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MAC Preview 2006

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 9, 2006


Preview 2006 The CollegeFootballNews.com MAC Preview

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
Northern Illinois over Miami University

CONFERENCE OUTLOOK
Expect more of the same. Sure, Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Ball State will be better making the West a nastier division, but it’ll be Northern Illinois and defending champion Akron the favorites to meet again for the title. Despite being in the chase for the championship, Toledo, Bowling Green and Miami have to do some rebuilding. None of the five top teams is a world-beater and it’ll take a big upset to make much non-conference noise despite several high-profile games against good BCS programs. The spotlight will shine brightest on NIU and star RB Garrett Wolfe, who’ll be a threat for 2,000 yards giving the league a much-needed marquee star after losing Bruce Gradkowski, Greg Jennings and Omar Jacobs.

3 THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. The West will be far better than the East. Ohio, Kent State and Buffalo would all likely finish at the West bottom, while Eastern Michigan would have a shot at a top four spot if it was in the East.

2. Ball State will be this year’s sleeper. It beat NIU and Akron late last year once all the team’s suspensions were served and should come out strong with Eastern Michigan and Buffalo in two of its first three MAC games.

3. Akron head coach J.D. Brookhart will have a higher profile gig next year at this time.

GAME OF THE YEAR
Nov. 7th Toledo at Northern Illinois.
The Rockets had absolutely owned the Huskies until a stunning 35-17 NIU win last year in the Rubber Bowl changed all of that. These should be the two best teams in the MAC with the winner of this nationally televised showdown almost certain to represent the West in the conference title.

East Division

T1. Akron
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: QB Luke Getsy, Sr.
Offense - There could stand to be a bit more balance after being mainly a passing attack, and there needs to be more overall production after averaging 23.6 points and 384 yards per game. The offense wasn't consistent last year and will have problems getting the same performance two weeks in a row losing RB Brett Biggs and top receivers Dominek Hixon and Jason Montgomery. The cupboard is hardly bare with eight returning starters including the entire offensive line and likely All-MAC QB Luke Getsy.
Defense - The 3-3-5 defense of Jim Fleming should be even better with eight starters returning including several All-MAC candidates. Kiki Gonzalez will get more respect this season as one of the league's best linemen, while end Jermaine Reid will be a terror of a pass rusher. Linebackers Kevin Grant and Brion Stokes will more than make up for the loss of leading tackler Jay Rohr, while Rover John Mackey will be the tone-setting leader of what should be the MAC's best secondary.
This season will be a success if … Akron wins the MAC title. How do you shoot for anything less after winning it all last year? Even with seven road games a ten-win season is very possible as long as there's a second championship and a bowl victory.

T1. Miami University
Predicted record: 6-6  Conf. record: 6-2
Best Player: WR/PR Ryne Robinson, Sr.
Offense - The RedHawks threw for a ton of yards last year finishing 15th in the nation, but the attack was inconsistent and wasn't as good running the ball as it should've been. Now the line has to replace three All-MAC starters, top receiver Martin Nance, and for good and bad, veteran quarterback Josh Betts. Expect more from the ground game with an excellent stable of backs led by All-MAC candidate Brandon Murphy. The receiving corps is big, but a bit untested outside of flashy veteran Ryne Robinson. The line will be fine as long as the starting five is healthy; there's no depth whatsoever. The quarterback situation will be an ongoing saga all summer long with mobile veteran backup Mike Kokal getting the first crack at the gig.
Defense - Only two starters return from last year's solid D with the biggest concern at linebacker where finding starters is a big enough problem without worrying about reserves. The secondary should be fine with great looking prospects like CB Frank Wiwo and SS Robbie Wilson ready to play more prominent roles, and getting to the quarterback won't be a problem for the line. With the problems at linebacker and the smallish tackles (other than 306-pound Otto Linwood), stopping the run will be the primary problem early on.
This season will be a success if … Miami wins the East. Even with all the new starters this will still be among the league's most talented teams. Anything less than playing for the MAC title will be a disappointment, but that's setting the bar way too high if the injury bug strikes early on.

