by Chris, the Impaler - 09/02/2005
Welcome to the new-look Mid American Conference. New personnel, tough as nails out of conference schedules, and shifts in teams in the East and West divisions all appear to make this a down year for the conference. Perennial power Marshall thundered out of the MAC to Conference USA and Temple replaces the Herd. Ironically, Marshall jumped conference to increase their strength of schedule, but leaving the conference they helped build into the NCAA's version of the Black and Blue Division might hurt them rather than help. New league power rankings show that C-USA is actually behind the MAC. Now, the MAC will have to shift divisions as Bowling Green returns to the East after three years in the West (2002-04) and the Temple Owls will also join the West.
After being booted from the Big East, Temple accepted a bid to join the MAC (East Division) for football with full eligibility to compete for the conference title in 2007. Temple has four MAC teams on its schedule for 2005. The Owls are scheduled to face six MAC opponents in 2006. Marshall and Central Florida leave the MAC to join C-USA this season. Both of those teams were in the East Division. Bowling Green was moved back to the east division after spending 2002-2004 in the West. The MAC welcomes three new head coaches this year. Most notably is former Nebraska HC (1998-2003) Frank Solich taking over the helm for the Ohio Bobcats. With his tenure unceremoniously ended at Nebraska after a 10 win season, Solich looks to get the Bobcats a winning record-this probably won't happen this year, but the football future looks a lot brighter for Ohio. Miami of Ohio's promoted offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery and has some shoes to fill as former HC Terry Hoeppner left the Redhawks for Indiana. The Redhawks open their season on the road against Ohio State. In Kalamazoo, Western Michigan enlisted Bill Cubit (five years under former HC Widener 1992-96) to fill the HC duties for fired HC Gary Darnell who couldn't get anything going for the Broncos in his tenure. The schedulers did not do them any favors, as the Broncos travel to Virginia for their season opener on Saturday.
The best indicator showing just how far the MAC has come are their opponents. Kicking off the season, five MAC teams, as well as Temple University (MAC member effective 2007) will face ranked teams. Northern Illinois has the misfortune to meet the highest ranked opponent, No. 4 Michigan, this weekend. Miami of Ohio will face off against No. 6 Ohio State, Ball State travels to No. 11 Iowa, and cellar dweller Western Michigan Broncos will play at No. 25 Virginia, and Temple goes to the desert against No. 20 Arizona State. It's not an easy way to get the season going. MAC powerhouse Bowling Green travels to Wisconsin in their season opener. Seven MAC teams play Big Ten opponents this weekend and Akron travels to Purdue on their second week. Central Michigan hosts its first ever Big Ten opponent at Kelly/Shorts Stadium when Indiana University faces the Chippewas Friday night. Ohio travels to Northwestern, and Kent State plays at Michigan State. With ten games scheduled against Big Ten opponents, this marks the fifth consecutive season there have been at least 10 regular season match-ups between the two leagues.
In other MAC related news, the 1979 MAC Offensive Player of the Year, former Central Michigan quarterback Gary Hogeboom, is one of 16 participants in the reality television show Survivor: Guatemala. The program is scheduled to premiere Sept. 15. Hogeboom played in the NFL for 10 seasons.
The ninth annual MAC Championship game will take place Dec. 1 at Ford Field in Detroit pitting the cream of the MAC, Bowling Green against Toledo with Bowling Green winning the Championship. The MAC has tie-ins to two bowl games - the GMAC Bowl Dec. 21 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. and the Motor City Bowl Dec. 26 at Ford Field.
Here is how I predict the standings will look like in December:
2005 MAC Preview -- Doc's Projected Standings
*-Temple is not eligible for the conference title until 2007 and their games do not officially count in the conference standings.
The following is Doc's detailed analysis of each MAC team highlighting their strengths, weaknesses, and strength of schedule.
BOWLING GREEN FALCONS (10-1, 8-0)
The big change for the Falcons this year is that they have moved back to the East since Marshall exited the conference for C-USA at the end of last year. Bowling Green is the clear favorite to win the MAC championship this year led by QB Omar Jacobs, RB PJ Pope, and WR's Sharon and Sanders return as well. This bodes well for Greg Brandon as he tries to protect his 20-6 record in two years as HC at Bowling Green. Indeed Brandon has done a remarkable job since Urban Meyer left the HC position in 2003.
Simply put, the Falcons are loaded on offense and will score points on every conference and non-conference opponent this year. More to the point, depending upon the outcome of the Boise State game on Sept. 21, the Falcons have a realistic chance of running the table and being this year's Utah (ah, the lingering vapor trail of Urban Meyer) to the BCS. Consider BGSU's street credit. The Falcons averaged 44.3 points per game last year and return an all-everything offensive 'hands' unit. Omar Jacobs completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4.002 yards and 41 TDs with only 4 INTs!. An amazing 10:1 ratio that is as much a testament to his able bodied wide-outs. Bolstered by stud RB PJ Pope (1098 yards last year, 15 TDs, 6.2 ypc average) returns after back-to back 1,000 yard seasons. In the Eastern Division where Miami of Ohio is the other power, Bowling Green should have a relatively easy time dominating their opponents like they did last year. Look for both Jacobs and Pope to have Heisman like seasons, while the Falcons light up the scoreboard.
