Thursday, August 7, 2014

College Football Preview 2014: MAC

Nobody surprised more in 2013 than Bowling Green, who sneaked in and stole the MAC title from Northern Illinois, who was headlined by Jordan Lynch. Lynch is gone, and Bowling Green's starting lineup is largely being rebuilt, but they are both still in position to win the conference, but only if they can hold off challenges from Toledo and Ball State, who both have something to say in the race, as does Buffalo. It should be another banner season in the MAC.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Bowling Green
2. Buffalo
3. Ohio
4. Akron
5. Kent State
6. Miami (Ohio)
7. U Mass

1. Northern Illinois
2. Toledo
3. Ball State
4. Central Michigan
5. Western Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Dan Enos, Central Michigan

Best Coach
Dino Babers, Bowling Green

Worst Coach
Dan Enos, Central Michigan

Bowling Green Falcons
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Dino Babers (1st season)
The Falcons came out of nowhere in 2013 and stole the MAC title, but then coach Dave Clawson parlayed that title into the Wake Forest job and bolted. I actually believe that the Falcons are in better shape with their new head coach, as they hired Dino Babers and his high powered offense away from FCS member Eastern Illinois. Babers is a disciple of both Kevin Sumlin and Art Briles, and turned EIU into a power from a doormat.
Matt Johnson enters the 2014 season as probably the best QB in the league, but he has few experienced tools to work with as the Falcons return just five starters on offense. All four starting WRs are new, but Johnson gets a huge weapon back in RB Travis Greene, who helps both in the run game and as a receiver. Both tackles return up front in Jacoby Bennett and Logan Dietz, as does Center Alex Huettel.
Only five starters return on defense as well, so finding new starters becomes a focus on both sides of the football. Bryan Thomas and Charlie Walker return at DE, but both are undersized options who have to depend on athleticism rather than bull dozing speed. LB DJ Lynch returns at LB, and is the only other returning starter up front. Ryland Ward returns at Safety, but is the only returnee in what will be a rebuilt secondary. It's unlikely that the Falcons could return to their lofty ranking of 10th nationally in total defense with this rebuild going on.
Tyler Tate is one of the best PKs in the nation after hitting 18 of 22 last fall, but the Punter job could go to a freshman in Joe Davidson.
Opening Game
8/28 Western Kentucky

Buffalo Bulls
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Jeff Quinn (17-32, 5th season)
Jeff Quinn turned a corner with the Bulls last season, winning 8 games and going bowling. However, the best player on the team, Khalil Mack, is gone. Mack is a once in a generation type player at a program like Buffalo, so he leaves a huge void. With that in mind, Buffalo could still be just as good as they were a year ago.
Joe Licata is back for another go at QB, but is coming off of hip surgery that cost him the spring. He is expected to be a go heading into the season, and is a key to making the offense work without RB Brandon Oliver, who has moved on. He will be replaced by a three man committee led by Anthone Taylor. Both WRs must be replaced, but Devon Hughes has promise. He should combine with TE Matt Weiser to give the passing game two reliable targets. The line is loaded, as every single starter returns from a strong campaign in 2013.
The defense has a common problem to many MAC schools in that they have to replace most of the line. Only NT Kritjan Sokoli returns as a starter. Lee Skinner and Adam Redden both return at LB, but can senior Jake Stockman replace Mack's numbers alone? Not likely. Cortney Lester is the lone returning starter in the secondary at CB.
The good news on defense is that most of the players in line to step into starting jobs are upper classmen, meaning that the Bulls will have experience.
Patrick Clarke will be back at PK, but 13 of 20 isn't good enough. Tyler Grassman is back at Punter, and should work at increasing his 4 yard average, but he is a master at setting teams back inside the 20 on angular punts.
Opening Game
8/30 Duquesne