3. Bowling Green
Predicted record: 7-5  Conf. record: 5-3
Best Player: DE Devon Parks, Sr.
Offense - Things will change a bit with QB Omar Jacobs leaving early for the NFL. While he was one of the greatest pure passers in Bowling Green history, he wasn't mobile. New starter Anthony Turner won't throw like Jacobs did, but the offense has far more now because of his running ability. The other skill positions are bigger issues losing backs B.J. Lane and P.J. Pope and receivers Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders with little overall experience among the replacements. The line will be the strength early on with three solid All-MAC candidates to work around.
Defense - Patience will be the key word for the young defense that needs several underclassmen to play like seasoned veterans and add more speed to the front seven. Stopping the run will be the first priority after allowing 175 yards per game and 20 touchdowns, and it'll have to be quickness that does the trick with no size up front and big questions at middle linebacker. The secondary will make big mistakes early on before growing into something strong. Sophomore corners Antonio Smith and Kenny Lewis will be good ones if Devon Parks, Diyral Briggs, and the rest of the speed ends play as expected and get to the quarterback early and often.
This season will be a success if … Bowling Green wins the East. The schedule works out well with the division's best team, Miami, coming to Perry Stadium. The possibility of a ten-win regular season is there with the biggest MAC games coming at the end of the year when the team will be as jelled as it's going to be..

T4. Buffalo
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: TE Chad Upshaw, Sr.
Offense - Ten points per game. Ten. That's what the 2005 UB offense cranked out scoring a mere seven points in the first quarter. New offensive coordinator Gerald Carr has his work cut out for him. The first step to respectability will come from better play on the line, but that won't happen for a while. Drew Willy is a decent quarterback prospect who needs time to work, the receiving corps is full of decent prospects who need time to develop, and the backfield is full of decent prospects that need room to move. That means it’s up to the huge, inexperienced line that has to be far, far better than last season.
Defense - The old 4-2-5 alignment has been scrapped for a true 4-3 under defensive coordinator Jimmy Williams. That's a good thing considering the returning production at linebacker with Ramon Guzman and Jeff Bublavi leading a group that should be one of the team's strengths by season's end. The secondary will be fine once the new corners get their feet wet with safeties Kareem Byrom and Jesse Imes providing the help early on. The line has to find a consistent pass rusher to replace Aaron Sanders.
This season will be a success if … UB wins four games. Considering the Bulls haven't won more than three since moving to D-I, a four victory season would be reason for a parade.

T4. Kent State
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: DE Daniel Muir, Sr.
Offense - The one dimensional attack should be more diverse as speedy new backs Eugene Jarvis and Tony Howard should do wonders for a ground game that averaged a nation-worst 45.9 yards per game. Even with the night-and-day improvement in the backfield, it'll be hard not to wing it around with big bomber Michael Machen back at the helm for the second straight season and with a deep and talented group of receivers to work with. The line should be better if everyone can stay healthy and tackle Augustus Parrish and center Josh Perry blossom into the stars they appeared to be this spring.
Defense - The experience is there, now it has to produce. The line has two of the MAC's best all-around players in Danny Muir, who'll move from tackle to end, and Colin Ferrell, while corners Jack Williams and Usama Young could grow into the league's top tandem. The secondary has depth to burn, so the concern is up front where the front seven, in some alignment of a 3-4 or 4-3 depending on where it uses a Buck end, has to be better against the run after finishing last in the league allowing 203 yards per game. The linebacking corps will need time with three sophomores occupying the starting jobs.
This season will be a success if … Kent State wins five games. There's enough experience to expect a good year, and there's no reason not to get a few wins against teams like Army, Temple, Ohio, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan and Ball State.

