Previewing the MAC
 
 

Aug. 16, 2006

By Brian Hardy

CSTV.com

 



BRIAN HARDY

Brian is an assistant editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular basis.
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EASTERN DIVISION

 

Akron

 

After last year's storybook season, the Zips would love nothing more than to prove any remaining doubters wrong by winning a second straight MAC title. And they have a nucleus returning that just may allow them to do so.

 

The Zips return star quarterback Luke Getsy, now a senior, who threw for 3,455 yards and 23 touchdowns last season -- with his most important touchdown pass being the 36-yard pass he threw to Domenik Hixon in the MAC title game against Northern Illinois with just 10 seconds remaining. That touchdown tied the score at 30. The made extra point then put the Zips on top and gave Akron the championship.

 

The Zips return a total of 16 starters, including its entire starting offensive line from last season, which includes four seniors. Clearly one of the strength's of the team, this should undoubtedly give Getsy the time he needs in the pocket and allow him to put up some big numbers.

 

One thing Getsy won't have with him in the backfield is tailback Brett Biggs, who ran for 1,230 yards and caught 65 passes last season for the Zips. Look for sophomore Dennis Kennedy to try to fill these shoes. The team's top returning rusher, Kennedy ran for 131 yards on 45 carries last season.

 

The Zips' defense returns eight starters, including rover John Mackey, the teams' top returning tackler from last year.

 

One thing not in the Zips favor: their schedule. Akron plays five of its first six games on the road, beginning with visits to Penn State and N.C. State to open the season.

 

2006 Akron Schedule

 

Miami

 

If Akron is not able to repeat as Eastern Division champs, than Miami just be the one coming out of the East this year. But it won't be easy. The RedHawks have just 10 starters returning from last season's squad that tied Akron, along with Bowling Green, for the East Division title.

 

Perhaps the biggest question facing Miami coming into 2006 is at quarterback where junior Mike Kokal is the only returnee with game experience. If Kokal doesn't get the call, then look for sophomore Jared Elliott or redshirt freshman Daniel Raudabaugh to step in.

 

Other areas where Miami faces losses is at linebacker, where five starters are gone. This includes the team's top returning tackler, John Busing. The offensive line will have three new starters this season as well.

 

Despite all these questions, second-year head coach Shane Montgomery and his RedHawks expect to be competing for a MAC title once again.

 

One weapon they do have returning to the mix is senior receiver/return man Ryne Robinson, who caugh 75 passes for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Robinson also has recorded 1,502 yards and six touchdowns on punt returns.

 

2006 Miami Schedule

 

Bowling Green

 

Bowling Green was the other team along with Miami that tied Akron for last year's East Division title but lost a tiebreaker. And like Miami, Bowling Green is facing questions at several positions this season as the Falcons return just 11 starters from last year's squad.

 

Tops on the Falcons "to do" list is to replace two-time All-MAC quarterback Omar Jacobs, who opted to go to the NFL and skip his senior season. Jacobs' departure will open the door for either sophomore Anthony Turner, who saw game action last season when Jacobs was down with an injury, or redshirt freshman Freddie Barnes.

 

The Falcons' schedule is by no means easy, as they host Wisconsin Sept. 2 in their home opener and travel to Columbus for a meeting with the mighty Buckeyes in October.

 

2006 Bowling Green Schedule

 

Ohio

 

Frank Solich enters his second season at the helm for Ohio, coming off a 4-7 mark last year. The Bobcats actually got off to a pretty decent start in '05, upsetting Pittsburgh and winning three of their first five conference games. The floodgates opened late in the year; however, as a bundle of injuries led to three straight MAC defeats to Toledo, Akron and Miami to close out the season.

 

The Bobcats sported an efficient rushing attack in 2005, led by junior Kalvin McRae, who averaged 174.1 yards per game to rank third in the conference. The passing game; however, was another story and will need to be remedied if the Bobcats want to prevent having another losing season. The team struggled to move the ball through the air last year, as Ohio's passing game ranked last in the MAC and 114th in the nation.

 

The defense returns a ton of experience, but will need to improve as well, as the Bobcats were 11th in the MAC in total defense and 109th in the nation, giving up 452.5 yards per game, last season.

 

2006 Ohio Schedule

 

Kent State

 

The Golden Flashes went winless in the MAC last season, losing their last nine games of the season to finish with a 1-10 overall mark.

