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MAC Preview 2006 - Top 5s
Posted Aug 9, 2006 2006 MAC Preview MAC Top 5s

1) The five games that will shape the MAC race (in order)
Oct. 14, Northern Illinois at Western Michigan
NIU ran all over the Broncos last year. Western Michigan must come up with some payback to have any hope of being in the West race.
Oct. 21, Miami Univ. at Akron

Call this a possible elimination game in the East race. It's a must-win for the RedHawks with road games ahead against Western Michigan and Bowling Green.
Nov. 4, Bowling Green at Akron
If this doesn't turn out to decide the East title, it'll play a major role in who'll play in the championship game.
Nov. 7, Toledo at Northern Illinois
The two best teams in the MAC happen to be in the West. The winner will be the favorite to win the title.
Nov. 15, Miami Univ. at Bowling Green

If nothing else, this might decide a bowl bid.

2) Five non-conference games that MAC opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Wisconsin at Bowling Green, Sept. 2
The Badgers will be strong as the year goes on, but there are several holes that need to be filled. Will everyone be ready in the opener?
2. Northern Illinois at Ohio State, Sept. 2
Yeah, the brand new Ohio State defensive back seven should be fine, but dealing with NIU star RB Garrett Wolfe and the strong Huskie line will provide a nasty test right off the bat.
3. Toledo at Iowa State, Aug. 31
This has the look of a great mid-level bowl. The Rockets could catch the Cyclones trying to work the kinks out.
4. Northern Illinois at Iowa, Oct. 28
The absolute last thing the Hawkeyes will want to deal with in the middle of the season is the Huskie running game. Iowa plays Michigan the week before.
5. Kent State at Virginia Tech, Nov. 4
Play this game on September 9th and the Hokies win by 40. Play this game the week after Tech's trip to Miami and things could get interesting.

3) Five best MAC pro prospects
 Northern Illinois OT Doug Free, Sr.
The rest of the college football world has finally starting to recognize how good the 6-7, 302-pound senior is. Free will be a ten-year NFL cog and an early first day draft pick next year thanks to his freakish combination of tight end speed and defensive tackle strength. The next-level scouts would probably like to see him add another 15 pounds to his relatively lanky frame, but that's nitpicking. It'll be his quickness and athleticism that gets him the big payday.
2. Bowling Green C Kory Lichtensteiger, Jr.
The starter at left guard for all 11 games last year, the 305 Lichtensteiger earned second-team All-MAC honors. He's a nasty all-around blocker who'll move to center where he should be the anchor up front and an all-star for the third straight season.

Eastern Michigan P/K Andrew Wellock, Sr. (as a placekicker)  - 18-25 FGs, 22-24 extra points, 57 punts, 2,183 yds, 38.3 yards per punt
One of the nation's best kickers, Wellock has nailed 52 career field goals with fantastic range and consistency. While he's an All-America placekicker, he's a mediocre punter needing to use his big leg to get more blast on his kicks.

Miami WR/PR Ryne Robinson, Sr. - 75 catches, 1,119 yds, 14.9 ypc, 8 TD
Robinson is back as one of the MAC's most dangerous all-around players with a 167 career catches for 2,519 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with being one of the nation's best punt returners. He's not all that big at 5-10 and 169 pounds, but he can really, really move. More of a kick returner than a receiver early in his career, he blossomed last season as the number two man behind Martin Nance. Now he'll be the number one target, but he missed spring ball playing baseball for the RedHawks. 

Ohio WR Scott Mayle, Sr. - 21 catches, 338 yds, 16.1 ypc, 3 TD
Will Mayle ever get the ball on a consistent basis? He's one of the MAC's fastest players with 4.3 speed, and now he has to get the ball in his hands more after being all but forgotten after the opening day four-catch, 100-yard day against Northwestern. He's a premier deep threat who'll also get a few carries a game when the passing attack isn't quite working.

4) Five biggest MAC shoes to fill 
Western Michigan WR Ben Bleck-Owens for Greg Jennings
The 6-2 sophomore will take his size and speed to the outside where he has to show he can be close to as dangerous as Jennings. He can't be, but he has the potential to be a dangerous playmaker and the new top deep threat. 

Kent State DE/LB David Filippi for Justin Parrish
Filippi will start out at the Buck, part end, part linebacker, where he'll have to try to replace Parrish. While he won't be nearly the pass rushing machine Parrish was, he has the potential to be one of the team's most dangerous players if he's able to just be used to get into the backfield. He'll combine with Bruce Rice for the job.

3. Central Michigan QB Brian Brunner for Kent Smith

Brunner is a strong, mobile 236 pounds with a good arm and a solid command of the offense. Even though he was the number two man last year, he's hardly a lock for the starting job needing to keep proving himself with each practice. With his time in the system, and the physical tools to run the attack almost like Smith was able to last year, he'll be the man to beat after looking great in spring ball.

4. Bowling Green QB Anthony Turner for Omar Jacobs

Thrown into the mix when Omar Jacobs got hurt, Turner had a few decent moments, but the offense struggled against three bad defenses: Western Michigan, Akron, and Kent State. At 6-2, 226-pound sophomore is more mobile than Jacobs and has a good arm. Now he has to prove he can lead the offense to points and the team to wins. 
The 232-pound junior has to replace Greenway on the weakside and has the talent to put up big numbers. While he's nowhere near the athlete Greenway is, he's very fast and should be great in pass coverage. Staying healthy has been his problem so far. If he can stay on the field, he'll be one of the team's top tacklers. 

5. Toledo QB Clint Cochran for Bruce Gradkowski
Cochran isn't nearly the runner Bruce Gradkowski was, but he's a bigger passer with a live arm and a solid knowledge of the offense. He saw a little bit of time last season starting in the blowout loss against Fresno State with 163 passing yards and a touchdown with an interception. He's a very smart, very tough player who should do more than fine in the starting role.

5) Five MAC breakout players
1. Bowling Green WR
Marques Parks, Soph. - 9 catches, 114 yds, 12.7 ypc
The new main man at the X, Parks turned into a starter halfway through the season before getting knocked out for the year. He has decent size and nice deep speed, but it's asking a lot for him to be as productive right away as Charles Sharon was. 

Kent State RB Tony Howard, Soph.
The Michigan State transfer brings top-end speed to the backfield and more size than Eugene Jarvis. While he's not a power back, he's 200 pounds and can run with some pop.

3. Northern Illinois WR
Marcus Perez, Soph.
The return of Perez after academic problems gives the NIU offense even more speed. He caught ten passes for 168 yards in 2004 and was a deadly kickoff returner.

Toledo WR Trumaine Smith, Soph.
Expect Smith to finally grow into a star. He's 6-4 and 211 pounds with warp 4.3 speed. He was a big recruit for the Rockets and is just now going to get in the mix as the fourth receiver and possible starter on the outside.

Miami TE Tom Crabtree, Soph. - 1 catch, 2 yards
The only tight end on the roster with any experience, the 6-5, 224-pound sophomore is a terrific athlete who could grow into a 40-catch type of receiver. He has spent most of his time on special teams, but he appears ready to be a big-time addition to the RedHawk offense.