Monday, February 6, 2017

Farewell to 2016: MAC

2016 was not a banner year for most MAC clubs, as only 4 of 12 teams finished with a winning record. Of course, one of those winning teams had the best year in their history in Western Michigan, winning 13 games in a row before falling to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. Toledo was solid under first year coach Jason Candle, Ohio was largely hit and miss while finishing 8-6, and Eastern Michigan had their best season in almost 30 years while winning 7 games. The rest of the league either slipped (Akron), or were just plain awful (Buffalo, Kent State, Ball State). Here is a lok at the season that was in the MAC...

Ohio Bobcats
8-6 (6-2)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Texas State 56-54
Beat Kansas 37-21
Lost to Tennessee 28-19
Beat Gardner-Webb 37-21
Beat Miami (Ohio) 17-7
Beat Bowling Green 30-24
Lost to Eastern Michigan 27-20
Beat Kent State 14-10
Beat Toledo 31-26
Beat Buffalo 34-10
Lost to Central Michigan 27-20
Beat Akron 9-3
Lost to Western Michigan 29-23 (MAC Title Game)
Lost to Troy 28-23 (Dollar General Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Hampton, 9/8 at Purdue, 9/16 Kansas, 9/30 at U Mass
MVP Offense: WR Sebastian Smith
MVP Defense: LB Blair Brown
Best Win: Toledo 31-26
Worst Loss: Central Michigan 27-20

The Breakdown: The Bobcats had a very streaky season on the way to winning the East Division in the MAC, and were actually lucky that most of the division was quite bad, as all it took was a 6-2 record to secure a bid to the MAC title game. Ohio began the season with an awful loss to Texas State, and after losing to Tennessee by 9 two weeks later, they were off to a rocky 1-2 start. The Bobcats then went on to win 6 of their next 7 games, with only a loss to Eastern Michigan to break up the streak, but then fell back once more, floundering to just a 1-3 finish, including losses in both the MAC title game to Western Michigan, and a loss to Troy in the bowl game.
In all, the offense, which has often been the case in recent years, lacked up front star power, but WR Sebastian Smith, was a stand out at times, catching 55 passes for 900 yards and 4 scores. He averaged 16.36 yards per catch on the season, and torched Tennessee for 9 catches for 156 yards. He also went over 100 yards against Gardner-Webb and Eastern Michigan.
Defensively, Ohio was once again very solid, allowing just 22.6 points per game on the season. Ohio held teams to 24 points or less 7 times in 2016. LB Blair Brown was the star on that side of the football, as he led the team with 128 tackles, or 9.14 tackles per game. Brown finished with 15 TFLs, which included 4.5 sacks on the season. Ohio allowed just 104 yards rushing per game, which was good for 5th in the nation.
Moving Forward: Quinton Maxwell will likely not have to share the job at QB any longer with Greg Windham moving on. Maxwell played better than Windham often enough, and had a QBR that was just shy of 14 points higher. His TD to INT ratio was better at 2:1, and his yards per attempts were higher as well. Leading rusher Dorian Brown returns after rushing for 825 yards, but he has to be more effective as the lead back. Maleek Irons returns as the primary backup as well. Smith and Jordan Reid, the two top receivers, are gone, but Papi White, a converted RB, and a strong cast of reserves will return to take over lead roles in the passing game.
Defensively, Brown is gone, but there is plenty of talent returning to prevent any implosions on that side of the football. 8 of the top 12 tacklers are returning, and Quinon Polingwill return in the front seven, along with DL Cleon Aloese. They combined for 23.5 TFLs last season.
The non con schedule is set up for success, as the Bobcats have a better than even chance to win all 4 of those games. Winning the MAC East once again is within reach.

Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks
6-7 (6-2)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Iowa 45-21
Lost to Eastern Illinois 21-17
Lost to Western Kentucky 31-24
Lost to Cincinnati 27-20
Lost to Ohio 17-7
Lost to Akron 35-13
Beat Kent State 18-14
Beat Bowling Green 40-26
Beat Eastern Michigan 28-15
Beat Central Michigan 37-17
Beat Buffalo 35-24
Beat Ball State 21-20
Lost to Mississippi State 17-16 (St. Petersburg Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Marshall, 9/9 Austin Peay, 9/16 Cincinnati, 9/30 at Notre Dame
MVP Offense: Gus Ragland, QB
MVP Defense: Heath Harding, DB
Best Win: Central Michigan 37-17
Worst Loss: Eastern Illinois 21-17