 

Perhaps Kent State's biggest strength heading into this season is experienced youth. The Golden Flashes played 14 freshmen last season - tied for the second most in Division I-A football. Those freshmen, now sophomores, should help the Flashes be more competitive this season.

 

One thing that Kent State must work on if it plans on manufacturing any conference victories this season is the running game. The Flashes averaged just 45.9 yards per game in 2005 - good enough for last among all Division I-A teams.

 

2006 Kent State Schedule

 

Buffalo

 

There is some excitement in upstate New York and it has nothing to do with the Buffalo Bills. Former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill has taken over the reigns of the Buffalo football program - a program that has a 7-49 record since entering the MAC in 1999. Gill, who starred at QB for the Huskers from 1981-1983, and then served as an assistant coach for the Husker teams that won national titles in 1994, '95, and '97.

 

Gill has a lot of work ahead of him. Since returning to DI-A football in 1999, the Bulls are a combined 10-69 and last year, Buffalo won just one game - a 10-6 victory over Kent State. The Bulls ranked last in the MAC in scoring offense, total offense and turnover margin and they ranked second-to-last in all of DI-A football with a scoring average of 10.

 

There does look to be some promise for Gill, though. Sophomore Drew Willy, who showed potential last season, returns at quarterback for the Bulls after starting the final eight games of the 2005 season.

Meanwhile, the Bulls also have some depth in the backfield with senior Steven King, who has led the Bulls in rushing the last two years, returning. Meanwhile, senior Chris McDuffie returns after missing all of last season and Jared Patterson, Phillip Warren and freshman Ike Nduka could also get into the mix.

 

Look for some new faces on the defensive line for the Bulls as all four starters last season were seniors. In the secondary, the team's top tackler from a year ago returns in Kareem Byrum. This unit was tops in the conference in pass defense last season and you can expect them to be one of the Bulls' strengths again this season. 

 

2006 Buffalo Schedule

 

WESTERN DIVISION

 

Northern Illinois

 

The Huskies come into the 2006 season as the favorites, although in a league as close and competitive as this, don't think that means they're a lock to win the MAC. However, seeing their first-ever conference title slip from their hands last season in the loss to Akron should motivate this bunch to get back and this time win it.

 

While last year marked the first time the Huskies went to the MAC title game, the program has been on the brink in year's past, only to fall short. The Huskies tied for the West Division crown in 2001, '02, and '04 but lost tiebreakers that prevented them from getting to the title game. And then last year, the Huskies finally made it to the title game, only to suffer a devastating loss to the Zips in the closing seconds.

 

But a new season is upon and the Huskies are hoping that this will be the year they take that next step and capture their first-ever MAC crown.

 

The Huskies possess the nation's top returning rusher in senior tailback Garrett Wolfe, who averaged 175.6 yards per game last season. Wolfe also ranks first in all-purpose yards as well as active career rushing yards (3,236). Last season, despite playing in just nine games, Wolfe rushed for 1,580 yards and 16 touchdowns. As a team, Northern Illinois ranked second in the MAC and No. 16 in the country in rushing last season, thanks in large part to Wolfe.

 

At quarterback, it will be either senior Phil Horvath or sophomore Dan Nicholson taking the snaps for NIU. Horvath started nine games for the Huskies last season before breaking his arm and missing the rest of the season. His replacement, Nicholson, stepped in nicely, leading NIU to late-season wins over Central Michigan, Toledo and Western Michigan, and put together a strong performance in the title game.

 

The Huskies will get tested right out of the gates when the season begins, as they must play on the road at Ohio State. It will be interesting to see just how one of the top teams from the MAC matches up against a team who many are picking to win the Big Ten this year -- and to contend for the national title.

 

2006 Northern Illinois Schedule

 

Toledo  

 

Toledo has been a force to be reckoned with in the MAC for years now, paying trips to four bowl games in the last five seasons, including a convincing 45-13 GMAC Bowl victory over UTEP last season. Tom Amstutz heads into his sixth season as the Rockets' head coach with a 45-18 career record. In fact, Amstutz's Rockets have been the 11th-winningest program in Division I-A over the last five years with a 55-19 record.

 

The biggest question facing Toledo will be trying to replace quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who left for the NFL. Look for sophomore Clint Cochran to step up as Toledo's next signal caller. The sophomore started one game last season when Gradowski was injured. Others in the mix at QB include redshirt freshman Brandon Summers and sophomore John Goolsby, as well as incoming freshman Aaron Opelt.

