Ohio, Western Michigan Lead 2012 MAC Parade

By: Bruce Marshall | Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In an era in which conference shifting has become an epidemic, the Mid-American Conference has mostly stayed out of the mix.  The core of the league remains intact, and indeed figures to do so for the near future, as none of the current members are apparently being targeted as acquisition targets by bigger conferences.

Having said that, there was still slight movement in the MAC membership ranks this past offseason, when Temple bolted for the Big East and UMass, making the jump to the FBS level, was added in the Owls’ place.  Although both of those moves should come with an asterisk, with each being part of the MAC for football only.  Temple’s recent inclusion in the league was provisional anyway after it was let loose from the Big East earlier in the past decade.

Similar to the Owls’ arrangement the past few years, the Minutemen will continue to compete in the Atlantic 10 in basketball and other sports.  We suppose if Duquesne ever wants to upgrade its football program, or St. Bonaventure wishes to reinstate its gridiron presence, they and other A-10 members could probably find safe haven for the football teams in the MAC, too.

(Note that since this is a “transition” year from FCS to FBS for UMass, the Minutemen will be ineligible for the conference title or a bowl game.)

The MAC, however, gladly accepts its place near the bottom end of the FBS food chain, satisfied to collect hefty paydays from non-conference road assignments, many of those against nearby Big Ten entries in their huge stadiums.  But MAC squads are often good for a few upsets each season and can usually hold their own in minor bowls, in which loop sides won three of four tries last season after having a more difficult time in the postseason the previous few years.

Meanwhile, successful MAC coaches have long been targeted by higher-profile programs, dating back to the days when Miami-Ohio spawned several coaches of legendary status.  Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, John Pont and Bo Schembechler were all head coaches at the school; Paul Brown, Red Blaik, Weeb Ewbank, Paul Dietzel and several other notables were all Miami alums.  The latest to move “up” was Toledo’s Tim Beckman, who was tabbed by Illinois to revive the Fighting Illini’s fortunes after last season.

Perhaps the most intriguing coaching situation in this year’s MAC will be at Akron, where Terry Bowden returns to the FBS ranks after a recent stint in the lower division at North Alabama.  Bowden has been out of the coaching mainstream since the late ‘90s  when he resigned under pressure at Auburn midway through the 1998 season.  Along with Toledo’s Matt Campbell and UMass’s Charley Molnar, Bowden is one of three new MAC coaches this fall.

The MAC should prove interesting viewing once again in 2012, especially with acknowledged playmakers such as Western Michigan QB Alex Carder and Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton returning to the mix.

Like any league, there are also coaches on the hot seat this fall in the MAC.  Following is a quick look at those mentors in the most trouble entering 2012, as well as those who might be the next to “move up” the coaching ladder after the season.

Dan Enos, Central Michigan: The Chips have fallen long and hard since Butch Jones left for Cincinnati after the 2009 season.  With a pair of 3-9 seasons, Enos (a former Michigan State QB) needs to show improvement this fall.

Jeff Quinn, Buffalo: Quinn has failed to recapture some of the magic the Bulls discovered in the preceding Turner Gill regime.  Buffalo is 5-19 the past two seasons under Quinn, who is best advised to get UB back to near .500 if he wants to return in 2013.

Dave Clawson, Bowling Green: A rising star in the coaching ranks not long ago when at Richmond, Clawson has endured a difficult few years, first in an unsuccessful stint as Phil Fulmer’s offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008, then a mostly-difficult ride at Bowling Green since making a bowl appearance in his debut campaign of 2009.  The Falcons have been sub-.500 the past two years, and they expect more than that at Doyt Perry Stadium.

As mentioned, there are also coaches on the rise in the MAC.  Following are a few that we suggest could soon be on the move upwards.

Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois: Doeren was in the running for openings at Kansas and Illinois in the offseason after steering his first Huskies team to an 11-3 mark, MAC title and GoDaddy.com Bowl win over Arkansas State.  The former Wisconsin defensive coordinator figures to be on several other regional short lists if NIU continues to win this fall.

Ron English, Eastern Michigan: Don’t look at English’s records his first two years at Ypsilanti, when he inherited arguably the nation’s most downtrodden program.  But EMU improved to 6-6 a year ago, and once again English (who not long ago seemed destined for high-profile posts after a stint as defensive coordinator for Lloyd Carr at Michigan) is being mentioned as one of the up-and-comers in the coaching ranks.

Darrell Hazel, Kent State: Hazel, who arrived at Dix Stadium from Ohio State a year ago, could put his name on several short lists this upcoming offseason if the Golden Flashes make noise (as many suspect they will) this fall.

Following are quick rundowns of the East and West Divisions, complete with conference win prices, as well as subsequent technical and pointspread trends of note within the loop.

