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2011 MAC Spring Preview
Central Michigan QB Ryan Radcliff
Central Michigan QB Ryan Radcliff
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 19, 2011


The big questions, the top position battles, the early buzz, and the attitudes for every MAC team going into spring practices.


2011 MAC Spring Preview

Click for each team's 2011 spring preview
East   Akron | Bowling Green | Buffalo | Kent State | Miami Univ. | Ohio | Temple
West  Ball State | Central Mich | Eastern Mich | Northern Illinois | Toledo | West Michigan

2011 MAC Spring Preview
- 2011 MAC Team-By-Team Schedules 
- 2011 MAC Composite Schedule & Week Rankings 
- 2011 MAC Spring Attitudes  
- 2011 MAC Early Buzz 
- 2011 MAC Positions To Watch 
- 2011 MAC Spring Rankings 

2011 MAC Pre-Spring Preview
- MAC Pre-Spring Rankings
- Why Every Team Should Be Excited
- Why Every Team Should Be Grouchy
- What Every Team Needs To Work On 

EAST

Akron

Spring Practice Begins: March 23
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... After such a disastrous first season, the Zips needed an upgrade in all areas and they got a big one for the defensive side of the ball with the hiring of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. The former DC for Nebraska and Wisconsin, and the head of the Minnesota defense over the last two years, is a strong, accomplished defensive mind and he should make an immediate impact this spring with a veteran defense.

The big spring question is ... Can the offense come up with anything? Head coach Rob Ianello is supposed to be an offensive coach, coming from Notre Dame last year, but his attack was pathetic, and that’s being kind. The Zips finished 119th in the nation and last in the MAC in total offense, and it only came up with more than 22 points in two games and those were against Gardner-Webb and Ball State, both in double overtime. A lot of players had to get through the fire, and now they have to start producing.

The most important position to watch is ... Wide receiver. Running back is also a huge issue with Alex Allen and Nate Burney both gone. The quarterback situation will get the spotlight with everyone hoping Patrick Nicely starts producing, but he might have a rocky start with Jalil Carter and Jeremy LaFrance, the two leading receivers of last year, needing to be replaced. Gary Pride, Anthony Meriwether, and Keith Sconiers will all get their chances to be the main man.

Spring attitude... The adjustment period is over. Beating Buffalo to close out the year wasn’t exactly special, but at least Rob Ianello’s first season wasn’t winless. The team was competitive over the last part of the year and battled hard and well in a 19-14 loss to eventual MAC champion Miami, and the team has to keep pushing and hope that Ianello is far, far better in his second year. It’ll take some surprising performances this offseason from some new players to hope for an improvement.

Bowling Green

Spring Practice Begins: March 18
Game: April 15


The early spring buzz ... The offense has been strong in the first two years under head coach Dave Clawson, but the defense has been a joke and has limited what the team has been able to do. A particular problem has been a defensive line that has been miserable against the run and has done nothing to get into the backfield, and now there’s some help with Larry McDaniel coming in to coach the defensive front. He spent the last several years at Kent State where his defensive lines have been among the best in college football at generating pressure, and the hope is that he turns things around right away.

The big spring question is ... Will Bowling Green ever have a running game? Not only were the Falcons last in the nation in rushing, averaging 63 yards per game, they weren’t even close with the second-worst team, San Jose State, averaging 78.5 yards per outing. Part of the problem was a line that allowed too many sacks, but the ground game has to come up with something positive to try to balance things out. Sophomore Jordan Hopgood will get the first look to take over for starter Willie Geter.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive end. It’s not like the Falcon defense did much of anything to miss any one player going into this year, but the loss of Darius Smith and Angelo Magnone will be felt in terms of experience. Any improvement on defense will come if more pressure is generated from the outside, and sophomore Anthony Lawson has to lead a young group that can show that things are going to be different. If they’re not getting to the quarterback this spring against the mediocre Falcon offensive line, it’s not going to get to anyone.

