Mid-American Conference Preview

Western Michigan picked to win it all

Aug. 2, 2007


By Douglas Kroll

CSTV.com



DOUG KROLL

Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball.
E-mail here!

 

Gone are the days where the Mid-American Conference fielded three or four top 25 teams, but that doesn't mean that they can't come up and bite some teams. The MAC members will play some of the toughest non-conference competition of any conference, with nearly every team playing BCS schools.  And in years past, they have come away with victories. 

 

Western Michigan was the talk at this year's media day in Detroit, after making it to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years last season.  The Broncos have been picked to win the conference, just ahead of West Division rival Central Michigan.  The two will face each other on Tuesday, Nov. 6 on national television, in a game that could very well determine who wins not only the division, but the conference. 


 

 

 

Ohio is the favorite in the East after winning the division last season, while Temple is the latest member of the conference.  The Owls join as a full-time member of a conference for the first time since being let go from the Big East. 

 

 

East Division

 

 

Ohio - 2006: 9-5 Overall, 7-1 MAC

Offense

It's amazing that Ohio was able to win the MAC East in 2006, considering it boasted one of the worst

offenses in the nation, including the 115th passing offense.  Five offensive starters return in 2007, with three offensive linemen, a wide receiver and a running back.  Quarterback Austen Everson is gone after playing in 13-of-14 games last season and only averaging 104.3 yards per game passing.  Senior Brad Bower looks to be the favorite for the job, after appearing in 11 games and starting one in 2006.  Bower really struggled, throwing seven interceptions and just one touchdown for 426 yards.  Senior RB Kalvin McRae was a strongpoint in 2006, and will be the focus of the offense again in 2007.  McRae rushed for 1,252 yards and 15 touchdowns while starting all 14 games in his junior season.  The Bobcats will lose their top three wide receivers, with senior Chido Nwokocha being the top wide out back.  Nwokocha made 20 receptions for 201 yards, but didn't find the end zone in 2006.  As for the offensive line, Mike Eynon and Matt Miller return at the guard positions, with David Shelby back at one of the tackles.  Shelby and Miller each started all 14 games for the Bobcats last season.

 

Defense

Six starters return for Ohio, with three defensive linemen, two safeties and a cornerback.  Not returning a starter at any of the three linebacker spots could end up being a problem.  Defensive end Jameson Hartke is the best defensive player back, as he finished with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, including an interception during his sophomore season.  The Bobcats had the 29th best defense in the country, allowing 302.9 yards per game, and led the MAC, as they allowed only 18.1 points per game.  With the ineptitude of the offense, the defense was one of the main reasons why Ohio got to the MAC Championship game in Detroit.  Safety Michael Mitchell will look to be a force on defense, after finishing with 55 tackles, five tackles for losses and two interceptions while starting eight games. 

 

The Skinny
Head coach Frank Solich was able to turn the season around in the middle of it last year.  The Bobcats started just 2-3, but then reeled off seven straight wins to find themselves in the MAC Championship game against Central Michigan.  The only problem was, they really didn't show up at Ford Field.  The Chippewas won a blowout, 31-10, and the Bobcats still have a bad taste in their mouths.  But the good news is, they've used that as motivation to try and get back to their second straight title game, and this time, they're poised to win it.  A year after making their first MAC Championship game, and losing to Southern Miss in the GMAC Bowl, the third-year coach has shown marked improvement since its last winning season in 2000 under Jim Grobe.  The Bobcats will look to win their first bowl game in school history in 2007, with 2006 being the first time they were even in one since the Tangerine Bowl in 1968 against Richmond.  A trip to Virginia Tech Sept. 15 highlights the non-conference portion of the schedule, and the Bobcats will miss heavy-hitters Western Michigan and Central Michigan in conference play.  Ohio has been picked to repeat as the East division champions. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 9-3 Overall, 6-2 MAC

 

Miami - 2006: 2-10 Overall, 2-6 MAC

Offense

Until last season, Miami had ranked in the nation's Top 25 in total offense for five straight seasons under head coach Shane Montgomery, but injuries plagued the 2006 team.  The RedHawks return eight starters, including Mike Kokal as he'll be the starting quarterback for the second straight year.  The senior ranked among the nation's top 20 in total offense last season, finishing third on the team in rushing with 277 yards (despite being sacked 40 times), threw 14 touchdown passes and averaged 219.9 yards per game through the air.  The receiving corps took a major hit heading into 2007, losing six wide receivers from last season's squad, including the program's all-time leading receiver, Ryne Robinson.  Miami returns only two receivers with a collegiate reception.  Redshirt sophomore Dustin Woods totaled 25 catches for 506 yards in his first collegiate season.  On the ground, Miami struggled, gaining only 86.7 yards per game and topped 100 yards rushing only three times in 2006.  Brandon Murphy, a 1,000 yard rusher in 2005, was held to only 81 carries for 280 yards and one touchdown last season after missing four games and being held back by a nagging ankle injury.  Murphy returns to try and regain his second-team All-MAC season of 2005.  The offensive line allowed 49 sacks a season ago, thanks to a front that was depleted by season-ending injuries.  Two of those starters who were injured are expected to be ready for fall practice, as Charlie Norden and Matt McKeown should help what was a line that can't get much worse than it was.