Detractors might point to the fact that Bowling Green has the fewest returning starters in the MAC at just 12, but live and die by the returning starters theory. We look at the entire package. The Falcons bring the entire package this year. However, they will test their might on the first game of the season against the Big Ten and the Badgers-a winnable non-conference road game. In fact, Bowling Green is a remarkable 10-1 against the number in their last eleven games against non-MAC teams. Clearly, Bowling Green is not likely to lose a conference game.
Strengths: Last year QB Omar Jacobs was the 2004 MAC Offensive Player of the Year. Jacobs led the NCAAs with 41 TD passes. Bowling Green brings back a corps of skilled receivers, a well-coached line, and stud RB PJ Pope had a league-high 21 touchdowns last year. Then there is 2005 Biletnikoff finalist WR Charles Sharon. Last year, Sharon caught 66 passes for 1,070 yards and a record 15 touchdowns. He boasts 158 career receptions and 2,422 yards and is the all-time Falcon leader with 28 touchdown receptions. With all these weapons the Falcons are capable of new scoring records in the MAC. On defense, the Falcons attack and swarm, gang-tackle and speed kill opponents and create turnovers. The Falcons front four includes DE Devon Parks, one of the best pass rushers in the MAC, while LB Ted Piepkow creates havoc on opponent's running backs.
Weakness: The Falcons' main concern will be replacing three key members of the offensive line, which will need to protect Jacobs, but considering the OL still has two other starters from last year, the rest of the line should be fine by September. Defensively, the Falcons are a bit on the small side with their cornerbacks and could get burnt for a few big plays this year, but with eight projected defensive starters returning, they may be small but they are experienced.
Best Bet: October 8, 2005 vs Ohio University. The Bobcats are 0-6 against the number against Bowling Green, this year should be more of the same.
Favorable Line Loser: November 22, 2005 vs Toledo Rockets. In what could be a preview of the MAC Championship, the Rockets are 7-2-1 ATS when playing Bowling Green.
TOLEDO ROCKETS (9-2, 7-1)
Last year was a good year for Tom Amstutz's Rockets but this year he could have his best team yet! The Rockets beat MAC powerhouses Northern Illinois, Bowling Green and Miami of Ohio in consecutive games and then went on to claim the MAC Championship; its first in three years. The offense managed a healthy 33.2 ppg while the defense allowed 31.2 ppg - a bit tight, but nonetheless effective enough. However, the Rockets did get hammered in the Motor City Bowl to the Connecticut Huskies when they allowed 39 points in the loss. For Toledo to get back to the MAC title game they'll need to shore up the porous defense. This same defense that got torched brings back eight returning starters-but they'll have to play a lot better than they did against Connecticut if the Rockets hope to return to the title game.
The Rockets benefit from favorable schedule this year beginning tamely enough with two home games against W. Illinois and W. Michigan before going to Temple and then to Fresno State before their bye week. In fact the only conference game I see the Rockets losing is the last game of the season at Bowling Green. The Rockets get the NIU Huskies at home where they have won the last 11 consecutive years. Toledo is a step up in class over most of their competition and can beat any team in the MAC-if they execute. Certainly we see the Rockets back in the MAC Title game for the fourth time in five years.
If the Rockets have an ace in the hole it is red shirt sophomore Jalen Parmele. He is 210 pounds and ran over the defense this spring. But this is not so much a surprise for the Rocket's opponents since Amstutz is well respected for building an offensive juggernaut. The real work is needed on defense. Toldeo finished 9th in the MAC in total defense. Last year in their first two games the Rockets gave up a combined 63 points! This year there is a new front line save for DT Tyree Pollard so it will be interesting to see Rose's new configuration-it can't be much worse than last year.
Strengths: The Rockets return 14 starters and lost the fewest amount of lettermen of any team in the MAC. QB Bruce Gradkowski is a stud. He's ready to light up the MAC and compete against Jacobs for top honors at this position. Last year he completed 70 percent of his passes and tossed the pigskin for 3,518 yards and 27 TDs. To help make it a third consecutive season of 70 percent completion rating, Gradkowski has a talented array of hands players around him, as well as a good solid OL. I expect Gradkowski will put up big numbers like last year.
Weakness: Defense, defense, defense. There are many teams in the MAC that have improved on offense and the Rockets would be well advised to avoid going into "shoot-out mode". The main problem for DC Tim Rose is that his defense did not develop any sort of pass rush last year and consequently gave up big plays through the air. With aerial powers like Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio and even E. Michigan on the schedule, the Rockets could well depend on their defense rather than their offense to win the tough conference games.