T4. Ohio
Predicted record: 2-10  Conf. record: 1-7
Best Player: LB Matt Muncy, Sr.
Offense - There's no question the running game will be among the best in the MAC thanks to the return of a huge, veteran line and potential all-star RB Kalvin McRae, but the passing game needs a lot of tinkering. It's an open casting call for the starting quarterback job with veteran Austen Everson a shaky passer at best. The receiving corps has the potential to be much better with improved play from the quarterbacks with speedster Scott Mayle needing to be used more to open things up for the rest of the offense. More points will come once the passing is better. Ohio finished second-to-last in America (ahead of only Duke) with a team rating of 84.12.
Defense - Nine starters return to a defense that got shoves all over the field against the run and bombed on by anyone who could throw a football overhand. The linebacking corps will be the strength with MLB Matt Muncy among the best in the country and Tyler Russ and Michael Graham strong returning starters on the outside. The secondary should be far better even after the loss of all-star CB Dion Byrum thanks to a good-looking group of safeties. Finding some semblance of a pass rush will be the key up front.
This season will be a success if … OU win six games. That's a much, much bigger goal than it might seem with a team that returns plenty of experience after a four-win campaign. The overall talent level still isn't there compared to the better MAC teams.
 
West Division

T1. Northern Illinois
Predicted record: 9-3  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: RB Garrett Wolfe, Sr.
Offense - The nation's 16th ranked offense last season won't be quite as explosive without top receivers Sam Hurd and Shatone Powers, and the ground game might not be the same after losing a few star linemen, but there's more than enough talent returning to hang some big numbers on the board. Garrett Wolfe is one of the nation's best running backs and will be the focal point of the attack. With Adrian Davis and A.J. Harris gone, a number two runner is needed to provide some help. The quarterback situation is tremendous with Phil Horvath and Dan Nicholson each good enough to win All-MAC honors. Receiver Britt Davis is a rising star who has to blow up to open things up for Wolfe and the ground game. The tackles are the MAC's best with future NFLer Doug Free on the left side and sophomore Jon Brost on the other.
Defense - The NIU defense sacrifices size for speed, and while that was great for the back seven last year, the line didn't produce nearly enough big plays. That should change as Larry English is on the verge of being an unstoppable pass rusher on the other side of Ken West, and there's good interior quickness from sophomore Craig Rusch. However, there's almost no size. The team's biggest position battle is at corner with twins Adriel and Alvah Hansbrough looking to hold off sophomores Melvin Rice and Bradley Pruitt. Whatever happens, the competition should make for a stronger secondary. The linebacking corps will be steady, but not spectacular.
This season will be a success if … NIU wins the MAC title. It's never fun when anything less than a championship is a failure of a season, but it has gotten to that point for the Huskies.

T1. Toledo
Predicted record: 8-4  Conf. record: 7-1
Best Player: OT John Greco, Jr.
Offense - Expect more of the same from an offense that led the MAC in just about everything except passing offense, but it was the league's second most efficient attack. The ground game should be just as dominant as long as backs Jalen Parmele and Scooter McDougle can get and stay healthy. Four starters return to the league's best offensive line and should have few problems opening up huge holes. The big question is at quarterback where Clint Cochran replaces Bruce Gradkowski, but he appears to have the offense down. The passing game will be more than fine with three fantastic tight ends and a number one receiver in Steve Odom to carry a young corps.
Defense - Defensive coordinator Tim Rose did wonders in his first season turning around an awful defense. The Rockets have a flexible 3-4 alignment with the speedy outside linebackers used as pass rushing ends and the front three mostly used to stop the run. Seven starters return to the MAC's best defense, but there are leadership holes to fill losing top linebacker Anthony Jordan and longtime star safety Keon Jackson. Linebacker Mike Alston is one of the league's best pass rushers while safety Tyrrell Herbert is on the verge of all-star honors
This season will be a success if … Toledo wins the MAC title. The schedule works out well enough and the experience and talent is in place. Finding a way to get by a road trip to Northern Illinois will be key while avoiding a slip against the rest of the MAC team's they'll be favored over.

T3. Central Michigan
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: DE Dan Bazuin, Sr.
Offense - The offense became balanced and consistent last year thanks to no injuries on the line, the emergence of RB Ontario Sneed, and the play of QB Kent Smith. The line returns four starters and Sneed should be an All-MAC candidate, but replacing Smith is going to be tough. Five players are in the mix for the starting quarterback job with big Brian Brunner the front-runner. The winner gets a talented and experienced receiving corps to work with.
Defense If nothing else, it'll be one of the MAC's most interesting defenses. New coordinator Joe Tresey inherits a whale of a front seven with, arguably, the MAC's best linebacking corps along with All-America candidate and superstar pass rusher Dan Bazuin at end. And then there's the secondary. A weak spot last year, it should have major problems this season with a shaky cornerback situation, no proven depth, and decent, but unspectacular safeties.
This season will be a success if … CMU wins seven games. The schedule might be a wee bit too demanding to win the MAC West, but there's too much experience and too many good things happening on both sides of the ball for a down year.

