Jul 15, 2018
2018 MAC Preview
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2018 MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE PREVIEW
A promising high school career for Damair Roberson, a dynamic 6-foot-2, 195-pound receiver/linebacker/return man and a three-star prospect, is over abruptly. He will miss his entire senior high school season this fall after re-injuring the same knee mid-season last year.
The betrayal that Roberson felt after learning the scholarship offer from Northwestern University was no longer valid really hurt. Even after the second injury, Western Michigan University honored its commitment to Roberson and kept its offer on the table. In turn, Roberson rewarded that loyalty with a commitment to the Broncos. Remember his name down the road.
The MAC has its fair share of intense rivalries, including the Battle of the Bricks (Ohio vs. Miami), the Michigan MAC Trophy (Central, Eastern and Western Michigan), the Battle of I-75 (Toledo vs. Bowling Green) and the Wagon Wheel (Akron vs. Kent State). Rest assured, despite being Group of Fivers, these rivalries remain intense.
The MAC has disappointed in bowl games, especially the past 10 seasons as they are just 15-41 SU and 18-36-2 ATS overall.
Worse, in bowl games against foes coming off a loss the MAC has gone 3-21 SU and 4-19-1 ATS since 2008, including 0-6 SUATS as either a pick or a favorite. Yikes.
Note: The numbers following each team name represents 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 – 6/3, Defense – 9/3, 58 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: AS GOOD FORTUNE WOULD HAVE IT
The saying “you’re better off being lucky than good” applied in spades to the Zips last season when Terry Bowden’s troops went bowling despite surrendering 126 YPG more than they gained. However, thanks to a +10 net turnover ratio, and winning three games by a total of 5 points, Akron somehow won the MAC East title in 2017. They were ultimately obliterated by Toledo and Florida Atlantic in the MAC title and Boca Raton Bowl games, respectively, when they surrendered 95 points and 1,153 yards. To top it off, longtime DC Chuck Amato has retired. Fortunately, the Zips bring back an experienced crew of underclassmen. Soph QB Kato Nelson holds promise, but they’ll likely need Lady Luck to come calling again.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Zips head coach Bowden is 3-18 SU and 4-16-1 ATS as a home dog against .400 or greater opponents.
PLAY AGAINST: at Kent State (10/20)
BALL STATE (Offense – 9/4, Defense – 7/0, 51 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: A NEU APPROACH
After a 2-1 start last season under new coach Mike Neu, it appeared that Ball State was about to shake a 4-year losing skid. And then faster than you can say there goes Riley (QB Neal, 68% completions in his first three games, then done with an injury), the season went to hell in a hand bag thanks to a cruiseship of injuries as the Cardinals were forced to close out with a group of replacemant “neubies”. By season’s end, they were down to a 4th string freshman signal caller. Their starting WRs played a combined 5 games and only half of the starters on defense made it through unscathed. Neal’s 5,000 career passing yards are back along with a skill corps loaded with experience, led by RB James Gilbert. Take two.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ball State freshmen started 32.2% of all games last season – the 2nd most in the nation.
PLAY ON: vs. Eastern Michigan (10/20)
BOWLING GREEN (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 8/2, 38 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: LO JINKS ERA OFF TO ROUGH START
When new coaches inherit 10-win programs, there is almost always no place to go but downhill. In Mike Jinks’ case, the Falcons have been on a slippery slalom run with just 4-and-2 win seasons in his tenure with Bowling Green. The good news is that after inking strong recruiting classes the last two years (26 three-star recruits), the course finally appears manageable. Sophomores (from Jinks’ first class) logged plenty of playing time last season, led by QB Jarret Doege (64% completions with 12 TDs and 3 INTs) and RB’s Andrew Clair and Matt Domer (819 combined rush yards on 6.5 YPR). FYI: Doege is the younger brother of former Texas Tech QB Seth Doege. With new DC Carl Pelini in tow, look for the ascent to begin.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons have gone 37-5 SU in games in which they won the stats, and 5-30 SU in games in which they lost the stats over the last six years.
PLAY ON: vs. Akron (11/17)
BUFFALO (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 6/2, 51 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE
Call the 2017 season a steppingstone for the Bulls. A 6-6 record saw all six losses coming by a combined 29 points. Despite being forced to start three different quarterbacks due to injuries, they rolled up a school-record 5,183 yards of total offense while leading the MAC in passing yardage. It’s not often a team features a QB (Drew Anderson) that threw for a conference-record 597 yards and seven TDs in one game that may not be its starter. He’ll be in a heated battle with talented incumbent starter Tyree Jackson. On defense, the firepower comes from SR MLB Khalil Hodge who ranked second in the nation in tackles in 2017, and owns 277 total the last two seasons. No bull. This team looks primed for a breakthrough season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since joining the MAC in 1999, Buffalo is 9-59 SU versus winning opponents.
PLAY ON: vs. Akron (10/13)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Offense – 4/2, Defense – 6/2, 40 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: GIMME FIVE
After winning 7, 6, 7, 7 and 6 games each of the previous five seasons, the Chippewas broke rank last year to go 8-5, thanks largely to a 4-0 record in one-possession games, and a five-game season-ending win skein. Michigan transfer QB Shane Morris produced an eyebrow-raising 164.1 passer rating during his final five starts for the Chips last season, but he and four of his top five targets are gone. In addition, RB Jonathan Ward also stepped up down the stretch, rushing for 625 yards (7.1 YPR) over the same span late in the season. If 6’7” sophomore QB Tony Poljan can fill Morris’ shoes, CMU should reach its 5th straight bowl game in 2018. Stay tuned. STAT YOU WILL LIKE: CMU is 18-7 SU and 19-6 ATS away from Game Six out the last six years.