Spring attitude... There’s plenty of excitement and a lot of hope considering last year was a disastrous after a strong first season under Dave Clawson. With a slew of veterans returning and one of the MAC’s strongest recruiting classes, the needle is pointing up. With seven starters back on each side of the ball, the complete clunker of 2010 won’t be acceptable. BGSU has the potential to make one of the biggest instant turnarounds in the MAC.

Buffalo

Spring Practice Begins: March 23
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... After a horrible first season under head coach Jeff Quinn, the first step back is going to be figuring out the quarterback situation and hoping for some sort of production. The team fizzled over the second half of last year because of the problems under center, and the talk throughout spring ball will be about Jerry Davis vs. Alex Dennison vs. Alex Zordich to see if one of them can take the program on his back. If the quarterbacks don’t shine this spring, it’ll be uh-oh time going into fall camp.

The big spring question is ... Can Jeff Quinn come up with a passing game? It wasn’t just that UB couldn’t get the offense going; it was that the offense got worse. The Bulls finished last in the nation in passing efficiency leading to the nation’s worst scoring offense. After scoring 21 points or more in three of the first five games, the Bulls failed to score more than 17 over the final seven games and lost them all. The passing game has to click for the points to start coming.

The most important position to watch is ... Besides quarterback, defensive back. The Bulls were fantastic against the pass finishing 18th in the nation thanks to a veteran group led by FS Davonte Shannon, arguably the most productive safety in MAC history, and corner Josh Thomas, who spent a late February weekend in Indianapolis working out at the Combine. Throw in the loss of Domonic Cook, an interception star at strong safety, and Sherrod Lott, a 32-game starter at corner, and UB has a ton of work to do.

Spring attitude... Things can’t be any worse. The defense only returns four starters, but the coaching staff is good enough to get defensive production with some decent prospects returning. The offense that was among the worst in America gets seven starters back and can’t help but be better with a little more time and experience. The goal this spring is to keep improving and to find one thing the O can do well.

Kent State

Spring Practice Begins: March 29
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... It’s not like Kent State was that bad over the last few years, but a gag down the stretch meant a change had to be made. In comes Darrell Hazell from Ohio State, and while he might need a little bit to get the recruiting classes in place to do things like he wants to, he’s not going to get much of a grace period as he’s expected to improve on a 5-7 season. Can he keep the defensive pressure from the old regime while getting more out of the offense? The pressure will be on from the start this spring.

The big spring question is ... Will the Golden Flashes generate more offense under Darrell Hazell? The defense was fine last year, despite getting blown up late by Army and Western Michigan, but the defense didn’t provide any help and was way too inconsistent. The passing game was bad, the running game was worse, and the production didn’t come when the defense didn’t help the cause. With ten starters returning, the offense can’t help but be far better. The new coaching staff has to make sure of it.

The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. The line should once again be strong with Roosevelt Nix and Jake Dooley to work around, and the secondary will be strong at corner, but the safeties will need work with Brian Lainhart gone and linebacker will be an early issue. Cobrani Mixon and Dorian Wood were excellent producers who made a slew of big plays, and now it’ll take a slew of young, untested players to fill in and keep the nation’s fourth ranked run defense working.

Spring attitude... Get to six wins. Kent State has been close for the last few years, but it could never get over the hump under Doug Martin and it was time to try something else. Considering the returning experience, anything less than five wins will be a disaster and getting to six, or coming up with a winning season, will be considered an attainable goal. There will be little grace period for Darrell Hazell, and it’ll be Game On from the start of spring ball.

Miami University

Spring Practice Begins: March 21
Game: April 15


The early spring buzz ... New head coach Don Treadwell isn’t going to try to reinvent the wheel. The defending MAC champions are loaded with experience and should be even better than last year. Treadwell will not only try to keep the momentum going from the Mike Haywood era, but he’s also making a big deal about the tradition of MU football and is looking to return some of the old school ways that were around during his playing days. Treadwell is a RedHawk through and through, and it has showed right away.

