MAC Football Predictions
While the college football landscape has changed in recent years with all the switching of teams from one conference to the next, the Mid-American Conference has been relatively quiet. Just two changes have taken place. Temple departed to join the Big East (now the American Athletic), and the MAC added in UMass last year from the FCS. No future movement is expected as of right now.
After what this conference did a season ago, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the bigger conferences come knocking on the door of the top teams. Northern Illinois became the first team in this history of the MAC to play in a BCS Bowl, and as a whole the conference set a new record with seven teams invited to the postseason. The MAC also went an impressive 26-26 in non-conference play with eight wins against BCS teams, both tops in over a decade.
Looking ahead to the upcoming season, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the team to beat is Northern Illinois. The Huskies have won back-to-back Conference Championships (three straight West titles) and have compiled a ridiculous 24-1 record inside the conference during the regular season over the last three years. Toledo and Ball State are their biggest threats in the West, while Bowling Green and Ohio look to be their strongest competition out of the East.
Here’s how I see the MAC finishing up in 2013. For a more in-depth preview of each individual team, click on the link provided in the table at the bottom of the article.
MAC West Predictions
1. Northern Illinois – While the Huskies will be in their first season under new head coach Ron Carey and have just four starters back on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think it will keep them from winning a fourth straight East title. Northern Illinois will simply outscore the opposing teams in the MAC, as they return eight starters to an offense that averaged 36.6 points per game. Most importantly, they get back the reigning MAC Offensive Player of the Year in senior quarterback Jordan Lynch, who threw for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,815 yards and 19 scores.
2. Ball State – While the Huskies stole the spotlight in 2012, Ball State quietly had their best season in four years. The Cardinals went 9-4 overall and 6-2 inside the MAC, with their two conference losses coming against the two division champs (Northern Illinois & Kent State) by a combined 10 points. I have them slightly rated ahead of Toledo due to the fact that they get the Rockets at home. Overall, the schedule really sets up nicely for the Cardinals. They have arguably the easiest non-conference schedule of any team in the conference and draw three favorable games out of the East, getting Kent State and Miami at home and a road game at Akron. Unfortunately for Ball State, they have to go to Northern Illinois, which will likely keep them out of the title game.
3. Toledo – Toledo is another team that flew under the radar last season. The Rockets finished 9-4 overall and 6-2 inside the conference, with their two losses combine by seven points a piece against Ball State and Northern Illinois. If there’s one team that can match the Huskies touchdown for touchdown in 2013, my money would be on Toledo. The Rockets return nine starters to an offense that average 31.5 points and 445 yards of total offense in 2013. They get back their starting quarterback, leading rusher, top five receivers, and four of five starters on the offensive line. My only concern is they lose a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball and could struggle to win close games.
4. Western Michigan – The Broncos are coming off a difficult season in which they were able to win just four games. Their only two conference wins came against in-state rival Central Michigan and a bad UMass squad. The hope is that new head coach P.J. Fleck can get things headed back in the right direction. While Western Michigan has just 12 starters back, they do get back starting quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen, their top running back, and receiver and their top five tacklers. I expect improvement, but not enough to get them in the top half of the standings.
5. Central Michigan – I think 2013 is going to be a difficult season for Chippewas fans, as they lose one of the school’s all-time best quarterbacks in Ryan Radcliff and the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick in left tackle Eric Fisher. The only thing that kept them out of the basement in the West is a home game against rival Eastern Michigan and a easy home game vs UMass.
6. Eastern Michigan – I had a difficult time picking the Eagles to finish last, as I feel like this is one of the better teams head coach Ron English will send to the field since he took over the job back in 2009. Unfortunately for Eastern Michigan, the schedule is about as tough as it can get. Their only two realistic shots at getting a victory inside the conference come at home against Western Michigan and on the road against Central Michigan.
MAC East Predictions
1. Bowling Green – I’m going to go out on a bit of limb and not only pick the Falcons to win the East, but I also like them to put an end to Northern Illinois’ reign in the MAC Championship Game. Bowling Green has a conference-best 19 returning starters to a team that was much better than their 8-5 record in 2012. I look for big improvements from senior quarterback Matt Schilz and the entire offense, which should put them over the top with arguably the best defense in the conference.
2. Ohio – A lot of people forget just how good Ohio was before injuries derailed their season. When this team opened up at 7-1 to start the year, a lot of experts had the Bobcats pegged as the best team in the conference. Unfortunately, by the end of the season, Ohio was missing as many as 10 starters. They were able to remind a lot of people of just how good they were with a 45-14 blowout win over ULM in the Independence Bowl as a seven-point dog. With last year’s 9-4 finish, Ohio has now won at least eight games in four straight seasons. The only thing that kept me from picking them to win the East is the fact that they have to go on the road to face Bowling Green.
3. Buffalo – If you are looking for a sleeper in the MAC for 2013, I think Buffalo is the team to watch out for. The Bulls have made steady progress in each of their three seasons under head coach Jeff Quinn and the potential for a breakout season is certainly there with 16 starters coming back. With home games against both Ohio and Bowling Green, it’s not out of the question that Buffalo could in fact win the East. I don’t see it happening, but it’s certainly a team worth keeping an eye on.
3. Kent State – It might come as a bit of surprise to see the defending champs in the East picked to finish this low in the standings, but I really think the Golden Flashes are going to struggle to even become bowl eligible. Kent State has two dynamic runners in Dri Archer and Taylor Durham, but return just two starters on the offensive line and will have an experienced starter at quarterback. Not to mention they lose six starters on defense and will be in the first year of new head coach in Paul Haynes.
5. Miami, OH – The Redhawks have posted back-to-back 4-8 records in their two seasons under head coach Don Treadwell, and I think things could get even worse in 2013. Miami must replace the school’s all-time leading passer in Zac Dysert, who single-handedly kept this team competitive in 2012. It’s up to senior quarterback Austin Boucher to prove me wrong, but with no running game and a weak defense, I don’t like their chances.
6. Akron – Akron should be a better team than the one that went 1-11 and handed the Minutemen their only win inside the conference, as they get back 14 starters and will be in their second season under head coach Terry Bowden. Unfortunately for the Zips, they draw the top three teams out of the West in Northern Illinois, Ball State, and Toledo, leaving a road game at Umass as their only viable opportunity to get a win in the MAC.
7. UMass – While the Minutemen went just 1-11 in their first season as a member of the FBS, it wasn’t as bad as some might think given the number of blowout losses they had. UMass is a team on the rise and one that I feel will be competing on a regular basis in the near future. With that said, I don’t think we will see a ton of improvement in 2013, as the Minutemen have just 11 starters returning. You also have to wonder how much a brutal non-conference schedule against the likes of Wisconsin, Kansas State, and Vanderbilt will take out of them by the time they get into conference play.
MAC Championship Game Prediction: Bowling Green Over Northern Illinois
|Akron||Bowling Green||Buffalo||Kent State|
|Ball State||Central Michigan||Eastern Michigan|
|Northern Illinois||Toledo||Western Michigan|
|ACC||Big 12||American Athletic||Big Ten|
|Conference USA||Independents||MAC||Mountain West|