The MAC is where parity happens. Sports writers can make good guesses but in the end few people will expect the unexpected from this conference. We do know the MAC West will be as tough as an overcooked steak while half the MAC East will be as tough as potato soup. Is it lunch time yet? Overall, this conference is stronger than it was a few years ago and should close the gap with low level BCS leagues like the Big East and maybe even the Big Ten. The following predictions will probably be a joke in four months, so for future laughs here we go.
The Punching Bags
Welcome Minutemen! Enjoy life as a small FBS school where wasteful athletic budgets reign and insufficient revenues are generated. Is it too late to go back to FCS? We previously covered if UMass should even been allowed in the MAC and experts are hinting they will be in the Big East eventually. It is interesting that UMass suckered Indiana to be its first home game as an FBS school. Would not be surprised if the Minutemen knocked off the Hoosiers in what should be a wild atmosphere. But in all honesty, if a 5-7 FCS team wins more than two MAC games then it is time to move the league down. Prediction: 1-11 (0-8 MAC)
Akron landed Terry Bowden as their new head coach as the Zips are banking on the Bowden name. Bowden can fix this mess eventually but it will take years. This team was last in the conference in offense and defense in 2011. Not only did the Zips go 0-8 in conference but six of those losses were by 17 points or more. The goal for this season is to just keep games close, but the Zips should handle the Minutemen at home. Akron only returns five starters to their pulverized defense making the Zips the MAC’s version of Poland in World War II. Things could be worse Akron fans. Penn State is exhibit A. Prediction: 2-10 (1-7 MAC)
The Hot Seats
It is getting warm for the Jeff Quinn era at UB after going 5-19 in his first two years. Even Stan Parrish had a better record in his two years in Muncie. To turn things around the Bulls had former Colts executive Bill Polian give a pep talk to the team. The Bulls return the MAC’s leading rusher in Branden Oliver but will also start a new quarterback. Combining a new quarterback with a coach on the hot seat is like hiring an intern to run a pyrotechnic team. The difficult schedule includes the top three of the MAC West to go along with Georgia, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. That is six losses right there. Even though UB is in the East, beatable Akron is left off the schedule due to the unbalanced divisions. Good luck Coach Quinn, you are going to need it. Prediction 3-9 (2-6 MAC)
Another team with a coach who struggled in his first two seasons is Dan Enos at Central Michigan. Central brings back the bulk of their team and plays SEVEN HOME GAMES! MAC teams are lucky to play to six. Playing Akron and UMass will provide Central a chance to stay competitive in conference. Ball State could have a tough time at Mt. Pleasant as Central’s homecoming game. The team with the offensive nickname to the Native American community should be dangerous in 2012 but 3-9 teams rarely make the jump to a bowl game. Central has to prove it can win games against the loaded MAC West. I think Enos is better off than Quinn but he will probably be gone too. Prediction: 5-7 (3-5 MAC)
The Wild Cards
Is this the year Eastern finally has a winning season since the Clinton administration? Better question is how did the Eagles afford new uniforms?With a dual-threat quarterback in Alex Gillett they will have a shot to make a bowl game to the delight of their 500 fans minus the band and cheerleaders.
Eastern, like Ball State, is coming off a 6-6 season and lost most of last year’s defense too. The season opener in Muncie will have a big impact on both teams. The Eagles have a good offense but the bulk of the MAC West does too with better defenses. Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)
Among the harder to predict teams is Miami. Quarterback Zac Dysert is breaking some records Ben Roethlisberger made at the school. The RedHawks return most of their starters and avoid the top three teams in the MAC West a year ago. Phil Steele picked Miami to tie for first in the MAC East leading to what might be the most pointless press release an athletic department can make. Since when did athletic departments care about preseason publications? Miami will make a jump but their lack of a running game may hinder a MAC title run. Sounds like plenty will be at stake when Ball State comes to Oxford on “Black Friday.” Nothing like a rivalry game to end the season. Prediction: 6-6 (5-3 MAC)
Life is great at Kent State, whose athletic department is basically giving the bird to the rest of the MAC. You can do that when your baseball team makes it the College World Series. Kent is a great example of how good things can happen when athletic departments focus in sports other than football. As for said football team even that looks good coming off of a 5-7 year and most of the team back. The Flashes won four of their last five to close out 2011 and with Temple gone the Flashes may have the best defense in the MAC. The offense struggled in 2011 but it should improve. The big problem is cupcake UMass is not on the schedule. Their non-conference slate is manageable with winnable games at Kentucky and at Rutgers. If there is a “sleeper” team this is it. The Cards will be lucky to win on the road here. Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)
No one was happier to see Temple go off to the Big East than Bowling Green, who avoids the tougher MAC West. The Falcons appear to be on the rise with 10 starters back on defense and new helmets. Sure, they will have their dignity taken away at Florida and Virginia Tech, but Idaho, Rhode Island, Akron, UMass, and Buffalo should produce wins. BG hosts Miami and Kent State providing an edge in the division race. If the Falcons can survive the two BCS teams I think they will tear it up in conference play. Maybe have a chance to win the division at Ohio. It is great to be in the MAC East. Prediction: 8-4 (6-2 MAC)
How ironic is it that the team we follow the most is the hardest one to predict? Not much I can say that we have not previously covered, and this is the team that continues to defy predictions. Fans point to the offense being the best it has been since 2008, but the 2008 team did not have a schedule that was born from the fires of Mt. Doom. The weakest opponent is a garbage dump Big Ten team in Indiana. With just five starters back on defense the doubters have reasons to be critical, but we doubted Ball State a year ago. Can you count out the Cards again? Prediction: Sorry, that is for a latter column.
