The Northern Illinois Huskies’ reign over the Mid-American Conference (MAC) was put to rest last year, as the Bowling Green Falcons stunned the 2-time defending champs 47-27 in the title game. It was the Huskies first loss against a conference opponent since dropping the 2011 opener at Central Michigan (25-game winning streak).
While almost every other FBS conference in the country has had to deal with adding/subtracting teams with all the realignment that’s taken place, the MAC has surprisingly been one of the more stable conferences. The only team to be added over the last decade was Temple in 2007 and they later left for the Big East in 2012.
It’s now time to turn our attention to the 2014 campaign. After taking a close look at all 13 teams, I’ve put together my prediction on how I see both divisions playing out, plus I give my pick on who will win the MAC Championship Game.
MAC East Standings
MAC East Predictions
It’s going to be interesting to see if anyone in the East will challenge Bowling Green for the top spot. While I’m picking the Falcons to defend their title, there are some concerning factors that can’t be over-looked. Bowling Green loses a a great coach in Dave Clawson, who left to take over at Wake Forest. They also have just 5 starters coming back to a defense that allowed a total of just 17 points in their final 4 regular season contests.
With that said, I think new head coach Dino Babers is a nice fit and I look for him to take the Falcons offense to another level. Bowling Green gets back talented junior quarterback Matt Johnson and leading rusher Travis Greene.
The most exciting race in the East will likely be between Akron and Ohio for second place. The Zips have made tremendous progress under head coach Terry Bowden, who guided them to 5 wins after winning a total of 3 over the previous 3 years combined. Ohio on the other hand haven’t finished with a losing record inside MAC play since 2008 and have a well respected coach in Frank Solich. Even though the Bobcats get to host the Zips, I’m calling for Akron to end the year with the better record.
While I’m not high on Buffalo or Kent State this season, these are two teams that are capable of surprising. The Bulls are excited about the potential of junior quarterback Joe Licata, but I think their defense is in serious trouble. Not only does Buffalo lose an elite talent in outside linebacker Khalil Mack, they have just 4 starters returning on that side of the ball. The Golden Flashes have solid 14 starters back and will be in the 2nd year under Paul Haynes, but I’m just not seeing enough talent to take them seriously.
That leaves Miami and Massachusetts to battle it out for who finishes in the basement of the East. I think the clear edge has to go to the Redhawks, who despite going 0-12 last year have a lot to build on in the first season under head coach Chuck Martin. Martin comes over from Notre Dame, where he was an assistant and brings with him 3 talented Irish transfers, including senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix.
MAC West Standings
MAC West Predictions
While things seem pretty clear-cut in the East, the West figures to provide an exciting race between Toledo and Northern Illinois. It’s easy to want to assume that the Huskies are poised for a setback with the loss of star quarterback Jordan Lynch and talented safety Jimmy Ward, but this team has been a step above the rest of the competition in the MAC for the last few years.
A lot of people expected Northern Illinois to crumble when they lost all-time leading passer Chandler Harnish and they went on to win the conference title and play in a BCS bowl.
As much as I wanted to go out on a limb and take Toledo to win the West, I ended up giving the edge to the Huskies. Not only does Northern Illinois get the key matchup against the Rockets at home, they avoid Bowling Green out of the East while Toledo has to take on the defending champs the week following their showdown against the Huskies.
I’m not big on the likes of Central Michigan or Ball State playing a serious role in the title race, but it’s not out of the question that one of these teams could surprise. The Chippewas will be the most experienced team in the league with 19 returning starters, while the Cardinals have consistently exceeded expectations under head coach Pete Lembo.
My big concern with Central Michigan is they have not been able to get anything going under Dan Enos (19-30 over 4 years) and 4 of last year’s 5 conference wins came against the 4 worst teams. Ball State lacks experience with only 11 starters coming back and must replace all-time leading passer Keith Wenning.
The team to keep an eye on is Western Michigan. The Broncos went just 1-7 inside conference play last year, but have 14 starters returning, will be in the second year under head coach P.J. Fleck and brought in the top ranked recruiting class of any team in the country. It may take a year for Western Michigan to see a huge jump in the win total, but I’m confident this will be a much more competitive team in 2014.
That leaves Eastern Michigan as a safe pick to finish last in the West. The Eagles have gone just 1-7 inside MAC play each of the last two years and are poised for another rebuilding phase in the first year under new head coach Chris Creighton.
MAC Championship Game Prediction: Bowling Green defeats Northern Illinois
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