July 21, 2008

Making sense of the MAC

Before there can be any evaluations of Kent State's Mid-American Conference schedule, fans need to know what the conference will be like this year. Some may disagree, but the MAC is a league full of parity. Kent State proves this, considering they were 3-9 last season, but were in nearly every game until the fourth quarter, or the last three minutes.

It's not just football either, it's all sports. In basketball, Kent State beats a ranked St. Mary's team on the road, and then loses to Bowling Green. So in order to examine the MAC, let's look at the rest of the conference.

The spotlight teams: Bowling Green, Miami, Central Michigan and Ball State. These teams are the contenders. These teams are the ones that should be the cream of the crop. These teams have the best quarterbacks in the conference and are returning the most key players from good teams in 2007.

After losing, if that's what you call it, its bowl game, Bowling Green returns many players, including starting quarterback Tyler Sheehan. The junior passed for 3,264 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2007, and that was in his first year as a starter. Throw in kicker Sinisa Vrvilo, one of the best in the MAC, along with defensive lineman Diyral Briggs and defensive back P.J. Mahone, and the Falcons could improve on their 8-5 mark last season.

Miami hit a dry spot for a few years after Shane Montgomery took over, but after a 5-2 record in MAC play last fall, the RedHawks are as dangerous as ever. The last two seasons, the RedHawks have suffered injury issues, especially in the running game, and will be relying on a young group this season. Armed with a young quarterback who looked impressive at times last season, Daniel Raudabaugh, and an impressive group of linebackers, the defending MAC East champions will challenge BG all year.

The most talented quarterback may be Ball State's Nate Davis. The junior led the Cardinals to seven wins, their most since 1996. A player like Davis, just like Drew Brees of Purdue did, can carry an entire team on his arm. No offense to the rest of the Ball State football team, but this team is Nate Davis, and he makes them a dangerous team that, like the Brees Purdue squad, is hungry for a conference championship.

Central Michigan is the arguably the best team in MAC for the third straight season. Dan LeFevour is now in his junior season, and is Troy Smith to Nate Davis' Drew Stanton. What do I mean? Troy Smith was a tremendous quarterback who won a lot of games for Ohio State. Drew Stanton may have been a more prolific passer, and some say a better quarterback in that sense, but he didn't have the team around him to win. LeFevour now has more experience than any quarterback in the MAC and can run the ball as well. If his defense can play better, Central may have a chance at going undefeated in the MAC , and may beat some good non-conference teams. But that's saying a lot considering the defense struggled a lot last season.

Quarterback play is key to winning a conference title, and these teams have the best, which makes them contenders.

Those four teams will be disappointed if they aren't in bowl games in December. The rest of the MAC is as wide open as Montana. Kent State has the best running back. Ohio has the most experienced coach that has a new quarterback and needs a new running back. Akron is building a new stadium, which may motivate a team that must replace a lot of talented players.

Temple has a good team and Al Golden is proving himself as a coach, but will the losing bug strike them after their first loss? Northern Illinois faces a challenge of replacing one of the best MAC coaches ever, but the Huskies have one of the best defensive ends in the conference, Larry English. Eastern Michigan won four games last season, and that is bringing hope to Ypsilanti. The Eagles have an All-MAC quarterback that can run and throw in Andy Schmitt, along with a talented linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw.

Western Michigan has 11 returning defensive players, which could make them the best unit in the conference. To top it off, Western is in the MAC West, so they won't play Bowling Green, Miami and Kent State. If Ball State stumbles, Western could easily be in the mix. If the Broncos' quarterback Tim Hiller plays like he did before the 2006 knee injury, then Western Michigan is probably the biggest "dark horse" in the MAC.

Finally, there's Toledo. After a terrible defensive season, which lost seven starters to injuries, the Rockets are rebounding. Is there a coach in bigger need of a winning season then Tom Amstutz? No way. After eight seasons, Amstutz has had back-to-back losing seasons and a gambling scandal. Toledo is dangerous because the players know it could be the last season for Amstutz.

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