The big spring question is ... Will Don Treadwell run the ball more than Mike Haywood did? Haywood’s offense was all about the short to midrange passing game, and while the strength of the offense is at quarterback and there will still be plenty of throwing, there needs to be more of a ground game. Thomas Merriweather is one of the few lost starters, but Tracy Woods and Danny Green are compact backs who appear ready to do more.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Austin Boucher was fantastic down the stretch last season leading MU to the MAC title win over Northern Illinois and the bowl victory over Middle Tennessee. However, Zac Dysert, who missed the second half of the year hurt, is the bigger talent and is going to want his job back. It doesn’t matter much who’s under center; MU will have a quarterback advantage in most MAC games.

Spring attitude... This was supposed to be the year that the program rocked. Don Treadwell won’t have any grace period after inheriting a loaded team. MU was way, WAY ahead of schedule after a disastrous 2009 season and was one of the nation’s most shocking teams of 2010. Now comes the good part … 2011 was supposed to be when the production was supposed to come. With nine starters back on each side of the ball, along with punter Zac Murphy, the RedHawks are loaded.

Ohio

Spring Practice Begins: March 28
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The spring will be all about defense, defense, and more defense. The Bobcats didn’t come up with a great defensive season, but they were solid allowing just 353 yards and 24 points per game. Now they have to replace seven starters and have several big question marks, but one of the most interesting areas will be linebacker with three starters from the bowl loss to Troy returning and with Ron Collins, the former defensive coordinator at Colorado, taking over the linebacker coaching gig.

The big spring question is ... Can Phil Bates throw a forward pass? The former Iowa State Cyclone led the team in rushing last season, and now he’ll get the full-time quarterback job with the graduation of Boo Jackson. He’s big, strong, and talented, but he’s not known for being a bomber and he hasn’t been accurate. This spring he has to spend every practice adding more to his passing game to allow the offense to balance things out when needed. It’s Bates’ job to lose, but he’ll be battling with redshirt freshman Kyle Snyder and sophomore Tyler Tettleton.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive lineman. The offense is loaded with returning veterans, but the defense is another story. Safety is an issue and top corner Julian Posey will be missed, but the biggest problem is on the defensive front that loses all four starters. Last year’s front line failed to do much to get into the backfield and struggled with sacks and tackles for loss, and now it’ll be up to a slew of young, relatively untested players to try to do more. Fortunately, New Mexico State and Gardner Webb are on the slate to tune up, but the more the D line can do this spring, the better.

Spring attitude... The East is still there for the taking. It might be the better of the two MAC divisions, but Ohio should be one of the favorites and will look to make amends after blowing it last year. The Bobcats lost their final two games of the season to close out a great year on a sour note, and while there’s some rebuilding to be done on defense, and Phil Bates has to show he can run the offense, Ohio has to expect nothing less than another bowl appearance and a run to the MAC title game.

Temple

Spring Practice Begins: March 23
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... It’s not the worst thing in the world to put together a Florida Gator-like coaching staff. New head man Steve Addazio is generating some excitement just by hiring some good assistants like Scot Loeffler as the offensive coordinator. Loeffler has been around the block. The quarterback coach for the Gators last year, Loeffler should help the always-struggling Owl quarterbacks right away, but obviously the spotlight is on Addazio. He has a big enough reputation and a good enough résumé to expect the program to keep the momentum going.

The big spring question is ... Will Steve Addazio be able to generate more offensive production? Everyone knows the running game will be fine with Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce returning, but the offense only averaged 334 yards and 25 points per game last year and it struggled with its consistency. Addazio might have been maligned when he was at Florida, but he’s a good, respected coach who should provide an instant boost.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive tackle. The quarterback situation will be worth watching and the receivers need to show more, but the big key to the season will be the emergence of some new linebackers to replace Elijah Joseph and Amara Kamara and some studs to take over on the defensive interior. Replacing linebackers isn’t that hard, but finding an NFL-caliber defensive tackle is as tough as it gets. Muhammad Wilkerson left early for the NFL and might be a first round draft pick, while Elisha Joseph was a stud on the nose.