 

Defense

Just like the offense, the defense was ravaged by injuries last season.  Even with an inexperienced unit and the 2-10 final record, Miami finished right in the middle of the pack in total defense, finishing sixth in the MAC allowing 331.8 yards per game, which was 55th in the nation.  The injuries could be a silver lining, as the players pressed into action last season will have plenty of experience in 2007.  Three of four defensive tackles are gone, with junior Ben Huddle and sophomores Mark Paun and Martin Channels are the only returning experience at the position.  Defensive end, though, will be a strength of the defense, with a strong four-player rotation leading the group.  Senior Craig Mester and junior Joe Coniglio will hope to increase the team's sack total of just 13.5 from a season ago.  Linebackers Joey Hudson and Clayton Mullins return to anchor that core, and Hudson is the leader in tackles with 97 and interceptions with five.  The five interceptions were tied for second in the nation among linebackers.  The secondary should be a strong unit, as junior Robbie Wilson returns at safety and Jerrid Gaines comes back at cornerback. 

 

The Skinny

Barring the same load of injuries they suffered in 2006, there's no reason to think Miami won't be better in 2007.  The RedHawks were picked to finish fourth in the East division, but not too far behind Akron for third place.  The 14-time MAC Champions have the right type of quarterback that can win ballgames, and if the players who were hurt come back healthy, good things are in store in Oxford.   

 

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 5-2 MAC

 

Kent State - 2006: 6-6 Overall, 5-3 MAC

Offense

Sixteen starters return on a team that had one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation in 2006.  Eight of those are back on the offensive side of the ball.  Any time a team brings back a starting quarterback and top running back from the year before, that tends to be a good thing.  This is the case with KSU in 2007.  Junior QB Julian Edelman returns after suffering an injury in the second half of last season.  Edelman was still picked for the second-team All-MAC, as he is a big running threat if the pocket breaks down.  Edelman had 10 touchdown passes and threw for 1,859 yards.  He was also the team's second-leading rusher, finishing with 658 yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games.  The leading-rusher in 2006 was Eugene Jarvis, who was only a freshman.  Jarvis had three TDs while averaging 72.5 yards per game.  Wide receiver will be a tough spot for Kent State, and is the one position on offense where the team may struggle.  They lose one of the best wide outs that the school has ever seen, in Najah Pruden, who finished with six of the 10 touchdown catches the team had in 2006.  Taking over will be a few underclassmen, as five of them fill six spots on the depth chart.  The only upperclassman is junior Shawn Bayes, who is considered one of the fastest players on the team but only had six catches all year long in 2006.  The offensive line is one of the team's strengths, as they were an integral part of the Flashes finishing third in the conference in rushing.  Four starters return with Joe Marafine anchoring the unit and moving to right guard in his senior season.

 

Defense

The Kent State defense was one of the best in the nation in 2006, finishing 24th overall and second in the MAC, giving up only 297.9 yards per game.  The pass defense especially was good, as they allowed only 158.9 yards per game in the air which was 10th in the country.  Eight starters are back but the defensive line is inexperienced.  Despite that, they have a ton of depth, perhaps the most they've ever seen.  Colin Ferrell returns with the best numbers on the line, as he finished with 45 tackles and a forced fumble.  The linebacker unit is one of the best in the country, with the three starters back.  All juniors, Jameson Konz, Stevon Moss and Derek Burrell are considered fast, strong and punishing tacklers.  Moss finished tied for second on the team with 72 tackles, while Konz ended up with five tackles-for-loss.  The secondary loses a cornerback and a safety, and now the depth chart has six underclassmen among the top eight spots, including three redshirt freshmen and one true freshman.  The two starters in the secondary that are back are cornerback Jack Williams, who finished with four interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and tied for first in the nation with five forced fumbles, and strong safety Fritz Jacques was tied for second on the team with 72 tackles and an interception. 

