2014 MAC Preview
July 14, 2014
By Marc Lawrence
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2014 Mid American Conference Football Preview
Bye, Bye Birdie
Entering its 68th year of gridiron competition, the MAC once again welcomes 13 teams in an unbalanced conference.
That will change next season when UMass flies to the coop after a short three-year visit.
When it comes to determining a team’s strength of schedule the common rule is weighing the record of each team’s opponent from the previous season. According to hustlebelt.com, the MAC teams facing the three most difficult conference schedules in 2014 are Kent State (35-29), Western Michigan (37-27) and Eastern Michigan (37-27).
The records are a composite rank each team's schedule of four home games, then rank schedule of four road games. The result is the combined two rankings.
The three easiest conference schedules belong to Buffalo (25-39), Northern Illinois (26-38) and Akron (29-35).
The top three and bottom three teams each clearly separate themselves out from the middle of the pack.
After going 2-16 SU and 3-14-1 ATS in bowl games from the calendar years 2007-2010, the MAC rebounded the next two years when they won 7 of 11 bowl games while going 6-5 ATS.
It was right back to square one when 2013 rolled around, however, as the MACers have since suffered seven SU and ATS bowl losses in a row.
And speaking of facing non-conference opposition, when traveling on the non-conference road the lightweight MAC is a staunch 18-3 SU and 13-7-1 ATS laying points, including 8-0 SU and 7-0-1 ATS when coming off a conference game.
Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
AKRON (Offense - *7/2 Defense - 7/2)
TEAM THEME: HAVE SHOES, WILL TRAVEL
The shoes were in the car and the bowling ball was in the bag and ready to travel. However, despite battling Michigan, La-Lafayette and Northern Illinois late into the fourth quarter before succumbing by single-digits last year – and winning four of their final five games of the season – the Zips fell one game shy of bowl eligibility. They also managed an important win over neighborhood rival Kent State to claim the Wagon Wheel (where do you store something like that?). FYI: Freshman Fransohn Bickley, an all-state WR/KR from LeBron James’ alma mater St.Vincent-St. Mary high school, was the team’s No. 2 target last season. Bickley is 5' 6”, 138 pounds.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Defensive wizard Chuck Amato – long-time right-hand man for Terry’s daddy – is back to direct an aggressive stop unit.
BOWLING GREEN (Offense - *7/3 Defense - 5/2)
TEAM THEME: BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES
Aside from winning their first MAC championship since 1992, no other team in the land had their hands on the ball more than the Falcons last season, leading the nation in time of possession (34 minutes per game). They were also the 3rd ranked team in the land in red zone defense, and the 5th best team in scoring defense (15.9). Dino Babers brings his speedy offensive game plan to BGSU, one he perfected at Baylor, then implemented with great success at Eastern Illinois where he guided the top offense in the FCS to 589.5 YPG and 48.2 PPG behind star QB Jimmy Garoppolo. QB Matt Johnson (3,467 passing yards and 25 TD’s) is Dino’s next clean-up hitter.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Over the last two years, the Falcons were 18-1 SU in games where they won the stats, and 0-8 SU when they lost the stats.
BUFFALO (Offense - *8/5 Defense - 5/2)
TEAM THEME: BUILD ME UP, BUTTERCUP
HC Jeff Quinn not only lost his two biggest stars to graduation – MAC Defensive POY Khalil Mack and RB Branden Oliver, the school’s all-time leading rusher – he is also replacing four assistants in 2014. In addition, top WR Alex Neutz is gone, along with all-conference guard Jasen Carlson. On the defensive front, defensive backs Okoye Houston and Najja Houston have run out of eligibility, as has outside linebacker Adam Redden. The cupboard is not entirely bare, though, with eight starters back on offense, including QB Joe Licata. Due to two FCS foes on the schedule, Quinn will need to win seven games to go back bowling. That could be a stretch.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Quinn is 4-27 SU and 8-22-1 ATS versus greater-than .250 opponents.
