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2008 Spring Preview - The MAC
Bowling Green LB Erique Dozier
Bowling Green LB Erique Dozier
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Mar 4, 2008


Just as spring ball gets underway, here are the big questions, the most important positions and more for each MAC team in the CFN Spring Preview.

Spring Preview 2008

MAC Spring Football Previews

By Pete Fiutak 
- 2007 MAC Spring Analysis
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2008 Early Lookaheads - MAC
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2008 MAC Insider Spring Questions & Answers

East 

Akron
The early spring buzz ... The big news is about a building more than the team. Construction is underway to create what should be the MAC's top place to play with a $61.5 million on-campus stadium being built for the 2009 season. If you were attached to the old Rubber Bowl, enjoy its final season before it gets tossed aside. On the field, head coach J.D. Brookhart came up with his second straight strong recruiting class, and now the expectations are growing for what should be one of the league's premier programs over the next few years.
The big spring question is ... Will the offense finally get going? It was painful at times last year and rarely consistent, so the focus this spring will be on finding something the attack can do well. Finding a No. 1 receiver to take the place of Jabari Arthur is vital, but getting the running game going will be just as important.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. The two quarterback system using Carlton Jackson and Chris Jacquemain didn't work. Jackson ran well, but struggled way too much with his passing, while Jacquemain had his passing moments, didn't run, and threw way too many interceptions. The offensive line will be solid, and the protection should be there, so now the passing has to come around. The Zips can't be last in the league in passing efficiency again.
Spring attitude... Win the close games. The Zips had a disappointing 4-8 season, but going with the season-is-half-full approach, Akron lost three second half games by seven points or fewer including two at home. Pull those three games off and it's a 7-5 season. The East is winnable, and if the offense comes around, this could be the league's big turnaround team.

Bowling Green  
The early spring buzz ... The coaching staff lost a key figure, but is keeping the main man. Head coach Gregg Brandon was signed on for another three years and is under contract until 2011. Of course, he'll still be a hot name for several coaching vacancies over the next few seasons, but at least there's a little bit of stability for a program that's not going to want to eat the contract if there's one down year. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall left for Northwestern, but former Buffalo head coach Jim Hofher was brought aboard to handle the quarterbacks.
The big spring question is ...
What was that? An excellent 8-5 season ended up going into the tank with a 63-7 loss to Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl, and now the team has to show it has more to work with than just a good passing offense. Nothing else seemed to work last year outside of QB Tyler Sheehan, but that was good enough to get by in a mediocre MAC. The Falcons need to improve everywhere to have a shot at winning the East.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Huh? All Sheehan did was throw for 3,264 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, with five coming in one game, and just two in the final eight games. Just when it seems like he's a franchise passer to build the program around over the next few years, in comes Andrew Beam, one of the biggest recruits from this year's class. The top JUCO transfer is planning on coming in and competing right away for the starting job, so if Sheehan slips at all this spring, it could be a very interesting summer.
Spring attitude... Get nastier on defense and special teams. The offense will turn out to be fine no matter who's running it, but there's a ceiling on how high the Falcons can go unless the defense can start stopping someone's running game. The line has to get into the backfield more, the punting game has to improve the field position on a regular basis, and the team could use more from the ground game. Outside of that, everything's peachy.

Buffalo  Spring Practice Begins: March 21  Game: April 14
The early spring buzz ... Turner Gill is still the head football coach. He was in the running for the Nebraska job, but got passed over for Bo Pelini and was never really considered for any of the other openings. After a stunningly strong season, with the team coming up with a 5-7 record, and a piece of the MAC East title, despite not really playing all that well offensively. Gill did a fantastic job and isn't long for UB, but his contract was extended through 2012 in a showing of commitment from the athletic department. The program has never been stronger.
The big spring question is ... Is the team actually any good? There's a ton of experience returning with ten starters back on offense and eight back on defense from the co-MAC East championship team, but how's the talent level? There's not a whole bunch of talent from top to bottom, few starters would see time on most other teams, but it's far better than it was a few years ago and there's enough skill at key spots, like at quarterback, running back and corner, to build around.
The most important position to watch is ... Outside linebacker. Everything else is in place on defense except at outside linebacker where Larry Hutchinson and Kareem Byrom, two safety-sized playmakers who combined for 172 tackles and 24 tackles for loss, with Hutchinson coming up with 19 stops behind the line. David Hubbard and Josh Copeland were good reserves last season, and now they have to show they're ready for prime time.
Spring attitude... It's time to deal with the expectations. Considering the success of last year and the experience returning, anything other than an East title will be a major disappointment. There's no reason to set the bar any lower, and if the young players who were thrown to the wolves turn into polished veterans, and if the leaders play as well as expected, this has to be considered among the league's favorites and it means it's time to think bowl game.

