MAC Preview: Western Mich/Bowling Green battle for title

MAC Preview: Western Mich/Bowling Green battle for title

MAC Preview: Western Mich/Bowling Green battle for title
July 16th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The MAC placed four teams in bowl games last season, which is an incredible number considering the conference had only 14 bowl bids the previous six years. The turnaround was readily apparent in the leagues non-conference games, as the MAC won six games and finished an amazing 24-13-1 ATS. Not only that, the league took it right to the Big Ten covering 11 of 18 games.

This year, with the addition of Temple, there is a change in how the division champions will be decided. Only the games inside the division will count and the non-divisional contests will be used just as tiebreakers.

WEST DIVISION

1) WESTERN MICHIGAN
- Defense was the name of the game in Kalamazoo last season as the Broncos finished sixth in the entire country, allowing only 76 rushing yards per game and 11th in total defense giving up 275 overall.

Strength - Eight starters return to that stifling defense which enabled Western Mich to post its highest win total (8) since 2000. The offense will be much improved with the return of QB Tim Hiller, who redshirted last season after injuring his knee vs. Northern Illinois the year before.

Weakness - The Broncos lose their leading tackler Ameer Ismail, who simply recorded 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss.

Bottom line - Western Mich is the most talented team in the conference and will win six of its seven MAC games and seven contests overall. The Broncos were 2-0 as a home dog last season, but will be favored in every game at Waldo Stadium in 07.

2) BALL STATE - Dont be fooled into thinking this is the same Ball State club that hasnt finished over .500 since 1996. The Cardinals are poised for a monster season despite seven road games on the schedule.

Strength - Sophomore QB Nate Davis is the most talented recruit to come to Muncie in years and showed why throwing 18 TD passes in just seven starts last season. The defense allowed 29 ppg the first six, but held opponents to 22 ppg the final six.

Weakness - Despite the improvement, Ball State still ranked next to last in MAC play giving up 407 yards per game.

Bottom line - The Cardinals are in line for a 6-6 record and will win five conference games. They were 8-3 ATS with a 14-7-1 mark the last two years and appear headed for another fine ATS season.

3) CENTRAL MICHIGAN - The Chippewas won 10 games for the first time since 1979 after taking the MAC title game over Ohio and defeating Middle Tennessee in the Motor City Bowl.

Strength - Dan LeFevour came out of nowhere to lead the conference in passing yards and touchdowns, while six other starters return to the top-rated offense in the league.

Weakness - All-time team sack leader Daniel Bazuin departs, as does superstar left tackle Joe Staley so Central Mich will be a bit softer in the trenches. B

Bottom line - Theres still enough talent for the Chippewas to remain competitive and they will be with a 6-6 mark, 4-3 in the conference. Nevertheless, dont expect another 10-2-1 ATS record.

4) TOLEDO - The Rockets had their first losing season since 1993 and hope to rebound after coming in fifth in the division.

Strength - The defense allowed an average of 39 ppg the first six, but battled back and gave up an average of 18 the rest of the way. Eight starters return, including 14 of the top 17 tacklers, after the team lost three of its top four tacklers a year ago.

Weakness - Can the offense get its act together after averaging 23 ppg, the lowest since 1998? The QB combo of Aaron Opelt and Clint Cochran fell way below expectations and the position is still the teams major question mark.

Bottom line - Justin Parmele (1,131 rushing yards) cant do it all himself. Thankfully for Toledo fans, the defense will lead the Rockets to a 7-5 mark and 5-3 in the conference, but only 2-3 against the West, including a loss to Central Mich. They have failed to cover the last five as an away favorite so take Buffalo when the Bulls visit the Glass Bowl in October.

5) NORTHERN ILLINOIS
- For the first time since 2004, Garrett Wolfe will not be on the field for the Huskies. However, dont write this team off just yet, because many felt Northern Ill would not be able to replace Michael Turner when he left Dekalb.

Strength - The Huskies allowed 18 ppg in MAC play, good for third in the conference. Seven of the top 10 tacklers return including the top lineman in the league, Larry English.

Weakness - Even though the defense was stingy last season, only three other teams gave up more yards in conference play. Quarterback Dan Nicholson takes over for Phil Horvath and must direct an offense that has been geared to handing the ball off to Wolfe.

Bottom line - Running backs Justin Anderson and Montell Clanton will get a lot of touches and how effective they are will determine how well the Huskies do. My money is on a disappointing 5-7 season, 3-4 in the MAC. They went 0-4 as a home favorite last year, which could be repeated.

6) EASTERN MICHIGAN
- Despite a 1-7 conference record, the Eagles lost five games by an average of five points per game.

Strength - The secondary allowed 20 touchdowns last season, but more than half came in the first five games. The unit will be much improved this year with all four starters back. The Eagles return 81% of their lettermen so look for a couple of more wins this season.