The Breakdown: The season looked lost after a loss to Akron by 22 points dropped the Hawks to an 0-6 start for 2016, and Chuck Martin's job status looked questionable. Miami then ran off an improbable 6 game winning streak, starting the very next game in with a narrow win over hapless Kent State. The reality was that only 2 of those wins came against teams that finished with a (barely) winning record, but it was an infusion of success that this program desperately needed right now.
Gus Ragland was not the starting QB when the season started, but he took the job by the horns, passing for 1537 yards in 7 games, with 17 TDs to just 1 INT. Once he took over as the starter, he never looked back again. He averaged 219 yards passing per game, and locked down a QBR of 166.6, a stunning number. He completed 64.2% of his passes on 25.5 attempts per game, and added a shot of energy to the lineup that had an immediate impact.
On defense, Miami also improved over that final 6 weeks of the regular season, allowing more than 24 points just one time during that streak, and they held Mississippi State to just 17 points in a one point loss in the bowl game. Miami only scored 22 points per game on the season, but the defense only allowed 23.8, which was almost an 8 point improvement from 2015. DB Heath Harding finished with 67 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 11 PBUs, and 3 QB hurries, while adding 4 INTs on the year to win my MVP award for defense.
Moving Forward: The Red Hawks have momentum going into 2017, despite the loss to Mississippi State to end the year. That 6 game winning streak was literally like watching a switch get flipped in the mindset of these players, and the rockets ignited. The schedule is a bit tough next fall. Miami gets Cincinnati at home, but travels to what should be an improved Marshall squad, and has to travel to Notre Dame. Nobody will be asking for miracles, but if the Hawks start winless again, there could be trouble brewing. Ragland will be a junior, and Billy Bahl is back as well, so Miami will be loaded at QB. The top 3 backs return as well, giving the offense another boost, and 8 of the top 10 receivers return as well.
Harding will return to lead the defense as a senior, and 9 of the top 12 tacklers return, including leading tackler Tony Reid, who finished with 98 on the season.
Miami will be in a prime position to make a run at Ohio for the East title in 2017, but they must get off to a solid start for this to happen. In this game, it is often the early losses that kill you in the end, and Miami cannot afford to slip backwards.

Bowling Green Falcons
4-8 (3-5)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Ohio State 77-10
Beat North Dakota 27-26
Lost to Middle Tennessee 41-21
Lost to Memphis 77-3
Lost to Eastern Michigan 28-25
Lost to Ohio 30-24
Lost to Toledo 42-35
Lost to Miami (Ohio) 40-26
Lost to northern Illinois 45-20
Beat Akron 38-28
Beat Kent State 42-7
Beat Buffalo 27-19

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Michigan State, 9/9 South Dakota, 9/16 at Northwestern, 9/23 at Middle Tennessee
MVP Offense: Fred Coppet, RB, Scott Miller, WR
MVP Defense: Trenton Greene, LB
Best Win: Kent State 42-7
Worst Loss: Memphis 77-3

The Breakdown: The early part of the season was rough for the Falcons under first year coach Mike Jinks, as they started out just 1-8, and that one win was a one point squeak out against FCS member North Dakota. There were 2 complete massacres in losses against Ohio State and Memphis, where Bowling Green was outscored 154-13, and a 20 point loss to Middle Tennessee.
The good news is that Bowling Green finished strong on a 3 game win streak, but none of those wins came against teams with a winning record on the season, so take your wins where you can get them.
James Morgan started as a freshman at QB, and the results were predictable. He finished with 2082 yards passing, but averaged just 173.5 yards per game. He also finished almost even with 16 TDs to 15 INTs. Fred Coppet, despite a medocre to bad passing game, managed to have a strong outing as a senior, rushing for 1030 yards and 8 scores, while averaging 5.05 yards per carry. The run game as a while was solid, averaging 180.83 yards per game, with backups Josh Cleveland and Donovan Wilson combining for 1152 yards and 7 scores. Scott Miller also did his part in the passing game, catching 74 passes for 968 yards and 10 scores.
The defense for Bowling Green was a train wreck. The Falcons allowed 38.3 points per game, which had them tying for the 117th ranked scoring defense in the nation with Purdue and Arizona. They were almost 23 points worse than they were in just 2012 in that category. The Falcons allowed just over 273 yards passing per game, and 190.2 yards rushing per game. The Falcons ranked just 113th in the nation in total defense out of 128 teams.
LB Trenton Greene did manage to stand out after 111 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.
Moving Forward: It's difficult to know where things stand coming off of a 3 game winning streak against a group of teams that won just 10 collective games in 2016. The offense was not great at times, and the defense was a mess.
Of course, Morgan returns at QB, but his numbers have to start emerging in the right areas, so we will watch for his development in the two camps. Coppet is gone, but Cleveland and Wilson both return, so the Falcons could have a credible run game, and 7 of the top 8 receivers return, so we should see some improvements across the board.
Fixing the defense is paramount, as allowing over 38 points per game is not tenable if you want to compete to win the division. They would not get close to that level if this defense remains the same or near where they are currently. 10 of the top 14 tacklers all return, but the heart and soul of the unit, Greene, is gone. Someone, or hopefully a group of someones, can step up and replace his production.
I don't see Bowling Green winning the MAC East in 2017, but if they can just beat who they should beat, a bowl could be in the mix. If the defense does not massively improve, forget that I even brought up a bowl.