1. OHIO (11/4 to win MAC): After blowing a 20-0 lead vs. NIU in the MAC title game at Detroit, Frank Solich’s Bobcats were a dramatic winner in last December’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl when rallying to beat Utah State.  Junior QB Tyler Tettleton emerged as a force in 2011 when passing for 3202 yards and 28 TDs while rushing for another 658 yards and ten scores, although he could miss graduated WR LaVon Brazill, an Indianapolis Colts draftee.  Solich, however, believes he could field his best “D” in his eighth season at Athens, especially with an experienced secondary.  Note that Ohio is off of its first-ever 10-win season, and after last year’s near-miss is poised for its first MAC crown since 1968.

2. KENT STATE (8/1): The Golden Flashes rallied down the stretch last season for first-year head coach Darrell Hazell, winning four of their last five, and 17 starters return to the mix.  Hazell appears to have two QBs to choose from this fall as well-regarded juco David Fisher put up a spirited challenge to incumbent Spencer Keith in spring, and the “D” has been posting Alabama-like numbers for a MAC rep the past couple of seasons, ranking 21st nationally a year ago.  Watch junior DT Roosevelt Nix, perhaps the MAC’s best defensive force.

3. BOWLING GREEN (7/1): As mentioned earlier, head coach Dave Clawson is feeling a little heat after back-to-back losing seasons.  But there is hope that Clawson finally has the pieces in place for the Falcon “O” to soar behind junior QB Matt Schilz (3,024 YP and 28 TDP in 2011) and RB Anthon Samuel, last year’s MAC Frosh MVP, while once-ballyhooed Michigan transfer WR Je’Ron Stokes could provide Schilz with a big-time target.  The key to getting back to a bowl, however, likely rests with a “D” that has been shredded the past couple of seasons but does return its top eight tacklers from a year ago.  Forcing a few more turnovers (BG ranked a poor 116th in TO margin last fall) would be a nice start for the platoon.

4. MIAMI-OHIO (8/1): As usual, the RedHawks aren’t ducking anyone in pre-conference play (road trips this September to Ohio State and Boise State), but senior QB Zac Dysert is a 3-year starter who has already passed for 8,530 yards in his Miami career.  Where 2nd-year head coach Don Treadwell needs to see improvement is along the OL and in the running game, which ranked dead last nationally (74 ypg) a year ago.  The "D" mostly held its own in 2011, however, and returns seven starters from last year’s 4-8 team.

5. BUFFALO (22/1): Jeff Quinn is on the hot seat in Buffalo after producing just five wins in his first two seasons. The offense figures to be serviceable with punishing RB Brandon Oliver (1,395 yards rushing in 2011) back in the fold, and junior QB Alex Zordich flashing considerable upside a year ago.  But for the Bulls to make a move up the MAC table it will require the “D” (which returns seven starters) to respond to new coordinator Lou Tepper, once the head coach at Illinois.

6. AKRON (25/1): Terry Bowden inherits a decrepit Zips program that managed just two wins the past two seasons under former Notre Dame assistant Rob Ianello, who walked the plank in the offseason.  Bowden hopes a new up-tempo, no-huddle “O” sparks a strike(out) force that ranked near the bottom of national stats (118th in scoring and 115th in total “O”) last fall, and to that end might opt for Stephen F. Austin transfer QB Dalton Williams, familiar with operating the sort of spread offense that Bowden is installing, instead of holdover QB Clayton (Lone Ranger) Moore.  A shortage of quality skill-position weapons, however, will be hard to overcome.  Bowden has also enlisted an old chum of daddy Bobby, former NC State head coach and Florida State assistant Chuck Amato, as his new defensive coordinator, and some juco additions will get a chance to help early.  But this is a transition year at InfoCision Stadium.

7. UMASS (no odds, ineligible for MAC title in FBS transition year): FBS newbie UMass figures to have a bumpy ride after forging only a 5-6 record in the FCS Colonial Athletic Association a year ago.  New head coach Charley Molnar is also installing new systems offensively and defensively, although 16 starters are back in the fold.  Junior QB Kellen Pagel, formerly at Bowling Green, was expected to run the spread offense but has been sidelined indefinitely due to concussion symptoms that have lingered since last season.  The “D” switches back to a 4-3 under new coordinator Phil Elmassian.  Note that the Minutemen will be playing their home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, almost a two-hour ride from campus in Amherst.

1. WESTERN MICHIGAN (7/2): The Broncos, who advanced to the Little Caesar’s Bowl last December, return perhaps the most-potent offensive force in the league in senior QB Alex Carder, who has passed for 7,207 yards the past two seasons, although a new-look cast of wideouts must step to the fore.  The “D” also switches to 3-3-5 alignments in the fall to hopefully take advantage of experience in the secondary.  Bill Cubit’s side also catches a nice scheduling break with West contenders NIU and Toledo both having to travel to Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.

2. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (6/1): Graduated QB Chandler Harnish leaves some very big shoes to fill for an “O” that scored a whopping 38 ppg last fall, but even with eight new starters on the attack side, head coach Dave Doeren is confident the strike force will continue to hum with junior Jordan Lynch, similar in style to the versatile Harnish and having gained experience in spot appearances last fall (including the bowl win over Arkansas State).  The Huskie “D” might be the MAC’s best with eight starters returning to the fold, with juco DT Ken Bishop likely one of the top newcomers in the league.  NIU might slip a bit but remember this program has won 11 games each of the past two seasons.

3. TOLEDO (6/1): New head coach Matt Campbell (youngest coach in FBS ranks at just 32 years of age) was promoted from the offensive coordinator position after predecessor Tim Beckman moved to Illinois, and Campbell is already 1-0 in his new job after an exciting D.C. Military Bowl win over Air Force last December.  Campbell returns his two-headed monster at QB (Austin Dentin and Terrance Owens) but key skill-position weapons WR Eric Page & RB Adonis Thomas must be replaced from an “O” that ranked 8th nationally in scoring at 42 ppg in 2011.  The “D” is hoping for an injury-free campaign after being stung a year ago, but only four starters are back on the stop unit.

4. BALL STATE(12/1): The Cards had a few bright moments in head coach Pete Lembo’s maiden voyage last fall, including an opening win over in-state Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the 6-6 record was a pleasant surprise.  Consider them a dangerous dark horse this fall, with junior QB Keith Wenning more comfy in the second year of Lembo’s spread-option looks, and bowling-ball soph RB Jahwan Edwards a punishing infantry threat.  How far Ball State progresses  depends upon upgrades from a stop unit that lost more than half of its starters and ranked second-to-last nationally (510 ypg) in total defense last year.

5. EASTERN MICHIGAN (16/1): The Eagles were much-improved to 6-6 last season (from 2-10 the previous year) thanks to a physical infantry component that ranked 14th nationally in rushing stats.  Six of the top seven rushers return, but it’s improvement from senior QB Alex Gillett that will determine if the Eagles can make a rare bowl run (which would be their first in 25 years).  The challenge for head coach Ron English will be on defense, where seven starters departed from a much-improved platoon last season.

6. CENTRAL MICHIGAN (20/1): Things have gone pear-shaped in Mt. Pleasant, with the Chips faltering to a pair of 3-9 marks under head coach Dan Enos after becoming a bowl regular under predecessors Brian Kelly and Butch Jones.  In Enos’ defense, the “O” was using a lot of frosh last season, and that hopefully translates into upgrades for the nation’s 92-ranked scoring offense (22.6 ppg) last all.  On the plus side, senior QB Ryan Radcliff returns after passing for a MAC-high 2,491 yards in league games, and the OL is intact from last season.  The “D” also returns its top three tacklers from a year ago, but the platoon was porous a year ago when allowing 33 ppg.

AKRON: So much for the sparkling new InfoCision Stadium helping the Zips’ spread fortunes; they’ve just 3-8 vs. the number their last 11 as host.  Maybe Akron should move back to the venerable Rubber Bowl?

BALL STATE: Pete Lembo’s side covered 5 of 7 road games last fall and was 'over' 8-4 in 2011.

BOWLING GREEN: The Falcons have started quickly the past three seasons under Clawson, covering their first two games in 2009-11.

BUFFALO: The Bulls have struggled on the road under Quinn, covering just 3-of-12 as a visitor the past two seasons.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN: Close your eyes, as the Chips were nation’s-worst 1-11 vs. the number a year ago.

EASTERN MICHIGAN: Ron English’s Eagles have covered six of their last eight on the road since late in the 2010 campaign.  Conversely, they’re only 3-7 vs. the number their last 10 at home in mostly-empty Rynearson Stadium.

KENT STATE: The Golden Flashes began a turnaround late last season when winning and covering four of their last five games after dropping 13 of their previous 17 on the board.

MIAMI-OHIO: Note that the RedHawks have covered seven of their last 10 chances as an underdog.  Miami also covered six of its last eight in 2011.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS: The Huskies are 8-2 vs. the line their last 10 at DeKalb vs. FBS-level foes.

OHIO: Frank Solich’s Bobcats continue to provide good value as an underdog, standing 18-7 as the “short” since the 2007 campaign.

TOLEDO: The Rockets are 5-2 vs. the spread in their last seven MAC road games.

WESTERN MICHIGAN: The Broncos are 7-3 vs. the number their last 10 as a true visitor and have covered five of their last six at Waldo Stadium since late 2010.

Follow Don Best throughout the preseason as we preview each and every football conference: ACC ... Big 12 ... Big East ... Big Ten ... Conference USA ... Mid-American Conference ...

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