 

The Skinny

Kent State is coming off its best season since 2001 when the Flashes went 6-5, and had one of the best turnarounds the nation saw last year, after going 1-10 in Doug Martin's second year as head coach in 2005.  It's been a rough go, not having a seven win season since 1987.  But the defensive numbers were pretty impressive for a middle-of-the-pack team from the MAC, as they finished high nationally in nearly every defensive statistical category.  The 2007 motto for Martin and his staff is, "Finish."  That's because the team was 5-2 and started the MAC schedule a very impressive 5-0.  A second-place finish in the East behind Ohio was impressive, and now Martin feels it's time to take the next step in the rebuilding process.  The schedule, like most of the MAC teams, is not in their favor, as the Flashes will head to Iowa State, Kentucky and Ohio State out of conference, and will take on one of the conference favorites at home when Central Michigan comes to town in a battle between both teams picked to finish second in their respective divisions.  Kent State will face the East favorite on the road at Ohio Sept. 29. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 7-5 Overall, 5-3 MAC

 

Akron - 2006: 5-7 Overall, 3-5 MAC

 

Offense

For head coach J.D. Brookhart, there's some good news and some bad news when it comes to the 2007 offense.  First, the good news.  Leading rusher, junior Dennis Kennedy, returns as part of five offensive starters that do, after rushing for 914 yards and nine touchdowns in 2006.  Leading receiver, senior Jabari Arthur, is the only starting wide out back, after grabbing four touchdowns in '06.  There may be one problem with being a wide receiver this year for Akron.  QB Luke Getsy is gone, which is the bad news.  Getsy attempted all but three passes for the Zips last season, completing 52.4 percent of them to go along with 18 touchdowns and 221.8 yards per game.  So who's going to replace him?  No one really knows.  The job is open between two sophomores, Carlton Jackson and Chris Jacquemain, and a redshirt freshman Sean Hakes.  If there's one thing separating Jackson from the group, it's that he is the only QB on the 2007 roster to have completed a pass during the 2006 season.  For what it's worth, he's 1-for-1 in his career with two passing yards.  Jacquemain served as the backup along with Jackson in 2006 behind Getsy, but never got into a game.  Hakes saw a majority of the action during spring drills, with Jackson and Jacquemain battling injuries, after spending 2006 as his redshirt season.  Bottom line with the offense, Kennedy will be relied upon a lot on the ground with this unit, and considering they finished dead last in the MAC in 2006 in rushing yards, that may be a problem.

 

Defense

The defense returns eight starters from a unit that finished in the middle of the conference a year ago, and nearly every important piece of the defense is back, everywhere except the defensive line.  The Zips were a tough team to run against, as they were third in the conference allowing 136.2 yards per game on the ground.  Fifth-year senior Reggie Corner returns at cornerback, a year after leading the team with four interceptions.  Senior John Mackey, Akron's leading tackler with 88 in 2006, also returns and joins Corner as a preseason All-MAC selection.  Jared Cecchetti started all 12 games on the defensive line as a junior, and has been a solid contributor in his three seasons.  But of the defensive linemen returning, only two had sacks last year - Nate Robinson with one and Eric Lively registered a half. 

 

The Skinny
It's tough to think Akron will be able to accomplish what they did in 2005 when the Zips won the MAC Championship by beating Northern Illinois, 31-30.  Losing the school's third-leading passer of all-time will tend to do that.  They were picked to finish in third place in the East, and even got a vote to win the conference title.  The running game and the defensive backfield will each be a key for them, considering there will be inexperience at the quarterback position and the frontline. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 4-4 MAC

 

Bowling Green - 2006: 4-8 Overall, 3-5 MAC

Offense

In a league that has been known for its great passers in the last decade, Bowling Green went against the grain in 2006.  For the first time in 42 years, the Falcons led the MAC in rushing, but head coach Gregg Brandon wants to return to the vertical offense that helped BGSU rank near the top in the conference in passing from '01-'05.  Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Turner, who started 10 games in 2006, is back and will look to improve upon his touchdown to interception ratio which was just 11-to-5 last year.  But Turner is also a threat on the ground, as he scored five rushing touchdowns and gained 480 yards on the season.  Brandon feels that even redshirt freshman Anthony Glaud could have a shot at the starting job, along with sophomore Tyler Sheehan who looked decent in a limited role his freshman season (23-for-43, 192 yards).  The weapons at wide receiver may be one of the strong suits, and should mesh well with the changing offensive philosophies.  Junior Corey Partridge is one of the top receivers in the conference, catching 55 passes for 658 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games a year ago.  Sophomore Freddie Burns has moved from running back to wide receiver full-time, after rushing for nine TDs as a freshman.  Running back isn't too shabby either, as the Falcons boast a freshman All-American in Chris Bullock.  He rushed for a team-high 769 yards and found the end zone four times. 

 

Defense

The defensive unit could end up being the best the school has ever seen.  There's a load of starters returning.  Brandon thinks that they will be able to win games with the defense.  Defensive end Diyral Briggs anchors a front line after leading all defensive linemen with 69 tackles and also totalling seven sacks.  In his two years at Bowling Green, Briggs has totaled 11.5 sacks.  The linebackers will be led by junior Erique Dozier, who was the team's second-leading tackler with 98 including nine TFL's and three sacks.  Junior cornerback Kenny Lewis is back after leading the team with four interceptions, and is part of a secondary that has four starters return that started a combined 33 games in the 2006 season.  Included in that is sophomore Jerett Sanderson, who will likely start at strong safety.  Sanderson had 73 tackles and three picks in his first collegiate season.