Spring attitude... It’s not like Al Golden won anything. Yeah, he came up with one of the greatest turnaround in college football history, but he never got Temple over the hump. The program was good enough to win the MAC in each of the last two seasons, and it didn’t even get to the title game and it only played in one bowl game. There’s room to improve and get over the hump, and Steve Addazio has the pieces in place to take what Golden did and do even more.

WEST

Ball State

Spring Practice Begins: March 29
Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... Stan Parrish had to follow Brady Hoke’s act and couldn’t do much. Two years later, in comes Pete Lembo from Elon in an attempt to start from scratch with new ideas and a new energy. Instead of trying to cling to old ways, Lembo and his staff dove in to figure out how to upgrade the talent level right away. This spring, Lembo has the experience in place and just enough talent to work with to not have to blow everything up, but things will definitely be different and it all starts with improving the offensive attack.

The big spring question is ... Can Pete Lembo’s offensive success at Elon carry over to Ball State? Lembo’s Elon team only went 6-5 last year, but it won its final four games and finished with the nation’s No. 2 FCS passing offense and No. 8 offense in yards. By comparison, Ball State was 106th in the nation in yards and 109th – and last in the MAC – in passing. Lembo was hired to provide an instant jolt to the offense, and he has enough veteran players to make the Cardinals an X factor in the West race.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Can Keith Wenning be the passing quarterback who can do what the new coaching staff wants? The 6-4, 220-pound true sophomore did what he could last year, but he struggled to move the chains. He has a decent receiving corps to work with, and he’ll have some good backs to hand off to, but he has to show this spring that he can be a passer to work around for the next three years, but junior Kelly Page will get every shot to get back the starting job he earned last year.

Spring attitude... Turn things around right away. Ball State ended the season well winning two of its last three games to finish 4-8, and with eight starters returning on each side of the ball, not including running back where David Brown and Eric Williams will take over for MiQuale Lewis, there’s no reason to shoot for anything less than a six-win season. This was supposed to be the year the program became decent again, and Pete Lembo will benefit.

Central Michigan

Spring Practice Begins: March 15
Game: April 15


The early spring buzz ... After a rough year that, to be nice, was a rebuilding one, second-year head coach Dan Enos had some work to do to shake things up. Looking for more from the passing game, and trying to get more help for the receiving corps, former Purdue star Taylor Stubblefield was brought in to coach the receivers, while the defensive line that was a stunning disappointment will look to get a boost from Vinson Reynolds, who’ll take over as the coach for the front. Enos is putting together a relatively young coaching staff, and the hope has to be that the energy translates into more production.

The big spring question is ... Can Central Michigan get its offensive groove back? The passing game wasn’t all that bad in the first year A.D. (Dan LeFevour), but the running game was a disaster and the offense wasn’t consistent. The big problem was an inability to come through in the clutch, and the hope has to be that QB Ryan Radcliff can make a jump up in his consistency and efficiency, while a running back has to step up and take control of the job. Paris Cotton was the leading runner, but he only averaged 59 yards per game and now has to help provide more pop to balance things out.

The most important position to watch is ... Linebacker. The defense wasn’t all that bad and it got better as the season went on. The key was up the play up the middle with tackle Sean Murnane and MLB Nick Bellore, while weakside linebacker Matt Berning was also one of the key playmakers. All three are gone, and it’s the one area on the team that needs a lot of work. Bellore will be in the NFL, Murnane will get a look in a camp, and Berning was a tackling machine. The loss of those three could be enough to expect a drop in overall defensive production.

