2011 NCAA Football Preview: Mid-American Conference

August 26, 2011
By K. Becks

Overview

It might be easier to pick a random team out of a hat than to use better judgment to try and decide which team will win the Mid-American Conference.

From Akron in 2005, Buffalo in 2008, and Miami (OH) just last year, the MAC frequently seems to have a team exceed expectations and seize the conference title when no one really gave them a chance at the beginning of the season. Even with a few teams looking strong this year, expect another sleeper to give the favorites a run for their money in 2011.

Why does this always seem to happen in the Mid-American Conference? The answer lies in the recruiting classes. Teams in the MAC cannot “reload”; instead, careful rebuilding and keeping players for all four years is the key for teams that surprise and win the MAC title. Teams in the MAC normally enjoy two years of success using this method. Look at Ball State as an example: 7-5 in 2007, 12-0 in the regular season in 2008, and back to 2-10 in 2009.

This is good news for fans of parody. No one is good for long, and no one is bad for long. In a league where no one is challenging for national title or BCS bids very often, parody is a good enough reason to tune in to those Tuesday night matchups on ESPN.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a National Championship Bid

None

Finishing the season ranked in the Top 25 is a more realistic goal for teams in the MAC than receiving a bid to play for the national title.

Think of it this way; when Ball State finished the season 12-0 in 2009, they made it to number twelve in the rankings. They were still considered an outside shot to receive a BCS bowl bid. It is hard enough to go undefeated in the regular season, even in a league like the MAC. Even when a team does, if they aren’t from a “Big Six” conference, they probably aren’t getting a whole lot of national title consideration unless they play on a blue field or are located in Forth Worth, Texas.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Kent State

Kent State was woeful on offense last year, but it has the potential to be much better this season. Junior quarterback Spencer Keith had somewhat of a sophomore slump in 2010 after performing well as a freshman, and needs to be more consistent if the Golden Flashes expect to have success on the offensive side of the ball. Keith should have some help from his receiving corps, led by second team All-MAC selection Tyshon Goode and third team selection Sam Kirkland. The hope is that the backfield, headed by senior tailback Jacquise Terry, can provide balance to a reinvigorated Kent State offense.

If the offense can produce, then this team will win some games they aren’t supposed to this year. The defense was the bright spot for Kent State last year, and should be solid again in 2011. Led by defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, who led the team in sacks with ten, the Golden Flashes defense ranked fourth in the nation at stopping the run. If young players step up to fill the voids at linebacker, the defense should be in good shape.

The Golden Flashes have to take on Ohio, Northern Illinois and Temple on the road, which are some of the better teams in the MAC. If they can manage to win even one of those games and take care of business at home against conference foes, this is a team that will not only make it back to a bowl game, but who will have a shot at playing for the MAC title in Detroit.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Eric Page (Jr.), Toledo wide receiver

Double coverage is something that Eric Page got used to last season, so saying that extra coverage may diminish his impact in 2011 is foolish. Page is one of the best players in the MAC, and has the stats to back that up. He has had over 1,000 receiving yards in both of his seasons at Toledo, and was just one reception shy of 100 catches for the season last year.

Page is not big (5′ 10”, 180 pounds), but is a very smart player and finds ways to get open. He is very valuable to the Rockets, and will be instrumental in their success in several ways this season. In addition to being a talented receiver, he is also Toledo’s best kick returner.

Big name teams such as Ohio State and Boise State will have to tailor their gameplan to stop Page from tearing up their defense. He is one of those players who will be a factor regardless of how talented a defense he is going up against.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois (September 17th)

The fact that Northern Illinois does not have to travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin is good news in itself for Huskies fans. The fact that the Huskies have the kind of offense that can cause Wisconsin fits is even better news.

Northern Illinois’ offense is in good hands thanks to senior quarterback Chandler Harnish. Harnish is the kind of player who can keep the rest of the team under control if things start to go awry, and his ability as a duel-threat quarterback is also a plus. The Huskies will want to put up a lot of points against Wisconsin in hopes that the Badgers grind it out offense won’t be able to keep up.

The Huskies might have some problems stopping the Badger offense, though. Only two starters return from a defense that ranked 24th in the nation against the run, which could spell trouble for the Huskies. They will need a relatively inexperienced to step up big if they want a chance to slow down the powerful Wisconsin running game.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Miami (OH) vs. Ohio (November 22nd)

Ohio returns their entire offensive line, which is good news for a team that will begin the season with a new starting quarterback. The Bobcats will have the ability to score a lot of points this season, but whether they will do so depends on how well the offense picks up the no-huddle offense that the coaching staff has installed.

Miami was the surprise of the MAC last year, but no one will be taking them lightly in 2011. They return 16 starters from a team that finished in double-digits in the wins column last season. However, this is new head coach Don Treadwell’s first season overseeing the entire operation after filling in as an interim head coach while Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio recovered from a heart attack. It will be interesting to see what Treadwell can do with a Miami team that has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.

Both the RedHawks and Bobcats should be battling for the East division title race when they play what is the season finale for both teams, so this game will have plenty on the line.

Conference Predictions

East Division

1. Temple (9-3, [7-1])

2. Ohio (9-3, [6-2])

3. Kent State (7-5, [5-3])

4. Miami (OH) (7-5, [5-3])

5. Bowling Green (3-9, [1-7])

6. Buffalo (2-10, [1-7])

7. Akron (2-10, [1-7])

West Division

1. Toledo (9-3, [8-0])

2. Northern Illinois (10-2, [7-1])

3. Western Michigan (6-6, [5-3])

4. Central Michigan (4-8, [3-5])

5. Ball State (3-8, [2-6])

6. Eastern Michigan (4-8, [2-6])

Championship Game (Temple vs. Toledo)

Winner: Toledo

- K. Becks

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