2013 MAC Preview
July 14, 2013
By Marc Lawrence
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It's been said the MAC has enjoyed balanced divisions for the same amount of time the cast of Jersey Shore has been sober...about 2 months.
With Temple making like an In-and-Out burger, opting out of the MAC for the Big East/American Athletic Conference after being admitted in back in 2007, the conference remains in flux. (At least a $6 million buyout fee paid by the Owls softened the blow.)
Unfortunately, UMass' admission last year now leaves the loop an unbalanced, unlucky 13-team league. Thus, in the battlefield of conference shuffling and expansion gone wild, Temple is old news, and Massachusetts a breathe of fresh air, in the 2013 Mid American Conference.
Entering its 67th year of gridiron competition, the MAC this season at least feels better composed knowing that four teams from the West Division finished the 2012 season with a winning record. That after only five teams managed to accomplish the same the previous three years.
And while it can be said that only three players from the MAC were selected in this year's NFL draft, you've got bragging rights for at least a year when you lay claim to the No. 1 overall pick (Central Michigan's Eric Fisher) calling the Mid American Conference home.
As we reported last year in this conference review, this is definitely a league that is wide open and one that likes to mix things up. Ten different teams have appeared in the last eight MAC Championship games, while 19 different MAC schools (seven last season) have gone bowling the last ten years.
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 has rebounded going 6-6 SU and 5-7 ATS as bowlers the last two seasons.
Amazingly, when traveling as favorites on the non-conference road the lightweight MAC is a staunch 16-2 SU and 12-5-1 ATS laying points, including 8-0 SU and 7-0-1 ATS when coming off a conference game.
All of which bodes well for an ever-changing league that's simply looking to balance the books. Because once you go MAC, you never go back.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated 'Play On' and 'Play Against' Best Bets follow each team's preview.
Team Theme: CHEMO THERAPY
When the Zips hired Terry Bowden as their new savior last season, they realized he was a program-builder and that in his previous three stops as a collegiate head coach his teams had posted records of 9-1, 11-0 and 11-2 in his first year on the job at Samford, Auburn and Northern Alabama, respectively. Thus, last season's 1-11 debut was as well-received as a preliminary diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. And to make matters worse, a quick glance at this year's schedule (10 winning opponents, first 7 games versus bowl teams, all 6 home games versus the same) is practically a death knell. The loss of QB Dalton Williams (started all 12 games last year, passing for 3,387 yards and 25 TDs) and his top WR, Marquelo Suel, cements it.
Stat You Will Like: Bowden is 1-11 SU and 2-10 ATS as a home dog.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Ball State (10/26)
BOWLING GREEN (*9/9)
Team Theme: HERE WE COME AGAIN
Thanks to yet another underclassmen-led infusion, for the second-straight year the Falcons return 18 starters to a squad picked by many as the team to beat in the MAC this season. This year's crew features 9 senior starters back - five on the offense and four on the defense - including no less than 7 all MAC performers. High profile QB Matt Schilz (35 starts, 7,832 passing yards and 50 TDs) leads the attack, along with all three of last year's starting wide receivers and his tight end. Most impressive, though, are the 9 starters back from a defense that improved 109 YPG in 2012. All this for a team that closed out the regular season last year with wins in seven of its final eight games.
Stat You Will Like: The last time the Falcons won a conference championship was 1992.
PLAY ON: at Kent State (9/7)
Team Theme: COME ALL WITHOUT, COME ALL WITHIN
Year Four of the mighty Quinn project finds Buffalo taking positive baby steps under HC Jeff Quinn. The hope this season is the return of 17 starters, including a two-headed quarterback (Joe Licata and Alex Zordich) and its leading wide receiver and running back, will carry Buffalo on through to its first winning campaign since Turner Gill roamed the sidelines in 2008. The addition of former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper as defensive coordinator paid immediate dividends last season, especially the 2nd half of the season when the Bulls surrendered just 326 YPG. A tough schedule finds them taking on seven winning teams in 2013. That could prove difficult, as our stat below indicates.
Stat You Will Like: The Bulls are 2-17 SU versus .500 or greater foes under Jeff Quinn.
