By Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com who has 2016 Mid American Conference Football Betting Preview.
The West Is Best
Entering its 70th year of gridiron competition, the MAC welcomes 12 teams when it returns to a balanced format in 2016 as UMass has exited the conference.
Northern Illinois has won six consecutive West Division championships but will need to hold back a rising Western Michigan squad and an always-troublesome Toledo team. And we’re not discounting Central Michigan, either. The Chippewas tied for the West Division title last Year.
The East Division appears up for grabs with Akron, Bowling Green and Ohio U the logical contenders. The Bobcats have not suffered a losing season since 2008 but it must find a quarterback. Ditto for Miami Ohio who looks to field its best team since 2010.
Looking Outside the Conference
As lightweight a reputation as the MAC has they have surprisingly managed to hold their own when installed as favorites outside the conference, especially as invaders.
That’s confirmed by the MAC’s sterling 30-8 SU and 24-14 ATS mark as non-conference road chalk – including 13-2 SU and 12-3 ATS from Game Four out (10-0 SUATS since 2004).
And speaking of non-conference opposition, the MAC has been little more than forage for opponents in bowl games dating back to 2007, as they are just 14-32 SU and 15-30-1 ATS in post season play in that span.
Worse, when facing a bowl opponent off a season ending loss, the MAC lacks any kind of attack going a paltry 3-19 SU and 4-18 ATS in these games. It should be noted, though, they have picked up the slack of late, managing to go 3-2 SUATS in these same games the past two seasons.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2016 PLAYBOOK College and Pro Football Preview Guide magazine, on sale now at newsstands nationwide. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2016 MAC EAST PREVIEW
AKRON Off – *3/0 Def – 4/2 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO
After a disappointing 0-2 start last season, SO QB Thomas Woodson
took over in Week Three and immediately ignited the Zips. He tossed for 2,202 yards and rushed for 677, connecting on 19 TDs as Akron went on to record its first 8-win season since becoming an FBS team in 1987. It culminated with a 23-21 upset win over Utah State in the Idaho Potato Bowl, the Zips’ first FBS bowl victory. Woodson returns as the team’s leading rusher and passer. He’ll benefit from the arrival of Utah State transfer JoJo Natson, who caught 108 passes and rushed for 612 yards at USU in 2013-14. The problem? Both lines were peeled mighty thin in the off-season, thus a bounce could be in order. The saving grace would be DE Jamal Marcus, the Ohio State transfer who tallied 30 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks last season in leading the Zips to the 3rd
best defense in the nation against the run in 2015.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Zips’ seniors made a total of 188 starts last season, tied for the most in the nation with Stanford.
PLAY ON: at Ohio U (11/22)
BOWLING GREEN Off – 5/3 Def – 7/1 43 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: HI JINKS ERA STARTS
Former Texas Tech associate head coach Mike Jinks begins his first season as Bowling Green’s head coach in 2016. Prior to joining the Red Raiders, Jinks was a National Coach of the Year finalist while at San Antonio powerhouse, Steele High School. He inherits a team that ran the table for the third straight season against all MAC East opponents on their schedule, winning two MAC championships the past three seasons. Bowling Green has now won 17 straight games over MAC East foes. The Falcons outscored and outyarded conference foes, 24.6 PPG and 169 YPG, best in the MAC last year. Victorious in 36 games the past four seasons, a new era of winning starts in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons went 33-2 SU in games in which they won the stats, and 3-16 SU in games in which they lost the stats over the last four years.
PLAY ON: at Memphis (9/24)
BUFFALO Off – 5/3 Def – 8/4 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BULL RUSH
Head coach Lance Leipold came to Buffalo as the fastest coach to win 100 games in NCAA history – and he continued to make history in his first season with the Bulls when he became the first UB head coach in nearly 50 years to win five games in his first season. Unlike last year, though, the roster is filled with many new faces. Gone is QB Joe Licata, the Bulls’ all-time leading passer who started 40 consecutive games, along with All-MAC performers RB Anthone Taylor, WR Ron Willoughby and TE Matt Weiser (arguably the best in UB history). Former Iowa State QB Grant Rohach has transferred in to replace Licata. Thankfully, the DL is the most experienced unit on the squad.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since joining the MAC in 1999, the Bulls are 6-54 SU and 21-38-1 ATS versus winning opponents.