Akron Zips
5-7 (3-5)

2016 Schedule
Beat VMI 47-24
Lost to Wisconsin 54-10
Beat Marshall 65-38
Lost to Appalachian State 45-38
Beat Kent State 31-27
Beat Miami (Ohio) 35-13
Lost to Western Michigan 41-0
Beat Ball State 35-25
Lost to Buffalo 41-20
Lost to Toledo 48-17
Lost to Bowling Green 38-28
Lost to Ohio 9-3

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Penn State, 9/9 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 9/16 Iowa State, 9/23 at Troy
MVP Offense: Jerome Lane, WR; Jo Jo Natson, WR
MVP Defense: Ulysees Gilbert III, LB
Best Win: Miami (Ohio) 35-13
Worst Loss: Buffalo 41-20

The Breakdown: The 2016 season was a real let down for the Zips after they went bowling in 2015. Akron fell short of returning to the post season by virtue of a season ending 9-3 loss to Ohio, but the opportunities were there for Akron before that loss, but the Zips finished the season with 4 consecutive losses and a lot of questions to answer after failing to make a bowl for the second straight season, especially when one of those losses was to a Buffalo team that won just 2 games all season.
While the Zips did not have the best QB play in the MAC in 2016, they certainly had some of the best receivers in the conference in Jermoe Lane and Jo Jo Natson. Lane, a converted LB, caught 62 passes for 1018 yards, while Natson finished with 59 receptions for 839 yards and a team leading 10 scores. Lane averaged 16.42 yards per catch, while Natson averaged 14.19.
Some of the struggles for Akron could be because of 4 missed games by QB Thomas Woodson, who missed 4 games, including that season finale against Ohio. When he was healthy, Woodson was solid, passing for 2079 yards in 8 games to go with 18 scores to just 6 picks. Woodson had a solid QBR of 152.08, and averaged 30.3 passes per game. When he was out, the passing game fell sharply under Tra'Von Chapman, who completed just 44% of his passes as a junior in 10 appearances. The run game was a bit of a dud, with Van Edwards leading the team with just 492 yards rushing.
As for the defense, Akron had some massive issues. The Zips allowed 33.6 points per game on the season, and allowed 38 points or more 7 times. The Zips finished just 1-6 in those games. They allowed 241.3 yards passing per game, allowed 224.67 yards rushing per game, and also allowed 27 rushing TDs against. Their rush defense was ranked just 107th in the nation, and their pass defense was ranked 79th.
Ulysees Gilbert III managed to stand out in the chaos, as he finished with 121 tackles as a sophomore. he added 11.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 3 PBUs, and 2 forced fumbles, and was the MVP for defense.
Moving Forward: Terry Bowden had the team primed for another bowl at the end of October, as the Zips needed just one win to head back to the post season. That win never came, and now there are losses that need to be replaced, especially in Lane, who was a once every 20 year talent at a place like this. Woodson should be back as a senior, but his health is in question. His lost time cost the Zips dearly this season. Van Edwarda and Manny Morgan are both back at RB, but there is little depth behind them, and they combined to run for under 1000 yards this season. Natson was a senior, and Lane is leaving early. Finding replacements will be difficult, at best.
Defensively, Akron has a ton of work to do. Gilbert, the star on defense, returns. 8 of the top 12 tacklers return, but 3 of the losses could decimate the secondary. That is where any rebuilding will likely have to begin. Someone other than Gilbert has got to help put pressure on the backfield, as he was the only player close to double figure TFLs, and Akron needs to increase on their 16 sacks as a team.
If passing targets can be found, the run game gets going in any way, the secondary gets some help, and more pressure can be applied up front, the Zips could make a run at the division. If any one of those things fail to materialize, there could be another empty December.