Kent State
The early spring buzz ... The coaching staff underwent a few changes this winter with head man Doug Martin moving offensive coordinator Zane Vance to recruiting coordinator and recruiting coordinator A.J. Pratt to offensive coordinator. Martin will relinquish his playcalling duties with Pratt getting the reins, but he'll continue to handle the quarterbacks. Considering the offense had become too reliant on the running game, a shakeup was needed.
The big spring question is ... Will there actually be more passing? Probably not right away, but the goal will be to make the air attack more efficient. The bread will still likely be buttered by QB Julian Edelman and RB Eugene Jarvis running the ball, but there can't be so many problems and predictability on third downs.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Edelman, who was playing on a bum knee to begin with, broke his arm, and then Giorgio Morgan took over before tearing up his knee. The offense went into the tank after that. The two might not be ready to go full-tilt until later this summer, so if anyone else wants to show up in the race for playing time, this spring will be vital. If anyone can show an ability to stretch the field, he'll get a shot at the starting job.
Spring attitude... Blow off what happened over the second half of last year. Kent State was 3-2 with the meat of the MAC schedule about to kick in, but injuries became a problem and the defense struggled as the season went on. After finishing up with seven straight losses, it might seem like the program is on the downslide, but there's plenty of experience on both sides of the ball to come back roaring and be one of the major players for the East title.

Miami University   
The early spring buzz ... The defending MAC East champions (actually, co-champions along with Buffalo) has more than enough on both sides of the ball to repeat, and after a fantastic recruiting class, the expectations are for the RedHawks to be even better. Sure, they played for the MAC title, but they didn't go to a bowl game because the offense floundered way too often for the second season in a row. Head coach Shane Montgomery sought to change that in a big hurry with an excellent recruiting class full of skill players who'll be expected to challenge right away for time. However ...
The big spring question is ... ... will the offensive line be any better? The front five improved after an abysmal 2006, but it wasn't exactly a strength in pass protection and in the ground game. Charlie Norden needs to be replaced at left tackle and center Steve Meister, arguably the team's best lineman, is also gone, so it's time for young players like Nate Williams and Zachary Marshall to become regulars. The skill players are in place, but they need time.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Again, the lack of production had a lot to do with the offensive line, but the running backs also need to be better. With Austin Sykes, Cory Jones and Brandon Murphy gone, the team's three leading rushers, it'll be an open casting call for a new No. 1 back with Andre Bratton, the likely main man, getting over a knee injury. True freshman Dan Green and transfer Quincy Landingham will get the first looks.
Spring attitude... Don't just win the East, dominate it. This was an underwhelming six win team with five of them coming by a grand total of 21 points and with only one blowout in a 47-14 victory over Bowling Green. With one of the MAC's best defenses returning, led by a fantastic linebacking corps that can play with anyone, and improvements to the offense, anything less than a bowl appearance and another East title, and outright one this time, will be unacceptable.