 

The Skinny
The 2006 season is certainly one that the Falcons would like to put behind them.  While they may have found their quarterback of the future, a loss to Temple and a three overtime win against Buffalo weren't exactly program highlights.  Bowling Green hasn't won the MAC since 1992, but they'd like to get back to the winning ways that saw the Falcons win 43 games between 2001-2005.  Road games at Minnesota, Michigan State and Boston College could lead to a tough overall record, but the Falcons do avoid having to face the two West division powerhouses, and conference favorites, Western Michigan and Central Michigan.  BGSU has been picked to finish fifth in the East, only ahead of new member Temple and Buffalo. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 5-7 Overall, 4-4 MAC

 

Buffalo - 2006: 2-10 Overall, 1-7 MAC

Offense

There are a lot of positives that can be taken out of the 2006 season, despite going just 2-10.  Head coach Turner Gill's first season saw the offense put up 220 points, its most in a season since moving to Division I-A.  Maybe even the most impressive, were the 201 points that the Bulls put up in conference play, which were the most of any team in the East division.  Twenty-three players return to the offense, including eight starters, so bigger numbers can even be expected in 2007.  Here's a trivia question that most won't get: Who was the last remaining starting quarterback in the nation to throw an interception?  Buffalo's Drew Willy.  The junior went 131 attempts without throwing one, and finished the year with 1,391 yards in eight games before a thumb injury caused him to miss the rest of the year.  Willy is back healthy and ready for his third year as the Buffalo starter.  Running back James Starks will carry much of the load after leading the team with 704 yards on 175 carries in 2006.  Starks added six touchdowns and was a second-team All-MAC selection.  He became the first Buffalo freshman to earn All-League honors in the school's eight year MAC history.  Behind Starks, it's real thin.  Da'Von McCune is the only other back with experience, and that was three carries in '06.  Wide receiver, though, will be a strength for this team.  Five receivers caught at least seven passes last year, including leading receiver Terrance Breaux, who led all Bulls receivers with 32 catches for 444 yards.  Sophomore Naaman Roosevelt is another weapon that Willy will have at his disposal.  Helping out the cause is the fact that four offensive line starters return from a season ago, with the leader being senior center Jamey Richard, who started 23 straight games and is an All-MAC caliber player.

 

Defense

While the Buffalo offense excelled at times last season, the same can not be said for the defense.  But the good news is they got some much-needed experience from a year ago.  Thirty-one players are back, including nine of 11 starters from 2006.  The defensive line returns every player that started on the line, something that is rarely seen.  Defensive end Trevor Scott was a beast in his first season in Buffalo, recording nine sacks which broke the Buffalo Division I-A record.  Scott also had a team-best 13.5 tackles for loss.  Linebacker will be a question mark, as they lose two seniors at the position, but Ollice Ervin does return.  The senior started 11 games last year and finished with 96 tackles and an interception.  The secondary will be this unit's strength, as they return all four starters and three reserves that saw plenty of playing time in 2006.  Safety Kareem Byrom is a senior captain who forced four fumbles a year ago and is one of the best in the conference.

 

The Skinny

For Gill, things can only continue to go up.  There was certainly marked improvement in year one, but another tough schedule could hurt the Bulls.  Buffalo will face their first ever Big 12 opponent at home when Baylor comes to town, and will travel to Penn State, Rutgers and Syracuse.  Having a veteran quarterback with a veteran offensive line and secondary is certainly promising.  There are obviously holes to fill, but expect this team to win more than the two games that they won in 2006 as Gill continues to build the program.

 

Regular Season Prediction: 2-10 Overall, 1-7 MAC

 

Temple - 2006: 1-11 Overall, First Year In Conference

Offense

The good news for Temple is that they had the top-rated recruiting class in the MAC in 2006.  Head coach Al Golden has cleaned house in every aspect of the game, and Temple is primed to compete as the newest member of the Mid-American Conference.  Eight starters from the offense return, including quarterback Adam DiMichele and wide receivers Bruce Francis and Travis Shelton.  The Owls had the worst offense in Division I-A football last season, averaging only 215.7 yards per game, scored only 10.9 points per game (116 out of 119 teams) and gained only 53.7 yards per game on the ground.  If there was one bright spot on the offense, it was DiMichele at quarterback.  The redshirt junior completed 61.4 percent of his passes, while throwing for 1,518 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Francis was second on the team with 32 catches, and led the Owls with four touchdown receptions.  Shelton, who was second on the team with three TDs, is also back.  The tailback position is one that will really need the biggest overhaul.  Temple only scored four rushing touchdowns in 2006, and they lose their leading rusher Tim Brown.  Sophomore Jason Harper looks to take over the job, after finishing second on the team with 186 yards on the ground, and was tied for the team lead with two rushing touchdowns.  The offensive line is experienced, boasting nine players who've seen significant action.  The bottom line with the offense, things can only get better than what they were a year ago for this unit.