PLAY ON: at Nevada (9/17)
KENT STATE Off – *10/4 Def – 8/3 51 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: 127 AND COUNTING
A ranking assessment on what did not go right for the Flashes last season: No. 127 (last) in fewest first downs. No. 127 in 3rd-down conversion percentage. No. 127 in passing yards per completion. No. 127 scoring offense. No. 127 rated recruiting class. You get the drift. It’s because of porous play like this that KSU has been to only ONE bowl game since 1972. It could all change this year, though, in a heartbeat. For openers, an abundance of returning starters are back in 2016, due largely to an injury-laden offense last season that was forced to play a bevy of freshmen. Coupled with 41 bowl games up for grabs, the Flashes are all-in.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Golden Flashes seniors made 51 combined starts last season, the 5th fewest in the nation.
PLAY ON: at Bowling Green (11/15)
MIAMI OHIO Off – *10/4 Def – 6/2 46 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BREAK ON THROUGH
To quote the late great Jim Morrison of the Doors, the Redhawks seem ready to “break on through to the other side.” After two tough ground-laying years in which nearly half of their 19 losses were by a touchdown or less, head coach Chuck Martin has inked top recruiting classes in the MAC the past 2 seasons, including 29 three-star recruits. He also welcomes 10 starters back on offense from a team that was the 4th youngest in the nation last year – one that played without its leading passer, rusher, receiver and 3 OL. Filling in were 2 freshmen QB’s, 4 freshmen running backs and a handful of underclassmen WRs that latched onto 105 passes. And to top it off, this announcement recently came across our desk… Miami has signed 6’4”, 304 LB OL Jordan Diamond, a fifth year transfer from Auburn. Because Diamond has graduated he is eligible to play this season. Forewarned is forearmed.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Redhawks are 1-21 SU versus winning opponents the last five years, including 15 losses in a row.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Kent State (10/15)
OHIO U. Off – 6/2 Def – 7/2 49 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: TIME AFTER TIME
After playing through a rash of injuries in 2014, last year’s Bobcats benefited mightily from the force-feeding of young replacements when they won 8 games and a berth in the Camellia Bowl. In the process, veteran coach Frank Solich’s youngsters held two foes to under 200 yards of offense while improving the defense 19 YPG. The same defense dominated in the spring game in April when it routed the offense 62-18. The question is: was it a case of rapid improvement, or a serious lack of offense? We do know that the Bobcats have not had a losing season since 2006 and Solich is the winningest active coach in the MAC. And with it, time marches on.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Frank Solich is 6-0 ATS home off a SU underdog win in his college career.
PLAY ON: vs. Buffalo (11/3)
2016 MAC WEST PREVIEW
BALL STATE Off – *6/2 Def – 9/3 37 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: IN WITH THE NEU
After being the only team in the nation to have upped its season win totals every year from 2010 to 2013 – and re-signing Pete Lembo to a new 5-year deal that made him the highest paid coach in the MAC – the Cardinals lost flight the last two years, going 5-7 and 3-9. Lembo surprisingly threw in the towel to become an assistant coach at Maryland, taking a six-figure-per-year pay cut to become Maryland’s special teams coordinator and assistant head coach. Mike Neu, former quarterback with the Cardinals and most recently QB coach with the New Orleans Saints, takes over. Neu earned Coach of the Year honors in the Arena League in 2000 and the AFL in 2004. And to help keep it ‘neu’ the Cardinals are debuting new “Stars and Stripes” helmets, which look absolutely glorious.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cardinals were outgained by 172 YPG in conference play last season, worst in the MAC.
C MICHIGAN Off – *8/3 Def – 8/2 42 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BIG JOHN
Head coach John Bonamego, the former Detroit Lions special teams coordinator, was up against it last year. For openers, he had to replace an 1,100-yard rusher, 3 of the top 5 wide receivers, 2 starting linebackers and 4 of the top 7 players from the secondary. Then, his best defensive lineman got injured and missed most of the season. To top it off, he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer just prior to the start of the season (the good news is the cancer was caught early and is treatable). Somehow the Chippewas came within 2 points of winning the MAC West, while battling mighty Michigan State and Oklahoma State right down to the wire. Still, the Chippewas somehow came within 2 points of winning the MAC West, while battling mighty Michigan State and Oklahoma State right down to the wire. We’re big Bonamego fans. And so is QB Cooper Rush
who tossed for 25 TDs and 3,848 yards while completing 66 percent of his passes last season. With four wide receivers back who gathered in over 500 passing years apiece in 2015, look for Rush to be in league MVP talks this campaign.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chippewas are 11-2 SU and 12-1 ATS away from Game Six out the last four years.