Ohio  Spring Practice Begins: March 26  Game: April 21    
The early spring buzz ... Ohio wants to win and it wants to win now. Head coach Frank Solich only brought in four JUCO transfers, but they're all expected to plug holes and see be involved from day one. The program isn't big on going the JUCO route, but it had to or else risk falling behind further and further in the improving East. Boo Jackson was a JUCO All-America quarterback, Hilton Dawson is a ready-made free safety, Patrick Tafua is a playmaker ready to make an impact, and DT Corey Moncrief will be around for spring practices and has to take over one of the vacated spots.
The big spring question is ...
Can the offense go on without Kalvin McRae? The great back carried the offense throughout the last few years with the passing game hitched along for the ride. The air attack improved by leaps and bounds last year, and was far more efficient than it was in 2006, but it was still McRae's offense when things got tight. Now it'll be up to the quarterbacks to make more plays, and it'll be vital to find new rushing options this spring.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. Brad Bower had a nice season, but he started to get shoved aside late in the year. Theo Scott got more and more time, but he's hardly a lock to take over the No. 1 spot with Boo Jackson a top dual-threat playmaker who didn't come to Athens to sit on the bench. Brandon Jones and Josh Febus are likely fighting for the No. 3 job with the odd man out likely to go elsewhere.
Spring attitude... East title or bust. Everyone in the East has an honest shot of winning the title, but Ohio has been the division's best team over the last two years and is loaded for another big run. The problem spots appear to have been solved by the recruiting class, while several positions are loaded with solid veterans.

Temple   Spring Practice Begins: March 26  Game: April 21
The early spring buzz ...
Al Golden is still the head coach, and not at UCLA, and he brought in his third straight loaded recruiting class to make Temple the MAC's "it" team going into 2008. The needle is pointing up for a program that made huge strides last year and should have the league's most talented team at the season goes on. Golden might not be around much longer, and while that might not be a plus, if he leads the team to a special year and gets the wheels in motion for the future, considering the program's recent history, Owl fans won't complain ... too much.
The big spring question is ... Is QB Adam DiMichele healthy? After battling Vaughn Charlton for the starting job, DiMichele was great as he led the way to a 3-5 start with three MAC games to go. He went down with a broken led, the offense produced ten points in three of the final four games, and the dream season was put off for at least one more year. Charlton will still get plenty of reps, but DiMichele needs to be back to his old form.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive tackle. All five starters return to a line that struggled mightily in pass protection allowing 45 sacks and paving the way to a mere 93 rushing yards per game. C Alex Derenthal is a strong anchor to build around, and now it's up to tackles Devin Tyler and Andre Douglas, or Jabari Ferguson or Charles Smith, to start producing. The improvement on the line is the key to the season.
Spring attitude... Make the jump. After winning four games in four years, the Owls took a big step winning four games last year. With ten starters coming back on offense and all 11 returning on D, and with more instant assistance coming from the recruiting class, there's reason to not just hope for a good future, but to demand a possible leap to 6-to-7 wins and be in the hunt for the East title.

West 

Ball State   Spring Practice Begins: March 23  Game: April 21
The early spring buzz ...
When you have one or two big seasons and are able to showcase a specific position and make it shine, you start to get noticed. Kelly Page is the type of quarterback recruit who you'd normally see going to a big BCS school, and he gave some thought to going to Oregon, along with Tulsa, but chose Ball State. Yeah, the Ducks landed other quarterbacks and scared Page off, but it was still a major coup for the Cardinals to get a player of this caliber to plan the offense around in a few years.
The big spring question is ... Will the defense be strong enough to do what's needed to let the offense win games? Nate Davis and the attack will be among the best in the MAC and should put up huge numbers, and now it's up to the defense to keep opposing offenses from rolling up stats, especially in the running game, like they did last year. Eight starters return on defense, with five coming back on the defensive front seven, and now everyone has to be more physical while getting into the backfield more.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Davis is on the short list of the nation's best passing quarterbacks, and the team will revolve around pitching it around again, but it's not like the ground game was ignored. Koreen Burch, a true freshman buried on the depth chart, became the main option late in the season, but Frank Edmonds was the team's top rusher. Big senior Will Bryant will also get a few carries.
Spring attitude... This is a program on the rise with a loaded team that should be even better than the 7-6 2007 version that lost to Rutgers in the International Bowl. There are MAC stars, a superstar in Davis, and a fantastic coaching staff in place to unseat Central Michigan in the West. This is a strong year in the MAC with at least seven teams that can honestly think about winning the title, but Ball State is near the top of the list.