 

Defense
Like the offense, a ton of experience is back on the defensive side of the ball.  Seven starters return, with a total of 19 that have gameday experience.  The Owls play a 4-3 defense, and defensive end Leyon Azubuike leads the unit after racking up two sacks in 2006.  The unit gave up 452.4 yards per game a year ago to finish 117th in the nation, and were dead last in the country allowing 243.6 yards on the ground per game.  The passing defense wasn't as horrible, giving up 208.8 yards through the air.  Dominique Harris is the best returning member of the secondary, having been tied for the team lead with two interceptions while being second on the team with 59 tackles. 

 

The Skinny

Coach Golden only has two scholarship seniors on his roster in 2007, and that's probably a good thing.  Cleaning house is something that he started to do in his first year of 2006, and after the Owls picked up a win in his first year against a future MAC opponent Bowling Green, one has to think they will be able to compete in the conference.  The Owls will face a tough schedule, as they will take on Navy and Penn State at home, and will finish the regular season with a game at the conference favorite, Western Michigan.  The game against the Nittany Lions will not only be a great atmosphere in Philadelphia, but it is Golden's alma mater, and a place where he coached in 2000.  The Owls were picked to finish sixth in the East division, only ahead of Buffalo. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 2-10 Overall, 1-7 MAC

 

 

 

West Division

 

 

Western Michigan - 2006: 8-5 Overall, 6-2 MAC

Offense

Much like Ohio, the Broncos didn't overwhelm anybody with their offense.  Altogether, WMU put up 23 points per game, and averaged 319.5 yards of offense, each considered middle of the road in both the conference and the nation.  The Broncos have an interesting situation when it comes to the quarterback position.  Six QBs dot the roster, but none of them made more than two starts in 2006.  Senior Thomas Peregrin made those starts, and helped Western Michigan to two victories over Toledo and Virginia.  In five games, Peregrin completed 69.2-percent of his passes, while tossing three touchdowns and no interceptions.  The candidate is sophomore Tim Hiller who won the 2005 MAC Freshman of the Year award.  Hiller is still coming back from a devastating knee injury that happened in the 2005 season finale.  Hiller threw 20 touchdowns in his first collegiate season, but hasn't seen live action since November of that year.  As for who they will be throwing to, two experienced wide receivers are back, as Jamarko Simmons and Herb Martin look to improve upon some pretty decent numbers they put up in 2006.  Simmons led the team with 61 receptions and hauled in two touchdowns, while Martin was second on the team with four TD catches.  The strength of the offense lies at the running back position, where Brandon West and Mark Bonds stepped in to become quite the tailback duo.  Bonds led the team with 1,082 yards on 252 carries, and became just the tenth running back to reach the 1,000 yard plateau in school history.  West not only did a good job backing up Bonds, but he was one of the best kick returners in the country.  Dubbed Thunder and Lightning by many, Bonds and West will look to compliment each other once again in 2007.  The offensive line is another one of WMU's strengths, after leading the MAC in sacks allowed with only 1.3 per game.  Senior center Robbie Krutilla was on the Rimington Trophy watch list last year, and is on it once again in his final collegiate campaign.  All but one starter from the front line returns in 2007.

 

Defense

The defensive line also returns a while load of experience.  Zach Davidson became a starter at defensive end, and finished the year with eight sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.  Linebacker is a spot where Western Michigan will need to replace quite a bit.  The Broncos lose the nation's leader in sacks and tackles for loss in Ameer Ismail.  But the lone returning starter was the team's defensive player of the year, Dustin Duclo.  Duclo had 53 tackles and 6.5 sacks last season.  The secondary returns every starter from last year, including first team All-MAC selection Londen Fryar.  The unit was as good as it gets as far as interceptions, as they led the nation in that category with 24.  Fryar led the MAC with five picks, while E.J. Biggers and Louis Delmas had four apiece.  The Broncos also led the country in sacks per game with 3.5, and broke a MAC record in holding opponents to just 76.1 yards per game. 

 

The Skinny

Western Michigan will face a tough schedule in 2007, as they will open at West Virginia to get things started.  They will also face a pair of Big Ten teams and a Big 12 opponent.  Head coach Bill Cubit has turned things around in Kalamazoo.  The Broncos went to just their first bowl game in 18 years when WMU took on Cincinnati at the inaugural International Bowl in 2006.  The eight win season was just the fifth in school history as well.  The pressure is turned up now that the team is the favorite to win the conference, a world away from their 1-10 2004 season.  If things pan out like they are supposed to, the Broncos would celebrate their first MAC Championship in school history.  They have reached the championship game twice, in 1999 and 2000, but lost to Marshall both seasons. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 7-1 MAC

 

