The Redhawks have produced a who’s who
of coaches including Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, Paul Brown,
Red Blaik, Sid Gillman, Weeb Ewbank, and the recently deceased Randy
Toledo once went undefeated three
consecutive seasons, winning 35 games in a row and also finishing in the top
10. The Rockets’ upset of Penn
State to open the 2000 season re-established the MAC as a power to be reckoned
with. Subsequent upsets by Northern
Illinois over Maryland and Alabama in 2003, gave the MAC the respect it
deserves, and starting this season, three guaranteed bowl bids will be handed
out with the possibility of a fourth bid coming if the Big East fails to produce
their allotted bowl eligible teams.
The MAC media voted Akron to repeat in
the East this year followed by Miami, Bowling Green, Ohio, Kent State, and
Buffalo. In the West, Northern
Illinois was tabbed the best, followed by Toledo, Western Michigan, Central
Michigan, Ball State, and Eastern Michigan. Northern Illinois was the overwhelming
choice to win the MAC Title game.
The PiRates differ a little with the
official predictions, and whereas they show the Sunbelt to differ by only 10
points from top to bottom, they show a difference in power by more than four
touchdowns between the highest and lowest-rated MAC
1. Akron Zips
National Ranking: 81
A year after losing their best ever
quarterback in Charlie Frye, who now starts for the Cleveland Browns, the Zips
actually increased their passing yardage by almost 40 yards per game after Luke
Getsy inherited the position. Getsy
threw for 23 touchdowns and 3,455 yards as Akron won four of their last five
games in 2005 and copped the MAC crown.
The Zips open the 2006 season
comfortably ranked first in the East.
Not only does Getsy return to lead the offense, his entire starting
offensive line returns as well.
Give an excellent, experienced passer even more time to spot receivers,
and he will pick defenses apart.
Tight End Kris Kasparek should be
Getsy’s key outlet man on conversion downs. The Zips use the Ace formation with two
tight ends, so that position will receive more balls than other four receiver
formations. The Zips lost their two
starting wide outs who combined for 123 catches and 15.5 yards per
reception. There is still adequate
talent with Jabari Arthur ready to step in and be the prime deep
The running game loses 1,230-yard
rusher Brett Biggs, who also caught 65 balls. Akron only ran the ball 43% of the time
last year, and new tailback Dennis Kennedy, an Ohio State transfer, should step
in for Biggs and rush for at least 800 yards if he remains healthy. Kennedy could be utilized well on draw
plays to take the heat off Getsy.
Leading the division’s top offensive
line are center Andy Willis and tackle Tim Crouch.
Defensively, Akron will surrender less
points and yards than they did in 2005, when they gave up 24.5 points and 340
yards per game. Look for some
improvement against the run and even more against the
The Zips use a five-man secondary, led
by rover John Mackey. Mackey
recorded 95 tackles with 8.5 of them behind the line. He only intercepted one pass, but he
really played more up in the line like a
Linebacker Brion Stokes returns after
recording 11 tackles for loss and 89 total tackles in 2005. Linebacker/Defensive End combo Kevin
Grant added 11.5 stops for loss and should see that number go up this
A trio of contributing cornerbacks
return to a strong secondary.
Reggie Corner (whereas would he play), Davanzo Tate, and Dionte Henry
combined for 24 passes defended.
Akron’s schedule starts out with three
road games. The first two are at
Penn State and North Carolina State.
Could the Zips pull a Toledo and upset the Nittany Lions on opening
day? If Getsy has a big day and the
defense holds up, they could make a game of it. Akron gets Bowling Green and Miami at
home, and because of this, they should retain the East Division title. However, I think they will come up short
in the MAC Title game. They could
be on the bowl bubble with a record of 7-6. One other possible fly in the
ointment: Offensive coordinator Jim
Pry left for Illinois after the spring semester
2. Bowling Green Falcons
National Ranking: 92
The Falcons underachieved last year,
finishing just 6-5. Part of the
reason was the loss of star quarterback Omar Jacobs for three games (BGU lost
two of those games). Jacobs departs
after tossing 26 passes into the end zone against only seven
On the surface, it looks like the
Falcons are in for a rough time this season. They lose a majority of starters on both
sides of the ball.