T3. Ball State
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: QB Joey Lynch, Sr.
Offense - Early suspension, no stability on the line, and too many young, inexperienced players contributed to a disastrous season finishing 106th in the nation in total offense averaging 299 yards and 21 points per game. Fortunately, ten starters return helped immensely by a line that should be night-and-day better now that tackles Andre Ramsey and Robert Brewster aren't true freshmen anymore. Joey Lynch has the potential to be one of the MAC's better quarterbacks with a good receiving corps to throw to. There's no power in the backfield, but speed backs B.J. Hill and Larry Bostic can be effective if they get room to run.
Defense - This was one of the nation's worst defenses last year unable to do any one thing particularly well. There's hope for improvement with a good, deep linebacking corps returning and two excellent safeties in Erik Keys and Trey Lewis. The big problems are on the line and at corner. It's a big front four, but it has to generate some semblance of a pass rush to help out the average pass defense. Corners Trey Buice and Ricky Rakestraw can move, but they still have to prove they can cover.
This season will be a success if … Ball State comes up with six wins. If the team can go 4-7 last year with all the problems it had, then an extra two victories this year with so many returning veterans is a more-than-attainable goal.

T3. Western Michigan
Predicted record: 5-7  Conf. record: 4-4
Best Player: LB Ameer Ismail, Sr.
Offense- Seven starters return, but it'll be next to impossible not to see a step taken backwards after losing heart-and-soul WR Greg Jennings, all-star TE Tony Scheffler and 1,004-yard RB Trovon Riley. The offensive line is huge and experienced and Mark Bonds is a pounding runner who should keep the chains moving. Quarterback isn't an issue with Ryan Cubit and Tim Hiller both returning from knee injuries and solid enough to make everyone around them better. The real question mark is at receiver where several players have to turn into dangerous deep threats. Expect the whole to be better than the sum of the parts.
Defense - Nine starters return to what could be the X factor in the MAC race. The run defense was solid last season and no one was better in the MAC at getting to the quarterback, but the young secondary got flat-out torched. On the plus side, this is an exciting group of defensive backs that should be far better this season. The linebacking corps has the potential to be the best in the conference led by pass rushing terror Ameer Ismail on the outside. The line is nothing special, but it's experienced and has a rising star in tackle Nick Varcadipane.
This season will be a success if … WMU wins the West. There are plenty of problems and the team might be a year away from truly being a threat for the MAC title, but the schedule works out well and there's enough experience to be the division champion right now.

6. Eastern Michigan
Predicted record: 3-9  Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: WR Eric Deslauriers, Sr.
Offense - Eastern Michigan's wide open offense needs to be more consistent and far more explosive. It has speed and quickness at the skill positions working behind a big, veteran line with four starters returning, but there are big question marks at quarterback and running back. Tyler Jones leads a group of six quarterback prospects who can all run, while there's a logjam of small, quick running backs looking to complement the passing attack. Eric Deslauriers is one of the MAC's best all-around receivers and should be the star of a good corps.
Defense - The EMU defense has improved a little bit over the last few seasons, but it hasn't been a rock and it'll have to go through some big growing pains this season in the secondary losing three starters. By design, this is a ridiculously undersized defense that relies on speed and quickness to make plays, but it finished last in the MAC in tackles for loss. There are All-MAC talents in the front seven to work around in pass rushing terror Kevin Howe at end and rising superstar Daniel Holtzclaw at middle linebacker. Overall, the D has to be better against the run and stronger on third downs.
This season will be a success if … EMU wins six games. This isn't a good enough team to even think about winning the MAC title, but the team hasn't won more than four games in a season since 1995 and getting five or six victories would be a nice stepping stone.