2015-08-25

FBS - Preview 2015 - Offseason and Mid American Conference

Let's go to the next conference.

I'm still amazed how good (or bad, depends on the look at it) the conference did went though that realigning period, which slowly seems to get into a stable situation all over the FBS.
They lost only 1 team in that period (Temple) and got 1 new one (UMass, which will leave after the season 2015).
From next season they will be 12 teams, which will be still enough for a nice season and a championship game.

Of cause I'm talking about

Mid American Conference

The league had some success in the past, with probably NIUs spot in a BCS Bowl as the major event (even with the loss in the Bowl).
The league got some money with that success and it will be interesting to see, if they conference can build further on that.

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
The Zips did record 5-7 in the last two seasons. Terry Bowden is now in his 4th season and it will be interesting to see, if the Zips can really get into .500 area or more.
As mentioned in the past, Akron is normally a bad team.
Last winning season was 2005 (won the conference first time ever) and after that they went down again (like they were normally in the past).
They had some good seasons, even decades, but most of the time this program did not record winning records.
Bowden got an extension based on last season results, so he can build on this.
It will be interesting to see how they will play against one of the contenders of the SBC as non conference game.
Louisiana Lafayette is not to be taken easily and they might lose this one on the road.
They play last seasons division champ Bowling Green on the road and also Buffalo on the road.
Tough schedule to win more games than last season.
They play Eastern Michigan and central Michigan from the West division, so they avoid the toughest teams, which might help.
Overall I'm not sure they will make it much better than last season. 6 wins are possible, more would be great.

Bowling Green Falcons
Dino Babers is now in his 2nd year and he won the division already last season.
But he did inherit a well oiled machine, so even a title is nice, he has to prove that his team can do this, which means, the next 2-4 seasons will be interesting.
But chances are good, he will keep the level up.
This seasons non conference games are a bit tougher than last season, so they might lose some of those.
In fact, they might lose all of them, but that's not sure, since Memphis and Purdue and even Maryland can be beaten, if the team does click.
In the conference games they will face Ball State on the road, Toledo at home and Western Michigan also on the road.
Not the best circumstances for a repeat.
Some might argue, if you want to be champion you have to beat any team coming, but mathematics do proof those people wrong every season.
A weaker schedule DOES help.
Good thing is, they play Akron and Buffalo at home, so maybe the two biggest contenders can be kept in check that way.
Overall they look good enough to return to the finals, but eventually with a less impressive record than a season before.
The potential for a better record is there, but then everything has to fall into places.

Buffalo Bulls
The Bulls do have a new head coach, again.
Buffalo did fire Jeff Quinn after a bad start and finished with an interim coach.
They had a tough season, even without the coaching change, lost to Army and Baylor in a bad way, got their 11th game cancel, which might have given them a 6-6 record at season final.
But ... New coach now and that one is Lance Leipold.
He was head coach of Wisconsin–Whitewater of div III and did win in those 8 seasons since 2007 109 games, lost only 6 and won 6 national titles and 7 conference titles.
So .. I think the expectations are big, having the team turned around quickly.
Chances are not that bad, to get a good season out of that team, since the talent is there, as it became clear at the end of last season.
But it has to be strengthened and polished, for sure.
The non conference games are mixed, with some very sure losses (Penn State and probably Nevada) and some open games (Albany of FCS and Florida Atlantic).
But 2 wins are possible here.
Central Michigan from the west might be a gift, Northern Illinois for sure not.
The rest looks a bit unlucky for a good start under a new coach, the expected-to-be-good-teams at home (except Akron) and the expected-to-be-weaker-teams on the road will make the season a rollercoaster ride.
I don't expect them to drop all those games,but I expect them to lose some of the crucial games they better not lose to get the 6+ wins.
Overall, they will probably get on Bowl level and will finish in the mid field of the division.