Central Michigan - 2006: 10-4 Overall, 7-1 MAC

Offense

The 2006 MAC champions return a lot in 2007 on the offensive side of the ball.  The Chippewas ranked first in the conference in both scoring and total offense and return seven starters from that squad including a couple of the biggest playmakers.  The 2006 MAC Freshman of the Year and first team All-MAC selection, Dan LeFevour, set school records with 3,031 passing yards, 26 touchdown passes, and 3,552 yards of total offense.  After just one season, LeFevour ranks 10th in school history in career passing yards and seventh in touchdown passes.  Last season's starting running back returns as well, as junior Ontario Sneed looks to be the favorite at the position.  Sneed has 1,829 career rushing yards, and is a dual threat out of the backfield with 103 career passes which is seventh-most in school history.  Sneed rushed for four touchdowns and caught seven TD passes as well last season.  LeFevour has two of his biggest weapons at receiver, with Bryan Anderson, a school-record 73 receptions in 2006, and Justin Gardner who caught five touchdowns.  As for the offensive line, they return three starters but lose two of the best that have ever played for CMU.  Left tackle Joe Staley went in the first round while center Drew Mormino went in the sixth.  The duo played a huge role in Central Michigan's success in 2006.

 

Defense

Seven starters also return on defense for first year head coach Butch Jones.  The players they do lose played large rolls on last year's squad.  Defensive lineman Daniel Bazuin was drafted in the second-round by the Chicago Bears, while defensive back Pacino Horne led the team with four interceptions.  But they do return linebacker Ike Brown, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury against Michigan.  Steven Friend will anchor the line after being an All-MAC second team selection in 2006, while cornerback Josh Gordy led the secondary with 66 tackles.  The defense is certainly a unit that the Chippewas could improve upon, winning many games with their offense en route to the conference championship.  CMU finished eighth in the conference and 67th in the nation in total defense, allowing 341.6 yards per game.  The Chippewas struggled most with the pass, allowing 215 yards through the air, which was 10th in the conference. 

 

The Skinny

It's not often that a team loses its head coach after winning the conference championship, but that was the case after the 2006 season when Brian Kelly left for the Cincinnati job.  Butch Jones comes in from West Virginia where he was the wide receivers coach from 2005-06.  But Jones is very familiar with Mt. Pleasant, Mich., as he was an assistant with CMU from 1998 until 2004 where his duties ranged from tight ends coach, running backs coach and offensive coordinator.  Jones knows all about winning, thanks to Rich Rodriguez's winning philosophy at West Virginia.  The offense may not be as potent as it was a season ago, with the loss of two huge offensive linemen.  But there's no question that LeFevour is an excellent quarterback.  Defensively, there was certainly room to improve after allowing 22.3 points per game.  Defensive coordinator Tim Banks, returns to CMU after graduating in 1995 and spent the last four seasons at Maryland.  Overall, it looks like a two-horse race between Western Michigan and Central Michigan in the West division, as the two were picked first and second, respectively, to win the MAC.

 

Regular Season Prediction: 8-4 Overall, 5-2 MAC

 

Northern Illinois Huskies- 2006: 7-6 Overall, 5-3 MAC

Offense

The expectations were high with the 2006 Huskies, especially with Heisman candidate Garrett Wolfe at running back.  Wolfe supplied 148.3 yards per game on the ground, led the nation in rushing and all-purpose yards and scored 18 of the team's 20 rushing touchdowns last season.  Justin Anderson and Montell Clanton each scored one, and will vie to become the eighth straight Huskies' runner to reach 1,000 yards in a season.  Clanton was Wolfe's primary backup before a knee injury ended his season.  Senior Cas Prime was second on the team last season in rushing with 142 yards.  That's a big drop off, and head coach Joe Novak knows there's not another Wolfe among the group.  He's just hoping for a consistent runner.  NIU will have a new starting quarterback in 2007, but it's a guy that has had experience.  Junior Dan Nicholson has five starts under his belt, when he came in late in the season each of the last two years.  He has 1,479 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons.  The wide receivers will be a strength on the Northern Illinois offense, which had the second-best offense in the MAC in 2006, averaging 363.2 yards per game.  Leading receiver Britt Davis returns after making 57 receptions for 731 yards and three TDs.  His brother, tight end Brandon, also is back, after making two TD grabs in '06.  Marcus Perez led last year's squad with five touchdown passes, and will look to use his speed to do so again.  After the offensive line fell off from previous years last season, there's only one senior on this year's edition.  Chris Acevedo will move to left tackle to try and replace draft pick Doug Free.  Three sophomores are expected in the middle of the line.  Throw in the fact that Novak cleaned house with his offensive coaches after last year, it could be a learning experience for everyone involved.  Novak said to not expect a wide-open offense.

 

Defense

The Northern Illinois defense relied heavily upon a bend but don't break defense in 2006.  While they allowed a ton of yardage, 364.7 yards per game, they only allowed 21.2 points per game, good for fourth in the league.  The secondary loses three seniors, but they bring back a lot of depth.  Seniors Mark Reiter and juniors Bradley Pruitt and Melvin Rice each started at least seven games last season, and Rice tied for the team lead in interceptions with only two.  The team only had seven, a number that was tied for last in the conference.  Linebacker Tim McCarthy anchors the linebacker core, after registering 111 tackles in 2006, two interceptions, seven tackles for loss and one sack.  On the defensive line, junior Larry English is the star defensive end.  English is one of 39 players named to the 2007 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award.  English forced four fumbles last season, to go along with 13 career sacks and 23 TFLs. 