KENT STATE (Offense - *6/3 Defense - 5/2)
TEAM THEME: LAMB CHOPS
The biggest drop-off for the Golden Flashes between 2012’s 11-3 success under Darrell Hazell and last year’s 4-8 struggle behind HC Paul Haynes was not in total offense – which decreased by only 20 YPG – but in points scored (33.1 PPG vs. 20.8 PPG last season). The Flashes are one of two MAC teams (UMass the other) without an FCS foe on the schedule this season. As a result a tough schedule, including a sacrificial lamb spot in Week 3 at Ohio State, pretty much guarantees a losing record heading into October. Haynes welcomes back QB Colin Reardon after a rollercoaster freshman season, but he will not have veterans Dri Archer or Tyron Goode as targets. Better news is the return of leading pass-catcher Chris Humphrey and top rusher Trayion Durham.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Flashes were outgained by 800 net yards the first six games in 2013. They outgained foes by 401 net yards the last six games.
MIAMI OHIO (Offense - 8/4 Defense - 7/2)
TEAM THEME: CLEANING HOUSE
A third losing season in a row – including a 0-12 effort last year – closed the door on the Don Treadwell era at Miami Ohio. Enter Chuck Martin, Miami’s 36th head coach. Martin comes to Oxford with a 74-7 career record while leading Grand Valley State to back-to-back National Championships in 2005-06. In addition, 14 new assistant coaches enter their first season at Miami. And while 15 starters are returning, expect a housecleaning there, too. A litany of disgusting performances took center stage in 2013, including the nation's worst red zone offense, 2nd worst in 3rd down conversion, and 3rd worst in sacks allowed… just to name a few.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Miami was 1-16 SU and 4-13 ATS versus .500 or greater opponents in the Treadwell era.
OHIO U (Offense - 4/2 Defense - 8/4)
TEAM THEME: BOBBIN’ AND WEAVIN’
The Bobcats will have a new look in 2014 for the first time in a while, as their two leaders for the past few years – QB Tyler Tettleton and RB Beau Blankenship – have graduated. The real problem, though, is Frank Solich’s teams seem to lose steam late in the season, finishing 1-4 in the 2012 regular season and 1-3 last year. Outside of the loss of three offensive linemen, five of the top six receivers, the top two rushers and a star quarterback, everything is fine in Athens. Seriously though, the defense, which was hampered by inexperience, brings back nearly everyone. Solich will be hard-pressed to extend OU’s 5-year bowl streak this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Solich is 5-0 ATS home off a SU underdog win in his college career.
UMASS (Offense - *7/4 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: WHIPPLE’S CRIPPLES
Mark Whipple, a former OC at Miami for two seasons under Randy Shannon and an offensive assistant in the NFL with three different teams, returns to UMass for his second go-round (HC in Amherst from 1998-2003) where his teams won 49 games in 6 years, including an FCS title in his first year. Whipple has a monumental task at hand, and he will try to rejuvenate a crippled program that went 1-11 each of the last two years – with both wins coming against teams that went winless in MAC play: Akron in 2012 and Miami (Ohio) in 2013. Whipple's prayers may have been answered with the transfer of QB Blake Frohnapfel – an academic grad eligible to play this season – to UMass after spending the last two seasons backing up the electric Rakeem Cato at Marshall. And speaking of transfers, the Minutemen have announced they are leaving the MAC in 2015. Good luck finding a new conference with open arms.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Minutemen play their home games at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots), which is a 100-mile drive from Amherst.
