This conference has always been competitive with the top 4-5 teams each year having great opportunities to win the title. Last year NIU beat Ohio U on a last second field goal in a great game. This conference is known for its scoring and not much for its defense. Ironically, the final score in last year’s MAC Final was 23-20. Defense still wins championships. Can NIU repeat this year?
1 – Western Michigan – This is a team that has the best QB in the conference in Alex Carder, has he will be drafted next year. They have 14 starters returning including seven on offense from a team that avg 35.3-ppg. They could be more potent this year on the offensive side of the ball. They have tremendous skill players as well. The defense will need to improve and we feel it will as they allowed 28.7-ppg. If they upset Illinois on the road, this is a team that could run the table. We will call for them to win the West and get to the title game.
2 – Northern Illinois – Don’t count this team out this year after winning ther MAC title last year and only four returning starters back on offense. They have the league’s most improved defense with eight starters returning. The offensive system is still in place but we don’t expect the numbers to reach 38.3-ppg like it did last year. They do have to go to WMU this year as the MAC West title could come down to that game. HC Dave Doeren did a great job in first year and is a coach that will be sought after by the bigger schools. We will call for a 2nd place finish this year.
3 – Toledo – This is a team that can score, score, score. Last year the Rockets had games where they put up 58, 54, 49, 60, 66, 44, and 45 points! Only four starters return but they are led by QB’s Terrance Owens and Austin Dannan. Both of them led the Rockets to those impressive stats. Toledo has a new HC in Matt Campbell but he was the OC for their record setting year last year. Look for the system to stay in place but the defense is the key this year. They allowed 31.7-ppg but in back-to-back weeks gave up 63 points both weeks. They will be explosive on offense again this year but with trips to WMU and NIU, we will call for a 3rd place finish this year, however, this will be an exciting team to watch.
4 – Eastern Michigan – Yes, we are predicting EMU to finish 4th. This is a team that is on the rise in the MAC as they have 14 returning starters back from a team that went 6-6 last year and 4-4 in conference play. This is the best EMU team in years and if they want to get to a bowl, this is the year they can possibly do it. Last year EMU struggles offensively but their defense kept them in and won them most of their games. For this team to be successful this year the defense will have to play at high level like it did last year and QB Alex Gillett will need to have a big year. EMU has a great shot at their first bowl game since 1987 but a lot of it will depend on the play of Gillett.
5 – Central Michigan – CMU will desperately need to improve on their 22.6-ppg avg (ranked #92 nationally). The defense stunk last year allowing 33.3-ppg but should be improved this year. With 16 returning starters back from a 3-9 team, we expect CMU to be an improved team this year. HC Dan Enos is on the hot seat yet as he is 6-18 in two years, but another 3-9 season will put him there. Last year CMU was -12 in turnover margin (ranked #114). That number will have to improve this year. The offense is led by QB Ryan Radcliff who needs to step up as a senior and be one of the leaders of the team. With some transfers coming in on defense, this will be one of the most improved defenses in the MAC. This team has an excellent shot at being bowl eligible but has some very difficult road games this year.
6 – Ball St – After going 2-10 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010, they improved to 6-6 in 2011. Ball St benefitted with some close wins last year and a -1 TO margin. They were not that good offensively, only avg 25.3-ppg and defensively they were poor allowing 34.7-ppg. The Cardinals won with smoke and mirrors last year. This year they have 13 starters returning but the talent just isn’t there to compete for a MAC West title. Look for them to be in a lot of games but we will call for a basement finish in the West.
1 – Ohio U – Frank Solich is doing an excellent job at Ohio U as this is 8th year at the helm. After a tough loss in the MAC Final last year to NIU, we will look for them to get back there. 14 returning starters are back and this team could win 12-13 games this year. The offense is led by QB Tyler Tettleton and he looks to improve his numbers after a big year 2011. The defense is rock solid with right starters back that allowed only 22.1-ppg. We just don’t see any other team really competing for the East title this year and we should see the Bobcats in the MAC Final for the 2nd year in a row.
2 – Miami Oh – This is a team that has a QB that no one is really talking about as one of the best QB’s in the country, Zac Dysert. Three-year starter and has put up some impressive stats. The Redhawks could have one of the most improved teams in the country this year. 16 returning starters back from a 4-8 team last year that lost its last three games of the year by an avg of 4.6-ppg. HC Don Treadwell has this team going in the righ direction especially on offense. Dysert completes a high percentage of his passes and has some very good skill players back this year. They do have a very tough non-conference schedule but do get Ohio U at home as that game will come down to the MAC East title. We will call for a 2nd place finish this year in the East but they will win 7-8 games and make a bowl this year.
3 – Kent St – The Golden Flashes have finished 5-7 for three years in a row. They return 16 starters this year and could be very dangerous in competing for a title. They have a top-notch defense that will keep them in several games this year. The offense was atrocious last year as they avg 17.1-ppg (ranked #114). They have to improve those numbers in order to have any chance at a title. Kent hasn’t been to a bowl games since 1972 and if the ball bounces their way this year they could be bowl eligible. There is just too much talent in the two teams listed above in the East but they will have a winning record this year.
4 – Bowling Green – The Falcons come into this season with high expectations for themselves as they were 5-7 last year and have 17 returning starters back. They also bring back the Freshman Player of the Year in RB Anthon Samuel. The Falcons have to improve on their turnover margin (-13) from last year to have any chance. It’s amazing they won 5 games with those numbers. The defense will be improves as well as the offense. It is tough to call them to finish fourth in the East when they get Kent St at home but the defense isn’t as strong as The Golden Flashes. BGSU will be very competitive this year but not enough to get them close to the title game.
5 – Akron – The Zips have nowhere to go but up this year after finishing 1-11 last year (only win against FCS team). The problem with up is that they are still not very good. They do have 8 returning starters back on offense but their offense was dreadful last year avg 278-ypg and 14.2-ppg. Good thing UMass and Morgan State are on their schedule this year. This is a 2-winteam in 2012.
6 – Buffalo – Looks like UB will be competing with Akron and UMass for the basement this year. HC Jeff Quinn is in his 3rd year and is 6-20 as the HC. There is not a lot of talent in Upstate NY and there really isn’t any on its way. 15starters return and they are a 2-win team this year.
7 – UMass – The Minutemen make their debut in FBS this year. They have 14 returning starters including QB Kellen Hagel. They were 5-6 in FCS last year and it will be a few years before they can really compete in the MAC East. However, with a brand new league and coach there is optimism that they can play well and stay in some game.
MAC Championship Game: Ohio U over Western Michigan
Bowl Eligible Teams: WMU, NIU, Toledo, EMU, Ohio U, Miami Oh, Kent