Kent State Golden Flashes
3-9 (2-6)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Penn State 33-13
Lost to North Carolina A&T 39-36
Beat Monmouth 27-7
Lost to Alabama 48-0
Lost to Akron 31-27
Beat Buffalo 44-20
Lost to Miami (Ohio) 18-14
Lost to Ohio 14-10
Beat Central Michigan 27-24
Lost to Western Michigan 37-21
Lost to Bowling Green 42-7
Lost to Northern Illinois 31-21

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Clemson; 9/9 Howard; 9/16 at Marshall; 9/23 at Louisville
MVP Offense: Nick Holley, QB
MVP Defense: Terence Waugh, DL
Best Win: Central Michigan 27-24
Worst Loss: Bowling Green 42-7, North Carolina A&T 39-36

The Breakdown: 2016 represented yet another nightmare in the long losing history of the Kent State football program. After starting 2-4, and losing 5 of their last 6 games of the season, I still find myself wondering how coach Paul Haynes survived to coach in 2017, after it was long thought by many sources throughout the year that this would indeed be his last season in charge. Instead, Kent State finishes at 3-9, has just 2 wins in MAC play, and yet Haynes is still in charge heading into spring ball in 2017. Kent State even lost to MEAC member North Carolina A&T, which was the first ever FBS win for the Aggies. It was an embarrassing turn for the Golden Flashes.
It was stunningly difficult picking an MVP for offense, but I decided at the last minute to afford it to QB Nick Holley after he passed for just 868 yards, but ran for 920 yards and 10 scores. He was basically the only player on offense worth considering. He passed for just 868 yards and 4 scores to 3 picks, and completed just 49% of his passes. In short, the offense was a disaster, as they only averaged 141.7 yards passing per game. That was good for 121st nationally out of 128 programs. That is a disaster. They did manage to run for 167 yards per game, but overall, this offense ranked just 125th in the nation, making them one of the 4 worst offenses in all of college football.
On the defensive side, Kent State allowed 28.7 points per game, much of which was generated by the unit having to stay on the field for too many minutes due to an offense that could not stay on the field. The Golden Flashes did continue their tradition of defensive line development, as Terrence Waugh was a bright spot on an otherwise sinking unit. Waugh finished with 64 tackles, 15 TFLs, 8 sacks, and 7 QB hurries. As a unit, they allowed 189 yards rushing per game, and 196.8 yards passing per game.
Moving Forward: Somehow, someway, Haynes is still the coach. That does not bode well moving forward. The passing game is non existent. The run game is a myth. Offensively, there is nothing going on. Holley returns at QB, what will be interesting is seeing if Mylik Mitchell could get a chance to push him out of the job, as he is a better passer and game manager than Holley is. Justin Rankin is back at RB after rushing for 511 yards as a freshman, and it is time to take the leash off of him and let him go. Only 3 receivers broke 20 receptions in 2016, and one of those was Rankin. Finding some quality receivers will be imperative.
On the defensive side, 5 of the top 7 tacklers are gone, and that could be painful, as depth was not plentiful for Kent State. Waugh is one of those departing, and that will be the biggest hit of all.
It is easy to conceive of Kent State finishing 1-3 in non con action in 2017, and the roof could cave in in conference play. Either way, it looks like 2017 will finally see the end of the failed Paul Haynes tenure at Kent State.

Buffalo Bulls
2-10 (1-7)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Albany 22-16
Lost to Nevada 38-14
Beat Army 23-20
Lost to Boston College 35-3
Lost to Kent State 44-20
Lost to Ball State 31-21
Lost to Northern Illinois 44-7
Beat Akron 41-20
Lost to Ohio 34-10
Lost to Miami (Ohio) 35-24
Lost to Western Michigan 38-0
Lost to Bowling Green 27-19

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 8/31 at Minnesota, 9/9 at Army, 9/16 Colgate, 9/23 FAU
MVP Offense: Jordan Johnson, RB
MVP Defense: Khalil Hodge, LB, Brandon Crawford, DL
Best Win: Army 23-20
Worst Loss: Albany 22-16, Kent State 44-20

The Breakdown: Lance Leipold has learned the hard way that FBS football is a far cry from the ranks of D3. Buffalo actually regressed in year two under Leipold, finishing just 2-10, with wins over Army and Akron, but the 10 losses also included dropping the season opener to FCS member Albany. In all, the Bulls finished 1-8 after beating Army in their 3rd game of the season.
The problems started on offense, where the Bulls averaged just 16.5 points per game all season. Buffalo finished with 20 or fewer points in a game 8 times in 2016, and finished just 126th in the nation in scoring offense.
Buffalo finished averaging 200.5 yards per game passing, and ran for 153 yards pr game, but all of that was between the 20s. Tyree Jackson started as a freshman at QB, and passed for 1772 yards, with 9 TDs and 9 INTs. His overall QBR was horrible, at just 104.68, and he completed just 53.1% of his passes. Jordan Johnson was my MVP on offense, as he rushed for 1040 yards and 6 scores on 5.2 yards per carry. He averaged just 16.67 carries per game. Jackson was second on the team with just 399 yards rushing. Only 3 actual receivers went over 20 receptions last fall, and 2 went for 40 or more.
Defense was a problem for the Bulls, as they allowed 32.3 points per game, almost double what they scored on offense. Most of the damage against the Bulls was done in the run game, as they allowed over 253 yards rushing per game, which ranked them 124th in the country.  Khalil Hodge was a bright spot on defense, as the LB racked up a team leading 123 tackles, with 7 TFLs on the year. Brandon Crawford was solid up front, finishing with 54 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, and 4 sacks.
Moving Forward: Year 3 will be critical for Leipold's Bulls, as they should be turning some kind of corner. That being said, I don't know how that will happen. Jackson will be a sophomore QB looking for growth, and Johnson is gone at RB. Four of the top 10 receivers are gone as well, including the top 3. It will be difficult to repair this offense with so many new faces having to take charge.
Defensively, there could be some signs of improvement, as 9 of the top 12 tacklers return, including Hodge. Crawford is gone, which could be a huge hit up front. The D line actually will lose 3 starters heading into spring camp.
With what is coming back on paper, it would seem that Buffalo does not have what it takes to get out of the bottom of the east, but they could make a run to finish 5th over Kent State.