Ohio Bobcats
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Frank Solich (67-50, 10th season)
The Bobcats snuck into a bowl last fall, but it may be a tall order getting them back again in 2014, as there are some serious issues on offense. All of the key players from the last couple of seasons are gone, and that leaves WR Chase Cochran as the only skill player back on offense. Derrius Vick is a pure running QB, but could face a challenge from incoming freshman Joey Duckworth, if Duckworth's knee holds up. Daz'mond Patterson should step in at RB, but two new starters must be found at WR. Three starters return on the line in LT Mike McQueen, LG Mike Lucas, and Center Lucas Powell, but the right side must be rebuilt.
The defense should be a strength in 2014, as there is a ton of starting experience coming back, especially up front. DE Kurt Laseak, NT Antwan Crutcher, and DE Tarell Basham all return on the line, and senior Cameron McLeod should start at the open DT spot. Ben Russell and Jovon Johnson both return at LB, but Blair Brown is a key as a new starter, and may be the best of the bunch. The secondary is stacked as well, as CB Devin Bass joins SS Josh Kristoff and FS Thad Ingol as returning starters.
Josiah Yazdani took over at PK halfway through the season, and hit 14 of 15 FGs. He should be a breakout star in 2014. Junior Mitch Bonnstetter should step in as the new starter at Punter.
Opening Game
8/30 at Kent State

Akron Zips
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Terry Bowden (6-18, 3rd season)
Bowden finally showed some solid gains in 2013, but it's hard to see that Akron makes an additional step forward in 2014.
The offense will be loaded in the skill positions, as almost everyone returns starting with QB Kyle Pohl. Pohl was up and down last fall, but should show some improvement this season. Jawon Chisholm is looking to find a breakout season in 2014 at RB, but isn't the best athlete in the world. There are no stars at WR, but all three starters return in LT Smith, Zach D'Orazio, and Fransohn Bickley. Travis Switzer returns at Center, and is joined by RG Joe McNamara, but there will likely be three new starters on the line, which could be problematic.
The D line is in rebuld mode, as only NG Cody Grice returns. LB is in better shape, as Justin March and Jatavis Brown return, but the Zips need a new starter at MLB to step up. Both safeties return in SS Bre' Ford and FS JOhnny Robinson, but both corners need to be replaced.
Zach Paul is a solid Punter, and will likely be even better this fall. Robert Stein was not good last fall, and could lose his job eventually if he doesn't get better than making barely over half of his tries.
Opening Game
8/28 Howard

Kent State Golden Flashes
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Paul Haynes (4-8, 2nd season)
The Golden Flashes have taken some steps back after Darrell Hazell bolted for Purdue. Haynes had a rough go last fall, and is depending on a sophomore QB in Colin Reardon, who was very bumpy last season. Traylon Durham starts at RB, but only if he recovers from foot surgery that happened in the offseason. WR Chris Humphrey is the only other skill set player back on offense, so Kent State is rebuilding big time. Both tackles return on the line, but the entire interior is new.
The interior of the D line comes back in Nate Terhune and Chris Fairchild, but both ends are being replaced. The run defense stands to get better with both LBs returning in Darius Redmond and Matt Dellinger. The secondary is being largely rebuilt with only Safety Jordan Italiano returning.
Brad Miller should win the PK job, but will he get to kick from short range like Punter Anthony Melchiori did a year ago?
Opening Game
8/30 Ohio

Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Chuck Martin (1st season)
Hiring Chuck Martin should take Miami in the right direction, but it couldn't get more wrong than it has been the last few seasons. Martin has to build toughness and discipline, but there is way more work to be done than what we can truly grade in one season. If they can win my projected four games, that would be a huge start for what has been a wayward program.
Andrew Hendrix transfers from Notre Dame, and will fill the QB job right away. He has some experienced weapons to throw to, as all three receivers are back in Dawan Scott, Alvonta Freeman, and David Frazier. Four starters return on the line, and only the Center job is up for grabs.
DE Bryson Albright and DT Mitchell Winters are back on the line, and are joined in the front seven by Kent Kern and Josh Dooley at LB. This group got run over regularly, ranking 111th nationally against the run last fall.  The secondary wasn't any good either, but it is experienced with Heath Harding, Brison Burris, and Jay Mastin all coming back.
Kaleb Patterson was a busy guy last fall, and hit 22 of 29 FGs on the season, but replacing all everything Punter Zac Murphy is imperative.
Opening Game
8/30 Marshall

