The 2016 MAC football preview, featuring the key games, players, pro prospects and coaches on the hot seat. As always, there’s going to be a little something for everyone in a conference full of vastly different styles.
You want diversity? You want a contrast in styles? You want a fascinating mix of superstar offensive talents mixed in with just enough solid defensive teams to keep things interesting?
The MAC always boasts the haves and have-nots, with a gaping disparity between the elite and the dregs. Yet this time around the conference should be a bit more even. The coaching is strong, there’s plenty of star power at quarterback, and the division races are as unpredictable as they’ve been in several years.
Last year Bowling Green didn’t field a defense and still won a MAC championship by outbombing everyone. Head coach Dino Babers is now in Syracuse and quarterback Matt Johnson is gone, but the offense should still be dangerous enough to contend.
Contrast the Falcons with Akron, the breakthrough team of last year that dominated on defense. Kent State had absolutely no offense whatsoever, ruining a fantastic campaign for a phenomenal defense. Now the Zips have to rebuild and the Golden Flashes have to hope they have some way to move the ball to keep up with the other high-powered stars in the division.
Both of them defensively might take a backseat to Buffalo, who gagged away bowl eligibility late last season but now should be a tough battle each week by keeping the score down.
Miami University didn’t have anything going on either side of the ball, but at least there’s experience coming back, while Ohio has to hope the decent offense can come up with some sort of a curveball to make MAC defenses worry.
But the MAC East is the kids’ table.
The East might have taken the championship last season, but the league’s four best teams are in the West.
Western Michigan is about to be devastating. Quarterback Zach Terrell leads a potentially unstoppable offense that should be an automatic 30-point-per-game machine, while the defense gets seven starters back and should be good enough to get by.
Northern Illinois will have a healthy quarterback this season – something it didn’t field late last year when the team was ravaged by key injuries – and now the offense is back to its normal high level. It’ll have to be considering Toledo isn’t going anywhere despite the loss of head coach Matt Campbell to Iowa State. The rushing tandem of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson should be as productive as any in America.
Central Michigan has the high-rising quarterback in the NFL Draft world in Cooper Rush, and the defense that finished 16th in the nation welcomes back eight starters – this might be the most complete team in the MAC.
Ball State should be among the league’s most improved teams with Mike Neu taking over a veteran squad, while Eastern Michigan will try to keep the program afloat as the sixth-best team – by far – in a six-team division.
The four stars in the West are going to be just good enough and just dangerous enough to make a little bit of national noise, and there should be more than enough intrigue to force die-hard college football fans to care.
MAC Football Team That Will Surprise
Ball State – New head man Mike Neu is about to get the offense ramped up again with a better tempo and pace. It’s not going to be the stuck-in-the-mud easy out it was throughout last season, while the defense is about to make a huge jump up in overall improvement with 10 starters returning. It’s going to be tough sledding in the nasty MAC West with Western Michigan, Toledo and Central Michigan to deal with, but there are just enough winnable games to make a push for six victories and bowl eligibility.
MAC Football Team That Will Disappoint
Akron – It was a phenomenal stunner of a 2015 under Terry Bowden going 8-5 with five straight wins to close out finishing with a bowl victory. But that was with a veteran team and a loaded defense, and now it’s rebuilding time. Bowden has come up with a nice base of players to start with, and there’s hope for the systems on both sides to be good enough try to recreate the magic. It’s not going to happen. The schedule is harder, the team has to replace too many key parts, and it’ll take a minor miracle to get to six wins.
MAC Football Game Of The Year
Toledo at Northern Illinois (in Chicago), Nov. 9 – Western Michigan should be the star of the West, and it gets both Toledo and Northern Illinois at home making the showdown between the Rockets and Huskies in Chicago all but an elimination game. As good as Toledo has been over the last several years, why hasn’t it been able to break through and become the star of the MAC? NIU has won six straight in the series.
5 Players Who Deserve A Bigger Spotlight
Five players who have been a bit under the radar on a national level, but should rise up and be among the season’s best players – again.
1. WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
2. QB Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
3. RB Joel Bouagnon, Northern Illinois
4. LB Austin Valdez, Bowling Green
5. CB Demetrius Monday, Kent State
5 Coaches On The Hot Seat
Five MAC football coaches who’d better win this season. Being on a hot seat doesn’t necessarily mean a coach is about to fired, but the pressure is on to produce up to expectations, and beyond.
1. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan
2. Chuck Martin, Miami University
3. Jason Candle, Toledo
4. Paul Haynes, Kent State
5. Frank Solich, Ohio
5 Non-Conference Games That MAC Opponents Better Take Very, Very Seriously
The MAC always seems to come up with a shocker here and there to screw up one of the big boys. Here are five games the Power Fivers have to show up for.
1. Western Michigan at Illinois, Sept. 17
2. Western Michigan at Northwestern, Sept. 3
3. Ohio at Kansas, Sept. 10
4. Central Michigan at Oklahoma State, Sept. 10
5. Ball State at Indiana, Sept. 10
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
2. RB Kareem Hunt, Toledo
3. QB Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
4. S Tony Annese, Central Michigan
5. CB Shawun Lurry, Northern Illinois (Jr.)
5 Biggest Shoes To Fill
1. Bowling Green QB James Knapke for Matt Johnson
2. Akron LB Travonte Junius for Jatavis Brown
3. Western Michigan WR Carrington Thompson for Daniel Braverman
4. Bowling Green RB Fred Coppet for Travis Greene
5. Buffalo QB Grant Rohach for Joe Licata