Expect a lot of passes to fill the air this fall in the MAC: The league has five quarterbacks returning who threw for 3,000 yards last season, the most of any conference.
Western Michigan's Alex Carder was ninth nationally last season with 3,873 yards, along with a league-leading 31 touchdowns but also 14 interceptions. The other returning 3,000-yarders are Miami's Zac Dysert, Ohio's Tyler Tettleton, Central Michigan's Ryan Radcliff and Bowling Green's Matt Schilz.
It's Tettleton's running ability (well, that and what should be one of the league's top defenses) that gives his team the edge in the conference race. He ran for 666 yards and 10 scores, and should be one of a handful of standout dual-threat quarterback nationally. Worth noting is that Northern Illinois won the league last season with dual-threat QB Chandler Harnish calling the shots. While Tettleton isn't as good a runner as Harnish, he is a better passer.
Ohio has played in half of the past six MAC championship games; the bet here is the Bobcats break through and win their first league title since 1968.
Ohio opens at Penn State on Sept. 1.
While the MAC remains a 13-team league, there is a new member. Massachusetts has joined from the FCS ranks. The Minutemen replace Temple, which moved on to the Big East.
There also are three new coaches: UMass with Charley Molnar (had been Notre Dame's offensive coordinator), Toledo with Matt Campbell (promoted from offensive coordinator) and Akron with Terry Bowden (had been coach at Division II North Alabama). That means more than half of the league's coaches (seven of the 13) are in either their first or second seasons. In addition, four others are entering their third or fourth seasons.
The order of finish
East Division: 1. Ohio; 2. Miami; 3. Bowling Green; 4. Kent State; 5. Buffalo; 6. Akron; 7. Massachusetts
West Division: 1. Toledo; 2. Northern Illinois; 3. Western Michigan; 4. Eastern Michigan; 5. Ball State; 6. Central Michigan
Best offensive player: Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton. Tettleton, who went to high school in Norman, Okla., is coming off a big season, his first as a starter, in which he threw for 3,306 yards and 28 TDs, and rushed for 666 yards and 10 scores. He will be one of the nation's top three or four dual-threat quarterbacks this season, and is the main reason the Bobcats are the preseason MAC favorite. He is the son of former major-league catcher Mickey Tettleton.
Best defensive player: Buffalo LB Khalil Mack. He toils for a struggling program, but he stars nonetheless. He redshirted in 2009, then has been a big-play guy in each of the past two seasons. He has 10 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in his career, along with 12 pass breakups, 21 quarterback hurries and seven forced fumbles.
Breakout offensive star: Toledo WR Bernard Reedy. The Rockets lost star WR Eric Page to the NFL a year early and need a new go-to guy. Enter Reedy, who was an effective No. 2 receiver as a sophomore last season: 40 receptions for 758 yards (a sparkling 19.0 yards per catch) and nine TDs. He has excellent speed and should be the best deep threat in the MAC. He could be an 80-catch guy.
Breakout defensive star: Northern Illinois LB Jamaal Bass. Bass is from a powerhouse prep program – Miramar (Fla.) High, which has produced West Virginia's Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey, among others – and is coming off a solid season as a redshirt freshman: 62 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Expect bigger numbers this season from Bass, who is undersized (5 feet 11/225 pounds) but runs well and packs a wallop.
Best newcomer: Western Michigan WR Timmy Keith. Carder completed 330 passes last fall, but the receivers responsible for 276 of those receptions are gone. Coach Bill Cubit is going to have Carder throw it just as often this season, so someone needs to be on the receiving end. Keith is a redshirt freshman with good size (6 feet/203 pounds) who should finish among the Broncos' top two or three receivers. Going by last season, that would mean he would catch at least 60 passes. Keith was a three-star recruit from Virginia in the 2011 signing class.
Coach on the hottest seat: Central Michigan's Dan Enos. Call it a "mildly warm" seat. Enos is entering just his third season, but is 6-18. The back-to-back bad seasons came on the heels of five consecutive winning seasons, including a 12-win season in 2009, the year before he took over. Bad news for Enos is that, on paper, he has the worst team in the East Division. He needs a remarkable turnaround by the defense, which was near the bottom of the league in every key statistical category last season.
Best coaching staff: Ohio. Frank Solich, in his eighth season with the Bobcats, has turned this into one of the most consistent programs in the league. Ohio got its first-ever bowl victory last season and leads the MAC in league wins since the beginning of the 2006 season (46). Both his coordinators, Tim Albin and Jimmy Burrow, have been with Solich the whole time. Ron Collins is a solid linebacker coach; the same goes for offensive line coach Kevin Lightner.
Best offensive coordinator: Ball State's Rich Skrosky. This is as much for his work at FCS member Elon as for what he did last season, his first, at Ball State. His high-powered attacks at Elon and Ball State have led to overall team success. Last season, Ball State averaged 379.4 yards per game, a vast improvement over 2010's 305.8 yards per game. His Elon offenses were known for their passing attacks, and his continued work with Keith Wenning (who set a school record with 279 completions last season) bears watching this fall.
Best defensive coordinator: Ohio's Jimmy Burrow. As mentioned above, Burrow is heading into his eighth season as the Bobcats' coordinator and he generally oversees solid units. He has coached 24 All-MAC players during his tenure at Ohio, and previously worked at, among other stops, Iowa State and Washington State.
Game of the year: Toledo at Western Michigan, Sept. 29. This will be a huge early-season game, with the winner having the inside track to the MAC West title. The West should have a far better race than the East, where Ohio is a prohibitive favorite. These teams combined to score 129 points – yes, 129 – when they met last season. A repeat of that performance would be cool with us.
The 10 best conference games:
10. Northern Illinois at Eastern Michigan, Oct. 13
9. Western Michigan at Kent State, Oct. 20
8. Miami at Bowling Green, Oct. 3
7. Kent State at Miami, Nov. 10
6. Ohio at Kent State, Nov. 23
5. Bowling Green at Toledo, Sept. 15
4. Ohio at Miami, Oct. 27
3. Northern Illinois at Western Michigan, Oct. 27
2. Toledo at Northern Illinois, Nov. 14
1. Toledo at Western Michigan, Sept. 29
The 10 best non-conference games:
10. Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Oct. 20
9. Kent State at Kentucky, Sept. 8
8. Connecticut at Western Michigan, Sept. 22
7. USF at Ball State, Sept. 22
6. Toledo at Arizona, Sept. 1
5. Ball State at Indiana, Sept. 15
4. Cincinnati at Toledo, Oct. 20
3. Kansas at Northern Illinois, Sept. 22
2. Western Michigan at Minnesota, Sept. 15
1. Ohio at Penn State, Sept. 1
The preseason All-MAC team
QB Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
RB David Fluellen, Toledo
RB Branden Oliver, Buffalo
WR Nick Harwell, Miami
WR Eric Monette, Western Michigan
WR Bernard Reedy, Toledo
T Dann O'Neill, Western Michigan
T Brian Winters, Kent State
G Eric Herman, Ohio
G Greg Mancz, Toledo
C Zac Kerin, Toledo
E Freddie Bishop, Western Michigan
T Chris Jones, Bowling Green
T Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
E Sean Progar, Northern Illinois
LB Travis Freeman, Ball State
LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
LB Dwayne Woods, Bowling Green
CB Travis Carrie, Ohio
CB Dayonne Nunley, Miami
FS Gerald Moore, Ohio
SS Jahleel Addae, Central Michigan
K Matt Weller, Ohio
P Brian Schmiedebusch, Bowling Green
KR Jerry "BooBoo" Gates, Bowling Green
PR Demarius Reed, Eastern Michigan
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