Offensively, quarterback Anthony
Turner takes over for Jacobs. Last
year, he failed to get the job done in relief of the injured star, but he ran an
offense not tailored to his skills.
Turner is more mobile than Jacobs, and this year’s offense will allow him
to run wide with a run-pass option.
Much like Akron, BGU returns a strong
offensive line. Center Kory
Lichtensteiger and guard Derrick Markey will open holes for the new running
backs to gain key yardage up the middle and force linebackers to pursue a little
slower when Turner fakes and runs to the perimeter.
The running game will have to produce
results, as the passing game will be considerably weaker this year. The top two receivers combined for more
than half the 2005 receptions and over 60% of the yardage. Trying to help overcome the big loss are
Ruben Ruiz and Corey Partridge who caught a combined 34 passes for 491 yards
(14.4 per catch).
The 2006 defense will surrender more
yards per play this year, but thanks to more ball control on offense, they may
give up fewer yards and points.
The Falcons should have a quicker
front seven and should pursue the run better than they did last year. Taking away sacks and QB kneel-downs
from the equation, BGU gave up close to five yards per rush. Linebacker Terrel White returns after
leading the team with 100 tackles, nine of them behind the line. He broke up five passes as
Defensive tackle Brad Williams and
defensive end Devon Parks both have all-MAC potential. New starters Diyral Briggs and Nick
Davis will allow the Falcons to improve their pass
The secondary gave up 204 yards per
game last year with star defensive back Jelani Jordan defending 13 passes,
picking off six. Cornerback Antonio
Smith and free safety Deaudre Perry will have to step up and make some big plays
or the Falcons could find themselves having to win games in
Bowling Green has two tough Big 10
opponents on their schedule. They
open with Wisconsin in Cleveland and must go to the horseshoe to face Ohio State
on October 7. In league play, they
must play at Akron, Ohio, and Toledo.
Don’t figure on seeing the Falcons in the MAC Title game, but they could
challenge for a winning record and possible bowl
3. Ohio Bobcats
National Ranking: 94 (t)
It took one year for former Nebraska
head coach Frank Solich to move the Bobcats from a weak passing team to a
semi-strong running team. In year
two, he may propel the Bobcats to the top half of the East standings, as Ohio is
loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. If the ball bounces just right, Ohio
could be this year’s Akron. That
will only happen if the passing game does better than 118 yards and 45.5%
completions and the pass defense improves by volumes on last year’s averages of
283 yards and 62.7% completions.
The offense ran the ball at a 4.5 yard
pace last year and should post even better numbers this season. Tailback Kalvin McRae returns after
rushing for 1,153 yards at 5.5 yards per carry in 2005. If he stays healthy for all 12 games,
McRae could run the ball 300 times for 1,650 yards this season. He has a knack for getting an extra one
to two yards as he is being tackled.
Former Brentwood High School
quarterback Austen Everson will have to battle Brad Bower for the starting job
this season. Everson proved to be
an agile runner, but he could not consistently pass the ball down the
field. Bower is a transfer from
Illinois with starting experience, where he guided the Illini to a 2-2 record in
four 2004 starts (Illinois went 1-6 in games he did not
Whoever starts at quarterback will
have a couple of experienced wide outs to catch his passes. Justin Fitzgerald and Scott Mayle only
caught a combined 40 passes last year for 574 yards and four scores, but that
was 44% of the passing yardage production.
The offensive line is team strength,
and it will allow McRae to possibly one for a mile’s worth of yardage. Guard Matt Miller and tackle Matt
Coppage will vie for all-MAC honors.
Defensively, the Bobcats were too
giving against the pass last year, allowing 10 of 11 teams to pass for 230 or
more yards. That stat should
improve this year with two talented returnees returning in the secondary with
the addition of a quality transfer.
Cornerback T.J. Wright and safety and Todd Koenig should do better than
their combined five interceptions and 12 passes defended. Former Virginia Tech Hokie Michael
Hinton will contribute immediately.
At free safety, he has world-class speed and can cover any deep threat
without getting beaten.
