MAC spring preview: One in and one out means the league will have 13 teams again

A year ago, the MAC had 13 teams. Last week, it had 14. Today, it’s back to 13.

Massachusetts is making the move from the FCS ranks to the FBS, and the Minutemen’s addition would’ve given the MAC 14 teams. As such, the league had planned to play with two seven-team divisions this fall. But Temple announced Wednesday it was pulling out and heading to the Big East this fall. Once the school agreed to pay $6 million to the MAC, the league bid farewell.

Here’s a look at the MAC’s 13 teams as they prepare for spring practice:

Akron
Spring practice opens: March 20
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The Zips won once last season, and coach Rob Ianello was fired after just two seasons. Enter Terry Bowden, who hasn’t coached at the FBS level since 1998. He takes over a team that was poor on offense and defense last season. The offensive line is a big concern and must be rebuilt. The Zips lost their best defensive player when All-MAC LB Brian Wagner graduated and transferred to Arizona. The secondary has some potential, but the front seven looks to be a mess. Bowden may have had more talent at Division II North Alabama last season; he certainly had better skill-position players.
Ball State
Spring practice opens: March 27
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The defense routinely was shredded last season and must be rebuilt; the Cardinals are looking for five new starters on that side of the ball. The passing attack was a good one last season, but the top two receivers are gone. There is an OK group of tailbacks and the makings of a solid line. If QB Keith Wenning can cut down a bit on his mistakes, he could be a 22-TD guy.
Bowling Green
Spring practice opens: March 16
Spring game: April 13
Buzz: The Falcons couldn’t run or stop the run last season. The offensive line returns four starters, but the guy missing is last season’s best lineman (C Ben Bojicic). The tailbacks have potential, and the Falcons need sophomore Anthon Samuel to remain healthy. The top two receivers are gone, and the Falcons need desperately to develop depth at that position this spring. Only one starter is gone off the defense, but the Falcons have to get much more physical up front. Coaches also need to uncover some defensive playmakers.
Buffalo
Spring practice opens: March 20
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: The offense has its moments last season, but the defense generally was quite bad, especially against the pass. Buffalo is looking for a new starting quarterback, a new go-to receiver and a new left tackle. TB Branden Oliver is a good one, and he should become even more important to the offense. Defensively, the Bulls are losing key players at each level: a lineman, a linebacker and a strong safety. But the bulk of the starters are back, and if coaches can find some more pass rushers, this could be an OK unit.
Central Michigan
Spring practice opens: March 13
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: The spring priority has to be to get better on defense. The Chippewas gave up at least 30 points eight times and at least 40 five times. The rush defense was especially bad, and the smallish Chips have to find a way to become more physical up front. The pass rush was non-existent last season (just 13 sacks), and coaches need to find a way to get some pressure off the edge. QB Ryan Radcliff is a good passer, but he throws too many picks. Improving the running game would help Radcliff. All five starting linemen return, which should be a plus.
Eastern Michigan
Spring practice opens: March 13
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: Coach Ron English did a great job coaxing six victories out of this team a year ago, and the key this spring is to keep that forward momentum going despite losing five defensive starters. The Eagles have some work to do on the defensive line and in the secondary. Offensively, EMU was all about the run last season (14th nationally at 218.3 yards per game), and the top four rushers are back; four starting linemen return, too. QB Alex Gillett never is going to be a feared passer, but if he can increase his completion percentage from 55.0 to 60.0, the offense would become more potent.
Kent State
Spring practice opens: March 27
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: The Golden Flashes were 5-7 last season despite fielding one of the most inept offenses in the nation. They were 107th in rush offense, 110th in pass offense, 114th in scoring offense and 119th in total offense. Coaches have to do something this spring to rev up the entire attack. Both starting corners are gone, as are two starting defensive linemen. But Kent State has played good defense for a few seasons now, and good depth has been a reason. This spring, it’s all about offensive improvement.
Massachusetts
Spring practice opens: March 27
Spring game: April 28
Buzz: UMass moves up from the FCS ranks to the FBS this season. The Minutemen have won 16 games total the past three seasons and went 5-6 last season, including a 45-17 loss to a bad Boston College team in the only game they played against a FBS school. The new coach is Charley Molnar, who had been offensive coordinator at Notre Dame. But he didn’t call the plays for the Irish. Offensively, as with a lot of MAC teams, UMass has to improve its rushing attack. It also needs to rebuild the receiving corps. An overall lack of size in the defensive front seven is going to hurt. Rebuilding the linebacker corps is important.
Miami
Spring practice opens: March 26
Spring game: April 28
Buzz: The RedHawks were surprisingly good in 2010, then surprisingly weak last season. It’s vital that the rushing attack find some kind of spark this season. Miami was last in the nation in rushing offense last season. Four starting linemen are back, but is that a good thing? Those guys have to get a much better push this season; they also have to do a much better job protecting the passer, as Miami allowed the second-most sacks in the nation. Expect a lot of time to be spent on revamping the line. this spring Coaches also need to uncover a competent tailback. QB Zac Dysert is a good one, and the receiving corps is fine. The defense should be OK, though there should be some concern at linebacker, where two starters are gone.
Northern Illinois
Spring practice opens: March 28
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: NIU relied heavily on its offense last season; that is going to have to change this season. Star QB Chandler Harnish is gone, as are four starting linemen, the starting tailback and a starting wide receiver. The new quarterback should be Jordan Lynch, who is a strong runner but a mystery as a passer. The defense routinely was shredded last season, but eight starters are back. Coaches are hoping the experience gained last season will be a boost this season. Still, linebacker is a big-time position of worry.
Ohio
Spring practice opens: March 27
Spring game: April 21
Buzz: Dual-threat QB Tyler Tettleton returns, but he will have a rebuilt line (two new tackles) and a revamped receiving corps (the top two wide receivers are gone). Tettleton has a chance to be the league’s top offensive player, assuming he gets enough help. The defense really doesn’t have many issues, though ramping up the pass rush should be a spring priority. Developing linebacker depth also will be important.
Toledo
Spring practice opens: March 14
Spring game: April 13
Buzz: The defense was atrocious last season, but the Rockets still won nine games thanks to a potent offense. The offense should be prolific again, though there are some holes, most notably at tackle (both are gone) and at wide receiver (All-MAC guy Eric Page turned pro early). The defense line must be rebuilt and the secondary retooled. New coach Matt Campbell had been offensive coordinator, but the defense should get the bulk of the attention this spring.
Western Michigan
Spring practice opens: March 16
Spring game: April 14
Buzz: Prolific QB Alex Carder is back, as his fourth-fifths of the starting offensive line. But the Broncos throw the ball around quite a bit, so the loss of the top three receivers (they combined for 269 receptions for 3,452 yards and 30 TDs) has to be quite worrisome for coach Bill Cubit. Finding a capable and consistent tailback would help relieve some of the pressure on Carder. Defensively, the line is going to be an issue. Western was horrible against the run last season and is losing two starting linemen. The back seven looks OK, though.

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