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August 19, 2009

MAC preseason unit rankings

MORE: MAC preview: Change is the name of the game

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD

1. Western Michigan: The 1-2 punch of QB Tim Hiller and RB Brandon West is outstanding.

2. Central Michigan: It begins and ends with QB Dan LeFevour, one of the nation's top dual-threat weapons. A new running back is needed.

3. Akron: The Zips' attack should hum behind QB Chris Jacquemain and RB DeVoe Torrence.

4. Ball State: Diminutive TB MiQuale Lewis rumbled for 1,736 yards and 22 TDs last year.

5. Buffalo: James Starks ran for 1,333 yards and 16 TDs in 2008, but big issues loom at quarterback with Drew Willy gone.

6. Bowling Green: Tyler Sheehan is the most underrated quarterback in the MAC, but he must adapt to working from under center in the new scheme.

7. Toledo: Led by Morgan Williams and DaJuane Collins, all of last year's running back weapons are back. QB Aaron Opelt is a savvy vet.

8. Ohio: RB Donte Harden should be a dependable weapon for the Bobcats, who also have two quarterbacks with starting experience in Theo Scott and Boo Jackson.

9. Eastern Michigan: QB Andy Schmitt is the best passer you never have heard of, and RB Terrence Blevins is one to watch.

10. Northern Illinois: QB Chandler Harnish will take the next step in his second year in the offense.

11. Kent State: RB Eugene Jarvis sets the pace, but the Golden Flashes are trying to replace elusive QB Julian Edelman.

12. Miami: QB Daniel Raudabaugh must cut down on his turnovers, and the backs should be better after injury problems.

13. Temple: A quarterback is needed, but the running backs should be more experienced and dangerous.

RECEIVERS

1. Central Michigan: There is no better duo in the league than Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown.

2. Buffalo: Naaman Roosevelt is a big play waiting to happen, while TE Jesse Rack is a rising star.

3. Akron: The Zips will feature a veteran corps led by Deryn Bowser and Andre Jones.

4. Miami: What has been a young unit should mature this fall with the top four pass catchers back, paced by Chris Givens.

5. Toledo: Big, rangy Stephen Williams should become the school's leading career receiver this season.

6. Eastern Michigan: Jacory Stone is one of seven wide receivers back with starting experience. Josh LeDuc is a strong tight end.

7. Western Michigan: This unit is a work in progress that will lean on WR Juan Nunez and TE Matt Stevens.

8. Bowling Green: WR Freddie Barnes is looking to regain his 2007 form after grabbing just 40 passes last season.

9. Ball State: Madaris Grant could be the top tight end in the MAC, but lots of talent is gone. Sophomore Briggs Orsbon will be the go-to guy.

10. Temple: Two of the top three receivers from 2008 are gone, which means Jason Harper and TE Steve Maneri must shine.

11. Ohio: When the Bobcats need a big play, they throw to Taylor Price. But he needs help.

12. Northern Illinois: The top two receivers are gone from a unit that didn't excite last season. Marcus Lewis must step up this season.

13. Kent State: The staff thought this was a weak spot a year ago, and it may be again.

OFFENSIVE LINE

1. Western Michigan: Five players who started at least seven games return for a strong unit paced by T Anthony Parker and G Phillip Swanson.

2. Toledo: The linemen are learning a new system, but this is a talented, veteran corps with 97 career starts. T Mike VanDerMeulen is the leader.

3. Northern Illinois: The Huskies, who always have a physical unit, are led by G Jason Onyebuagu and T Trevor Olson.

4. Akron: Yes, the Zips lost their best blocker (T Chris Kemme), but four starters return for what will be a strong group. G Zack Anderson and T Corey Woods are standouts.

5. Central Michigan: The unit is breaking in three new starters, which could short-circuit a terrific offense. C Colin Miller is one to watch.

6. Kent State: Hope floats with four starters back, but the group still needs to be more physical and aggressive.

7. Eastern Michigan: The new staffers feel this will be the strongest part of the offense, with four starters returning.

8. Miami: Only two starters are back for a group that also must learn a new scheme.

9. Temple: Some feel this could be the best line of Al Golden's tenure, as three starters are back, headed by G Colin Madison.