Spring attitude... Win the close games. There were so many big replacements and so many big changes that there was no way CMU could’ve been the killer in 2010 that it had been. This year, though, the Chippewas have enough experience, and Dan Enos is in his second year as the head man, and the wins have to start coming. CMU lost five games by a touchdown or less and had chances to pull off all of them. Had it just won three of the five, it would’ve been a solid 6-6 campaign.

Eastern Michigan

Spring Practice Begins: March 8
Game: April 10


The early spring buzz ... Welcome to do-or-die time. Head coach Ron English has to come up with just two wins in two years, and the two came last year by a combined seven points. English doesn’t have to take EMU to the MAC title game, but there have to be more signs of life after struggling so much on offense and lacking enough pop on defense. There’s always a sense of urgency around struggling programs once spring ball opens, but this could be the last one for English unless something special starts to happen.

The big spring question is ... Will the defense stop anyone? Ever? Eastern Michigan wasn’t even close last year finishing last in the MAC in total defense, run defense, scoring defense, sacks, tackles for loss, and pass efficiency defense. Eight starters are back and the coaching staff has its pieces in place to have the physical up-tempo group that was hoped for from the start. Step One will be to generate more of a pass rush and be strong on the defensive front, and with three starters returning, it’s time to start coming up with a stop.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive end. EMU has GOT to start hitting the quarterback, and the hope has to be for Kalonji Kashama and Javon Reese to be better. There are enough options to start coming up with a good rotation, and it’s a must to be far more aggressive and far more disruptive. The secondary was lousy last year, and now it has to replace two starters. It could use all the help it can get from the front four.

Spring attitude... Be more explosive. EMU has had a hard time merely executing the basics over the last few years, much less doing anything special. QB Alex Gillett is a good-looking, do-it-all playmaker, but he needs help and he could use a few home run hitters around him. Defensively, there have to be more takeaways and there has to be more big plays from all spots. There hasn’t been anything that scares opponents, and that has to change.

Northern Illinois

Spring Practice Begins: March 22
Game: April 23


The early spring buzz ... With Jerry Kill off to Minnesota, the spotlight is on Dave Doeren, who’s expected to make the NIU defense a killer while keeping the running game rolling. NIU is almost like a mini-Wisconsin in style, and Doeren, the former Badger defensive coordinator, is going to try to keep the production going after a strong 2010. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the biggest knock on Doeren so far is that he’s expected to be so good and so upwardly mobile that he might not be around DeKalb for long.

The big spring question is ... Will Dave Doeren be able to keep the Huskie defense productive? While the new head man knows how to coach a defense, he only inherits four returning starters from last year’s defense that led the MAC in points allowed and was 26th in the nation in total defense. The defensive front needs the most help and the secondary loses three starters, so Doeren and defensive coordinator Jay Niemann will have to work a little bit of magic this spring.

The most important position to watch is ... Defensive tackle. While last year’s interior linemen didn’t get the press or the spotlight that ends Jake Coffman and Sean Progar did, they were fantastic against the run and they held up well for their size. D.J. Pirkle and Mike Krause are gone, as is Coffman, and while the linebacking corps is good enough to clean up a slew of messes, it’s going to take some work to come up with a steady rotation on the inside. Coming up with a lock-down corner wouldn’t be bad, either.

Spring attitude... Win the MAC. Northern Illinois didn’t win the MAC title, but it was the best team in the conference. With nine starters back on offense, including likely preseason MAC Offensive Player of the Year, QB Chandler Harnish, and with some good-looking young players ready to step up on defense, the bar is set ridiculously high. Anything less than an appearance in the MAC Championship will be a disappointment, and there’s enough in the bag to win it all … finally.

Toledo

Spring Practice Begins: March 17
Game: April 15


The early spring buzz ... It’s usually misguided to assume a team is going to be fired up after a close loss in a bowl game and a rough end to an otherwise great season, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Toledo. The Rockets, according to head coach Tim Beckman, have been more fired up than normal over the last few months since the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl loss to Florida International, and there appears to be a sense around the program that it’s close to becoming a true MAC powerhouse. This is a veteran team returning, and it’s acting like it.