Central Michigan
The early spring buzz ...
The good: CMU was able to branch out a big more in recruiting able to make good inroads in Florida. No, this isn't a national recruiting power, but after winning two straight MAC title games with one of the nation's most exciting offenses, high school players are starting to take notice. The bad: two good weapons off last years attack are gone. Duane Brooks would've been the team's No. 2 receiver coming into the year behind Bryan Anderson, but he chose to leave for Stephen F. Austin to play quarterback. Starting TE J.J. Watt wanted the ball more, so he left for Wisconsin.
The big spring question is ... What the heck happened to the defense? CMU wasn't just miserable on defense, it was next-level bad finishing dead last in the conference in total D, allowing 460 yards and 37 points per game. Everyone got to have fun against this group, even with a slew of good players like linebackers Red Keith and Ike Brown along with tackle Steven Friend. Eight starters are back, and step one is being able to generate more of a pass rush to help out the secondary. The run defense was fine, and should be decent, but if the defensive front doesn't get into the backfield more often, expect more fireworks.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. The secondary will need the most work, the linebacking corps has the biggest holes to fill, and more is needed from the punting game, especially with Tony Mikulec gone, but the most fun will come in the backfield where Ontario Sneed is the best back, and is coming off an ankle injury, Justin Hoskins was the team's leading rusher, Marcel Archer is a productive contributor when he got a chance, and Jahleel Addae was the team's top recruit.
Spring attitude... After winning two in a row, any thing less than a third straight MAC title will be a major disaster. Dan LeFevour is still the league's best player, joining Tim Tebow as the only quarterbacks to run and throw for 20 touchdowns in the same season, the O line will be among the league's best, and the defense can't be any worse. Everyone around the program is acting like its the premier team in the league, and it should.

Eastern Michigan    Spring Practice Begins: March 10  Game: April 7
The early spring buzz ...
Eastern Michigan might actually be good. After years of being the MAC's doormat, the Eagles played better than their 4-8 record might indicate. Now the team is loaded with seven starters returning on offense and eight on defense, but just as important is the depth; there's plenty of it. Unlike the last several years, there are living, breathing options at almost every position with the deepest team in the Jeff Genyk era. Now it all has to lead to wins.
The big spring question is ... Will there actually be more of a passing game? The offense got rolling at the end of the year, but that was mostly because the running game started to roll as it cranked out over 200 yards in each of the last four games. Bumps and bruises were an issue throughout the year, and the running of Andy Schmitt made the team a bit one dimensional at times, but to be more a player in the MAC race, the passing attack has to get going.
The most important position to watch is ... The offensive backfield. Schmitt was the man, having to carry the offense at times, and is one of the league's more intriguing dual threat players, but Kyle McMahon is every bit the same athlete and has a bigger arm. No matter who's under center, the Eagles are set. The more vital position to worry about is running back after losing Pierre Walker. Terrence Blevins, a pounder, and Dwayne Priest, a slasher, will get the first looks.
Spring attitude... Come up with a winning season. The team has been competitive and started to come up with a few close wins, unlike previous years, and now it's time to get to at least six wins and be more of a factor in the MAC race. There's too much returning experience, there's too much depth, and the coaching staff has been around for too long for this to be the same old Eastern Michigan that everyone has known and beaten.

Northern Illinois
The early spring buzz ...
The school isn't exactly thinking about football after the tragic killings brought the university to a standstill. Just getting the classes and the school rolling again is hard enough, much less getting the football team on track in a new era. The unfortunately named Jerry Kill takes over after the good, but disappointing Joe Novak era, and he plans on cranking up the offensive intensity and getting more out of the passing game.
The big spring question is ... Just how indicative of the talent level was the 2-10 season? Probably not much. NIU was one of the nation's most injured teams, with a brutal array of problems on the defensive front, while the offense never got on track thanks to an inefficient passing game. Nothing seemed to go right with turnovers, a poor return game, and every bad break going the wrong way contributed to the problems, but five of the losses came by seven points or fewer, including three by three or fewer. A little better luck, and a little more production will mean an instant turnaround.
The most important position to watch is ... Quarterback. RB Justin Anderson is a 100-yard machine and will be the centerpiece of the attack, but the passing game has to be better. Dan Nicholson is the team's best option, but he won't be ready until the summer after suffering a shoulder injury. Ryan Morris didn't show too much, but he has good experience and a nice upside. Chandler Harnish is an intriguing big bomber who'll get  a long look. With a new coaching staff, the job might be open, and Nicholson might have to prove himself all over again in fall camp.
Spring attitude... Worst to first. All 11 starters are back on defense along with almost all the key backups, while nine starters return on offense, along with all the key reserves, so experience, especially after several players were thrown to the wolves, isn't going to be a problem. If the team is able to win almost all the close games, and the new coaching staff is able to bring a new fire an enthusiasm to a program that was stuck in a bit of a rut, hitting the ceiling time and again, this could be a very, very dangerous team.