Best Bet: November 16, 2005 vs. Northern Illinois. The Rockets are an ATM against the Huskies covering the last six consecutive games and going 9-1-1 over the last eleven games.
Favorable Line Loser: Toledo has dominated all teams ATS on this year's schedule except for one. Watch out for the Fresno State game since Toledo is 7-12 ATS since 1997 as an away dog.
MIAMI OF OHIO REDHAWKS (9-2, 7-1)
Two time defending MAC East Champs, the Redhawks, lost head coach Terry Hoeppner to Indiana during the off-season, but still threatens to be a top tier MAC team with the ability to unseat favored Bowling Green for the MAC Title. Returning 15 starters and 15 returning seniors, the Redhawks look as loaded for success as Bowling Green and Toledo this year despite having a rookie head coach in Shane Montgomery. Montgomery at 37 is the youngest head coach in the NCAAs and brings with him four years experience as OC for the Falcons before the promotion. Montgomery will face a very difficult Big Ten in-state battle when they travel to Ohio State on Sept. 3.
This year look to the Redhawks to balance their offensive attack. While definitely utilizing Quarterback Josh Betts (60 percent completion, 3,495 yards, 23 TDs, 14 INTs), one of the top passers in the league last year, the Redhawks will try to establish the ground game early behind Brandon Murphy who rushed for 246 yards and 4 TDs last year. Miami is slightly behind Bowling Green, but depending upon which way the pigskin bounces, the Redhawks are a legitimate threat to make it to the MAC title game so the Nov. 15 home game against the Falcons looms large for the Redhawks. Chances are both teams go undefeated in the conference into this MAC game of the year.
Meanwhile, a look at the Redhawks schedule brings a tough out of conference battle with Cincinnati, but most the Redhawks road games are winnable affairs if they don't blow leads in the fourth quarter. If the Redhawks make it past the Bearcats unscathed it is not likely that Akron, Temple, Buffalo or EMU will beat them. While Montgomery is a "rookie" head coach, he knows the system and was well trained by Hoeppner so we don't see the Redhawks having any letdown this season. Business as usual more likely as Josh Betts should step up and revive the roll Ben Roethlisberger made famous.
Strengths: DE Marcus Johnson is a stud on the DL. The senior was an all-MAC selection in 2004, and the Redhawks need his intensity to come out early against the Buckeyes. Johnson's impact can be immediate as he can pressure any opponent's backfield. On the other side of the ball super accurate QB Josh Betts leads the offense. However, Miami needs Betts to continue his strong play if they have a hope of beating Bowling Green in November.
Weakness: Miami gets a big test with the Buckeyes, who have a wealth of talent returning from last year. Watch the Buckeyes try to take the Redhawks deep and exploit the smaller, weaker corners that will have trouble keeping up with Ohio States speedy trio of wide-outs. Injuries have also slowed down some of Miami's starting defenders during pre-season practice, although defensive coordinator Taver Johnson looked at it as a positive, allowing him to get more of a look at the younger players. Miami also went from +20 turnover margin and a 13-1 record in 2003 to -10 in 2004 and five loses. This year the defense allowed 6 more ppg than in 2003-not a good sign. The secondary needs work as well as the Redhawks need to replace two all-MAC cornerbacks this year.
Best Bet: October 22, 2005 at E. Michigan. The Redhawks are a money earning 8-1 ATS the the last nine games against the Eagles.
Favorable Line Loser: October 5, 2005 at Northern Illinois. In these two teams last meeting in 2002, Miami led 27-7 in the 3Q but lost the game 48-41.
KENT STATE GOLDEN FLASHES (6-5, 4-4)
His one year record stands at 5-6 for HC Doug Martin, an improvement over 2002 when the Flashes only won three games of which two were not Division 1-A. Martin's five wins last year tied the win total of his predecessor, although Kent State showed flashes of brilliance at the end of last year. The Golden Flashes are the only team in the MAC with a four game win streak (held over from last season). Indeed, it seems like Doug Martin's crew benefited from a half season of experience last year to run the table and win their last four games. Granted the teams were Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Ohio and Central Florida, but wins are wins and three were in conference so it definitely is something to build on for the 2005 campaign. Consider also that in their four wins they absolutely destroyed the competition by a 46-16 margin! But the Golden Flash are far from the elite in the MAC even though we see them posting a winning record - barely.
Kent State travels to Michigan State for a Big Ten battle to open their season. This is a tough way to open the season, but then have SEMO St sandwiched between their first MAC home game against Miami-Ohio. This could easily put the Golden Flashes in an 1-2 hole that they might not recover. Good thing the Golden Flashes are on the road at Western and Eastern Michigan as well as Akron while hosting Buffalo at home bringing their conference win total to four games, about as good as can be expected for this year's edition of the Golden Flashes.