Western Michigan Broncos
13-1 (8-0)

2016 Schedule
Beat Northwestern 22-21
Beat North Carolina Central 70-21
Beat Illinois 34-10
Beat Georgia Southern 49-31
Beat Central Michigan 49-10
Beat Northern Illinois 45-30
Beat Akron 41-0
Beat Eastern Michigan 45-31
Beat Ball State 52-20
Beat Kent State 37-21
Beat Buffalo 38-0
Beat Toledo 55-35
Beat Ohio 29-23 (MAC Title Game)
Lost to Wisconsin 23-16 (Cotton Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at USC, 9/9 at Michigan State, 9/16 Idaho, 9/23 Wagner
MVP Offense: Zach Terrell, QB; Jarvion Franklin, RB, Corey Davis, WR
MVP Defense: Robert Spillane, LB; Keion Adams, DL, Darius Phillips, DB
Best Win: Toledo 55-35
Worst Loss: None

The Breakdown: It was the best season in school history for the Broncos, winners of their first 13 games of the season before dropping to Wisconsin in a hard fought Cotton Bowl loss to the Badgers.
This team was loaded all over the field. Zach Terrell had a huge season once again, passing for 3533 yards and 33 TDs to just 4 INTs on the season. Following the season, Terrell was a finalist for the All-Bilo National QB of the Year, and was inducted into the Bilo/Conlon Family Hall of College Football Legends. Corey Davis, Terrell's favorite targets and one of the best receivers in the nation, as also a difference maker once again. Davis caught 97 passes for 1500 yards, averaging over 100 yards per game. He also caught 19 TD passes on the season, while averaging 15.46 yards per catch. The most underrated player on this offense was RB Jarvion Franklin, who quietly rushed for 1353 yards and 12 TDs. He averaged 5.46 yards per carry. Other big contributors were backup RB Jamauri Bogan (179-923-8) and WR Michael Henry (63-779-4). WR Carrington Thompson added 6 TD catches. The Broncos averaged 252.4 yards passing per game, 228.86 yards rushing per game, and scored 41.6 points per game, which was good for 9th in the nation. The Broncos finished 19th nationally in total offense.
Defensively, the Broncos only allowed 19.8 points per game. It was a stellar season for a trio of performers who shared my MVP honors for this defense. LB Robert Spillane was a rock, collecting a team leading 111 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Keion Adams was a brick wall up front, as he finished with 49 tackles, 18 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, 12 QB hurries, and 3 forced fumbles. Darius Phillips was a leader in the secondary, as he finished with 4 INTs, 3 of which were taken back for scores. He broke up a total of 9 passes on the season.
Moving Forward: PJ Fleck looked like he would be back in 2017, but then the Minnesota job opened up, and it was too good to pass up for Fleck. Former WMU QB Tim Lester has returned to the school as head coach in his place.
Lester is losing some major pieces to his game board in 2017. Terrell is gone, as is Davis, Henry, and Thompson at receiver. Franklin will be back, and may have to be a bigger part of the new offense under Lester and his staff. Nobody returns at receiver who caught more than 25 passes last season, and most did not catch 20. Tom Flacco will get first crack at the QB job, but attempted just one pass in 2016.
On the defensive side, 9 of the top 11 tacklers return, but Adams is moving on, leaving a huge gap up front. The LB corps should be one of the best in the nation, and the secondary boasts the return of Justin Tranquill and Phillips. With all of this talent coming back in 2017, the defense may be the strength of this football team. The Broncos play USC and Michigan State on the road to open, so expect no miracles here.

