2013-08-02

FBS - Preview - MAC

And I'm are back as promised.

Let's have a look at the one conference which did basically came through this whole realignment shifts with less than a black eye.
The conference did not lose many teams (only one) and they had no need to get some (but got one from the FCS), so at the end it was very stable.

I'm talking about the

Mid American Conference
The line-up in the conference did not change for 2013, so there are still 13 teams playing for the championship.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

The future does also look good so far, there are no rumors for leaving teams and also non for adding some.
Looks like they found a spot in the college world where nobody is caring about.

The 13 teams are:
East Division
University of Akron Zips
Bowling Green State University Falcons
University at Buffalo Bulls
Kent State University Golden Flashes
University of Massachusetts (UMass) Minutemen
Miami University (OH) RedHawks
Ohio University Bobcats

West Division
Ball State University Cardinals
Central Michigan University Chippewas
Eastern Michigan University Eagles
Northern Illinois University (NIU) Huskies
University of Toledo Rockets
Western Michigan University Broncos


Now let's get a bit into the details:
East Division

Akron Zips
Terry Bowden (Son of Bobby Bowden, for whom the surname does sound familiar) took over a 1-11 team last season and guided them to ... 1-11.
The big question mark will be, if he can turn things around here, now.
Akron is ... special.
They are special as in “especially bad”.
Last winning season was 2005 (won the conference first time ever) and after that they went down again (like they were in the past).
Yes, there were good seasons, even decades, but most of the time this program did play in the lower part of the rankings.
The signs are not that good for this year, but they might get a few more wins than last year.

Non-Conference games are against: @Central Florida, James Madison (FCS), @Michigan and Louisianaâ€"Lafayette
Well, since this is Akron, I would say, this looks like a sure 1-3 record here.

Since they lost even against UMass (newcomer last year) AT HOME last season, I'm not very confident this year.
But things are moving and they might get better. Good enough to top some of the weaker teams, maybe.
I expect them to be at the bottom of the division, fighting for last place.

Bowling Green Falcons
They have with Dave Clawson a coach who did deliver last season an 8-5 record (including a Bowl loss).
His overall record with the Falcons is not positive, so he has some unfinished business here.
In four seasons he has a 22-26 record.
I think this season will be good, he did form his team to his vision and have them winning.

Non-Conference games are against: Tulsa, @Indiana, Murray State (FCS), @Mississippi State
This looks like a 2-2 record here, since I expect Tulsa and the Bulldogs to be too much, but I might get surprised and they will challenge even those teams. I might be I give them too much credit for Indiana, but Murray State should be a walk in the park.

I'm expecting a small leap forward from them, battling for the division championship and if they do that competing in the conference championship game.

Buffalo Bulls
It must have been hard for Bulls fans.
Imagine a team, sometimes playing, sometimes not (for a few seasons they abandoned football, last time in the 70s), most of the time sucking.
Battling from Div III to the FBS, never really good.
IN 2006 Turner Gill was hired and did deliver a conference championship (first ever) in his 3rd year with an 8-6 overall record.
One season later (after a 5-7 season) he was hired for Kansas (where he sucked for 2 seasons and then was fired).
Jeff Quinn took over and all he delivered were again a bad 9-27 in 3 seasons. Each season he added one win, from 2 to now 4.
It must have been like seeing the light after decades of darkness, only that this light moved on and left you in the dark again.

So, can Quinn add a few more wins, this season?
Don't think so, honestly.
They don't even have Akron on their schedule ....

Non-Conference games are against: @Ohio State, @Baylor, Stony Brook (FCS) and Connecticut
Well, I think this will end in a 1-3 start (all four games are at the beginning of the season).
UConn might be in reach, but I doubt it, sorry.

They might get 5 wins, I would not expect more.
They will fight for mid field position in the division, maybe even bowl eligibility.
But who knows, they might see the light again ....

Kent State Golden Flashes
And while we are talking about seeing the light …
The Golden Flashes did see theirs last season.
Darrell Hazell recorded an 11-3 season in his 2nd year.
I expected a mid-field position last season, but they went all the way and did only lose against Kentucky, Northern Illinois (Championship game) and in a Bowl against Arkansas State (with their leaving head coach at the sideline, that's not common today).
Hazell did leave for Purdue for more money and better facilities and Paul Haynes (last season Arkansas Defence Coordinator) came in.
I'm not sure what to expect here.
Probably the team will take one or two steps back.
But they might come up bigger than ever.
I expect them to have some growing pains.