Strengths: Last year Kent State was ranked first in the MAC in defense and 16th nationally in yards against. A huge improvement over 2003 when they were ranked 110th in defense! The good news is that Kent State brings back seven starters on defense. One bright spot on the offense could be the play of the big (6'6") baseball transfer, Michael Machen. The Golden Flashes also get back RB Jon Drager as he returns from a season ending '04 injury.
Weakness: On offense things are a bit bleak.. Martin is forced to replace effective QB Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs has run for 23 TDs and thrown for 31 TDs in the past two years. The Flashes also do not have an effective running game either and that will put them in tough positions during games when all they want to do is eat up the clock.
Best Bet: November 23, 2005 at Akron. The Zips are 0-7 against the spread in the last seven match-ups.
Favorable Line Loser: October, 29 2005 vs. Western Michigan. The Broncos are a surprising cash earner in this match winning and covering the last four games with a line.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS HUSKIES (7-4, 6-2)
Last year, the Huskies enjoyed 12 returning starters and the most favorable MAC schedule getting Bowling Green and Toledo at home to go an impressive 9-3 SU in 2004. The Huskies also enjoyed their first bowl win in 21 years. They survived two games with narrow wins over UCF and Ball State. However, wins might be a tad more difficult in 2005. This year Northern Illinois swaps out Bowling Green for Miami-Ohio, and gets the Redhawks at home for one of their four conference games. Joe Novak has tuned around the football program in DeKalb and has put together five winning seasons, a huge improvement from when he took over the program that had just three wins from 1995-1999. Add the fact that the administration has announced the building of a new $9.5 million training facility, things are looking good for the Huskies infrastructure. Unfortunately for Novak's team a very tough non-conference schedule and difficult conference opponents will keep the Huskies just above the middle of the pack in the MAC.
This year the Huskies feature the No.1 running backs in the MAC and an impressive array of defensive talent that is likely to get the Huskies back in contention for the MAC title and a bowl bid. The season starts on the road at Big Ten powerhouse Michigan followed by another Big Ten battle in Evanston against Northwestern before they host Tennessee Tech in their home opener in week three. It is off to Akron before the bye week. The Huskies are just 2-5 ATS before the off week. Most likely the Huskies will be 1-2 before they host a couple of conference games in mid-October. The Huskies will probably win the next three games against Kent State, Ball State and Central Michigan before traveling to Toledo where they have dropped 11 straight games! Make that 12. This year expect to see a drop off from Northern Illinois despite a healthy running game that is poised to run roughshod over weaker MAC defenses. Remember that at least 10 of the departing class were starters last year and those holes take time to replace.
Strengths: The Huskies main strength lies on offense as Northern Illinois has churned out some great running backs. The latest is junior Garrett Wolfe who gained 1,600 yards and 18 TDs a year ago. Amazingly, the Huskies only lost one fumble in 550 rushing plays last year. NIU should again be able to win big by pounding the ball on the ground and playing sturdy defense. Keep in mind the Huskies secondary only allowed 12 passing TDs last year.
Weakness: There are a few chinks on special teams as the Huskies need to find a new punter as the Huskies allowed a total of seven returned TDs last year. The Huskies need to replace starting QB Jason Haldi with QB Phil Hovarth and hope that Hovarth can pick up where he left off when he started three games for the injured Haldi.
Best Bet: October 15, 2005 vs E. Michigan. The Huskies have covered the number in last eight homecoming games.
Favorable Line Loser: November 22, 2005 vs Western Michigan. The Huskies are a paltry 2-8 against the spread in home finales since 1995.
AKRON ZIPS (4-7, 4-4)
JD Brookhart will need to win seven conference games if he hopes to follow-up on the success of his inaugural year as Zips HC. Don't hold your breath, it won't happen. Last year, not only did the Zips post a 6-2 record in the MAC and 6-5 total, the six wins were a school record. Beating Marshall on national television was cherry for an overachieving Akron squad. Of course they had plenty of help from four-year starter Charlie Frye (18 TDs and 2,623 yards passing). He's gone, but the good news is that Brett Biggs (12 TDs, 871 yards) returns for his senior year. A handful of talented wide-outs are led by Domenik Hixon (66 catches, 882 yards). So a lot depends upon QB Luke Getsy, a transfer from Pitt, who has impressed in his workouts over the spring.
The Zips open up with a tough out of conference game at Purdue this year, but then travel to Buffalo, Miami of Ohio, Bowling Green and Ball State. Two games are winnable and two are not. However, it won't be until Sept. 24 that the Zips will play their first conference and home game at the Rubber Bowl. There are two burning questions for this season though: can the Zips replace the talent and skill set of Frye and can the Zip's defense stop anyone? If history is any indication, for the Zips to win they'll have to score at least 34 points in a game, a tall order for Getsy to fill this year. Getsy gets five offensive starters back which should help ease the transition for the offense, but there are still too many questions at the most important position in college football to see the Zips building on last year's season. More likely it will need to rebuild a bit before the Zips see six conference wins once again.
