2009-10 MAC Football Predictions
by Josh Nagel - 8/31/2009
For college football bettors, the MAC is sort of like the shy kid who sits in the corner at a birthday party with a sheepish grin on his face. He might look innocent and harmless, but before you know it, he's the one causing you trouble.
Over the years, gamblers and the MAC's non-conference opponents alike have learned that there is some serious football played in this conference. Ball State went undefeated for most of last season and threatened for a BCS bowl berth.
There are numerous former MAC players and coaches who have gone on to NFL fame, including two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Miami of Ohio alum.
Another upstart team might emerge this year, but in the tightly-bunched MAC it's tough to pick a clear-cut favorite in the pre-season. Even so, we've done our best to do just that in our 2009-10 MAC football predictions.
Here is a brief team-by-team overview of the conference:
The favorite: Central Michigan.
Quarterback Dan LeFevour has been called the MAC's version of Florida's Tim Tebow. Looking at his numbers, the comparison doesn't seem too far-fetched. LeFevour threw for 2,784 yards and 21 touchdowns last season; he also ran for 592 yards and is Central Michigan's leading returning rusher. The two-time All-MAC first teamer is joined by receiver Antonio Brown, who had 93 catches for 998 yards, and a host of other viable weapons on offense.
The Chippewas also return 10 starters on defense, making them by far the most experienced group among top-level teams in the MAC. Central Michigan's edge in experience over the rest of the MAC, along with boasting the conference's top playmaker, are reasons why this could be the conference's top program this season.
The challenger: Buffalo.
So long as coach Turner Gill doesn't receive an offer from a higher-profile school, you can count on Buffalo to be among the MAC's top programs until further notice. The Bulls flew under the radar a bit last year in the shadows of Ball State's breakout season, but showed the country what they were made of in a huge upset over the Cardinals in the MAC title game. The Bulls finished 8-5 before losing to Connecticut in their bowl game.
Although Gill must find a way to replace quarterback Drew Willy, most of Buffalo's core returns this season. This includes the foundation of a defense that gave Buffalo a plus-19 turnover margin last year, which ranked third in the country. Don't be surprised to see Buffalo return to the MAC title game.
The dark horse: Toledo.
A one-year turnaround might be unlikely for the Rockets, but such transformations are not all that unusual in college football these days. Tim Beckman takes over for Tom Amstutz, who became better known for the whistle he wore around his neck than for winning football games. Beckman is from the Urban Meyer coaching tree and, if he can produce results similar to those of his mentor, Toledo fans undoubtedly will be pleased with their new coach.
His first job will be shoring up a defense that has allowed an average of 31 points per game over the past three seasons. On offense, quarterback Aaron Opelt has the potential to be one of the MAC's top signal-callers.
The X-factor: Akron.
Expectations have steadily grown higher for an Akron program that has steadily shown improvement over the past few years and is eager to draw fans to its new stadium by offering a perennial winner on the field.
Plenty of offense, not enough defense - a familiar refrain of the MAC, it seems - defines this year's Akron club. The Zips have an experience albeit erratic quarterback in Chris Jacquemain, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. He and most of the core offensive unit return. On defense, former Pitt and Stanford coach Walt Harris was brought in to shore up the leaky 3-3-5 approach the Zips used last season.
The surprise team: Western Michigan.
The Broncos should have a high-powered offense that could lead them to the top of the MAC this season. Senior quarterback Tim Hiller threw for 3,725 yards and 36 touchdowns last season. He returns, along with 1,000-yard rusher Brandon West, to give Western Michigan two of the MAC's top offensive threats. The receiving corps needs to be replaced and the defense is inexperienced in some areas. Even so, Bill Cubit's club should pose a lot of problems for its MAC opponents. Moreover, starting the season with two road games against Big Ten opponents Michigan and Indiana will have the Broncos battle-tested and ready for MAC play.
The disappointment: Ball State.
With quarterback Nate Davis bolting for the NFL and former coach Brady Hoke headed to San Diego State, the party, at least for now, appears to be over for Ball State. Although the Cardinals will return several key players form last year's club, they have questionable leadership and must fight the "one-year wonder" perception.
Ball State's otherwise memorable season dissolved amid the departure of Hoke, who couldn't seem to get out the door fast enough. Former offensive coordinator Stan Parrish guided the team to blowout losses in the MAC title game against Buffalo and in the GMAC Bowl to Tulsa. Ball State will need to show some resolve quickly in order to minimize the risk of losing Hoke's top recruits to other schools.
Ohio: Coach Frank Solich plans to use a two-quarterback system this year for the Bobcats.
Temple: The Owls showed tremendous improvement last year, but remain a work in progress.
Bowling Green: New coach Dave Clawson takes over a club that has plenty of weapons on offense.
Kent State: A strong defense is led by safety Brian Lainhart, who had 106 tackles and six interceptions last year.
Miami: New coach Mike Haywood benefits from having an experienced quarterback in fifth-year senior Daniel Raudabaugh.
Northern Illinois: One of the MAC's top offensive line units returns intact after yielding just 17 sacks last year.
Eastern Michigan: First-year head coach Ron English inherits an explosive offense but must shore up a defense that gave up 36 points per game last year.
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