The Bowl Winners
The Rockets live up to their name through an explosive offense that produced a ridiculous 47.8 points per game in MAC play last season. With that type of offense I imagine one could get away with a point shaving scheme at Toledo. Too soon? EA sports has Toledo as the best team in the MAC, but it has a young offensive line and only four starters back on defense. Toledo has a strange schedule starting off with at Wyoming and at Arizona. Not sure why the Rockets want to go west like they are playing “Oregon Trail” but playing at Wyoming may be the dumbest game a MAC team could schedule. Wait, I forgot Ball State will play at FCS Illinois State in 2013. Crap. Toledo’s home date with Ball State will fall on Election Day, so get your remote ready. Everyone loves the offense but I think their inexperienced line combined with a new head coach will cause problems. Can a MAC team truly be overrated? You bet. Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)
The defending MAC East champs will have a manageable schedule avoiding the three teams in the MAC West who appeared in bowl games last year. If you want to see the Bobcats it should be easy as tickets are going for the whopping price of $4.50. Ohio’s non-conference schedule caught a break playing at chaotic Penn State to make an interesting opener. The Bobcats return a quality defense that was able to hold their ground in 2011 and have what some believe to be the best MAC quarterback in Tyler Tettleton. The only question mark on the team is at receiver and that should not be much of an issue. With Temple gone the MAC East is Ohio’s to lose. Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 MAC)
The Huskies have had the MAC West under control the last two years and should have won back-to-back MAC Championships if it were not for a choke job against Miami in 2010. Northern has been to a bowl game the last four years winning the last two. NIU’s throne may be in jeopardy having to replace Quarterback Chandler Harnish, but the defense is still a major b- I mean bright spot. The non-conference
slate is winnable with Iowa in Chicago and home vs. Kansas. The MAC did NIU a huge favor scheduling Akron, UMass, and Buffalo form the East. Those three easy wins alone will provide Northern a chance to win the West again. It is good to be the king. Prediction: 8-4 (5-3 MAC)
In a conference where schools go through head coaches the way NBC goes through sitcoms it is truly amazing Bill Cubit is entering his 8th year at Western. The Broncos have had solid teams in Cubit’s tenure but have not won the MAC West yet. With a senior quarterback in Alex Carder and most of last year’s team returning it is now or never for Western. This team should be hungry after blowing their bowl game to Purdue last year. So to recap,
- 1. Best QB in the MAC.
- 2. Experienced head coach who players buy into.
- 3. Returns the most starters out of the MAC teams that went to a bowl game last year.
- 4. Seeking redemption from the Purdue loss.
- 5. Under no pressure after MAC media members went belly up picking Toledo first.
That is a perfect five for five. My only concern for Western would have been the pressure from being picked to win the conference in the preseason. Not an issue anymore. The Broncos face beatable Big Ten foes in Illinois and Minnesota, and lure Big East Connecticut to Kalamazoo. Even the MAC schedule is boosted having NIU, Toledo, and Eastern at home. The toughest road game in conference may be Ball State on Oct. 13. The road to the MAC title will go through Muncie no matter what. For Ball State fans that is something to be excited about. Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 MAC)
Now if Akron wins the conference you never read this.
Nathan Pace is a 2012 Ball State graduate and will be joining the staff at the New Castle Courier-Times.