Strengths: The presence of running back Brett Biggs and stick-fingered speedster WR Domenik Hixon should ease the transition for Getsy, who has the monumental task of taking over at quarterback for NFL draftee Charlie Frye. The Zips have a fortunate schedule with two winnable conference games at Buffalo and Ball State.
Weakness: Unquestionably, the defense (ranked No. 10 overall in the MAC last year) is the biggest liability on the team. While they return seven starters on defense, keep in mind these seven guys also gave up an average of 33 points per game in the last year and no fewer than 30 points per game over the last four years! The Zips also allowed opponents to score 48 TDs and average about five yards per play.
Best Bet: September 24, 2005 vs. Northern Illinois. The Zips have cashed 15 of the last 23 as a home dog.
Favorable Line Loser: October 23, 2005 vs. Army. Even though almost any team can cover the number against Army, Akron is 0-2 ATS and outscored by the fatigues by a 27-7 average margin.
BUFFALO BULLS (3-8, 3-5)
It's not hard to do worse than a 4-31 record in three years. However, HC Jim Hofher has done just that and the powers that be must like what they see since Hofher has been offered to stay at the position through April next year-depending what he can do for the Bulls this year; which might include increasing his total wins by fifty percent! While this might be the best team that Hofher will field, a lot of questions exist-even if the Bulls return 15 starters this year. Their schedule is such that they could possibly win three conference games at home (while not exactly likely to happen, it could) with Akron, Ohio and Eastern Michigan all coming to UB Stadium. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The Bulls will need to overcome three tough games to start their season , two on the road at Connecticut and Syracuse while hosting resurgent Rutgers in week three. In weeks 7-8 the Bulls host Bowling Green and travel to Toledo and will need all the experience they can muster for the fragile Sampsel. How the young transfer faces these two tests will go a long way in determining the grit of their character for the Bulls.
Last year Buffalo ranked second to last in Div 1-A in offense. If the Bulls hope to improve on those woeful offensive numbers (and let's face it, the potential for improvement is virtually limitless), it all rests in the hands of the QB. Most likely junior Stewart Sampsel will get the starting nod when they play the Huskies. Sampsel transferred from Toledo and has a competent front line to protect him. But the real secret to the Bulls offensive success this year will be the running game. Once the run is established then Sampsel should get more time for his looks and reads. Then again, anything is possible.
Strengths: The level of depth and experience this Bulls team bring back is good for at least the same amount of wins this year-if not double! One strength is Bulls RB Steven King. He was the leading rusher last year (by 40 yards) as he averaged 4.7 yards and 7 TDs. The running game features a few good runners and the Bulls return a number of members from a defense that had its share of good plays a year ago. A featured player on defense is top corner Gemara Williams. The defensive line is comprised of six seniors who rotate. Yes the same defensive line that got pounded. However, there is still a lot of improvement on both sides of the ball if Buffalo hopes to have a winning season.
Weakness: Without question the quarterback is the weakest link on the Bulls team. Consider this, last year the QBs threw five TDs (those are from four QBs combined TD totals) and boasted an anemic 45 percent completion rate. When you (Bulls) score 69 percent of the time within the red zone you know your offense it in trouble.
Best Bet: October 29, 2005 vs Ohio University. I was unaware that best bet and Buffalo Bulls went together, however, if there is ever a game the Bulls will cover it is against the Bobcats seeing that the Bulls have posted a 4-1 ATS record over their last five homecoming games!
Favorable Line Loser: October 1, 2005 at Western Michigan. Since the Bulls joined Division 1-A football in 1999, they have never been favored. Not once. This might be their first game snorting "chalk", but it will be a killed since Buffalo has posted a 6-12 mark against the number in their last 18 MAC road games.
BALL STATE CARDINALS (2-9, 2-6)
Head coach Brady Hoke's eyes must have popped out of his head when he saw the Cardinals' schedule this year. This weekend they fly to Iowa then back home for a conference battle against the team picked to win the MAC outright, Bowling Green. Back on the road to Auburn, a bye-week and then up to Boston College to play the Eagles at the Heights. It will be Oct. 8 before Ball State plays a winnable game at Western Michigan-six weeks into the season! Add to that the fact that Ball State will be road weary as they only have four games at home this year. All of these factors contribute to another less than mediocre year at Ball State, that and the fact that in his tenure at Ball State Hoke sports a 6-17 record.
A tough schedule is not the only thing that plagues the Cardinals-a closer look and we see that HC Brady Hoke could be on the hot seat. Since Hoke left Ann Arbor three years ago, the Cardinals have decreased to two wins last year, down from six wins the year Hoke took over. Ball State returns 15 starters, but that is not necessarily a good thing when you think about it. Nine of these starters are on a defense that allowed more points per game last year than Akron!
Strengths: At least Hoke had the good sense to hire QB coach Stan Parrish this year to help Joey Lynch. Parrish is best known for tutoring Tom Brady and Brian Greise at UMich. Other than this, under Hokes guidance it is hard to point to one particular aspect of Ball State's team and say it is a team strength.