EASTERN MICHIGAN (Offense – 6/5, Defense – 7/2, 46 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: TURN UP THE GREEN
Head coach Chris Creighton has put his stamp on the EMU program. One of 14 active FBS coaches to record more than 150 wins, the 49-year-old Creighton guided the school to its first win in 126 seasons over a Big Ten or Power Five team last season. The Eagles’ 12 wins over the last two seasons is Eastern Michigan’s best two-year stretch since 1988-89. More important, nine of those 12 wins have been by a TD of less, meaning they’ve learned how to win close-call games. It’s no coincidence that Creighton’s teams at Drake sport the highest win percentage in school history (21-2 in home games). It’s now time he takes this program to the next level. Don’t bet against him.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Eastern Michigan allowed the fewest points (280) in school history last season.
PLAY ON: at Western Michigan (10/6)
KENT STATE (Offense – 7/3, Defense – 6/2, 49 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: FLASH: EVERYTHING NEW IS OLD AGAIN
The Paul Haynes experiment lasted five years before the Flashes finally pulled the plug, as a 14-41 record was all the proof they needed. What more could you expect from a team that finished dead last in Red Zone Defense last season, and a program that’s won more than six games in a season just once in the last 30 years. Enter new boss Sean Lewis, a former Dino Babers assistant at Syracuse. And with Lewis comes a major shift in offensive identity. But for a team that does not have the proper personnel on the roster to effectuate the planned attack – and one that might not find itself favored in any game this season – expecting immediate improvement is certainly a stretch for KSU.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Flashes were 4-40 SU and 9-34 ATS in games in which they scored less than 24 points under Paul Haynes.
PLAY ON: at Buffalo (11/6)
MIAMI-OHIO (Offense – 8/5, Defense – 8/3, 47 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: MY FAVORITE MARTIN
Despite a seventh consecutive losing season, the RedHawks are actually 11-8 in their last nineteen games overall – with five of the losses coming in one-possession games. Read: Miami is making strides under Chuck Martin who, unfortunately, will likely have to win this year if he wishes to return next season. The good news is Miami welcomes back 18 seniors, including one at nearly every position. A settled offensive line (an unstable one last year that started eight different linemen) operates in front of QB Gus Ragland (10-6 as a starter and an all MAC nominee). Coupled with a defense loaded with upperclassmen that finds seven of the top eight linemen, four of the top five linebackers and five of the top seven defensive back all returning, this team looks ready to turn the page.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Miami is 5-17 in one-possession games under Chuck Martin.
PLAY ON: vs. Marshall (9/1) - KEY
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Offense – 8/5, Defense – 6/2, 54 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: BEWARE OF THE DOGS
Talk about a statistical anomaly: despite improving from 5 wins to 8 last season, the Huskies’ offense evaporated 85 YPG, whereas the defense finished No. 26 overall in the land, improving 113 YPG. The bad news this season is NIU’s first three non-conference games are against Power 5 bowlers, including visits to Florida State and Iowa. The good news is most of the starters from the stop-unit are back, including DL Sutton Smith who led the nation in Tackles For a Loss last season. Should they finally find continuity behind center (forced to use 8 different quarterbacks over the past 31 games) to go with the best Group of 5-defense while facing a daunting non-conference slate, NIU becomes the team to beat in the MAC this season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies are 30-10 SU and 27-12-1 ATS in their last forty road games.
OHIO (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 5/2, 50 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: FRANKLY SPEAKING
As we alluded to last year on this page, in Frank Solich’s 73 years on this earth, including 13 with the Bobcats, they’ve managed to win four MAC division titles while also going bowling 9 of the last ten years. It would have been five had they not folded during the final two games of last season. Safe to say, Solich is certainly battle tested. The former head coach and running back at Nebraska has raised OU from the depths of despair to a highly competitive program, one that seems to play an abundance of close games (21 decided by a TD or less the last four seasons). Star QB Nathan Rourke and RB A.J. Ouellette each return along with a boatload of other starters from an offense that improved 13 PPG last season. Mixed in with the Bobcats taking on 3rd easiest schedule of all Group of 5 schools in 2018 with foes going 59-88 (.401) last season, we frankly expect more from OU in 2018.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: For the second season in a row, the Bobcats will face only two teams this year that owned a winning record last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Buffalo (11/14)
TOLEDO (Offense – 6/2, Defense – 6/1, 53 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: CANDLE IN THE WIND
For the first time in 13 years, the Rockets return as MAC champions. This year, though, they must replace 2017 MAC Player of the Year quarterback Logan Woodside, who set just about every Toledo passing record in the books. That being said, they will not be lacking at wide receiver as UT is the first team in NCAA history to return three players – Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson and Jon’Vea Johnson – who have earned all-league honors and caught at least 10 TD passes in a season. In addition, the offensive line returns five players with starting experience. Like his predecessor Matt Campbell with 20 wins under his belt in his first two seasons at Toledo, Candle could move up to a Power 5 school sooner than later.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The straight-up winner In The Stats in Toledo’s games last season won every game on the scoreboard.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Miami Florida (9/15)
WESTERN MICHIGAN (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 5/3, 29 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: LES IS MORE
The warning signs were in place for first year head coach Tim Lester last season. Inheriting the winningest program in WMU history, he was left to ‘row the boat’ sans a stud QB and his three top WRs, including Corey Davis (a first-round pick in the NFL Draft). In addition, Lester lost his best offensive lineman, his top pass rusher and his top safety in the second game to season-ending knee injuries. The poor guy never stood a chance. To his credit, though, Lester reeled in the second-best class in the MAC with 19 three-star recruits. Add to that 74 career starts back on the OL to protect QB Jon Wassink, who shined over the second half of the season. Suddenly, the oars are back in the water.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos were No. 2 in the nation in fumbles recovered last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Northern Illinois (11/20)