The Bobcats have three talented senior
linebackers returning. Matt Muncy
led Ohio with 115 tackles from his middle linebacker spot. Nine of those tackles went for
losses. He also defended seven
passes. Tyler Russ and Michael
Graham contributed 142 tackles, 12 for losses from their outside linebacker
The defensive line has a couple of
all-MAC-quality athletes. Nose
guard Shane Yates and end Jameson Hatke should help Ohio lower the 4.5 yards per
carry they surrendered a year ago.
Wide receiver Mayle also serves as the
Bobcats’ chief kick returner, and he is one of the best. Last year, he took one to the house,
while averaging better than 27 yards per return.
Ohio has the potential and talent to
win the East Division this year, but both the defense and the passing game will
have to improve. It may be another
year before the Bobcats are ready to seriously challenge for league honors, but
they will definitely be a better team in 2006 than they were in 2005. A favorable schedule should give them a
chance to challenge for seven wins and bowl
4. Miami of Ohio Redhawks
National Ranking: 99
After several years of excellent
football, 2006 may be the biggest rebuilding season in Oxford, OH since 1993,
the last time this team suffered a losing record.
The biggest concern is on the
defensive side of the ball where nine starters and 10 of the top 11 tacklers
graduated. Only one of the front
seven 2005 starters returns this year, and Miami could play matador defense
against the run. Craig Mester
returns to one defensive end position, but the 243-pound anchor only registered
27 stops a year ago. Fellow end Joe
Coniglio weighs only 233, so enemy tackles could make more pancakes than
The Redhawks lost all but one player
from the two-deep at linebacker.
Outside backer Dontae Wright will have to become a star; he may record 80
or more tackles, but too many of them could be in downfield
The secondary has some talent with
safety Joey Card and cornerback Frank Wiwo on hand. Card is the lone returning tackler
mentioned earlier. He also defended
six passes, with three of them interceptions.
Offensively, Miami lost six starters,
but they should be in decent shape this year. Quarterback Mike Kokal takes over for
Josh Betts after Betts threw for close to 3,200 yards last year. Kokal doesn’t have the arm Betts had,
but he is a much more mobile scrambler who can run. With a green offensive line, Kokal may
be running a lot more than he wants to.
The Redhawks are strong in the running
game. Brandon Murphy returns after
topping 1,000 yards last year and earning 2nd Team All-MAC
honors. Backups Jimmy Murray and
Jimmy Calhoun return as well after combining for 453 yards at a 4.2 yard
Miami had two exceptional receivers in
2005, and one of them returns this year.
Gone is leading pass grabber Martin Nance, who hauled in 81 passes for
1,107 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Brandon Murphy returns after catching 75 throws for 1,119 yards and eight
scores. Josh Williams has deep
threat potential. A year ago, he
caught 19 passes for 308 yards.
The offensive line is a concern. If they gel, Miami could actually stay
above .500 and be a dark horse candidate for the East title. If they don’t come together in a
cohesive group, then Miami will lose more than they win. The right side will be the primary
running side, with returning linemen Steve Meister and Charles Norden starting
at guard and tackle respectively.
Miami should benefit from a rather
easy schedule when compared to other MAC teams. Out of conference, the Redhawks host
Northwestern, while going to Purdue, Syracuse, and Cincinnati. They could come out 2-2 in those
games. In league play, they must
venture to Akron, Buffalo, Western Michigan, and Bowling Green; they host Kent
State, Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Ohio. It isn’t impossible for them to win four
or five of these games and avoid a losing season. It all depends on whether the offense
can outscore their opponents, since it will probably take 30 points to win most
of their games.
5. Kent State Golden Flashes
National Ranking: 107
Can a team that finished 1-10 in 2005
actually have a chance to go from worst to first in a six-team division? Kent State won only one game last year,
and that one was against a non Division I-A team. They even lost to Buffalo for cryin’ out
loud! This year, the Golden Flashes
should be more than a tiny spark with the return of 18 starters. While they should be at least a
touchdown better, I don’t think they are ready to leapfrog over the rest of the
Let’s start with the ugly. Kent State rushed for 505 yards last
year. Which game, you ask? Oops, that was the output for the entire
11 games. Even against I-AA
Southeast Missouri State, they rushed for 24 yards on 23 attempts (five were QB
sacks). Against 1-10 Buffalo, the
Flashes managed a grand total of -37 yards.
Well, the good news is things have to
get better because they can get worse.