 

The Skinny

Northern Illinois has put together an impressive string of winning seasons.  NIU has had seven straight winning seasons, and has made three straight postseason appearances.  The Huskies have been known over those years as a running offense.  That may change in 2007.  Novak has said that the strength of this team will probably be the defense, but then again Wolfe came out of nowhere to become one of the best tailbacks in the country over the last couple of seasons.  Given Novak's track record, he'll probably find a replacement sooner than later.  A tilt with Iowa at Soldier Field in Chicago highlights the Huskies schedule to kickoff the season Sept. 1.  The Huskies were picked to finish fifth in the West, only in front of Eastern Michigan.  NIU will face Central Michigan on the road, and Western Michigan at home, a week before traveling to Big Ten power Wisconsin. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 4-3 MAC

 

Toledo - 2006: 5-7 Overall, 3-5 MAC

Offense

After finishing fifth in the conference last season in total offense, Toledo gets experience back in 2007.  Eight starters return, not to mention three quarterbacks who all played in 2006.  Junior Clint Cochran and sophomore Aaron Opelt are the frontrunners for the starting job, which head coach Tom Amstutz still says is open.  Cochran threw for 960 yards and six touchdowns, while Opelt finished with 875 yards and six TDs.  Each quarterback played just about split the duties evenly last season, with neither sticking out in a passing offense that struggled much of the year, finishing with just 13 touchdowns through the air, with 11 interceptions.  Cochran began last season as the starter before succumbing to an injury that forced him to miss five games.  Sophomore Brandon Summers is the other candidate at the QB position, after he started two games and threw a touchdown.  Making life easier for whoever the quarterback will be is the fact that they have a 1,000 yard rusher in the backfield.  Senior Jalen Parmele gained 100 yards in each of his last four games a season ago, and finished with 1,131 yards and eight touchdowns, and was named to the first-team All-MAC.  Sophomore DaJuane Collins looks to be the backup, after averaging 5.6 yards per carry in limited duty last season.  The leading receiver on last year's team was tight end Chris Hopkins, and the senior is back after catching 54 passes and seven touchdowns, but only two other players who caught touchdowns are back, with senior Andrew Hawkins and sophomore Stephen Williams returning after catching one TD each last season.  As for the offensive line, John Greco is a two-time All-MAC left tackle, and he'll anchor the unit that may see three redshirt freshmen starting. 

 

Defense

The strength of the defense will rest in the secondary, where there is a lot of experience.  Safeties Barry Church and Tyrrell Herbert were two of the best in the conference a year ago, and Church was named a second-team Freshman All-American.  Church led the team with four interceptions and was second on the squad with 71 tackles.  Just ahead of Church was Herbert, who finished with three picks and led Toledo with 74 tackles.  At cornerback, the Rockets get three-year starter Nigel Morris back along with his six career interceptions.  All three starting linebackers return, with senior Greg Hay leading the way.  Hay had 9.5 tackles for loss, and will be flanked by junior Keith Forestal and sophomore Archie Donald.  The linebackers helped Toledo finish right smack in the middle of the conference in run defense last season, allowing 137.9 yards per game.  The defensive front has loads of depth, with up to seven players being able to be rotated into the lineup.  Senior Sean Williamson leads that group, as he's started 27 straight games as a defensive end, including every game the last two seasons.  Williamson finished with six tackles for a loss to go along with 47 tackles in 2006. 

 

The Skinny

Toledo and Amstutz are used to winning.  Last year was their first losing season since 1993.  Being in a strong West Division doesn't help the cause, sitting behind conference favorites Western Michigan and Central Michigan.  Having 16 starters back won't hurt the cause, but they will have to find a quarterback that they will stick with, otherwise, they could be in trouble and the effectiveness of Parmele at tailback will take a hit.  The Rockets have been picked to finish in third place in the West, and were voted fourth overall to win the MAC Championship.  While it may not be a return to the championship days in Toledo, the Rockets should be able to put 2006 behind them and return to their winning ways.  Home games against Purdue and Iowa State, and a road game at Kansas highlight the non-conference portion of the schedule.  While the Rockets have to play the top three conference favorites, at least two are home.  Week 2 sees them go to Central Michigan, while week five has Western Michigan coming to Toledo and a tilt with Ohio Oct. 20. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 6-6 Overall, 4-4 MAC

 