 

Another obstacle for Toledo will be to find someone to replace the graduated tailback Trinity Dawson. Dawson rushed for 1,318 yards and five touchdowns last season and it will be vital to get someone in the backfield that can advance the ball to make things easier on whomever the new starting quarterback is.

 

There's no hiding that this team will miss Gradowski, though. Look no further than his five-touchdown performance in the final game of his Toledo career to realize just how talented this guy was.

 

2006 Toledo Schedule

 

Western Michigan 

 

The Broncos really got things turned around in 2005, recording a 7-4 record after going just 1-10 the year prior -- the biggest one-season turnaround in league history. They are a big reason why so many people are talking about the parity of the league.

 

Fifth-year senior Ryan Cubit returns as the starting quarterback, after losing the starting job last year in the fourth week of the season due to injury. Sophomore Tim Hiller, who replaced Cubit at quarterback last year after Cubit went down, is recuperating from an injury himself -- and it looks as if his bum knee will sideline him for the '06 season, forcing a medical redshirt.

 

The defense looks to be in good hands and should be stronger than last season - WMU's defense ranked 10th in the league last season - as nine starters return. Opposing teams should be on the look out for senior outside linebacker Ameer Ismail, who had 93 tackles last season and recorded a team-high eight sacks to earn first-team all-conference honors.

 

2006 Western Michigan Schedule

 

Central Michigan

 

Under third-year head coach Brian Kelly, the Chippewas will try to take the next step after putting together their first winning season since 1998 last year. Central Michigan went 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the MAC.

 

The Chippewas lose four starters on offense, with the biggest hole being at quarterback by the departed Kent Smith. Sophomore Brian Brunner looks to be the favorite to fill that void after serving as Smith's backup last season and appearing in three games.

 

In the backfield, sophomore tailback Ontario Sneed returns after a freshman campaign that earned him MAC Rookie of the Year honors, as he tallied 1,065 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns in his freshman season.

 

The Chippewas are another one of those MAC teams that gets tested early, as CMU hosts Boston College for its season opener on Aug. 31.

 

2006 Central Michigan Schedule

 

Ball State

 

The Cardinals will try to avoid a repeat performance of their start to the 2005 season, which saw them lose six of its first seven games. They'll try to play more like the Cardinals team that closed out the 2005 season going 3-1, with victories over division champs Akron and Northern Illinois.

 

Ball State will look to fifth-year senior quarterback Joey Lynch to lead the offense as Lynch is coming of a season where he threw for 1,993 yards and 18 touchdowns.

 

The offensive line is an area where Ball State must improve in order to protect Lynch and give him enough time to make the plays. Last season, Ball State ranked dead last in the MAC in sacks allowed with 43 and was ninth in total offense, averaging just 299 yards per game.

 

The Cardinals open up the 2006 season with two home contest, hosting conference foe Eastern Michigan in their opener and then welcoming Big Ten member Indiana. We'll know whether or not Ball State was able to carry over the momentum from last year's finish based on how they perform in these two winnable games at home.

 

2006 Ball State Schedule

 

Eastern Michigan

 

Don't be fooled by Eastern Michigan's 3-5 mark in the MAC and 4-7 overall record last season. This team could've been right up there with the rest of them in the thick of the West Division race had it not been for a few plays that didn't go its way, as the Eagles lost a pair of one-point games and one by two points.

 

But the reality is things didn't go the Eagles' way in '05, as Eastern Michigan finished its 10th straight season with a losing record.

 

If the Eagles are going to put an end to their streak of consecutive losing seasons, they are going to need to improve their running game, which ranked eighth in the conference last season at 122.5 yards per game. Last year's starter, Anthony Sherrell, never really got going and racked up just 443 yards in 2005 for the Eagles. Sherrell is gone to graduation though, and the Eagles are hoping that some fresh faces will boost their running game.

 

Quarterback is another area of concern for Eastern Michigan due to the graduation of Matt Bohnet. Sophomore Tyler Jones, who presents a dual threat at the quarterback position as he runs a 4.6 in the 40, will most likely be the one leading the Eagle offense in 2005. The sophomore threw for 245 yards on 41-of-65 passing last season, along with two touchdowns. Proving that he can run on the field, he also was second on the team in rushing, recording 267 yards and one touchdown on 67 carries.

 

Also, look for star wideout Eric Deslaurier to once again put up big numbers. The senior turned down a chance to play in the Canadian Football League after being picked in the first-round of the CFL draft.

 

2006 Eastern Michigan Schedule


 

 


 
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