Toledo Rockets
9-4 (6-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat Arkansas State 31-10
Beat Maine 45-3
Beat Fresno State 52-17
Lost to BYU 55-53
Beat Eastern Michigan 35-20
Beat Bowling Green 42-35
Beat Central Michigan 31-17
Lost to Ohio 31-26
Beat Akron 48-17
Beat Northern Illinois 31-24
Beat Ball State 37-19
Lost to Western Michigan 55-35
Lost to Appalachian State 31-28 (Camellia Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 8/31 Elon, 9/9 at Nevada, 9/16 Tulsa, 9/23 at Miami
MVP Offense: Logan Woodside, QB; Kareem Hunt, RB; Cody Thompson, WR, Michael Roberts, TE
MVP Defense: Ja'Wuan Woodley, LB; John Stepec, DL
Best Win: Central Michigan 31-17
Worst Loss: None

The Breakdown: For Toledo, this was a season of what could have been. Jason Candle won 9 games in his first season after taking over for Matt Campbell, but the losses that the Rockets collected were particularly painful, even if they were to credible teams. The 2 point loss to BYU was painful, because the Rockets failed to defend on the entire last drive in the loss. Losing to Ohio was painful because it came right before the Bobcats started to fall apart. The loss to Western Michigan, well there is not much one can derive from that. In all, the Rockets finished on a 2 game losing streak, spoiling what may have turned into a great season with an extra bounce or two.
The Rockets averaged 38 points per game on the season, and finished 19th in the nation in scoring offense. Like Western Michigan, Toledo was loaded on the offensive side of the football. Logan Woodside exploded in 2016, as he passed for 4129 yards and 45 TDs to just 9 INTs on the year. He completed 69.1% of his passes, and averaged 317.6 yards passing per game  while averaging 32.2 attempts per contest. He rolled up an amazing QBR of 183.34. Kareem Hunt was also great last fall at RB, having rushed for 1475 yards and 10 scores. He averaged 113.46 yards per game, while carrying the ball 20.15 times per game and averaging 5.63 yards per carry. Cody Thompson was a beast at WR, posting a line of 64-1269-10 on the season, while averaging 19.83 yards per grab. TE Michael Roberts was impressive as well, catching 45 passes for 533 yards and a whopping 16 scores. Jon'Vea Johnson was overshadowed at times, but managed to catch 10 TD passes as well.
As for the defense, Toledo gave up just over 25 points per game, but gave up 55 in the loss to BYU. The Rockets were not great at stopping the run, which cost them in their losses. They allowed 175.77 yards per game rushing, and another 220.8 passing yards per game. Ja'Wuan Woodley was the best of the LBs for the Rockets, as he finished with 77 tackles, 13 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He also collected 5 QB hurries. John Stepec was a beast up front, as he recorded 71 tackles, 14 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 15 QB hurries, 3 PBUs, and 2 forced fumbles.
Moving Forward: Logan Woodside returns at QB for the Rockets, and that, to me, makes them the early favorites to win the MAC in 2017. With Hunt gone at RB, the Rockets will look to Terry Swanson, a senior in 2017, and Art Thompkins, who will be a sophomore. Hunt was a huge star at RB, and will be difficult to replace. Corey Jones and Michael Roberts are both gone in the passing game, but Thompson and Johnson both return. Toledo should be fine passing the football.
Defensively, I am certain that coach Candle will want to see some improvements, especially when it comes to running the football. Woodley returns, but Stepec moves on. The Rockets also lose DeJuan Rogers from the secondary. If the Rockets can find the right replacement parts on defense for those lost, Toledo should have no issues in taking the west next season.

Northern Illinois Huskies
5-7 (5-3)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Wyoming 40-34
Lost to USF 48-17
Lost to San Diego State 42-28
Lost to Western Illinois 28-23
Beat Ball State 31-24
Lost to Western Michigan 45-30
Lost to Central Michigan 34-28
Beat Buffalo 44-7
Beat Bowling Green 45-20
Lost to Toledo 31-24
Beat Eastern Michigan 31-24
Beat Kent State 31-21

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/1 Boston College, 9/9 Eastern Illinois, 9/16 at Nebraska, 9/30 at San Diego State
MVP Offense: Kenny Golladay, WR
MVP Defense: Jamaal Payton, LB
Best Win: Eastern Michigan 31-24
Worst Loss: Western Illinois 28-23

