Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

Forecasting the MAC. Part of the Doc's Mid-Major Week.

Central Michigan has ruled the MAC with an iron fist since 2006, but that grip loosened considerably in January: Half the starting defense graduated, star receiver Antonio Brown turned pro early, coach Butch Jones left with most of the staff to follow CMU predecessor Brian Kelly again at Cincinnati and quarterback Dan "Insert Pun" LaFevour finally ascended from four years of outrageous production as the unofficial Rust Belt Tebow. That kind of attrition means a power void's a-brewin'.

In this case, it also means Temple will dominate headlines as the unlikely favorite after decades of toiling helplessly as one of college football's go-to whipping boys. It's a de facto frontrunner status, because the Owls are one of only two teams in the league that a) Had a winning record in '09, b) Return a significant majority of starters, and c) Return a somewhat experienced starting quarterback (though, in this case, junior Chester Stewart takes a backseat to running back Bernard Pierce and defensive end Adrian Robinson, arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the conference, respectively). But, you know, it's Temple. They'll take it.

The other team that meets those criteria is Northern Illinois, which is also the only other MAC outfit that's successfully shunned the spread revolution for a mantra more befitting a coach named "Kill." NIU led the conference in total defense for the second year in a row in '09, returns All-MAC running back Chad Spann and has as much claim as anyone on the West Division, where no team behind CMU comes into 2010 with back-to-back winning seasons or any semblance of momentum whatsoever.

The biggest mover relative to last year's standings should be Miami (Ohio), which wasn't quite as bad as the 1-11 record in coach Mike Hayward's debut suggests: The RedHawks actually outgained the other side by at least 50 yards in four of their seven MAC losses. Whatever quasi-competence they demonstrated was undermined by bad luck, bad blocking and bad defense – Miami finished dead last nationally in turnover margin, allowed more sacks than any team in the country while rushing for fewer yards than all but one, lost a three-year starter at quarterback in the fifth game and allowed at least 34 points seven times. But the 'Hawks are vastly more experienced with 19 returning starters and should have a semblance of a passing game with sophomore Zac Dysert as the entrenched starter.

If nothing else, they'll top last year's woeful attendance average at Yager Stadium (11,810), which would have looked even worse if not for a visit from rival Cincinnati. (Although if the pass protection was any worse, the university could start advertising home games as a gladiatorial blood sport.)

From the fearless prediction department: Eastern Michigan will win a game. The Eagles will still be underdogs every time out, but no Division I-A/FBS team has put together back-to-back winless seasons since Duke in 2000-01. No one expects second-year coach Ron English to break a 15-year streak of losing records any time soon, but if he can't revive at least a faint pulse from what appears to be the most apathetic fan base in the country, it's time to start asking whether EMU should be declared legally dead as a I-A/FBS program.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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