Can the MAC turn into a more even conference? Can the haves start to push the have-nots a bit more?
By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak
Toledo returns loaded after a strong nine-win season. All the parts are there for a balanced offense again, while the defense that was so strong at times should be even better. Northern Illinois is still the league’s gold standard, and Western Michigan and Bowling Green should each be devastating at times offensively. Beyond those four, though, the MAC has a whole slew of question marks.
Can UMass and Buffalo find more defense to go along with their terrific offenses? Can Central Michigan get past the coaching change and the cancer scare new head man John Bonamego is going through? Will Ball State prove that 2014 was just a blip, and can Ohio break out of a mediocre run?
Will experience matter at Kent State and Akron enough to pose more of a challenge? Can Eastern Michigan show some signs of life considering the veterans returning, and can Miami University start to win despite the loss of its best player, QB Andrew Hendrix?
Most of all, can the gap start to close?
There were decent races in both divisions, but there wasn’t a crazy out-of-left-field rise to MAC greatness like 2012 Kent State, 2008 Buffalo or 2008 Ball State. The West has been the far better division for years, and last season it showed why with four teams finishing with winning seasons. Outside of a good run from Central Michigan, the league went close to form.
Don’t expect the status quo this year.
This might be the season Kent State has been rebuilding towards. Akron has been hovering around above-average for the last two years, and Buffalo is coming off a quietly entertaining campaign. There are enough potentially great storylines – to go along with all of the question marks – to think that there might be something to shock.
The league overall has settled into its groove, but the standards have been upped now. The excellence will be there up top, and this year, the rest of the league should rise up, too.
– Kareem Hunt will be every bit as good as advertised. The Toledo running game will be unstoppable, but this will be a MAC championship season because the defensive tackle combination of Orion Jones and Treyvon Hester will anchor the other side of the ball.
– Northern Illinois might have a few too many key losses, but it’s Northern Illinois. It was just fine without Jordan Lynch, and it’ll be right in the thick of the MAC title hunt again with the pieces in place. The program reloads at this point – in a hurry.
– Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck will be very rich taking over a major Power 5 program next year at this time.
– The Bronco offense won’t be as balanced as Toledo’s, but it’ll be every bit as effective. This group will put up some massive numbers on the board.
– Western Michigan will be the third-best team in the MAC and the third-best team in the West. The problem? At Northern Illinois and at Toledo to close out the year.
– Akron is finally going to come up with a six-win season. It’s going to take stronger quarterback play to get there, but the defense will carry the way through a light late part of the slate.
– Buffalo’s Anthone Taylor will lead the MAC in rushing. Toledo’s Kareem Hunt and Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin will get the publicity, but Taylor will grind out a huge campaign.
– The corner combination of Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles will be the reason UMass wins a game this year. QB Blake Frohnapfel will be the reason for the team comes up with any other victories.
– Central Michigan will miss Dan Enos more than it might appear, but overall, John Bonamego will be a better overall fit for the program.
– Get better, Coach Bonamego.
– Kent State’s defense will be an absolute killer. If it’s not the best in the MAC, it’ll be close.
– Golden Flash defensive back Nate Holley might be college football’s best safety you’ve never seen.
– Ball State will rebound from a disappointing and uneven year, and it’ll start with the defensive front. It’ll end with an improved and more consistent passing game.
– Eastern Michigan DT Pat O’Conner and LB Great Ibe would be sure-thing all-stars on any other MAC team. The Eagle defense will finally make some decent strides thanks to a veteran linebacking corps.
– Bowling Green will win the MAC East, but it’ll start out the season 0-4 losing to Tennessee, Maryland, Memphis and Purdue.
– Miami University’s offense will go back to being Miami University’s offense without Andrew Hendrix under center.
– This needs to be the year Derrius Vick turns into the superstar quarterback the program needs him to be. He’ll come close, but LB Jovon Johnson and DE Tarell Basham are the team’s real stars.
– Toledo will beat Bowling Green for the MAC championship.
– Check that. Toledo will beat Northern Illinois, and will therefore win the MAC championship.
Team That’ll Surprise
Kent State – While the schedule makes it tough to predict more than a few wins – the Golden Flashes will likely be underdogs in around eight of their games – this should be a feisty bunch. The offense has miles to go before it’s merely decent, but all 11 starters are back on defense and enough talent returns on the other side to be better.
Team That’ll Disappoint
Central Michigan – Even with the coaching change this should still be one of the most dangerous teams in the MAC with a high-powered passing attack and an experienced enough defense to hold serve once in a while. The problem is the schedule, even though Northern Illinois and Toledo are home games. Going to Syracuse and Michigan State will be a problem, and MAC away games against Western Michigan and Ball State will be nasty.
Game of the Year …
Northern Illinois at Toledo, Nov. 3 – Consider this the 2015 MAC championship – if all goes according to form. Both teams get a week off to prepare, and there should be a decent amount of hype for a big-time MAC showdown. Why has NIU gone to five MAC title games in a row? Five straight wins over the Rockets have helped.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight …
1. LB Jatavis Brown, Sr. Akron
2. FS Nate Holley, Jr. Kent State
3. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Jr. UMass
4. CB Paris Logan, Sr. Northern Illinois
5. LB Jovon Johnson, Sr. Ohio
Coach on the Hot Seat
Terry Bowden, Akron – While he’s done a strong job of bringing the program back from the dead with two 5-7 seasons after rebuilding with a 1-11 first campaign in 2012, he needs to come up with a winning 2015. The Zips have been close to being in the upper part of the MAC pack, but with attendance a problem despite the nice InfoCision Stadium, the wins need to be there and the fans have to start showing up.
5 Non-Conference Games the MAC opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Oklahoma State at Central Michigan, Sept. 3
2. Northern Illinois at Boston College, Sept. 26
3. Iowa State at Toledo, Sept. 19
4. Michigan State at Western Michigan, Sept. 4
5. Bowling Green at Tennessee, Sept. 5
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. WR Roger Lewis, Soph. Bowling Green
2. RB Kareem Hunt, Jr. Toledo
3. RB Jarvion Franklin, Soph. Western Michigan
4. FS Nate Holley, Jr. Kent State
5. DT Orion Jones, Sr. Toledo
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Gus Ragland or Drew Kummer for Andrew Hendrix, Miami University
2. OG Bill Weber for Greg Mancz, Toledo
3. WR Jesse Kroll for Titus Davis, Central Michigan
4. RB Horatio Banks for Jahwan Edwards, Ball State
5. LB Austin Valdez for Gabe Martin, Bowling Green
|2015 Team Previews|
|Ten Best MAC Players|
|1. RB Kareem Hunt, Jr. Toledo|
|2. RB Jarvion Franklin, Soph. WMU|
|3. WR Corey Davis, Jr. WMU|
|4. LB Jatavis Brown, Sr. Akron|
|5. FS Nate Holley, Jr. Kent State|
|6. RB Anthone Taylor, Sr. Buffalo|
|7. WR Tajae Sharpe, Sr. UMass|
|8. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Jr. UMass|
|9. WR Roger Lewis, Soph. Bowling Green|
|10. QB Blake Frohnapfel, Sr. UMas|