10. Buffalo: This group has underrated athletic ability, but a lack of depth and experience could hurt.

11. Bowling Green: There is lots of work to do for new coach Dave Clawson. The Falcons must run the ball better.

12. Ohio: There are five players with starting experience, and David White is a top center.

13. Ball State: This is the ultimate work-in-progress group; there are four starters gone and experience is lacking. G Michael Switzer needs to lead the way.

DEFENSIVE LINE

1. Central Michigan: Four players with starting experience are back, headed by star E Frank Zombo.

2. Western Michigan: The Broncos' front lacks experience, but it could be improved because of decent athletic ability possessed by players such as T Cody Cielenski.

3. Akron: This front teems with talent, headed by Ts Almondo Sewell and Ryan Bain.

4. Ohio: Bobcats watchers believe this could be one of the top fronts in the conference. T Ernie Hodge is the leader.

5. Toledo: Two starters are back and plenty of experience surrounds them.

6. Temple: The Owls lose a stud in Terrance Knighton, but this unit has the makings of a strong front. T Andre Neblett is a future pro.

7. Northern Illinois: This front figures to take a step back with E Larry English gone. E Brandon Bice must play a big role.

8. Ball State: All four starters return, and six players have starting experience. E Brandon Crawford is the standout.

9. Eastern Michigan: There is plenty of veteran talent for the new staff, including E Brad Ohrman.

10. Kent State: The Golden Flashes should be better against the run. Three starters return, headed by T Sam Frist.

11. Miami: With two starters back and seven players with starting experience, this unit should be improved. T Martin Channels needs to play a big role.

12. Buffalo: There is work to do with three starters gone from what was a solid line.

13. Bowling Green: There is a lot of work to do on a unit that was run over last fall. And that was with star E Diyral Briggs, who has departed.

LINEBACKERS

1. Central Michigan: Nick Bellore led the MAC in tackles last year and paces a unit that has all three starters back.

2. Western Michigan: Plenty of experience is on hand, headed by Austin Pritchard and Mitch Zajac.

3. Toledo: The Rockets' 4-2-5 scheme requires few linebackers, but last season's starters are back, including Archie Donald, a tackling machine.

4. Temple: Athletic ability and talent abound for a unit that features three returning starters. Alex Joseph is the guy to watch.

5. Buffalo: This is an experienced corps that should make the Bulls better against the run. Justin Winters is the leader.

6. Northern Illinois: The Huskies welcome back four linebackers who made at least 50 tackles last season.

7. Ohio: Two starters are back from a group that needs to be more physical.

8. Ball State: This unit is being rehabbed, but there's some young talent, led by true freshman Travis Freeman.

9. Akron: There is a lack of experience, but there are numerous talented youngsters. Mike Thomas must be a leader.

10. Miami: How will the RedHawks replace the likes of Joey Hudson and Clayton Mullins? Caleb Bostic must step up for Miami.

11. Eastern Michigan: The new staff will miss departed Daniel Holtzclaw.

12. Bowling Green: There is just one starter back for a unit that often got manhandled last season.

13. Kent State: Many questions need to be answered for a unit that has just one starter back, Cobrani Mixon.

SECONDARY

1. Buffalo: With four starters back, the Bulls again figure to have one of the top secondaries in the MAC. The safeties are especially strong.

2. Central Michigan: With all four starters back, this should be a standout unit.

3. Western Michigan: All four starters are gone. FS Doug Wiggins - a Miami native who began his career with the Hurricanes - will have an impact for a talented but unproven group.

4. Temple: Three starters are back for a secondary that has a lot of speed and athletic ability. CB Jamal Schulters is the leader.

5. Toledo: This unit has good athletic ability. S Barry Church brings attitude and a hard-hitting persona.

6. Ball State: Sean Baker and Alex Knipp form perhaps the top safety tandem in the MAC.

7. Northern Illinois: The safety duo of Tracy Wilson and David Bryant will have to play big roles, as there are two new corners.

8. Akron: There is veteran talent and some hard hitters for a unit that figures to be improved. CB Miguel Graham is the star.

9. Kent State: Seven of the top eight defensive backs from 2008 return, which means the pass defense should make much-needed improvement. FS Brian Lainhart is the leader.