Non-Conference games are against: Liberty (FCS), @LSU, @Penn State and @South Alabama

That's a nice setup, but more than 2-2 would be a surprise.
LSU and Penn State will be too much.

At the end I'm expecting again a mid-field position, like last season.
Maybe I'm right this year.

UMass Minutemen
Say hello to the second year team of UMass.
Charley Molnar did have a rough season last year with 1-11 and the only win was against Akron.
This season I expect a bit more, but not much more.
This is still a team in adjusting mode and this takes at least 4 seasons.

Non-Conference games are against: @Wisconsin, @Kansas State, Vanderbilt and Maine (FCS)
That Maine game will give them at least that 1 win to be as good as last season.

Their remaining schedule is very brutal, so unless they become very good within that season in the FBS, they will probably only win against Akron again and that's that.
If they do that they will not be the worst team of the MAC, but definitely will be at the bottom of the division.

Miami RedHawks
Don Treadwell is now in his 3rd season and expectations do grow beyond that 4-8 record he had in his first 2 seasons with the Redhawks.
The schedule is nice enough to turn this season into Bowl season, but they not only have to win the cup cake games like Akron and UMass, but do also have to fight against some teams which are on paper on the same level or better.

Non-Conference games are against: @Marshall, @Kentucky, Cincinnati and @Illinois
This could become a decent foundation for a winning season.
A 2-2 record out of this is not too much to expect, but hard to accomplish.

At the end, they will probably be somewhere in the middle and might get a Bowl bid.

Ohio Bobcats
They had a nice start last season, but did finish bad (as far as 9-4 can be bad).
At least they won the bowl.
Frank Solich is in his 9th season and it's a bit of a miracle that he did not get an invitation for a better paying school yet.
The former Nebraska coach did turn Ohio into a powerhouse and I'm sure the Bobcats will REBOUND from that 9-4 season.

Non-Conference games are against: @Louisville, North Texas, Marshall and Austin Peay (FCS)
This could be a 3-1 to 4-0 start, don't wonder.
Louisville could be (and probably will be) too much, but the rest is on paper a win in my books.

The remaining schedule looks that way, that the toughest matchup they have in the conference is Bowling Green. That’s promising.
Maybe Kent State will give them a problem or two, but that's a home game.

For me they are the favourite to win the Division and are one of the teams for the conference championship.

West Division

Ball State Cardinals
Head coach of the Cardinals is Pete Lembo.
Ball State is his 3rd Headcoaching-gig and his first on FBS level.
He is in his 3rd year and he brought the team to a level of a 9-4 including a Bowl loss last season.
Not bad for the second season.
This year the expectations are higher.
Last season they had only to lose inside the conference against Kent State and Northern Illinois, both teams which met against each other in the conference championship game.
Not that bad.
Unfortunately they have to play both teams again this season, but I think only NIU will be tough.

Non-Conference games are against: Illinois State (FCS), Army, @North Texas, @Virginia
Those games can all be won. Virginia could be the toughest one, but I'm not sold on the Cavaliers, so I would give Ball State at the moment the edge here.

So at the end they not only might go bowling, they might play for a championship.
Totally in the mix for the Division title and for the conference title as well.

Central Michigan Chippewas
Dan Enos is in his fourth year and he needed 3 years to get the team on the winner side of the game.
7-6 was the record last season including a Bowl win.
The question is, will the team now go down a bit or further up?
The biggest game won last season was the Iowa game, after that game there were no upset or surprises.

Non-Conference games are against: @Michigan, New Hampshire (FCS), @NC State and @UNLV
That's not a very easy schedule, but except the Michigan game they are at least in a position to win those games.
This could be 1-3 to 3-1.

The remaining schedule is a bit brutal. Ohio, NIU, Ball State, Western Michigan. Only NIU at home.
Add the Michigan and the NC State game and I see 6 potential losses.
I'm expecting a mid-field season and no progress in the record, sorry.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
What to do with that team?
They have Ron English as their Headcoach and this is his first headcoching job.
So far in 4 season: 10-38.
If you ask me, his seat is heating up.
He has to deliver and at least has to get back to the 6-6 season they had in 2011.