An experienced offensive line returns with three fairly competent
blockers on hand, while a fourth lineman may be the best of the lot. Center Kiff Kincaid, guards Craig Rafdal
and Michael Galassi will join new starter Augustus Parrish at tackle. Kent State could easily triple their
rushing statistics this year with this quartet
Michael Machen returns to direct the
Kent State offense. Last year, with
no balance to take away some of the pass rush, Machen completed 55% of his
passes for 5.7 yards per pass attempt.
Those numbers should be better this year. Look for 58% completions and 6.5 yards
per attempt. That should mean at
least 250 yards should be gained through the air.
On the other end of Machen’s tosses
will be three experienced receivers.
Najah Pruden and Marcus Hill each nabbed 33 passes in 2005 and should
both increase that number by 15 to 20 additional receptions; Pruden is a threat
to go the distance nearly every time he catches a ball in the open. Cameron Bobb is an excellent possession
receiver at 6-5 and could be the Flashes’ leading receiver this
The running game should have a new
duet sharing the load. Redshirt
freshman Eugene Jarvis and Michigan State transfer Tony Howard should give KSU
some consistency on the ground.
Jarvis weighs only 158 pounds and stretches to reach 5-5, so his strength
could be his invisibility. He won’t
be able to carry the ball 20 times a game.
Howard is more powerful but won’t be confused for Jerome Bettis.
Defensively, Kent State gave up 30
points a game last year, but remove the SEMO and Buffalo games, and the Flashes
gave up close to 35 per game.
The first priority this year will be
coming up with a consistent run defense.
The Flashes recorded 21 sacks and 70 additional tackles behind the
line. Yet, they gave up over 200
rushing yards per game. Tackle
Colin Ferrell and end Daniel Muir should combine for 120 stops with 20-25 stops
behind the line.
Sophomore linebackers Stevon Moss and
Cedrick Maxwell return after starting as freshmen last year. Fellow sophomore Jameson Konz will make
this a young unit.
The good news about the secondary is
that the three leading returning tacklers come from this unit. The bad news about the secondary is that
the three leading returning tacklers
come from this unit. Hoping
to make fewer tackles this year are talented Fritz Jacques, Andre Kirkland, Jack
Williams, and Usama Young. The
quartet registered 262 tackles a year ago, but they only intercepted six
The pieces are in place for Kent State
to challenge for a winning record.
If by some quirk of fate all the East teams beat up on each other and 5-3
wins the division title once again, Kent State could actually be in the thick of
the division race. The Golden
Flashes will be much better this season.
The four teams starting the year ahead of them in the PiRate ratings are
not overpowering. Kent State could
finish anywhere from first to fifth, but they start the season looking up at the
other four contenders. Let’s call
2006 the first year on the road to respectability and predict the Flashes to win
at least four or five times.
6. Buffalo Bulls
National Ranking: 119 (that’s dead last)
Welcome to the head coaching world
Turner Gill. You’re taking over a
program that has won fewer games in their seven years of I-A football existence
(10) than you averaged per year as a
starting quarterback at Nebraska (11).
Look at the numbers from the Bulls’
2005 season. They averaged 10
points per game; 280 total yards per game; 4.2 yards per play; and they didn’t
score a touchdown until their fourth game of the season. Defensively, they surrendered 30 points
per game, but they were not all that bad.
They only gave up 364 yards per game and held two bowl teams, Rutgers and
Akron to 17 and 13 points respectively.
The offense could score up to a
touchdown more per game this season; the parts are present for Gill’s new
offense to bear fruit. It all rests
on whether a young, but big offensive line comes together after surrendering 43
quarterback sacks in 2005. The five
projected starters average 301 pounds per man. Center Jamie Richard could even earn
some all-MAC votes.
Quarterback Drew Willy had his moments
as a starting freshman quarterback, but those moments were few and far
between. He completed 60.6% of his
passes, but those completions only averaged 9.9 yards. He threw just six touchdown passes while
throwing twice as many interceptions.