Ball State - 2006: 5-7 Overall, 5-3 MAC

Offense

David Letterman nearly predicted one of the biggest upsets in college football history last season, when his alma mater, Ball State, came within eight points of knocking off Michigan in Ann Arbor.  One of the standouts was quarterback Nate Davis, who looked unfazed on such a big stage.  Davis threw for 250 yards and a touchdown, and nearly tied things late in the game.  The Bellaire, Ohio native enters his second season with the Cardinals, looking to improve even more after splitting time with Joey Lynch.  Davis completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,975 yards in 12 games (seven starts), while connecting for 18 touchdowns as well.  His favorite target, junior wide receiver Dante Love, returns after leading the team with 52 receptions while hauling in four TDs on the season.  Tight end Darius Hill, who led the team with 10 touchdown catches in 2006, is also back.  While leading rusher Larry Bostic is gone, the offensive line does return four starters, which will help in getting new starting running back MiQuale Lewis comfortable.  Lewis had 48 rushes for 280 yards in limited duty as a freshman.  The ground game did little of anything a year ago, averaging only 91.9 yards per game.  If Lewis can step into the starting role and produce, Ball State could become a dangerous attack.

 

Defense

The defense returns six starters from a core that struggled at times in 2006, especially defending the pass.  Ball State finished dead last in the MAC against the air attack, allowing 3,094 yards through the air.  Returning both cornerbacks will hopefully help that situation after.  New starting safeties Chris Allen and Eddie Burk, both seniors, won't have too much to live up to.  Last season's second leading tackler, linebacker Wendell Brown is back in the middle, a season after totaling 83 tackles to go along with six tackles-for-loss, a sack and an interception.  One plus is that defensive end Cortlan Booker is back for his senior season, after leading the team with five sacks in 2006. 

 

The Skinny

Head coach Brady Hoke and his staff has to be happy with the quarterback they have.  After a solid freshman year, the Cardinals definitely can't afford a sophomore slump.  With non-conference road games at Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana, plus a conference road game at MAC favorite Western Michigan, it could be a tough year in Muncie.  The Cardinals were picked to finish fourth in the West division.

 

Regular Season Prediction: 3-9 Overall, 2-5 MAC

 

 

Eastern Michigan - 2006: 1-11 Overall, 1-7 MAC

Offense

Things can't get much worse for the Eagles in 2007 after an awful 2006 season.  The offense finished second-to-last in the conference in total offense, with 276.3 yards per game, which was 107th in the nation.  EMU's 167 points was good enough for 114th in the country, as the team found the end zone only 17 times.  The Eagles do get back their No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks from last season, but each are coming off off-season shoulder surgery.  Andy Schmitt and Tyler Jones each led the team in rushing as well.  Schmitt started seven games last season and ended up leading the team in both passing yards and rushing yards.  Schmitt rushed for 461 yards and four touchdowns, while Jones ended up with 310 yards on the ground with another four touchdowns.  Schmitt threw for only two TDs and 131.3 yards per game, but threw six interceptions, while Jones tossed four touchdowns while being intercepted nine times.  Senior running back Pierre Walker returns after missing the last few games of the season.  Walker played in six games, and finished third on the team in rushing with 214 yards and two touchdowns.  Walker is also regarded as a great pass blocker, even though he's only 5-foot-8 at best.  The wide receiver position is one that the Eagles were wiped out after last season, as they lose their top two at the position.  Eric Deslauriers led the team with five TDs and also a team-high 74 receptions, while Trumaine Riley is gone as well after 45 catches last season.  Take away those two, and there were only 62.6 yards per game from the passing game.  It can't get much worse than the 2006 offensive numbers, but it may. 

 

Defense

The defensive unit was nearly just as bad as the offense, finishing 98th in the nation, allowing 388.3 yards per game.  But it was an improvement over the numbers two seasons ago when EMU allowed 41 points per game, and in 2006 allowed only 26.  The defense also only forced 15 turnovers, which was dead last in the MAC.  Three starters return on the defensive line, with Jason Jones anchoring the unit.  The defensive tackle finished fifth in the nation in tackles-for-loss with 18.5.  Jones also recorded four sacks and had two forced fumbles.  Two starting linebackers return, with Daniel Holtzclaw being the best of the bunch in the middle.  Holtzclaw finished 16th in the nation in tackles last season with 114 after earning All-American honors as a freshman.  The secondary has both safeties back, with Chris May and Jacob Wyatt providing 89 tackles each.

 

The Skinny

Fourth year head coach Jeff Genyk endured a lot in Ypsilanti in 2006, and since he got the job, the Eagles are just 9-25 in three seasons.  This may not be the year Genyk is able to turn things around completely, but improvements won't be tough to see considering Eastern Michigan hasn't had a winning season since 1995 when they went 6-5.  EMU has just two winning seasons since 1989.  It's been a real struggle to say the least.  The Eagles will play four tough out-of-conference games, as they go to Pittsburgh to open the season, head to Vanderbilt, play at Michigan and face Northwestern at Ford Field in Detroit.  While they may win more than one game, EMU was picked to finish last in a very tough West division. 

 

Regular Season Prediction: 2-10 Overall, 1-6 MAC

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