The Breakdown: The Huskies were off the rails before the season even got going, as they started the season just 1-6, including a loss to FCS member Western Illinois. Nobody expected for that to happen this season, and so there was plenty of early grumbling about firing Rod Carey, which I always found to be baseless and nuts. The Huskies turned it around, but not in time, as they won 4 of their final 5 games to finish at 5-7.
Drew Hare, who was supposed to start this season, worked in all of 2 games before an injury took him down. He appeared in the loss to Western Michigan, but never got to attempt a pass, and was never heard from again. Anthony Maddie and Ryan Graham did their best in his absence, but neither were spectacular in that role. Maddie was a better runner than passer, but that was not what this offense needed. Joel Bouagnon was decent, but not great, as he rushed for 885 yards and 8 scores, but teams largely stacked the box against him with the uneven QB play happening in front of him. WR Kenny Golladay was the real star on offense, having caught 87 passes for 1156 yards and 8 scores. He averaged 13.29 yards per catch, while catching 7.3 passes per game,.
The defense has been progressively slipping for the past 4 years, and that is something that must be corrected. The Huskies allowed 30.3 points per game this season, a number that has slowly climbed in that time period mentioned. They allowed 250.7 yards passing per game, while also allowing 200.83 yards rushing per game.
LB Jamaal Payton was the star on a wrecked defense, as he tied with LB Sean Folliard for the lead in tackles with 81. Payton also led the team with 8.5 TFLs, and added 3 sacks.
Moving Forward: The Huskies slow start doomed them in 2016, which is a trait that Carey and staff will try not to replicate in 2017. The non con schedule is split with 2 winnable games, and 2 they will be dogs in. Hare will likely not be back at QB, so the job falls between Ryan Graham and Daniel Santacaterina, as Maddie leaves as well. Bouagnon is gone as well, leaving the RB job to Jordan Huff, who will be a senior. Depth behind him is not great. Golladay is gone as well, as is Aregos Turner, leaving Christian Blake as the most experienced receiver returning.
Payton and Folliard are both gone on defense, leaving two gaping holes in the middle for the Huskies. With so much talent heading out the door (4 of the top 10 tacklers are now gone), improving on that defensive slippage may be too much to ask for.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
7-6 (4-4)

2016 Schedule
Beat Mississippi Valley State 61-14
Lost to Missouri 61-21
Beat Charlotte 37-19
Beat Wyoming 27-24
Beat Bowling Green 28-25
Lost to Toledo 35-20
Beat Ohio 27-20
Lost to Western Michigan 45-31
Lost to Miami (Ohio) 28-15
Beat Ball State 48-41
Lost to Northern Illinois 31-24
Beat Central Michigan 26-21
Lost to Old Dominion 24-20 (Bahamas Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Charlotte, 9/9 at Rutgers, 9/30 at Kentucky, 10/14 at Army
MVP Offense: Brandon Roback, QB
MVP Defense: Pat O'Connor, DL, Jason Beck, DB
Best Win: Wyoming 27-24, Ohio 27-20
Worst Loss: Northern Illinois 31-24, Missouri 61-21

The Breakdown: This was probably the best season I have seen EMU have since I was in high school, and suffice to say, that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The Eagles shocked everyone by winning 4 of their first 5 games, but finished just 3-5 the rest of the way to finish 7-6 after a bowl loss to Old Dominion.
Brogan Roback was a driving force for EMU as he passed for 2694 yards in 10 games, with 18 scores against just 7 INTs. He averaged 37.2 attempts per game as the Eagles found a way to open up some offense. In all, the Eagles averaged 296.1 yards per game passing. The Eagles also managed to rush for 159.08 yards per game, with Ian Eriksen leading the way with 771 yards rushing and 9 scores. Sergio Bailey was the top target in the passing game, as he posted a line of 60-868-7. Diuly Aristilde was a deep threat as well, as he averaged over 19 yards per reception.
DB Jason Beck was all over the place in 2016, leading the Eagles with 104 tackles on the season. He finished with 7 TFLs, and 3 PBUs as well. DL Pat O'Connor finished with 42 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, and added 16 QB hurries and 5 forced fumbles. EMU still allowed 29.8 points per game, 265.2 yards passing per game, and 167.54 yards rushing per game.
Moving Forward: The Eagles now have to prove to the nation and to themselves that they are moving the needle forward, and must not allow any slippage back to their losing ways in 2017. Roback is back at QB, The top 3 backs all return, and the top 9 receivers all come back as well. The top 7 tacklers all return as well, but O'Connor is not to be on of them, as he has graduated. Kyle Rachwal may be a huge star next fall at LB.
There are more than enough pieces coming back to make a run in the West, but the Eagles must avoid falling backwards. The non con schedule is tough, with games against Kentucky and Army, but games against Rutgers and Charlotte are winnable.