BALL STATE (Offense - 5/3 Defense - 6/1)
TEAM THEME: FLYING HIGH
Football fans and critics alike are recognizing the coaching prowess of Pete Lembo, who enters his 4th year at Ball State. The Cardinals are coming off a stellar 10-3 season, but Lembo will be tested with the loss of QB Keith Wenning (92 career TD passes and over 11,000 passing yards). Also departed are prolific receivers Willie Snead and Jamill Smith, although 1,000-yard WR Jordan Williams returns. All-MAC second-team RB Jahwan Edwards, who has rushed for 39 TD’s, is back too. But can Lembo fill Wenning’s big shoes? Says Bill Connelly of SB Nation: “If they could get a washing machine to fly, Pete Lembo could land it.” Case closed.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ball State is the only Football Bowl Subdivision school in the nation to have upped its season win totals every year from 2010 to 2013.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Offense - *10/4 Defense - 8/2)
TEAM THEME: PUT UP OR SHUT UP
It’s now or never for Dan Enos to show that his program can take the next step to consistent winning seasons. This year’s schedule fits the bill: if any coach in the country had the chance to hand-pick one opponent each from the Big 10 and Big 12 conferences, they would most likely choose Purdue and Kansas. Hence, behind 18 returning starters, the Chippewas could likely enter conference play at 4-0. The defense lost just one starter each among the three groups (line, linebackers and secondary). The offense loses only one starter on the OL, but Cody Kater (missed 2013 with broken collarbone) and JUCO transfer Ryan Lamb will challenge. No excuses this year, Dan.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chippewas are 2-14 SU and 4-12 ATS versus .500 or greater MAC opponents under Enos.
EASTERN MICHIGAN (Offense - 8/3 Defense - 5/2)
TEAM THEME: OUT WITH THE OLD… IN WITH THE NEW
After struggling through a miserable 2-10 season in which HC Ron English was fired in early November, the Eagles make a fresh start in 2014 with a new coaching staff headed by Chris Creighton, who led Drake University for six years where he went 42-22. Not only is the old regime gone, so too is its “The Law Of The Price Tag” motto. After opening at home against FCS opponent Morgan State, EMU will travel for three straight weekends, with road games against two of the nation’s top programs (Michigan State and Florida). Unfortunately, near-blue chip SO QB Brogan Roback will soon learn that EMU fought the law… and the law won.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since 1990, EMU has finished with a winning record just once (6-5 in 1995).
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Offense - 9/4 Defense - 5/0)
TEAM THEME: THE MISSING LYNCH PIN
The good news is that nine offensive starters return from the prolific unit that rolled up 519 YPG in 2013. The bad news is that the player who accounted for 65% of those yards has moved on. QB Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman balloting, has used up his eligibility and left a virtual sinkhole for HC Rod Carey to fill. In fact Lynch, who lost just one MAC game in his career, became the first QB in league history to beat two Big 10 teams in the same season last year. On the flip side, the linebacking corps is strong, but the defensive line and secondary need to be rebuilt. NIU – you’re on your own.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies are 15-0 SU and 12-3 ATS in their last fifteen road games.
TOLEDO (Offense - 7/4 Defense - 9/3)
TEAM THEME: ALL FUELED UP
HC Matt Campbell faces a problem most coaches would die for. “I feel we have more players who can help us on the football field than we’ve ever had before,” he says, as 16 returning starters, including six All-MAC performers, look to make amends for missing out on a bowl game last year for the first time since 2009. QB Logan Woodside replaces 3-year starter Terrance Owens and will play behind an offensive line that features four returning starters – all seniors – that was the stingiest in the land in sacks allowed (6) last season. In addition, nine returning starters anchor the defense. Says Campbell, “We are coming back in 2014 with a renewed sense of focus.”
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Lou Groza finalist PK Jeremiah Detmer has connected on 36 of his last 37 field goal attempts over the past two seasons.
WESTERN MICHIGAN (Offense - *5/4 Defense - 8/2)
TEAM THEME: FROM ZERO TO HERO
Last year at this time, hopes were sky-high with the arrival of dynamic HC P.J. Fleck. Unfortunately, when a new coach tries to implement his new system, Year One can seem more like Year Zero, as it is often not even a chance for a fair start. As a result, the Broncos became one of the worst teams in the FBS – they lost to Nicholls State and their only victory was a 31-30 win over UMass on a failed late 2-point conversion. Hope abounds as Fleck’s staff signed 14 Rivals.com three-star recruits. After using trial-by-fire for several of his freshmen last year, including MAC Freshman of the Year WR Corey Davis, Fleck is poised to make amends.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos recorded the fewest team sacks (7) in the land last year.
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