Weakness: Good news is nine starters are back on defense. Bad? The Cardinals gave up 37 points per game last season. On offense, Ball State was out gained by 77.7 yards per game last year. Other bad news includes the fact that the Cardinals lost MAC Freshman of the Year TB Adell Givens (dismissed) and WR Ridgeway to the NFL. A brutal schedule will also give Ball State a handful of losses before they have a realistic chance of winning a game.
Best Bet: November 19, 2005 vs. Central Michigan. The Cardinals are 9-5-1 against the spread in the last 15 games vs. Chippewas.
Favorable Line Loser: October 8, 2005 at Western Michigan. Surprisingly Ball State has only covered ten times in 31 games in this series.
OHIO BOBCATS (2-9, 2-6)
Let the Frank Solich era in the MAC begin. By far, Solich is the biggest name in the MAC this year and that has encouraged Bobcat fans in Ohio and beyond. Once upon a time, Solich took Nebraska to a national title game and while OU is not talking national championship, Solich is the beneficiary of an experienced team. The highlight of the Bobcats 2004 was an upset victory over non-conference foe Kentucky and nearly beat Big East champions Pitt on the road. This year they'll get a chance to play Pitt at home in week two. However, I wouldn't expect an upset in any of these non-conference games.
This year is no different for the Bobcats who'll endure a brutal non-conference schedule with games against Northwestern, Pitt and Virginia Tech. However, considering Solich's ability to motivate and strategize, expect Ohio not to be the walkover that it might otherwise look like. Despite starting the season in an 0-3 hole, we see the Bobcats have a chance to win their first conference game of the year at home against the Kent State Golden Flashes, but then travel to Bowling Green which should put the 'Cats record at 1-4. Then the remaining five games are all tough conference games.
Look for Solich to build on his reputation for creating solid running games. The Bobcats had switched to an NFL-style offense, which met with disastrous results and a 11-35 record. The Bobcats will use their eight returning starters from the MAC's No. 2 ranked defense last year to help the offense not get too behind in games this year. All in all it looks like the Bobcats will have to endure more of the same type of season this year as they did last year with a few moral victories in between. The Bobcats are keeping an eye on rebuilding for the future and with Solich as head coach that future could come sooner than you think.
Strengths: With eight starters returning on defense, Solich has a solid foundation on which to build. He's switching to a 4-3 that will no doubt take its lumps from the likes of Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech before conference play begins. However, look for the stingy defense as the difference in home conference games this season. Last year OU allowed the fewest points per game in the last four years. Another strength is in the Bobcats' special teams unit. Punter Matt Miller averages 42 yards per punt and put 20 kicks inside the redzone last year.
Weakness: The biggest weakness in Athens is the Bobcat offense. It all begins and ends with the running game which Solich hopes to shore up this year with Sophomore Kalvin McRae. The 2.7 yards per carry needs work but not as much as the OL that allowed 52 sacks last year. They Bobcats are weak in their kicking game as their PK Sophomore Brooks Rossman made half of his FG attempts last year and ended the year 7-for-14 in FGA.
Best Bet: October 22, 2005 vs. Ball St. The Bobcats are 6-3 against the number in their last nine homecoming games.
Favorable Line Loser: October 29, 2005 at Buffalo. The Bobcats are 2-4 against the number in the last six games in this series and more importantly Ohio has not won at Buffalo since 1962!
WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS (2-9, 2-6)
Western Michigan kicks off their centenary football season and hopes abound in Kalamazoo. Could WMI be the surprise in the MAC this year? Doubtful, but anything is possible. The Bronco's could if they were a better team and did not lose 22 letterman, although that is 22 letterman responsible for last year's 1-10 season. So it is hard to believe that the underclassman can do worse than 1-10. Actually we see them doubling their win total over last year, but again that is not saying much. The Broncos had some bad beats last year as they allowed Illinois to score a last minute TD and lost by 3 points. The Broncos had the lead late against EMU but fumbled and allowed a TD pass with 21 seconds left in regulation and then lost in OT to Central Michigan. So if the Broncos can win the close ones they might win more than 2 games, but generally only good teams win the close games.
HC Bill Cubit will return 15 starters, however, among them are the HC's son, QB Ryan Cubit (1887 yards, 13 TDs, 12 INTs) and WR Greg Jennings who caught a team high 74 receptions for 1,092 yards and 11 TDs. But returning starters can be a blessing or a curse. Last year WMI had 14 returning starters and a new coaching staff but the team was equally as horrible as it's 2003 creation.
WMI has the misfortune of going on the road to play Virginia and then their first conference game at Toledo before they have a chance to beat Div II-A Southern Illinois. Perhaps they can win the following week at Temple, but then it is seven straight conference games where they'll have to travel to Bowling Green in October and Northern Illinois in November. However, the Broncos do have a few winnable games at home against Kent State, Ball State, Central Michigan and Buffalo, but I don't see the Broncos running the conference table at home. The best we reckon for these Broncos is a 1-2 game improvement over last year.