Willy will be familiar with his
starting trio of receivers. All
three starters return. Tight end
Chad Upshaw and wide outs Brett Hamlin and Evan Wallace caught a combined 100
passes for 1,087 yards, reaching the goal line five
Look for the running game to be
featured more this season. Tailback
Chris McDuffie returns to his starting spot after missing all of last year with
an injury. He has the quickness to
make the offense successful. Look
for Gill to run the famous Nebraska counter sweep to burn aggressive defensive
pursuit; McDuffie should break away for at least one long touchdown run on this
The defense lost some quality players,
but enough talent returns to keep the Bulls from giving up too many additional
points this year. Buffalo will
scrap the 4-2-5 defense in favor of the 4-3 this year. Unfortunately, no starters return to the
front four, and maybe a 3-3-5 defense would have been a better
Ramon Guzman leads the trio of
linebackers. 6 of his 51 tackles
from last season went for lost yardage.
Fellow linebacker Jeff Bublavi tips the scale at just 194 pounds; he can
pursue with quickness, but he is a liability against lead plays, where bigger
fullbacks can take him out of the play.
The secondary lost its top player when
Gemara Williams graduated taking his 14 defenses passes with him. Kareen Byrom returns to his strong
safety position after leading the Bulls with 85 stops a year
Buffalo begins the season with their
equivalent of the Super Bowl. The
Bulls open the season at home on a Thursday night against Temple. Both teams have new coached and will be
sky high for this contest. The
loser stands a chance of going 0-12, so this one will feel like the game of the
century to both teams. For the
Bulls, their remaining out-of-conference games will be murderous. They have to visit Auburn, Boston
College, and Wisconsin. Figure on
three losses by an average of 35-40 points. A home game against Ball State offers
them one other chance at a win.
Turner Gill will lose more games this year, than the Cornhuskers lost in
his four years in uniform.
1. Toledo Rockets
National Ranking: 58
In the 2000’s, Toledo has re-emerged
as the class program of the MAC.
What Gary Pinkel started, Tom Amstutz has maintained. The Rockets are 55-19 in the last six
seasons with four bowl appearances.
The 2000 team trounced Penn State at Happy Valley and won 10 games. The 2001 team finished with 10 wins
Last year, Toledo won nine games
including an impressive blowout win over UTEP in the GMAC Bowl. What can the Rockets do for an
encore? How about winning the MAC
title and another nine or even 10 games?
Normally, when a MAC team loses a star
quarterback like Bruce Gradkowski, they are expected to tail off
offensively. However, Toledo has
another gem in Clint Cochran. As a
freshman, Cochran filled in as an emergency starter when Gradkowski went
down. He just completed an eye-popping 74.4%
of his passes, albeit almost entirely of the five to seven-yard variety,
averaging just 8.2 yards per completion.
Look for Cochran to throw downfield more this year and put up about 200
yards per game through the air.
Cochran may have time to read the
sports pages when he drops back to pass.
The Rockets have the best offensive line in the MAC. Junior tackle John Greco should be an
NFL draft pick in 2008. Neighboring
guard David Perkins combines to make the left side as strong as most Big 10
teams. Unlike most MAC lines, the
Toledo line has tons of depth.
The four leading 2005 pass receivers
return to the fold this year. Steve
Odom, Chris Hopkins, Nick Moore, and Andrew Hawkins caught 138 passes total for
1,663 yards and 17 touchdowns. The
three wide outs all have breakaway speed, while tight end Hopkins can catch the
ball over the middle with a safety ready to bust him in the ribs.
The running game should produce more
than the 217 yards it produced in 2005.
Running behind the solid line will be two backs who should both average
better than 4.5 yards and possibly better than 5.0 yards per rush. Scooter McDougle returns after missing
2005 with a knee injury. McDougle
can run inside with power and go outside with speed. Jalen Parmele isn’t as powerful as
McDougle, but he has more speed.
Defensively, Toledo is almost as
strong in the line as their offensive counterpart. The Rockets return all three of their
2005 starters, a trio that combined to make 13 stops for
Outside linebacker Mike Alston
terrorizes enemy quarterbacks. Last
year, he placed passers on the ground 9.5 times. Michael Chamberlain occupies the other
outside linebacker spot and can come hard on dogs and blitzes almost as
proficiently as Alston.
The secondary lost some talent, but
enough talent returns to make the Rockets tough to pass against. Cornerback Nigel Morris and safety
Tyrell Herbert should compete for All-MAC honors this year. They each defended seven passes last
Toledo’s non-conference schedule is
not as harsh as other MAC teams.