U Mass Minutemen
Projected 2014 Record: 0-12
Head Coach: Mark Whipple (49-26, 7th season overall)
What was a decent FCS program has been a major disaster of an FBS program. It's never too late to go back, and that's what they should do, but of course, they won't.
Hiring Mark Whipple was a key move, as at least he understands the culture in Amherst, and has had success there in the past.
The offense will largely depend on RB Lorenzo Woodley, as a new QB must be broken in. WR Tajae Sharpe is also back and could help ease the transition from a spread offense to a conventional pro offense. Only two starters return on the line.
The line returns one starter on defense in NT Daniel Maynes. There is experience at LB in Stanley Andre, Jovan Santos-Knox, and Trey Seals. The secondary was actually decent last fall, and returns both corners in Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles. Joe Cotton is also back at Safety.
Blake Lucas was largely terrible at PK, hitting only 3 of 10 kicks last fall.
Opening Game
8/30 Boston College

Northern Illinois Huskies
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Rod Carey (12-3, 2nd full season)
Jordan Lynch may be gone at QB, but his departure actually makes the Huskies a more balanced team, and they certainly become harder to plan against without his exploits, as long as everyone else on offense steps up. It's a three way battle t replace Lynch heading into camp, where the offense will look for balance.
Whomever wins the QB job gets the benefit of having both WRs back in the starting lineup from a season ago in De'Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis. Add TE Luke Eakes back into the mix, and the Huskies could be loaded in the passing game. Cameron Stingley also returns at RB, and rushed for over 1100 yards a year ago, and could be more of a feature his fall. With four starters back on the line, that could be a serious reality.
On defense, the Huskies have much to do in replacing every starter on the line. Jamaal Bass and Boomer Mays return at LB, and will have to pick up the slack of the inexperience up front. Three starters return in the secondary, but they will all have to improve a great deal after the Huskies ranked just 105th nationally against the pass.
Tyler Wedel, who punted last fall, also adds PK duties to his resume this season.
Opening Game
8/28 Presbyterian

Toledo Rockets
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Matt Campbell (17-9, 3rd full season)
The Rockets missed out on a bowl despite winning 7 games last fall, but they could find it a tough go to get back to a bowl this fall.
There will be a new QB this season, and it could either be former backup Logan Whiteside or Alabama transfer Philip Ely. David Fluellen is gone at RB, but Kareem Hunt rushed for 866 yards as a backup last season, and now gets the premier back spot. Alonzo Russell and his 115 receptions returns at WR, as does Justin Olack and TE Alex Zmolik, giving the Rockets a deep receiving corps. The line is probably the best in the MAC, and returns four starters, with only the Center job open.
The defense was an absolute letdown last fall, and improvement is a must this fall. the front seven may be loaded, as six starters return. The line will be led by DE Allen Covington and DTs Trayvon Hester and Orion Jones. All three starters are back at LB in Trent Voss, Chase Murdock, and Junior Sylvestre, giving the Rockets one of the most experienced groups up front in the league. The secondary has some holes to fill, but CB Cheatham Norrils and SS Chaz Whittaker both return.
Jeremiah Detmer is back at PK, and is one of the very best in the country, hitting 36 of his last 37 FG tries. There will be a new Punter, but it seems locked down in sophomore Nick Ellis.
Opening Game
8/30 New Hampshire

Ball State Cardinals
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Pete Lembo (25-13, 4th season)
Pete Lembo has done a major rebuilding job in Muncie, and was nearly courted away last winter. He remains as the head guy, and that alone gives Ball State a chance in 2014.
Finding a new QB to replace Keith Wenning will be the primary goal, but whomever lands the job will Have a bit of talent to get the ball to in Jordan Williams, and youngsters Jordan Hogue and Devin Reece. Williams is the only returning starter, so the youngsters are in a battle for playing time. Three starters return on the line in QT Steven Bell, C Jacob Richard, and SG Jalen Schlachter, and they will blow some holes open for returning RB Jahwan Edwards, but the run game needs some improvement.
The Cardinals need some help in rebuilding the defensive line, as only DE Nick Miles returns from last season as a starter. Ben Ingle and Zack Ryan both return at LB, and they will need to step up to support an inexperienced line. The secondary should be loaded with three returning starters in CB Eric Patterson, SS Brian Jones, and FS Dae'Shaun Hurley. The Cardinals ranked a respectable 44th in the nation against the pass in 2013.
Scott Secor is back at PK, and is one of the best in the MAC. Kyle Schmidt returns at Punter, but had an up and down freshman year last fall.
Opening Game
8/30 Colgate