Central Michigan Chippewas
6-7 (3-5)

2016 Schedule
Beat Presbyterian 49-3
Beat Oklahoma State 30-27
Beat UNLV 44-21
Lost to Virginia 49-35
Lost to Western Michigan 49-10
Beat Ball State 24-21
Beat Northern Illinois 34-28
Lost to Toledo 31-17
Lost to Kent State 27-24
Lost to Miami (Ohio) 37-17
Beat Ohio 27-20
Lost to Eastern Michigan 26-21
Lost to Tulsa 55-10 (Miami Beach Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 8/31 Rhode Island, 9/9 at Kansas, 9/16 at Syracuse, 9/30 at Boston College
MVP Offense: Corey Willis, WR
MVP Defense: Joe Ostman, DL
Best Win: Oklahoma State 30-27
Worst Loss: Tulsa 55-10, Kent State 27-24

The Breakdown: After a blowout win over Presbyterian to open the season, the Chippewas hit the road to Stillwater, Oklahoma, where they were big dogs against Oklahoma State on the road, but the Chippewas did not fall for the dog role, as they came back late to upset the Cowboys. Had CMU rode that wave more effectively, they may have been better off than 6-7 in year 2 under John Bonagamo. Somehow, they managed to lose to Kent State, and were a non factor in a 45 point bowl loss to Tulsa.
Cooper Rush probably not like the way he went out in 2016 after a strong career with the Chippewas, but he still had some moments this last fall. He passed for 3540 yards and 23 TDs, but also tossed 16 picks to close out his college career. Corey Willis was his top target, as he posted a line of 71-1087-9. He averaged 15.31 yards per catch on the season. Rush averaged 272.3 yards per game. CMU lacked a solid run game all season long, as they averaged just 115.92 yards per game on the ground. WR Mark Chapman and TE Tyler Conklin combined for 10 TD receptions on the season.
The defense was not great, as the Chippewas allowed 30.3 points per game. CMU allowed 222.9 yards passing per game, and 169 yards rushing per game. DL Joe Ostman finished with 69 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 9 sacks, 6 QB hurries, and 2 forced fumbles on the season to earn my MVP award for defense.
Moving Forward: Bonagamo has kept CMU hanging around at .500 for his 2 seasons thus far, but that may not be good enough in year 3. The division is stacked with Western Michigan and Toledo, and what should be improved teams in Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan. Keeping up with the crowd has gotten difficult, and Cooper Rush is gone. Devon Spalding is back at RB, and may be more important than ever in 2017 with absolutely no target in place as of yet to replace Rush, and 6 of the top 9 receivers will return, which may make that passing game transition handle a little smoother. In short, CMU could very well find themselves back at 5th in the West once again.

Ball State Cardinals
4-8 (1-7)

2016 Schedule
Beat Georgia State 31-21
Lost to Indiana 30-20
Beat Eastern Kentucky 41-14
Beat FAU 31-27
Lost to Northern Illinois 31-24
Lost to Central Michigan 24-21
Beat Buffalo 31-21
Lost to Akron 35-25
Lost to Western Michigan 55-20
Lost to Eastern Michigan 48-41
Lost to Toledo 37-19
Lost to Miami (Ohio) 21-20

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Illinois, 9/9 UAB, 9/16 Tennessee Tech, 9/23 at Western Kentucky
MVP Offense: James Gilbert, RB
MVP Defense: Aaron Taylor, LB
Best Win: None
Worst Loss: Akron

The Breakdown: Year one of the Mike Neu era did not go as well as was hoped for in 2016. Ball State lost 7 of 8 to close out the season, including a 5 game losing streak to wrap everything up at 4-8. That record is surprising after considering the Cardinals had started at 3-1 before the wheels came off of the wagon.
The Cardinals did manage to score a respectable average of 27 pints per game, but Riley Neal struggled as a sophomore at QB. He passed for 2541 yards and 13 TDs, but also tossed 12 picks.
James Gilbert was the star on offense, as he managed to rush for 1332 yards and 12 scores, while averaging 5.31 yards per carry. Neal was more effective as a runner, as he rushed for 540 yards and 8 scores. KeVonn Mabon was solid as a receiver, posting a line of 85-972-3.
The Cardinals defense allowed 30.1 points per game on the season, which was a bane of their existence. They allowed 319 yards passing per game, 150.58 yards rushing per game, and their pass defense was one of the worst three in America.
Aaron Taylor finished with 85 tackles at LB in 2016, and finished with 11.5 TFLs. Sean Wiggins led the team with 109 tackles.
Moving Forward: It is hard to see any way that the Cardinals climb out of the West gutter in 2017. Neal will be back at QB, Gilbert returns at RB, And Mabon is gone, but the Cardinals next 3 best receivers all return.
Defense is where the Cardinals will hurt a ton. The top 5 tacklers all depart, including Wiggins and Taylor. That kind of production void may be impossible to replace all at once.
The non con schedule is difficult as well, with potential losses coming to Illinois and Western Kentucky. My assessment tells me not to look too much to the Cardinals for miracles in 2017.

No comments:

Post a Comment