Away games against Iowa State and Pittsburgh are winnable, while Kansas
and McNeese State must visit the Glass Bowl. In conference play, a Tuesday night game
at Northern Illinois is the key contest, as the winner of that game is most
likely to advance to the MAC title game as the
My personal guess is Toledo will
record double digit wins and play in the Motor City Bowl as the MAC
2. Northern Illinois Huskies
National Ranking: 69 (t)
Back in 1969, new Maryland basketball
coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell told Terrapin fans that he would turn his team
into the “UCLA of the East.”
Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak could have easily made a similar remark
when he assumed command of the Huskies.
Novak has turned NIU into the Fresno State of the Midwest. Just like Coach Pat Hill’s Bulldogs have
failed to actually win the WAC, the Huskies have not actually won the MAC in
their current run.
This year, NIU has enough talent
returning to finally get over the hump and win the MAC title. While Toledo starts the season as the
highest rated MAC team in the PiRates, the Huskies get the benefit of hosting
the Rockets on Election Night, November 7.
It all starts on offense with the best
running back in the league. Garrett
Wolfe ran for 1,580 yards in 2005, scoring 16 times. Every time he carried the ball, he
averaged an amazing 6.5 yards a try.
Give him an opening, and he is off to the
Wolfe will run behind a veteran pair
of tackles. Jon Brost performed
well as a freshman last year, while Doug Free should be on an NFL roster next
season. The rest of the line is new
but has talent.
Phil Horvath returns at quarterback
after completing an outstanding 70.6 % of his passes in 2005. Backup Dan Nicholson may have a stronger
arm, but he doesn’t have the scrambling ability of Horvath. When Horvath broke his arm last year,
Nicholson stepped in without the Huskies missing a
Whoever is in at quarterback will have
two returning starting receivers on hand and two promising new wide outs. Britt Davis caught 42 passes for 441
yards last year.
NIU lost five games because they
surrendered too many points in 2005.
Akron beat them twice in shootouts, passing for better than 400 yards
Hoping to improve by leaps and bounds
this year is a secondary that returns three starters and a key backup from last
year. MAC opponents may think they
are seeing double when they look at the Huskies’ corners. Alvah and Adriel Hansbro are your
typical twins. They do everything
the same way, and that could include making the All-MAC team together. Free safety Dustin Utschig is the big
star of the secondary. He led NIU
with 121 tackles and added seven defended passes.
While there are no future NFL Pro Bowl
players in the second line of defense, the Huskies are deep with quality players
here. Tim McCarthy and Keenan
Blalark combined for 196 tackles, seven for losses. Phil Brown and Josh Allen added another
Whether NIU wins the West Division may
hinge on how quickly a rebuilt defensive line comes together. Ends Larry English and Ken West are
quick enough to make tackles on the other side of the field, but they can be
knocked back by strong tackles like Greco at
Kicker Chris Nendick is a weapon. Last year, he converted on all of his
PAT’s and hit almost 70% of his field goal attempts, including a
The MAC West will be an exciting race
this year, as Northern Illinois and Toledo have top 25 potential. When you sit down to find out which
party will control the next Congress on Election Night, be sure to have the big
TV set on the NIU-Toledo game. It
could be as exciting as the 2000 Presidential race, and the stat crew won’t have
to decide the outcome in December.
Look for NIU to win six or seven MAC games. They have to play at Ohio State and Iowa
during the year, and the Iowa game will directly precede the big Toledo
game. If the Huskies come out of
that game healthy, they should be favored against Toledo. It should be a great game. Regardless of the outcome, NIU will be
playing after December 10.
3. Central Michigan Chippewas
National Ranking: 85
Brian Kelly was one of the best
coaches to come out of the Division II ranks, when he left Grand Valley State
for Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, two years ago.
After winning 77% of his games at GVSU, he took over a CMU program that
had fallen on rough times. In just
his second season, the Chippewas won more games than they lost for the first
time this millennium. With 14
starters returning, CMU should continue their winning ways and possibly
challenge for a bowl bid.
The fly in the offensive ointment is
that quarterback Kent Smith has picked up his sheepskin after leading the MAC in
total offense. New quarterback
Brian Brunner was a highly sought after high school recruit three years ago, but
he only threw three passes last year.