Strengths: The Broncos' biggest asset is capable breakout receiver Greg Jennings who caught a team high 74 receptions for 1,092 yards and 11 TDs last year. However, the OL will have to allow QB Cubit time to get him the ball for Jennings to match last year's numbers.
Weakness: WMI's defense is pretty bad. Actually it is terrible. The Broncos gave up 58 TDs in 10 losses last year. The front DL can't stop anyone and the Broncos lost three of their top tacklers last year. The secondary gave up many big plays and allowed 278 ypg in the air and 9.5 yards per attempted pass. WMI is also very small at LB and the run-stop unit allowed a whopping 5.6 yards per carry last year. If the Broncos hope to win more than one game, they'll need to improve the defense to keep them in games. The Broncos are just 2-14 in their last 16 games at Waldo Stadium.
Best Bet: October 29, 2005 vs Kent State. We love homecoming games at Doc's and obviously so the Broncos as they have posted a 10-0 SU record and 7-3 ATS in their last 11 years in this series.
Favorable Line Loser: October 1, 2005 vs Buffalo. The Broncos are 2-12 against the number in the last 14 games when hosting MAC teams. Last we checked Buffalo is still part of the MAC.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS (2-9, 2-6)
The Chippewas returned 17 starters last year but this year only have 10 seniors on their roster while bringing in the least amount of playing experience in the MAC in 2005. Under first year HC Brian Kelly, CM won three conference games - the most in five years! The Chippewas also won four of their six home games last year so expectations are high this year for Central Michigan. However, the Chippewas have a tough schedule without a bye week but get some relief against Army as they are not playing powerhouse out of conference games this year.
The Chippewas start their season at home against Indiana and former Miami-Ohio HC Terry Hoeppner. Then they travel to Miami-Ohio and Penn State and host Eastern Michigan for a rematch of last year's four overtime loss to the Eagles (the Chippewas second straight overtime loss last year). They have two virtually un-winnable games at home in October when they play Toledo and Northern Illinois on back-to-back weeks before ending their season on the road at WMI and Ball State. One trend for total bettors; Ball St and Central Michigan have averaged 65 points per game during their last five years.
Strengths: When he is reinstated on the team, stud RB Jerry Seymour is a huge offensive strength. Last year Seymour gained 1,284 yards on 262 carries and scored 5 TDs. RB Kent Smith is also there to share the workload as he scored 10 TDs and rushed for 351 yards. The OL also returns three tremendous starters to open holes for the running tandem of Smith and Seymour.
Weakness: The temporary loss of star running back Jerry Seymour is huge. He was suspended indefinitely after pleading no contest to lying to a grand jury so the team will have to replace his legs. He will most likely be reinstated but the missed time will be apparent early in the season. It remains to be seen how long he will be held out, but he was absent when the team began practicing and can't be counted on to add a spark to the offense that was outgained by 60 yards per game last year. The red zone offense was also anemic. While they averaged 400 yards per game they only averaged 21 ppg. Another huge deficiency is that defensively the Chippewas are struggling and last year they surrendered 34.4 ppg, their sixth straight year of allowing at least 30 points per game on defense. They return six starters on defense so expect teams to score at least 30 points per game against the Chippewas.
Best Bet: October 15, 2005 vs Ohio University. Perhaps you have noticed a MAC homecoming trend in our best bets segment. This is no different for the Chippewas who sports a 5-1 record against the number in this series since 1991.
Favorable Line Loser: November 12, 2005 at Western Michigan. The Chippewas are 0-5 against the spread in their first away game after being home for three weeks.
EASTERN MICHIGAN EAGLES (3-8, 2-6)
HC Jeff Genyk was lucky to finish 4-4 in his first year coaching in the MAC. If Ball State did not drop that TD pass on the second to last play, and had they not overcame an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to WMI capped by a 30 yard TD pass in the last 21 seconds of the game the Eagles easily could have posted a 2-6 conference record, which is about right for perennial bottom feeding Eagles. The Eagles realistically could have been 1-7 had it not been for their four overtime victory over Central Michigan. The Eagles schedule this year shows four winnable conference games against Kent State, Ball St., WMI and Buffalo to match last year's four conference win total, but none of these are guaranteed wins at this point-especially with so many questions on defense.
Strengths: Eric Deslauriers might just be the league's most talented receiver, giving the Eagles a big-play threat. This is important since the Eagles defense is hardly worth noting. The Eagles bring back one of the conference's best OL so expect QB Matt Bohhnet and WR Anthony Sherrell to exploit weaker MAC secondary's.
Weakness: Gamblers should note that the Eagles are cash burners posting a 3-18 record against the spread on natural grass.
Best Bet: October 15, 2005 at Northern Illinois. This might come as a surprise, but the Eagles are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games against the Huskies.
