harnisch. The good news is new DC Mike Dunbar inherits a stop-unit that remains intact, including a pair of former starting LB's who missed all of last season. And with only three winning teams on the docket, the Huskies may, once again, be best in show.
Stat You Will Like: The Huskies are 5-2 SU and 6-0-1 ATS as conference home dogs since 2001.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Ball State (10/6)
TOLEDO - (*4/5)
Team Theme: MMM, MMM, GOOD
After a three-year stay at Toledo in which the Rockets improved their win total every year - concluding in bowl appearances the last two - head coach Tim Beckman will be playing with the Big boys in the Big Ten (Illinois) this season. Enter Matt Campbell, offensive coordinator under Beckman the past three seasons. Campbell engineered an exciting 42-41 victory over Air Force in last year's Military Bowl and inherits a squad that appears short on returning starters. However, Campbell insists, "One thing we have been able to do here is play a lot of kids, whether as starters or in critical situations. We have a wealth of experience." Alright, we'll go to the 'Matt' with him.
Stat You Will Like: 32-year old Campbell is the youngest FBS coach by more than three years.
PLAY ON: at Northern Illinois (11/14)
WESTERN MICHIGAN - (*7/8)
Team Theme: CUBIT'S REVENGE
We're guessing word out of the MAC this spring was either super secretive, or delivered by Pony Express, as the conference was slow releasing their spring prospectuses. One thing we know for sure is that 15 starters are back in Kalamazoo from last year's bowl squad, led by QB Alex Carder (tossed for 3,873 yards in 2011, including five 400-yard efforts). The question remains, though, will HC Bill Cubit be able to repair a defense that ranked 12th in the MAC last year and was ripped for 804 yards in a loss to Toledo? With only three teams that owned a winning record last year dotting this season's schedule, we say 'yes' as Cubit improves on his healthy 34-21 conference mark.
Stat You Will Like: The Broncos are 2-12-1 ATS versus an opponent off an ATS win of 15 or more points under Cubit, including 0-7-1 ATS if the foe is .500 or greater.
PLAY ON: vs. Toledo (9/29)