Weakness - Five different running backs started at tailback in 06 and the two leading rushers were the two starting quarterbacks. Both of Eastern Michigans top two wide receivers have moved on taking with them 119 catches.

Bottom line - The Eagles have not had a winning season since 96 and will not reach that mark this year. Nonetheless, this team is capable of an upset or two and is a solid ATS play coming off a 1-11 season. Look for three wins, two coming in the conference.

EAST DIVISION

1) BOWLING GREEN
- After five straight winning seasons, the Falcons trudged home with a 4-8 record, but back in 00, they finished 2-9 and won eight games the following year.

Strength - Even though the defense ended up 11th, giving up 27 ppg in conference play, the unit finished fourth in yards allowed with just 316. Nine defensive sophomores and freshmen started the bulk of games in 06 so look for dramatic improvement.

Weakness - Special teams killed the Falcons as five TDs came off blocked punts and kickoff returns. They were also hurt by the big offensive play as seven TDs came by way of runs or passes of at least 43 yards.

Bottom line - The offense will be more explosive setting up for a four-game turnaround as Bowling Green will finish 8-4 and 6-2 in the MAC. The Falcons will be underdogs in five of their first six games and are a solid wager throughout the year.

2) MIAMI-OHIO - Not much was expected last year with only seven returning starters, but the Redhawks 2-10 record could have been better as they lost four games by four points or less and another one in overtime.

Strength - Fourteen starters return, but more importantly, the offensive line is healthy once again. The offense couldnt get on track due to injuries and inexperience, but this season will be different.

Weakness - Wide receiver Ryne Robinson has moved his skills to the NFL, and all told, 63% of last years passing yards depart. The defense still has a ways to go before its back to Miami-Ohio standards.

Bottom line - The Redhawks will reach .500 at 6-6 along with five conference wins. Expect a much better ATS record as they ended up 4-8 vs. the spread last year.

3) KENT STATE - What a turnaround for the Golden Flashes going from 1-10 to 6-6. They led the MAC in forced turnovers (23) after finishing last in 05 with just nine.

Strength - Every member of the O-line has at least one full season as a starter. The team loses only five contributing players from last year.

Weakness - Even though the Flashes won six games, the offense was somewhat lucky, recovering 26-of-39 fumbles. Special teams play has hurt them in the past and this season will be more of the same.

Bottom line - Kent State finished 06 losing four of its last five games so the season wasnt a total success. Expect five wins and 4-4 in-conference play. The Flashes will be a solid bet inside the division.

4) OHIO - With Bowling Green and Miami-Ohio having off seasons, the Bobcats jumped up and won the East with a 7-1 mark.

Strength - Team speed on defense helped them lead the league in scoring and total defense. Running back Kalvin McRae led the division with 1,252 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Weakness - Ohio loses its top four tacklers and all were big play contributors. The quarterback position is unsettled heading into fall camp.

Bottom line - The Bobcats will be a one-year wonder and fall back to four wins with just two in conference play. They will be a great team to play against the entire season.

5) AKRON - The Zips wont be zipping to many wins this year with the loss of Luke Getsy and a host of potential problems at wide receiver. Sophomore David Harvey left school due to personal reasons and Jermaine Lindsay might not qualify academically.

Strength - Top six tacklers return to a defense that was second in MAC play allowing just 3.3 ypc.

Weakness - That unit will have to be strong because the offense will be on par with Buffalo and Temple. Only one O-lineman has more than seven career starts and the QBs have combined for one collegiate pass.

Bottom line - Wait till next year when RB Andrew Johnson is eligible. Akron will win two games, both in the conference. Bet against them every week.

6) BUFFALO - Turner Gills squad returns 18 starters and 80% of its lettermen, which will help build on the 2-10 season a year ago.

Strength - Despite the 1-7 conference record, the Bulls actually posted the highest ppg average (24.1) in the division. Drew Willy was injured and missed four games, but he was the last remaining starting QB in the nation to throw an interception.

Weakness - The defense is the antithesis of the offense as the unit allowed 36 ppg and held opponents under 31 points just twice.

Bottom line - With so much experience coming back, the Bulls will surprise some teams this season and win three games, including a victory over Baylor on September 22. They were 7-4-1 ATS last year and could end up with an even better ATS mark this season.

7) TEMPLE - The program is headed in the right direction and will be improved playing a full season in the MAC.

Strength - The Owls were outscored by an average of 41-11 last year, but only 30-17 in six MAC games, with their only win coming over Bowling Green. Coach Al Golden played a ton of freshmen in 06, which will increase their chances for improvement in 07.

Weakness - Temple averaged just 54 rushing yards per game, next to last in the nation and allowed 244 rushing yards against, last in the country.

Bottom line - Golden remarked how the team was bigger, stronger and faster after spring practice then at the end of last season, which should allow the Owls to double their win total from one to two, with both wins coming inside the conference. They were 3-1 as a home dog last year and could easily top that mark in 07.

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