10. Eastern Michigan: The new staff likes the experience, as three starters are back. But speed is an issue.

11. Ohio: The Bobcats have two starters back, but overall experience is lacking. FS Steven Jackson is a playmaker.

12. Bowling Green: This is a unit under construction. The safety duo of P.J. Mahone and Jahmal Brown must shine.

13. Miami: Seven players who started a game are back for a secondary that needs to tighten its coverage.

SPECIAL TEAMS

1. Central Michigan: The Chippewas have weapons in Andrew Aguila, who may be the conference's top kicker, and P Brett Hartmann. WR Antonio Brown doubles as a super return man.

2. Western Michigan: K John Potter returns, and P Ben Armer has a powerful leg and deft touch. Brandon West is a weapon on returns.

3. Temple: The staff likes the continued development of K Jake Brownell and P Jeff Wathne. Jamal Schulters is a solid return man.

4. Buffalo: The Bulls feel confident with the return of P Peter Fardon and K A.J. Principe. And the return game is in good hands with speedy WR Naaman Roosevelt.

5. Ohio: The Bobcats are searching for a kicker, but Matt Schulte rates as one of the MAC's better punters. Chris Garrett and LaVon Brazill are solid return men.

6. Toledo: The Rockets are in good shape with K Alex Steigerwald and P Bill Claus, who each rate among the MAC's best at their position.

7. Kent State: This unit has a chance to excel with the returns of K Nate Reed and P Matt Rinehart.

8. Akron: The Zips have a good duo in K Igor Iveljic and P John Stec, and there are athletes who can cover kicks.

9. Eastern Michigan: Zach Johnson should be one of the top punters in the MAC, and Joe Carithers again will kick.

10. Bowling Green: The Falcons need a new kicker but return Nick Iovinelli, who is one of the league's better punters.

11. Ball State: The Cardinals are in search of a punter but are set at kicker with Ian McGarvey.

12. Northern Illinois: The Huskies may ask Mike Salerno, perhaps the MAC's top kicker, to also punt this fall.

13. Miami: The RedHawks are breaking in a new kicker and a new punter. At least Miami can count on Eugene Harris in the return game.

COACHING STAFFS

1. Western Michigan: No coach in the MAC is a better combination of tactician and recruiter than the no-nonsense Bill Cubit.

2. Central Michigan: Butch Jones has led the Chippewas to consecutive Motor City Bowls in his two years. This may be his best team yet.

3. Buffalo: Many felt Turner Gill would bolt after last season, but he stayed - and switched both coordinators. Don't expect Gill's star to fade.

4. Bowling Green: Hiring Dave Clawson was a good move, as he's a proven commodity who won big at Football Championship Subdivision member Richmond before a rocky stint as offensive coordinator at Tennessee last season.

5. Akron: J.D. Brookhart probably needs to post a winning record. And it should happen for a talented team with a strong staff.

6. Temple: Al Golden is a cerebral coach and master motivator who is close to a breakthrough season. Could he be the next coach at, say, Virginia?

7. Northern Illinois: Jerry Kill has worked his way up through the back roads of Saginaw Valley State (Mich.), Emporia (Kan.) State and Southern Illinois. It took him one year to get the Huskies to a bowl.

8. Ohio: Frank Solich has gotten the Bobcats to one bowl in four years, which makes this a potential make-or-break season.

9. Ball State: Not many men get another chance to be a head coach at 62. But here's Stan Parrish, taking over for Brady Hoke after head-coaching stints at Marshall and Kansas State, where he went 2-30-1 from 1986-88 before Bill Snyder took over.

10. Kent State: Doug Martin has had five seasons to post a winning mark, and this may be his last chance at one of the toughest jobs in America. The Golden Flashes haven't been to a bowl since 1972.

11. Eastern Michigan: Ron English is ready for this opportunity after working at schools such as Louisville, Michigan and Arizona State.

12. Toledo: Tim Beckman brings a much-needed defensive background to the program.

13. Miami: Mike Haywood almost got the Houston job in 2008. Despite a rich tradition in Oxford, this is a tough job that will challenge Haywood.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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