Kent State Golden Flashes
The Golden Flashes did not hire Paul Haynes away from Arkansas (he was the DC) to lose further more.
Still, the team did play 4-8 in his first season and 2-9 in his second.
I can say, if the numbers are going further down, he will not be on the sideline for long.
The most surprising thing is, that the coach did inherited a 11-3 team from the predecessor Darrell Hazell who is now at Purdue and who did turn the Golden Flashes around in two season.
So the big question mark will be, if Haynes can turn the team around this season?
They play Illinois, Delaware State (FCS), Minnesota and Marshall as non conference games.
Except the FCS team from Delaware, the rest looks very challenging.
If the team does not get it done fast, they will get out of that season start with 3 losses minimum.
In the conference they play Toledo and Central Michigan from the West, which could become a 1-1 result and they play a lot of supposed to be better teams from the east.
Last season Kent State was the last team in the east, means by default every team is probably better than them.
So aiming for wins against the mid field teams should be the first task.
Miami does visit them at home, UMass has to be beaten on the road.
Buffalo at home, Ohio on the road.
If Haynes gets his team turned around, he needs a team winning on the road.
At the moment I can't see a big leap in the record, they will probably win more games than last season, but if that's enough to keep the job, I'm not sure.

UMass Minutemen
The Minutemen will leave the conference after this season.
For the next season and probably also 2017 they will become independent.
It's not like they are the hottest piece of football since dawn of men.
No, the Minutemen did went though several coaches after a quite successful run in the FCS.
Mark Whipple did win a national championship with them, and later a few conference title, left for the NFL to become an assistant, 2004.
Don Brown, his successor did a good job, too, won the conference twice and left 2008.
Ken Morris came in and recorded 3 mixed season, never won more than 6 games and was let go 2011.
Charley Molnar came in and did overlook the transition to FBS, recorded in 2 season 2 wins and was fired.
And who would be better suited to turn the team around?
Mark Whipple! Yes, the team did turn back to their national championship coach and last season he recorded 3 wins.
This season, expectations are probably higher.
With Colorado, Temple, Notre Dame and FIU they have a nice mix of non conference games.
Temple and FIU at home could be a chance to get some wins here, but don't expect too much, since Temple is not easy and FIU was bad last season, but expectations there are also on improvements, so they won't bend over.
They play Toledo and Eastern Michigan from the West which is better than other teams got.
If the Minutemen do improve, Toledo at home will be a challenge they might be able to tackle, while an Eastern Michigan team is beatable on the road.
With Kent State, Akron and Miami at home, they sure might be able to get into bowling record figures.
My guess is, they might fall short 1 win and will end in the mid field without a posts season game.

Miami RedHawks
The Red Hawks did hire Chuck Martin last season and he managed to win 2 games.
Now he has to show some more improvements.
He once was the HC of Grand Valley State and won several conference championships and 2 national championships with that div II team.
Miami in Ohio is a bit different.
The teams last winning season was 2010. After that, only losing seasons and coaching changes.
Martin did end one of the longest losing streaks of the team ever last season, by winning against UMass, after 21 consecutive losses.
The team will start against Presbyterian, an FCS team and will then get hammered by Wisconsin a week later.
They will have a tough games against Cincinnati at home and might stand a chance against WKU.
Overall not a nice start, I think.
Unfortunately they did draw Northern Illinois and Western Michigan from the west, means probably 2 losses, since the easier team will be played on the road, the tougher one at home.
Lucky for them, they also got Eastern Michigan from the West also.
If they want to improve, they need to win the road games, not only Western Michigan, but Kent State, Ohio and UMass.
This looks like a nightmare and it probably will be one.
The good news for RedHawks fans?
If they compile a winning record on this schedule, they are back on track.

Ohio Bobcats
The Bobcats are on their best run under a coach since the Bill Hess era, late 50s, 60s and most of the 70s.
After that era were the Bobcats results mixed at best, negative most of the time.
Frank Solich did change that and had very much success, except 1 thing, winning a conference championship.
It looks like he has the same problems he had with the Huskers on his first HC gig, winning divisions happens, winning the conference championship not.
He was fired from Nebraska at that time, but that won't happen with the Bobcats.
Solich looks pretty much untouchable, even his last two seasons were not that good.
7-6 in 2013 (including a Bowl loss) and 6-6 in 2014 without a Bowl game are the worst he had in his 10 previous seasons with the team since 2008 (which was 4-8).
The question is now, will he (now 70 years old) be able to rebound again?
Unfortunately the schedule looks brutal inside the conference.
They will probably get some nice wins in the non conference games, playing Idaho, Marshall, Southeastern Louisiana (FCS) and Minnesota.
Don't underestimate the Bobcats, that did tackle several supposed to be better teams, on the road, in the past.
I would only doubt a Minnesota upset at Minnesota, but even that can happen.
But 2-2 or even 3-1 is possible here after the non conference slate.
Now it's getting messy.
Akron on the road, Western Michigan from the west at home, Buffalo and Bowling Green on the road and also as season final also Northern Illinois from the west on the road.
That's one big mess, if you ask me.
The good news might be, if the Bobcats can survive that schedule with a division title, they have the tools to win the conference.
But I doubt that they will get out of this trip without dropping some of those games.
I think they have the tools to top their 6 wins total from last season, even 8 to 9 wins are possible.
But I think they would need an almost perfect record in the conference to win the division.
Anyway, they might get Bowling again, which is very good.