PLAY ON: vs. Ohio U (11/5)
KENT STATE (6/6)
Team Theme: HAZELL NUTS
Darrell Hazell's two-year stint with Kent went by in a flash (pun intended). After a pair of 5-7 seasons, Hazell was recruited from the Ohio State staff and, after another 5-7 season in his first year as a FBS head coach, he led the Golden gang to its first-ever MAC title game and a winning season for the first time 2001, coming this-close to landing a rarified BCS bowl bid. The result was a six-win improvement, tied with Middle Tennessee and Ohio State as the most improved teams in the nation in 2012. As expected, Hazell was lured to a prime-time job (Purdue), leaving KSU after just its 2nd winning season since 1987. Former Arkansas DC Paul Haynes enters looking to pick up the pieces. Good luck.
Stat You Will Like: The Flashes were the first MAC East team to go 8-0 since Ben Roethlisberger's Miami Ohio team in 2003.
PLAY AGAINST: at Ball State (10/12) - *KEY if off win
MIAMI OHIO (8/6)
Team Theme: TREADING WATER
Consistency seems to be the operative word in Oxford these days where the RedHawks have parsed together a pair of 4-8 efforts under 3rd-year head coach Don Treadwell. The promising news is the offense has improved each season under his tenure. Unfortunately, the defense has not, going backward both seasons - including a whopping 104 YPG decline in 2012. The biggest loss of 2013, though, is the departure of star QB Zac Dysert who broke Ben Roethlisberger's record for passing yards, completions and TDs. In his stead is QB Austin Boucher who led Miami to four straight wins, including the MAC title game and a GoDaddy.com bowl victory in 2010. Sophomore RB Jamire Westbrook, the team's leading rusher as a freshman last year, keeps them afloat.
Stat You Will Like: The RedHawks are 1-10 SU versus .500 or greater opponents under Treadwell.
PLAY AGAINST: at Ohio U (10/26)
OHIO UNIVERSITY (*7/5)
Team Theme: WAR OF ATTRITION
Talk about being on a roll. Frank Solich's squad was sitting pretty - off to a 7-0 start with wins in thirteen of its last fourteen games - when the injury bug laid a deadly bite on the Bobcats. So severe, in fact, it claimed 15 players from the two-deep roster, resulting in a disappointing 2-4 finish to what had 'best-season-ever' written all over it. They healed up enough to lay a whipping on La-Monroe in the Independence Bowl, picking up their spirits in the offseason. As a result, the coaching staff held out 29 players from the spring game either because of injuries or simply to avoid an injury, including record-setting QB Tyler Tettleton (2,844 yards and 18 TDs). If the bug bypasses them at all this year, they become the team to beat in the MAC.
Stat You Will Like: Solich is 5-0 ATS at home off a SU underdog win in his college football head-coaching career.
Team Theme: WAIT A MINUTE
"I don't look at UMass as being Massachusetts' football team," head coach Charley Molnar said at his introductory news conference in December 2011. "I look at UMass as being New England's football team. There's no reason why we can't be the No. 1 team in New England." Excuse us, Charlie… enthusiasm over a new job is one thing - veracity is another. The Minutemen were 1-11 in Molnar's UMass debut last year, while being outyarded 183 YPG against a sea of relative lightweights, so there is obviously room for growth. Rest assured, this 1st-year FBS program, with only one loss by single-digits and a 0-4 mark in non-conference games by a combined 194-26, is a long way from being top gun in the state of Massachusetts - let alone New England.
Stat You Will Like: UMass is 1-22 SU against FBS teams since 1988 with seven of the losses versus MAC teams last season.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Akron (11/16) - *KEY if favored
BALL STATE (*7/6)
Team Theme: ANYTHING, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE
The slogan above appears atop the 2013 Ball State spring prospectus and it represents the infectious style of play the Cardinals have assumed under head coach Pete Lembo. The nine wins they recorded last season tied for the third-most in single season school history. Most importantly, Lembo loves the progress in senior QB Keith Wenning, who has added durability in the weight room while improving his quickness and core strength considerably the last two years. Wenning is only the second quarterback to throw for more than 7,000 yards in school history, and his team was sixth in the nation in first downs (27.9 per game) in 2012. The Cardinals' four losses last year came at the hands of teams that finished the season 43-9.
Stat You Will Like: Lembo has suffered only one losing season (5-6) in his 12 years as a collegiate head coach.