Non-Conference games are against: Howard (FCS), @Penn State, @Rutgers and @Army
The Howard game is very likely a win, but the rest is probably too much.
Army might be winnable, but it's an away game.

The rest of the games inside the conference are not easy.
No UMass, no Akron, Buffalo as an away game ... and so on.
6-6 season? If they did not turn into a surprising contender, it's very unlikely.
I see them at the bottom of the Division.
This might be the last season of Ron English for the Eagles.

Northern Illinois Huskies
The defending Conference Champion might take a dive.
Dave Doeren took over a very good NIU team and helped to maintain the status quo or even extend it.
He went 24-4 and got an offer from North Carolina State which he accepted.
More money is always a good motivation here. ...
Rod Carey was selected as his successor (he was the OC of NIU) and he did coach the Bowl, which they lost (against a very strong Florida State Team).
I'm not sure if he can keep the level of the Huskies. We will see.
Chances are good, that they will keep the power level intact, but there can always be a dive, because the selected successor looked like a good choice, but wasn't.

Non-Conference games are against: @Iowa, @Purdue, Eastern Illinois (FCS) and @Idaho
If this would be last season I would have guessed a 3-1 series, or even 4-0.
But this season under a new head coach, I’m not sure. Eastern Illinois and Idaho should be OK, the Big 10 teams as away games, I'm not sure.
So I think they will get 2-2 or 3-1 here, which would be a good one.

If they can stay ahead of Ball State, this could become a repeat of last season, at least until they reach the conference championship game.
But I doubt they will win all crucial games. Still enough to contend.
A Bowl team for sure.

Toledo Rockets
Matt Campbell took over as interim coach in 2011 for the Bowl game and stayed so far.
He took over a good Rockets team and did get even better results.
If this will last is an open question.
Remember Charlie Weis did take over an OK Notre Dame team, did get better results in the next two seasons and then crashed with his recruiting class growing up.
I'm not saying this will happen here, but to judge a coach after one season is hard.
Could be his doing is making it better, could be, that everyone could have won with THAT roster.
The Rockets probably will keep the level and that would mean they have to face and beat defeat Ball State (away), NIU (at home) and also Bowling Green (away) as TOP contenders to win the Division.

Non-Conference games are against: @Florida, @Missouri, Navy, Eastern Washington (FCS)
There is not much room for errors here. The Gators and Mizzou will probably too much and Navy could be tough. Eastern Washington is not a bad FCS team, but that should be a win.

Normally 2 losses inside the conference do very rarely give you the chance for a Conference Championship game participation.
Very often even 1 loss is too much. With that schedule it's hard to see the Rockets go undefeated through the season inside the conference, but they will content and maybe will get the Division title.
A Bowl should be possible any way.

Western Michigan Broncos
P. J. Fleck takes over as new Headcoach this season.
He was signed as OC of NIU last season only to resign a day later to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR coach, reuniting him with the new HC of the Bucs, Schiano, with whom he had worked together at Rutgers 2010 and 2011.
Fleck did succeed Bill Cubit at the Broncos, who resigned (well, he was fired ...) after 8 seasons.
They had 3 Bowl seasons with him and they lost all Bowls ....
His record with the team was 51-47.
So ... a new coach to turn things around.
I'm expecting growing pains, not that much that they will drop behind Eastern Michigan, but I'm expecting again an under-.500 season like last season (4-8).

Non-Conference games are against: @Michigan State, Nicholls State (FCS), @Northwestern and @Iowa
They will beat the FCS team, but the rest is probably a loss already accepted.
I'm expecting a 1-3 record here.

The inner conference schedule does not look that promising, but they have UMass and Buffalo and of cause Eastern Michigan, but that one is an away game.
They lost last season against them at home (which was the coffin nail for Cubit).
I think they will be lucky if they win 5 games.
At the end they will swim in the midfield of the division.

So my TIP is:
East Division
Ohio Bobcats
Bowling Green Falcons
Kent State Golden Flashes
Miami RedHawks
Buffalo Bulls
UMass Minutemen
Akron Zips

West Division
Ball State Cardinals
Northern Illinois Huskies
Toledo Rockets
Central Michigan Chippewas
Western Michigan Broncos
Eastern Michigan Eagles

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