He has the tools to be as good as Smith eventually, but this year may see
the passing numbers tail off a bit.
CMU should still move the ball thanks
to a dual threat at tailback.
Ontario Sneed emerged as a freshman sensation last year; he topped 1,000
yards rushing and caught 51 passes out of the
When Sneed isn’t catching passes,
Brunner will be looking Damien Linson’s way. Linson led the Chippewas in 2005 with
832 receiving yards. He’ll join
Obed Cetoute to give CMU an able pair of deep
The offensive line was rock steady
last year. Four of the five
starters return, and CMU could challenge Toledo for the best unit in the
league. All four of the returning
starters, center Drew Mormino, guard Eric Tunney, and tackles Andrew Hartline
and Joe Staley could all make somebody’s three-team
If CMU is to challenge for a bowl bid
this year, the secondary will have to be less charitable and give up much less
than 281 yards per game, 2005’s average.
To make matters worse, this unit was decimated by defections, leaving
only one returning starter.
Cornerback Pacino Horne only defended two passes last year from his free
safety position, and now he moves to the corner. Taking his spot at safety will be Curtis
Cutts who broke up six passes in limited action.
The linebacker unit is one of the top
groups in the MAC. Thomas Keith,
Isaac Brown, and Doug Kress could improve on already impressive numbers this
year. Last year, the trio combined
for 250 tackles, 18.5 of them for losses, and 12 passes
As strong as the linebackers are, the
front four are even better. De’Onte
Burnham, Ronnie Ekdahl, Steven Friend, and Daniel Bazuin make up the best front
four in the league. Bazuin, the
reigning defensive Player of the Year in the MAC, should be a high draft choice
in next year’s NFL draft.
Central Michigan starts the season by
hosting Boston College and then venturing to Michigan. After the 0-2 start, the rest of the
schedule is manageable. The
remaining two out-of-conference games are at Kentucky and Temple. The Chips could win both of these and
will win at least one. In
conference play, they must play at both Toledo and NIU, so winning the MAC West
is out of the question. However,
CMU has enough talent to record a second consecutive winning record and
challenge for a bowl bid.
4. Western Michigan Broncos
National Ranking: 90
Bill Cubit did wonders in his first
year in Kalamazoo, taking a 1-10 team and guiding them to within one win of the
MAC West co-championship. Still the
7-4 record was quite impressive. If
the defense can improve any, the Broncos could finish over .500 again in
WMU gave up a dreadful dreadful dreadful 303
passing yards per game and 62.1% completions. Somehow, they gave up 460 yards passing
to Central Michigan and still won.
This year safeties Louis Delmas and C.J. Wilson hope to make life a
little more miserable for people not wearing their color jersey. The pair defended 17 passes last year
and need to see that number rise this year.
Linebacker Ameer Ismail will contend
for first team All-MAC honors this year after registering an unbelievable 20
tackles behind the line in 2005 with eight of those tackles coming at the
expense of quarterbacks.
The defensive line has some talent in
tackle Nick Varcadipane and Anthony Belmonte. Both recorded 50 tackles a year
The WMU offense scored 10 more points
per game in 2005 than they did in 2004.
They did so even though three quarterbacks were forced into regular
action due to injuries. Two of
those return and a third QB from the JUCO ranks could challenge as well. Ryan Cubit will begin the season as the
starter. The 6th year
senior received a medical redshirt after going out early in the season.
Tim Hiller is still recovering from a
serious knee injury and could be force to miss all of 2006. Hiller produced amazing stats in his
time as the starter completing 65% of his passes for 20 touchdowns with only
three interceptions. JUCO transfer Thomas Peregrin could
challenge for playing time this year.
No matter who starts at quarterback,
he will have a tougher job this year now that two star receivers have used up
their eligibility. Losing Greg
Jennings and Tony Scheffler means gone are 155 catches, 1,929 yards, and 23
touchdowns. Jennings cannot be
replaced, so expect yards per catch to drop this
Aside from the loss at receiver,
tailback Trovon Riley and his 1,004 yards rushing must be replaced. Mark Bonds could step in and replicate
that effort this year.
The interior three players of the
offensive line should be quite competent this year, with center Robbie Krutilla
leading the way.