PLAY ON: at Northern Illinois (11/13)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (8/7)
Team Theme: CHIPPIN' AWAY
Once again the Chippewas proved that teams that play youngsters two years in a row are on the way up. After 19 players in 2010 and 24 more in 2011 made their starting debuts, CMU's seven wins last year more than doubled head coach Dan Enos' total victories from his first two years combined. While that attack loses QB Ryan Radcliffe and Eric Fisher (the first pick in this year's draft), RB Zurlon Tipton (1,531 yards and 19 TDs) and a strong receiver corps, led by WR Titus Davis, return. "Titus Davis is a very special football player… he will have an opportunity to play on Sundays. He is as good as they come," said wide receivers coach Mose Rison.
Stat You Will Like: The Chippewas are 0-6 ATS as conference dogs of less than 7 points under Dan Enos.
EASTERN MICHIGAN (*7/5)
Team Theme: IN PLAIN ENGLISH
With just 10 wins in his four seasons in Ypsilanti, Ron English fully realizes his Eagles need to take flight soon in order to save his job. Granted, a two-victory effort last year came against a salty schedule as nine foes went on to bowl games. Nine more winning foes dot this year's roster as well, providing English with a greater sense of urgency. As a result, he will assume defensive coordinator duties in 2013, joining seven other FBS head coaches that will share coordinator roles this season, including two of whom - Rocky Long, San Diego State and Bronco Mendenhall, BYU - that will be barking out defensive plays. New OC Stan Parrish takes over the offense. Here's hoping seven road games, including five winning foes, do signal the end of this English class.
Stat You Will Like: 16 of EMU's 48 games under English have been decided by 7 or less points (Eagles 6-10 in those games).
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Western Michigan (11/9)
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (*8/5)
Team Theme: TOP DOGS AT THE WIRE
Meet the winningest program in Illinois and in the MAC over the last decade. As a result, the Huskies became the first-ever MAC team to secure a bid in a BCS bowl game last season. In fact, 34 wins over the last three seasons is only two shy of Oregon's best of 36. Because of all the success, head coach Dave Doeren was lured away to NC State. Assuming the reins as head Husky is Rod Carey, last year's offensive coordinator. He welcomes back Heisman-candidate QB Jordan Lynch and his entire cast of offensive linemen. And if excitement is your thing, you have to love the fact that NIU won the last two MAC championships on the last play of the game. Whew!
Stat You Will Like: The Huskies own the nation's longest conference win streak (17 games) entering the 2013 season.
PLAY ON: as a dog at Iowa (8/31)
Team Theme: PREPARING FOR LIFTOFF
When the senior class took the field three years ago, they did so on the heels of three straight losing seasons at Toledo. They enter the 2013 campaign 26-13, including 20-4 in the MAC, with three straight bowl seasons. But they're not finished according to head coach Matt Campbell. "We want to win the MAC West Division, win the MAC Championship Game, and go to a bowl game," insists Campbell. And behind an offense loaded with FIVE all-MAC performers, including the nation's leading rusher David Fluellen (1,498 yards and 12 TDs) and senior QB Terrance Owens (17 career starts with 2,707 yards last season), who split duties the last three years with Austin Dantin, it appears all systems are go this year.
Stat You Will Like: The Rockets' defense features six players with 30 or more tackles last season.
PLAY ON: at Ball State (9/28)
WESTERN MICHIGAN (*5/7)
Team Theme: GOLD FLECKS ON THE SURFACE
New 32-year old Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck is the youngest FBS head coach in the nation and another of the MAC's youth-tree of coaches, joining five others in this loop that are 44 years old or younger. Fleck, a former wide receiver at Northern Illinois and an assistant with the Tampa Bay Bucs last year, was recently named "Best New Hire of 2013" by Sports Illustrated. He has coached under Jim Tressel, Jerry Kill and Greg Schiano and brings in OC Kirk Ciarroca and DC Ed Pinkham (friends and former coordinators at Rutgers) to smooth out the transition. They will rely heavily on QB Tyler Van Tubbergen, who started the last six games of 2012 and threw for 5 TD's twice. In addition, diminutive RB Dareyon Chance returns after rushing for 947 yards last season.
Stat You Will Like: QB Van Tubbergen completed 19 of 21 passes for 252 yards and 6 TDs in his first start against Akron in 2011.
PLAY AGAINST: at UMass (10/27)
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