The big spring question is ... Does Toledo have a No. 2 receiver to help out Eric Page? On the plus side, Page was a dynamic playmaker for the offense to revolve the passing game around. The negative, though, was that the rest of the receiving corps was awful. Page caught 99 of the team’s 228 completions, RB Adonis Thomas was the No. 2 receiver with 31 grabs, RB Morgan Williams was third with 20 catches, and Kenny Stafford – Page’s backup at the M position – and tight end Danny Noble were tied with 18 catches. One of the primary goals of spring ball will be to find a second target, and it might be Illinois transfer Cordale Scott.

The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. As the cliché goes, if you have to starting quarterbacks, you don’t have a No. 1, but Toledo has a nice situation with both Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin good enough to carry the offense. The coaching staff might end up rotating the two to take advantage of the various skills, but the hope is for one to distinguish himself this spring. Dantin is back from a shoulder injury and will get to bomb away, but Owens has the better arm and isn’t going to hand over the starting gig after a strong second half of 2010.

Spring attitude... Win the MAC title. The Rockets were one of the MAC’s nicest surprises last year, and this year the experience, the attitude, and the desire is there to take a next step up. Nine starters are back on offense, eight return on defense, and both kickers are back, so there’s no excuse to not have a more consistent season. The battles at several positions should be intense, and there’s a lot to work on – most notably the special teams – but it’s all there to win the West.

Western Michigan

Spring Practice Begins: March 17
Game: April 16


The early spring buzz ... The defense comes back loaded with experience, and while the offense was supposed to be fine thanks to the return of QB Alex Carder, it got a huge boost when No. 1 receiver Jordan White was given a sixth year of eligibility because he missed all of 2006 and 2008 with a knee injury. All he did was set the school record with 1,378 yards and ten touchdowns on 94 catches. Considering Juan Nunez and his 91 catches and ten touchdowns is gone, this was a huge, huge break for the Bronco attack.

The big spring question is ... Will the offensive line be better? A disappointment throughout last year, the line didn’t pave the way for any semblance of a running game and didn’t do enough to protect Alex Carder. The Broncos were 93rd in the nation in rushing gaining just 126 yards per game, and it has to do far more even though the entire interior is gone. Guards Phillip Swanson and Nick Clemens, along with center Nick Mitchell, have to be replaced, and more is needed from tackles Anthony Parker and Dann O’Neill.

The most important position to watch is ... Offensive guard is the key spot to worry about, but weakside linebacker will get plenty of attention with Jamail Berry gone. The former star made 94 tackles last year and was strong with the ball in the air making five picks in 2009 and two last season. Dex Jones led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and came up with 46 tackles and 5.5 sacks, and now he’ll get his chance to shine in a full-time role. He could go from very good to dominant with more work and with Mitch Zajac back in the middle to pick up the slack against the run.

Spring attitude... It’s time to get back to a bowl game and it’s time to be a player in the MAC West race again. The Broncos haven’t gone to a post-season game since 2008 and haven’t made for the MAC title since 2000 despite being one of the league’s most consistently solid teams. With nine starters back on defense, seven on offense, both kickers, and QB Alex Carder, all the pieces are in place to come up with a huge season. Seven wins is a must, but being in the thick of the title chase has to be the goal in the strong division.

Click for each team's 2011 spring preview
East   Akron | Bowling Green | Buffalo | Kent State | Miami Univ. | Ohio | Temple
West  Ball State | Central Mich | Eastern Mich | Northern Illinois | Toledo | West Michigan

2011 MAC Spring Preview
- 2011 MAC Team-By-Team Schedules 
- 2011 MAC Composite Schedule & Week Rankings 
- 2011 MAC Spring Attitudes  
- 2011 MAC Early Buzz 
- 2011 MAC Positions To Watch 
- 2011 MAC Spring Rankings