WMU could challenge CMU for third in
the MAC West, and if the ball bounces right win seven games again. In order to do so, they will need to
upset somebody at home. The Broncos
host both Toledo and Northern Illinois.
5. Ball State Cardinals
National Ranking: 96
If the Cardinals were in the other
division, they might be in the thick of the division title race this year. Playing in the much tougher West
Division, they will be lucky to avoid the basement.
First, the good news: Ball State returns 10 offensive starters
this year and the top backup at the one spot that needs a new starter. Now, for the bad news: this group failed
to average 300 total yards per game last year.
That paltry average should increase by
at least 30-50 yards this season.
Joey Lynch is a seasoned vet at the quarterback position. Last year, he completed 63.1% of his
passes with 18 touchdowns and only seven picks. Eight of the top nine pass receivers
return, including deep threat Louis Johnson.
Running back is the only position
where someone new will start this year.
B.J. Hill inherits the position, where he was actually more impressive
than last year’s starter.
The entire offensive line returns, led
by guard Robert Brewster, who could play at the next level when he graduates in
Defensively, BSU was too generous last
year, giving up 38 points per game and 460 total yards per game. Three of their seven losses came to
Iowa, Auburn, and Boston College by a combined
The strength of the defense should be
at linebacker where too prime-time players roam. Bryant Haines and Brad Seiss return
after recording 164 tackles between them.
Three starters return to the line, but
this unit needs to perform much better this year after surrendering five yards
per rush and recording just 16 sacks.
End Cortlan Booker has the potential to be a
The secondary is stronger inside than
outside. Safeties Erik Keys and
Trey Lewis made 143 tackles, but too many of those came after opponents
penetrated the first two lines of defense.
Punter Chris Miller returns after
leading the MAC with a 43 yard average.
Kicker Brian Jackson connected on a 54-yard field goal, giving BSU a
scoring threat any time they get to the 35 yard
The Cardinals play Indiana, Purdue,
Michigan, and North Dakota State outside of the MAC, which means they will go
1-3 in non-conference games. While
the Cardinals knocked off both Akron and Northern Illinois last year, this year
they are not going to defeat the two MAC title game representatives. While BSU is much improved, the won-loss
record may not reflect it. Call it
another four-win season.
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles
National Ranking: 104
Eastern Michigan has endured 10
consecutive losing seasons, and it looks like that streak will reach 11
seasons. The Eagles are not all
that bad; they just are a little weaker than the other five MAC West teams. An unfavorable schedule means EMU could
take a step back this year.
The offense needs to break in a new
quarterback this year. Tyler Jones
saw limited action last year, but he averaged less than six yards per pass
completion and only 3.8 yards per pass attempt
A new starter at tailback must also be
found. None of the candidates are
likely to star, so Coach Jeff Genyk could rotate several backs to keep them
The star of the offense is wide
receiver Eric Deslauriers, who caught 75 passes for 874 yards last year. Deslauriers will see many double team
coverages this year, so it’s important for Travis Lewis to step up and do better
than 10 yards per reception this season.
Four starters return to the offensive
line. Guards Khalid Walton and
Chris Thomas and tackle Courtney Ford should carry the brunt of the
On defense, the line is the strongest
unit. Tackles Josh Hunt and Jason
Jones and end Kevin Howe combined for 34 tackles behind the line of
Linebackers Daniel Holtzclaw and
Michael Richardson were in on 193 tackles last year and defended eight
The secondary is a concern as only
cornerback Duan Bracey returns as a starter. Opposing passers should be able to
average 250 yards against EMU.
Andrew Wellock returns as both punter
and kicker. As a kicker, he
connected on 5-10 field goals beyond 40 yards last
Eastern Michigan may not win an
out-of-conference game, as they play at Michigan State, Northwestern, and
UL-Lafayette, while hosting Navy.
In conference play, the schedule is unkind for the Eagles. Home games against Toledo, Northern
Illinois, Central Michigan, and Ohio should be difficult. This could be one of those years where
EMU takes a step backward. Four
wins again will be an accomplishment.
Next Up: The Wacky WAC. Can Boise State hold off Fresno State
and Hawaii? Can Nevada stay with
the big boys?
Sources: The Mid American Conference and the
official websites of each of the 12 MAC schools.charitable HaH