|Central and Western Michigan may have lot riding on Nov. 6 showdown|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 10 August 2007 10:21|
But there is a thundercloud on the horizon which could settle on the league at almost any time.
The FBI continues to keep its case open against former University of Toledo running back Harvey ``Scooter'' McDougle Jr. even though it dropped point-shaving charges against him. McDougle denies that he recruited teammates to participate in a scheme arranged by a Detroit gambler.
Everyone in the conference, from MAC commissioner Rick Chryst on down, is holding his breath.
``We talked about it as a team when it first came out, and it shouldn't be a distraction,'' Rockets coach Tom Amstutz said. ``On every team, you have kids who will pleasantly surprise you and kids that will disappoint you. If this turns out to be true, it will be a disappointment.''
While the McDougle case lingers in the background, the games go on.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN won eight of its last nine games last year while capturing its first MAC title since 1994. A few days after the Chippewas beat Ohio 31-10 in the championship game, coach Brian Kelly left for Cincinnati. Butch Jones, a former offensive coordinator at CMU, was hired to take Kelly's place.
``I wasn't desperate for a job,'' Jones said. ``This is a place where you can build a Top 25 program.''
Easing his transition is QB Dan LeFevour, who threw 26 TD passes and topped 3,000 yards passing as a freshman in 2006. His classmate and favorite target, Bryan Anderson, is back, along with 12 other starters.
WESTERN MICHIGAN saw its title hopes wilt with a 1-3 finish. The Broncos have eight starters back on each side of the ball, but must replace QB Ryan Cubit. Mark Bonds, who rushed for 1,152 yards, is back. And don't forget, the rematch with Central is in Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.
Western and Michigan were already heated rivals. Now their meeting on Nov. 6 could very well decide the power structure in not only the West Division but the MAC overall.
``The Central-Western rivalry will take care of itself, but this year, it is definitely going to be a crucial game for at least one of us, if not both,'' WMU coach Bill Cubit said.
They're not used to losing seasons at TOLEDO, where the Rockets had a string of 13 straight plus-.500 seasons end with last year's 5-7 mark. Clint Cochran started at QB last season, then missed five games because of injury. He's back along with his replacements, Aaron Opelt and Brandon Summers. But the Rockets uncharacteristically gave up 30 or more points in five games last year, four of them losses. First-team All-MAC DB Barry Church figures to be an anchor.
Freshman Nate Davis led BALL STATE and the MAC in passing efficiency while leading the Cardinals to their most conference wins (5) since they last won a title back in 1996. The D has to improve: The Cards allowed 434 yards a game.
Jitterbug Garrett Wolfe led the nation with 148 yards rushing a game, but he graduated. Now NORTHERN ILLINOIS will rely on big-play DE Larry English (12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) to keep the Huskies in games while the offense finds an identity.
The good news for EASTERN MICHIGAN is all that money it will get for making trips to Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt and Michigan. The bad news is that those three losses will make it hard to improve on last year's 1-11 record.
In the East, the team to beat is OHIO. The Bobcats won five more games (going 9-5) in former Nebraska coach Frank Solich's second year, won the division and played in their first bowl since the 1968 Tangerine Bowl. They did it with defense, limiting teams to a stingy 18 points a game. Six starters are back to solidify that unit.
``We were good on defense last year and very good on special teams,'' said Solich, 71-31 in eight years as a Division I head coach. ``But we need to get better on offense.''
It's fun to play the name game with the KENT STATE roster. The Golden Flashes have Phil Garner (no, not Scrap Iron, the Astros manager, but a wide receiver), a nose guard named Colin Ferrell, and defensive players Larry Brown and Cedrick Maxwell (neither on the basketball team). They also have just about everybody returning from a 6-6 season, the school's best in five years.
The deaths of former head coaches Randy Walker and Bo Schembechler bookended a 2-10 season at MIAMI (Ohio), a 5 1/2-game falloff from the year before. Coach Shane Montgomery's RedHawks lost five games by seven or fewer points, so expect some improvement.
A year after a surprising run to the Motor City Bowl, AKRON went a respectable 5-7. The defense should be solid in 2007, with eight returnees. QB Luke Getsy graduated, meaning the Zips will likely have to get along on the ground.
BOWLING GREEN has more starters back (10 defense, eight on offense) than anybody in the league. The Falcons also don't play a traditional MAC team until Miami on Oct. 13. By then, coach Gregg Brandon could have his team fine-tuned.
The numbers aren't pretty at TEMPLE, which won just one of 12 games last year while being held to single digits in seven games. But the only win came over a decent MAC team (Bowling Green), which is a reason to hope.
``There might not be a great team in this league, but there's also very little dropoff from 1 through 13,'' said BUFFALO coach Turner Gill, the ex-Nebraska QB. That's too charitable to his own team. The Bulls lost their seven MAC games last year by an average of 20 points.