Central Michigan Chippewas
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Dan Enos (19-30, 5th season)
2014 is a make or break season for Dan Enos, who has never put together a winning record at CMU. The Chippewas have been largely average to awful under his watch, and it's bowl or bust for him. The problem is that there isn't enough talent here to get there.
Cooper Rush is back at QB this season, but his 15 INTs are not getting it done. Saylor Lavalli should will be the starter at RB full time this season, and rushed for 807 yards in 8 starts last fall. Titus Davis is a beats at WR, and had 1109 yards receiving last fall. Courtney Williams also starts again, but will Rush get them the football enough to make a difference?
The line is a huge strength, as all five starters return. This line is largely thought to be the best in the MAC. Something has to give, as the Chippewas ranked just 108th in total offense last fall.
The strength on defense is against the pass, as CMU ranked 20th against the pass last fall. Kavon Frazier, Jason Wilson, and Jarret Chapman all return there to give a core strength to the unit. LB Justin Cherocci will be back at LB, and the Chippewas need him to anchor the middle. CMU gave up over 200 yards rushing last season per game, and the front will have to work it out. DT Leterrius Walton and DE Louis Palmer return.
Ron Coluzzi is back at PK, but was very average at 12 of 17 last season. He also takes over punting duties this fall, which could be good or bad.
Opening Game
8/28 Chattanooga

Western Michigan Broncos
Projected 2014 Record: 1-11
Head Coach: PJ Fleck (1-11, 2nd season)
Not much worked last season for the Broncos, so there is only one way to go...up. Zach Terrell is back at QB, but could lose the job to youngster Chance Stewart. WR Corey Davis is the only other skill player to return in 2014, so the offense is starting from scratch in a big way. The good news is that the line returns intact.
The defense did have a nice return in the passing game, ranking 4th against the pass overall. However, when you rank 118th against the run, why would anyone throw? DT Cleveland Smith and LB Austin Lewis are the only returning starters in the front seven, so rebuilding is in order. That strong secondary boasts three returning starters in CBs Donald Cellscar and Ronald Zamort, and Safety Justin Currie.
PK Andrew Haldeman was solid last fall, hitting 16 of  20 FGs, and more will be asked of him. J. Schroeder is back at Punter, but must find direction and consistency if he's to hold the job and help out a beleaguered defense.
Opening Game
8/30 at Purdue

Eastern Michigan Eagles
Projected 2014 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Chris Creighton (1st season)
EMU hired Creighton from FCS program Drake, where he had decent success in a not horrible lower level conference, but EMU has been a loser for as long as anyone can remember. This will be a huge overhaul, and it remains to be seen if it can be done.
Hopes hang on QB Brogan Roback, who will lean heavily on RB Bronson Hill, who rushed for 1101 yards in 2014. Jay Jones is the lone returning starter at WR, but the Eagles will run a two TE set, and both TEs return in Duwhan Alford and Tyreese Russell. Both tackles (Andrew Wylie, Lincoln Hansen) and Center Campbell Allison return.
The line boasts some experience in DE Pat O'Connor and NT Omar McFarlane, and they are joined up front by the return of LB Ike Spearman, but there are three holes to fill at LB, which is a huge issue. Willie Creear is the lone returnee in the secondary, and will start at CB.
Dylan Mulder returns at PK, but barely cleared 50% on the season, and Punter Austin Barnes missed out on a 40 yard average. Not good on either count.
Opening Game
8/30 Morgan State

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