Favorable Line Loser: November 12, 2005 vs Ball St. The Eagles are not good at closing out seasons as they have posted a 5-10 record against the number in their last fifteen home finale's.
TEMPLE OWLS* (0-11, 0-4)
Temple was kicked out of the Big East last year and lost its two top players to the NFL in the off-season. Add the fact that they have joined the MAC but will only play four conference games, it looks to be a down year for Temple. Which is not saying a lot for the Owls. Last year the Owls posted a remarkable 6-4 ATS mark and certainly enjoyed a huge upset win over the hapless BC Eagles to close out the Owls season on a positive note. The reality for Temple is that they left the Big East losers of 14 of their last 15 conference games and just three total wins in the past two years. In seven years running the show for the Owls, HC Bobby Wallace has posted a 19-60 record and will most likely increase his loss total by 11 games this year. And this is an improved Owls team if you can believe it!
It is tough to see Temple improving on the past few years without their best players QB Walther Washington and LB Rian Wallace. Add to the fact that their schedule reads like a division leader rather than a cellar dwelling team. They open on the road at Arizona State and then go to Wisconsin before their first conference battle against Toledo. With an 0-3 hole we don't see the season improving much from here (remember that Temple is 4-13 ATS against MAC Schools). The only possible game that I see the Owls wining realistically is when they host Western Michigan, however, the last time these two teams played in 1997 the Broncos outgained the Owls on offense 504 yards to 334 yards. Other than that, the honeymoon ends after the first snap for Temple as they set the tone for 2005 by getting routed in the desert.
Strengths: Hmm. Tough to mention at this writing. I guess a strength is that Ron Dickerson is no longer coaching the Owls (only 8 wins as HC).
Weakness: The Owls won't be able to compete for the league title until 2007, but will get their feet wet with four games against MAC competition this year, their first after getting booted from the Big East. Even so they won't give many teams much competition since their two best players left for the NFL draft. Their best players were QB Walther Washington and LB Rian Wallace. They will prove difficult for HC Bobby Wallace to replace. The Owls also need to replace three wide-outs on offense.
Best Bet: None. I wouldn't bet on the Owls. Period.
Favorable Line Loser: September 24, 2005 vs Western Michigan. If Temple is favored this year, it will be at home against the Broncos. The Owls will find a way to lose.
With all the changes going on in the MAC, I still only see a maximum of five teams having winning records this year. The disparity between good and bad is a gaping, bottomless crevice. Since 1997, Toledo has played in five of the eight conference championships and won two of the last four in 2002-2004. While this year the title should definitely go to Bowling Green, expect to see the Rockets as their opponent. Bowling Green has not won a MAC Title since 1992. Miami of Ohio is the strongest challenger to keep Bowling Green from the MAC Title, they'll most likely fall short of this task and end up a far away second in the West. The MAC is coming off a season in which it gained significant exposure by placing five teams in bowl games and winning two of those. Still, the conference only has two guaranteed bowl slots for 2005. However, this is a down year for the Mid American Conference. While there are a few changes in not only quarterbacks but at the head coaching positions as well; Bowling Green won't miss a step with their new HC.
Western Michigan, Ohio University and Buffalo should enjoy a relatively prosperous season this year (as in a 1-2 game win improvement over last year) as far as the MAC games go. I see the Golden Flash as one of the five teams with winning record this year with Northern Illinois. Buffalo should improve slightly on last season, but will still struggle to get to three wins, while Akron should win about four games all season-and struggle in conference as well. Meanwhile, things shouldn't be too different at Western, Central and Eastern Michigan, either - as they will all see another cellar dwelling finish. Temple has only four conference games this year, of which, they'll probably ground out one win.
Like most college conferences this year, the MAC will implement a one year experimental instant replay process for all league games for 2005. Instant replay may also be used for selected non-conference games with other leagues that also use instant replay. Every I-A conference except the WAC and Sun Belt will use instant replay in 2005. However, for MAC games, only the technical advisor can review a play and only from video that comes directly from the television network broadcasting the game. Non-televised conference games will have video for replay purposes as arranged by the MAC Office.
Last year's crop of first-year MAC head coaches included the league's Coach of the Year in Akron's J.D. Brookhart; Doug Martin of Kent State, who guided the Golden Flashes to a season-ending four wins in a row, the longest winning streak at the school since 1976; and Brian Kelly of Central Michigan and Jeff Genyk at Eastern Michigan, both of whom directed their respective squad to two more league wins than the previous season.
In conclusion, if Bowling Green, Toledo, Miami-Ohio, NIU don't live up to my expectations, and even if they do, this will be an "off year" for the MAC in general while Bowling Green is poised to burst the BCS bubble similar to what Utah did last year. I see the strongest teams in the MAC winning most if not all their conference games while Temple will have a hard enough time winning one game. When betting on MAC teams this year, we recommend that you take note of homecoming games as the home team as a rule covers the spread.