Toledo   Spring Practice Begins: March 16  Final Practice: April 16
The early spring buzz ...
After a tremendous offensive season with the Rockets leading the MAC with 448 yards per game, the coaching staff was raided with offensive coordinator John Shannon getting snagged by Marshall and tight end coach Joe Gilbert going to Houston to run the offensive line. Considering the team is coming off two straight losing seasons, the last thing it needed was to mess with the positives considering ...
The big spring question is ... ... what happened to the defense? It's not like there isn't talent to work around, SS Barry Church is special, FS Lester Richmond can hit, and Walker Atkins is a solid corner prospect, but they were all sophomores. In fact, the entire secondary was full of underclassmen, but that wasn't the problem. There wasn't any pass rush and no plays made in the backfield. The front six did nothing, absolutely nothing against the run and never generated any pressure. The coaching staff went out and loaded up on defensive players in the recruiting class with the hope of providing more competition and more of a spark.
The most important position to watch is ... Running back. Besides defensive end, with the hope of unearthing a pass rusher, the key is the running game after losing All-MAC star Jalen Parmele. DaJuan Collins appears ready to step in after rushing for 636 yards and seven touchdowns, but is he ready to be special like Parmele? Gordon Warner also needs to get involved to provide an option for a good rotation.
Spring attitude... Win the West. It's been three years since Toledo was in the MAC title discussion and two years since the league's premier program, at least the most consistent, had a winning season. The coaching staff is too good and the talent level is too strong to expect anything less than a run to a possible championship. The conference is much stronger, and it's not going to be easy, but the Rockets have to be on the short list of the true contenders if the defense comes around.

Western Michigan   Spring Practice Begins: March 15  Final Practice: April 14
The early spring buzz ...
2008 looks like it's going to be fantastic for the MAC with loaded team after loaded team and experience all over the board. Add Western Michigan to the mix. After a bizarre season with 19-2 loss to Eastern Michigan, three of the seven losses by a total of seven points, and a bowl-killing win over Iowa, the expectations are sky-high with seven starters back on offense, led by a terrific passing game, and all 11 starters returning to one of the league's best defenses. Oh yeah, and all the returning defensive starters are seniors. All of them.
The big spring question is ... What's missing? The running game could stand to be better, but it'll be fine with Brandon West and Glenis Thompson returning. The offensive line needs to replace both tackles, but that should turn out to be fine in time. No, the issue is turnovers after giving the ball away too often and too many inopportune times. If the Broncos can improve the turnover margin, they'll come up with a winning season. To do that, the offense has to be tighter, and the defense needs to get back to being the pass rushing terror it was in 2006.
The most important position to watch is ... Offensive tackle. James Blair and Matt Williams weren't great in pass protection, but they were decent. Now they're gone meaning big sophomore Anthony Parker and athletic junior Andy Laue have to show they're ready to produce. Considering QB Tim Hiller isn't all that mobile and needs time to operate, the quality of the line means everything.
Spring attitude... Bring the noise. After Ameer Ismail and company camped out in opposing backfields two years ago, the defense wasn't as good at getting into the backfield. Yes, the D was among the best in the MAC in sacks and wasn't horrible at making plays behind the line, but it wasn't the same dangerous group the wreaked havoc on scared offenses. With all the returning experience, it's time to let the dogs loose.