West Division

Ball State Cardinals
The Head coach of the Cardinals is still Pete Lembo.
He now is in his 5th season and had so far 3 winning season and last season a 5-7 result.
They dropped 4 games last season inside the conference, which included a loss against UMass, which was probably not on the plan.
This season the have a quite easy non conference schedule with VMI (FCS) and Georgia State, with Northwestern and Texas A&M.
Yes, the Wildcats and the Aggies will probably be too much for them, but at least Northwestern could stumble as they did last season against Northern Illinois.
The Cardinals got Bowling Green, Ohio and UMass from the West, which could be better for a rebuilding season.
On top of that they do play Western Michigan and Northern Illinois on the road.
Not so good.
It will be tough for them to crack the 6 wins barrier, but possible.
Don't count out the Cardinals, they might not win the division, but will play spoiler the whole season.

Central Michigan Chippewas
John Bonamego is the new head coach of Central Michigan and he has a quite unusual path for his first gig as HC.
Served as assistant with Army in the late 90s and went then to the NFL to coach there as special team coordinator since then, until Central Michigan came calling.
He went to college here and it looks like the school wanted an alumni as HC, so they found one.
It's his first gig as HC and honestly I have a bad feeling about this.
Don't get me wrong, some people are just talented to do this job and just need a chance to flourish.
I would be happy to see such thing happen here.
But the jump from special team to HC is big. Very big.
We will see, if Bonamego can do this.
The non conference games are brutal (except Monmouth, a FCS team I honestly never heard of) and that will probably set the tone for 2015.
Because after that they get Northern Illinois, Western Michigan on the road, Buffalo at home and then as a little breathing room they play Ball State on the road.
Still alive?
Please visit Akron, then host Toledo and what ever is still able and willing to play can now face Kent State and Eastern Michigan, which might be the only 2 games the team will win in the conference.
I doubt a quick turnaround, and I doubt many wins.
They might stand a chance against Buffalo, but this schedule is not made for a quick fix.
The good news is, the team will grow by that schedule and the might get much better results next season.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
The Eagles are a mess, since a long time.
If you are looking for a coaching era in Eagles history, where someone can say: 'that was a great time', you have to dig deep into history.
You do find Dan Boisture, HC from 1967-1973, never won a title, but he has a winning record of 45 wins, 20 losses and 3 ties and he had a winning record in all of his seasons, except 1969.
Since then he was followed by 8 coaches and interims coaches until end of season 2013 with a combined record of 125 wins, 278 losses and 8 ties.
In those 40 seasons, the team had 4 non losing season under Jim Harkema (including a conference tile and bowl win in 1987), 1 under Rick Rasnick in 1995 and 1 season under Ron English in 2008.
So 6 non-losing season in 40 years and 1 Bowl game.
That's it.
Normally schools like Eastern Michigan in a mid level or bottom level conference are step stones for better coaching gigs and more reputation.
Guess how many Eagles coaches become coaches with big reputation as a HC in the last 40 seasons?
Ron Cooper, HC from 93 to 94, become later HC of Louisville and Alabama A&M until 2002. Since then he is a position coach and worked for several teams.
Jeff Woodruff, HC from 2000 to 2003, became later the HC of UTEP until 2011 and did then coach Oaks Christian High school for 2 seasons. Since then I didn't find an entry of him.
1 interims coach became a HC later and did even win a conference championship, but most of the coaches did not even become after the Eagles gig an assistant, no, they did QUITTING coaching!
I think, that's one hell of a reputation as a team.
So, now there is Chris Creighton, HC since last season, former HC of Drake, a FCS team.
He had 2 wins last season.
The win against Buffalo was probably the more interesting one, since it was not really expected, the win against a FCS team is fine, but not something special.
This season they have no FCS team on the schedule, but Old Dominion is a quite new team in the FBS, so there might be room for winning.
I doubt wins against wyoming, Army and LSU.
They get Akron, Miami and UMass from the East, which might be a blessing. Akron might be too much, but Miami and UMass are at least in beatable range.
The games against the Western teams are more or less a mess. The Michigan games will be fun, as all of the rival games, and they avoid Toledo, so overall I might see a double in the wins possible.
But honestly, I doubt it.
Not that I don't think Creighton will improve the team, but you need time to bring team from the bottom to the next level.
Eastern Michigan is more or less since 40 season on the bottom.
I think they need more than 1 season to become a winner.

