2008 MAC Predictions
by Matt Severance - 08/27/2008
The Mid-American Conference always seems to pull a handful of upsets of BCS conference teams each season, especially against the Big Ten. Expect more of the same this year as the MAC could be the strongest its been in years with several veteran-laden squads. Yet perhaps the best part of this conference is that any team could win the title in any season. That said, we'll give it our best shot with 2008 MAC predictions:
MAC TITLE CONTENDERS
Central Michigan should be the Mid-American Conference's best team because the Chippewas have its best player in QB Dan LeFevour, who will get a few Heisman votes. This poor man's Tim Tebow rushed for more than 1,100 yards and scored 19 touchdowns to go along with more than 3,600 passing yards and 27 TDs through the air. The Chips have won the past two MAC crowns and should be the betting favorites to do so again. You also can count on them winning one of these three games as an underdog against BCS opponents: Sept. 6 at Georgia (unlikely), Sept. 20 at Purdue (a team that CMU beat once last year and barely lost to in the Motor City Bowl) or Nov. 1 at Indiana. It wouldn't surprise me if Central Michigan, with 16 starters returning, covers as an underdog in all three of those games.
Ball State is another MAC team with a stellar off-the-radar quarterback in junior Nate Davis, who threw for 3,667 yards and 30 TDs last season. The Cardinals return 18 starters from a team that reached a bowl game last year for the first time in 11 years. This team has been on the verge of a big upset each of the past two years, losing 41-40 at Nebraska last season (a game BSU should have won) and 34-26 to Michigan the year before. Ball State's non-conference schedule is weak, so it could be 4-0 entering conference play if it can upset Indiana. Games Nov. 11 at Miami (Ohio) and Nov. 19 at Central Michigan will determine the Cards' MAC fate.
While Central Michigan and Ball State will battle in the MAC West, Bowling Green should be the class of the East. The Falcons return 17 starters from last year's second place-team, and this club is not as bad as that abysmal 63-7 bowl loss to Tulsa last year. The Falcons return eight starters from a good offense led by quarterback Tyler Sheehan, who threw for 2,264 yards and 23 touchdowns while rushing for three TDs and catching two. As is the case with fellow MAC title contenders Central Michigan and Ball State, defense is the concern on this club. BGSU's first three non-conference games all could be good value for bettors. The Falcons open at Pitt, then Minnesota visits before Bowling Green goes to Boise State. Consider this: Bowling Green is 3-0 ATS in its past three against Big Ten teams and 5-2 ATS in the last three years against ranked opponents, which Pitt is and Boise State could be. That Oct. 18 home game against Miami (Ohio) should decide the East title.
COULD EARN BOWL BID
Western Michigan was only 5-7 last season, but three of those losses were to BCS conference teams (West Virginia, Indiana and Missouri - two of which were BCS bowl teams). And WMU kept Iowa from a bowl game last season with a 28-19 upset road win in the Hawkeyes' season finale. QB Tim Hiller should be better in 2008 after an uneven 2007 that came on the heels of missing all of 2006 with an injury. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and 20 TDs last season but had 15 picks. It's on defense where WMU might be the best in the conference, as 11 of last season's top 12 tacklers return. In conference, WMU must travel to both Ball State and Central Michigan, which could make winning the MAC's West Division tough. But watch that Nov. 8 neutral-site game (Detroit) against Illinois as a good value play. WMU is 5-2 ATS in its past seven against the Big Ten.
Miami (Ohio) was in the MAC title game last season despite a 6-6 overall record; the RedHawks won the East Division with a 5-2 record. They lost in the title game, which eliminated them from bowl contention due to an under .500 record. Miami should compete with Western Michigan as the top defensive team in the conference, with nine starters returning on that side of the ball (Miami's defense led the MAC in yards allowed last season). The RedHawks are 6-2 ATS in their past eight games as a road underdog, so that Sept. 6 game at rebuilding Michigan and Sept. 20 game at Cincinnati could be great plays.
BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR
Toledo was the best program in the MAC in coach Tom Amstutz's first five years (45-18) but hasn't topped five wins in the past two years.
Eastern Michigan could at least claim to a Michigan sweep in the MAC, beating both CMU and WMU last year and sticking close with the University of Michigan.
Northern Illinois has 21 returning starters, but that's off a 2-10 season. Jerry Kill replaces Joe Novak as coach this year.
Buffalo could be on the rise under coach Turner Gill, who was in the running for the Nebraska job.
Kent State has the MAC's leading returning rusher in Eugene Jarvis (1,669 yards, 139 per game).
Temple returns every starter from last season's team that won four conference games and nearly shared the East title.
Ohio won four of its final six to finish at .500, but former Nebraska coach Frank Solich must replace his starting backfield from 2007.
Akron won the MAC title in 2005 but has gone 6-10 in conference since then.