PLAY ON: vs. Western Michigan (10/1)
E MICHIGAN Off – *8/5 Def – 8/3 46 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: E-NOUGH IS E-NOUGH
When he was hired two years ago, EMU set out to become ‘E Tough’ under head coach Chris Creighton. According to Creighton, ‘E Tough’ means coming ready to roll up their sleeves and to never give in or let up. “Our colors are green and white but our collars are blue,” said Creighton. But after being outscored by 21.4 PPG in conference play, worst in the MAC last season, their balls pretty much matched their collars. Behind a sudden wealth of experience led by high-ceiling QB Brogan Roback and explosive RB Shaq Vann, plus an entire cast of returning linemen on both sides of the ball (7 of the top 8 LBs return), the EMU’s do indeed look ‘E Tough’.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rynearson Stadium, aka “The Factory”, will feature the FBS’s first gray FieldTurf playing surface this season.
PLAY ON: vs. Toledo (10/8)
NO. ILLINOIS Off – *6/3 Def – 6/2 56 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: QB4
With 6 MAC West titles in a row, the Huskies have learned to win games by guile. Last year was a classic example with cluster QB injuries to starter Drew Hare (Achilles), backup Anthony Maddie (back), and 3rd-string freshman Ryan Graham (leg). By the time Tommy Fiedler was forced to take the field, head coach Rod Carey was into the championship game of the MAC – where his team got roasted by Bowling Green, and then annihilated by Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Even so, NIU has a winning pedigree and with all 4 signal-callers back, along with its top 1,000-yard RB and 1,000-yard WR, we won’t step in front of that. Not with CB Shawun Lurry patrolling the secondary. Lurry lead the nation in interceptions last season and will be a Jim Thorpe award contender in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies are 24-4 SU and 21-6-1 ATS in their last 28 road games.
PLAY ON: vs. Central Michigan (10/15)
TOLEDO Off – 8/4 Def – 4/2 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: CANDLE BURNS BRIGHT
Fueled by 28 winning seasons in the last 35 years, the Rockets have gone 6-2 or better in conference clashes 5 of the last 6 years. However, despite winning 7 or more games in each of those years, they haven’t played in a MAC title game in 12 years. Brutal losses to Northern Illinois (outscored 16-3 to close out the game) and Western Michigan denied them once again. Enter former OC and new head coach Jason Candle, who beat Temple in his debut in last year’s Boca Raton Bowl. He’ll welcome back former starting quarterback Logan Woodside (redshirted last year), along with 4 of the 5 starting O-linemen and a pair of 900-yard running backs who scored 19 TDs. Remember, this team beat two FBS foes last season (Arkansas and Iowa State) and has a stud in RB Kareem Hunt who has rushed for over 100 yards 21 times in his career.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Toledo’s 6-0 road record in 2015 marks the first time since 1971 the Rockets went undefeated and untied away from the Glass Bowl.
PLAY ON: vs. Northern Illinois (11/9) – *KEY
W MICHIGAN Off – *8/4 Def – 5/2 48 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: FLECKERING HOPES
We lauded the hiring of P.J. Fleck by the Broncos three years ago and he hasn’t let us down. Hauling in the best recruiting classes in the MAC over the last 2 years, a pair of 8-win bowl seasons the last 2 years – including their first bowl win in school history last year – has the wild horses kicking their heels. SR QB Zach Terrell (3,500 passing yards with 29 TDs and 9 INTs last year) and his top target, WR Corey Davis (1,400 passing yards), each return. FYI: it’s been said that Davis, the FBS’ active leading receiver with 33 career receiving TDs, could end up being one of the best to ever play the position in the MAC. Coupled with the return of its top 3 running backs (2,220 rushing yards), last year’s record-setting offense is primed and ready. They’ll be serious contenders for title honors if the defense comes around.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos have not won a MAC championship in 26 years, and it’s been 15 years since WMU last appeared in a title game.
PLAY ON: vs. Northern Illinois (10/8) – *KEY as a dog
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc’s 2016 Mountain West Football Preview!