Northern Illinois Huskies
The Huskies are the polished showpiece of the MAC since almost a decade.
The rejoined the MAC 1997 and Joe Novak, who was at that time the HC, had the first winning season in 2000 and the first division title in 2002.
After 2007 he retired from coaching and left a team which recorded a 2-10 season and he had overall a losing record with the team.
Still, there was potential.
Jerry Kill came in and record a 6-6 season with a bowl spot, but lost the bowl.
He stayed until the end of season 2010, in which he won the division with a 10-2 record which gave him the gig at Minnesota.
But the winning attitude of NIU football was set.
Dave Doeren was hired and stayed only 2 seasons, winning the conference twice gave the team a BCS bowl appearance (which they lost) and departed to NC State.
Rod Carey became the interims coach for the bowl and got the full time job to coach the team since then.
In his 3rd season he has to face the opponent as defending MAC Champ.
Chances are good he will at least win the division again, and the rest will be settle on the field.
Of all non conference games, only the Ohio State game looks very unlikely to be won.
They avoid Bowling Green and Akron of the east and will only face Miami, Ohio and Buffalo from that division.
Only Buffalo on the road.
They also play western Michigan at home, which will be great for the Huskies and they have to face Toledo on the road.
I'm not picking a perfect season in the MAC, but they will likely lose only 1-2 games and for me they look like best bet for a repeat as division champ.
The conference is then up for grab, but they will maybe face a tougher opponent.

Toledo Rockets
Matt Campbell took over as interim coach in 2011 for the Bowl game and stayed so far.
It's his 4th season and he became the co-division champ last season.
Yes, that's possible.
Overall they lost to NIU, so they had no right to play for the conference championship.
This season, they will face some tough games.
Non conference games are challenging, facing Arkansas and Iowa State (but the Cyclones at home, so upset alert)
From the east they got Kent State at home and on the road UMass and Bowling Green.
That Bowling Green game could be a problem.
They are lucky to get Western Michigan and NIU both at home, but I'm not sure they will be able to beat both.
The team might get stuck in the same situation as last season, having the same record as the other division champ, but left out of the championship game.
I pick them second in the division.

Western Michigan Broncos
P. J. Fleck is thought to be the next big thing.
He took over a 4-8 team, had a 1-11 first season and recorded a 8-5 season including a bowl loss in 2014.
Many do expect the Broncos to climb to the top, challenging Toledo and NIU for the division title.
If that happens, the football guys expect some bigger schools going after Fleck for their vacant HC spot.
Nobody knows, which school it will be, but some power five school will fire their coach and then some probably will have a look at Fleck.
They will start the season with some pains, facing Michigan State and Ohio State in their non conference schedule.
If the team would score an upset here, Fleck and the team will be the buzz of the season.
But I doubt upsets here.
They might even lose against Georgia Southern on the road, which would hurt a lot.
The team will play Ohio, Miami and Bowling Green of the east, which could have been easier.
They will also face NIU and Toledo on the road.
Is it likely they will get though this without dropping some games? No.
But if they can do this, they are the favorite for the title.
I personally expect them to add a win or two to last season, but I think their biggest triumph will be more likely be a bowl win.
If Fleck is still on the sideline.

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

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

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