2012 NCAA Football Preview: Mid-American Conference

August 25, 2012
By K. Becks

It appears as though I will have no trouble finishing the conference previews before the season starts this coming Thursday night. Here is the Mid-American Conference.

Overview

I will go on record as saying that the MAC will be the non-AQ conference to watch for the 2012-2013 season. This is a strong league with the potential for parody, but it also has a team capable of breaking into the Top 25 and having a remarkable season. That combination should make for lots of entertaining conference battles, and keeps the national audience interested because of the threat of a non-AQ breaking into the BCS party.

Don’t worry if you can’t find very many MAC teams playing on TV during the first few weeks of the season. When it really matters in November, the conference’s marquee matchups will be nationally televised on Wednesday and Thursday nights. If last season’s games are any indication, you won’t want to miss out.

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

None

When I mentioned that there is a team that could be a threat to make a BCS bowl, I didn’t mean the national title game. The MAC is not strong enough a conference to garner that type of respect, even if one of its teams manages to run the gauntlet. However, the Ohio Bobcats do have an outside shot at playing for a BCS bowl if the dominoes fall in their favor.

It might seem weird that Ohio, a school that won its first ever bowl game just last season, would be considered a dark horse BCS candidate so quickly afterwards. But the Bobcats have a very manageable schedule (hardest non-conference game being at Penn State on September 1st) and an explosive offense, which in the past seems to have been a prerequisite for non-AQ schools that played in a BCS game. For fans of Ohio and of the Mid-American Conference in general, any BCS bid would be almost as sweet as a national title bid.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Central Michigan

There is one very important thing to pay attention to when determining whether teams from a smaller conference like the MAC has a chance to exceed expectations. That thing is the number of upperclassmen that will see significant playing time. The Chippewas have 16 players that should start at least a game that are either juniors or seniors. Those players know what it takes to win, and they also know what it feels like to lose a close game, such as the one Central Michigan dropped to Kent State on November 4th last year. That experience is very valuable in a league such as the MAC, where many of the conference games are tight.

One publication in particular has the Chippewas finishing dead last in the MAC West standings. I don’t think that is going to happen. The Chippewas play at home more than on the road and are led by a player poised to have a breakout season in senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff. Can Central Michigan win a division that includes the likes of Toledo, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan? That might be a long shot, but the Chippewas can definitely scrap together its first winning season under coach Dan Enos.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player To Watch)

Tyler Tettleton (Jr.), Ohio quarterback

Tettleton isn’t just the best dual-threat quarterback in the MAC; he’s one of the best in the entire nation. The son of former Baltimore Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton burst onto the scene last season as he led the Bobcats to their first bowl win in school history, diving into the end zone with just seconds left for the go-ahead score in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Tettleton has good size, speed and field vision which makes him dangerous against even the most prepared defenses.

If Ohio is to have a chance to go undefeated this season, Tyler will need to match and maybe even exceed his totals from last year (3,302 yards passing, 658 yards rushing, 38 total touchdowns). Don’t put anything past this young man; Frank Solich’s up-tempo offense is the perfect medium through which Tettleton can achieve those numbers once again.

Out-Of-Conference Game To Watch

Ohio vs. Penn State (September 1st)

The Bobcats get perhaps their toughest test of the season in the first game as they travel to Happy Valley to take on the Nittany Lions. This game would have been difficult anyway, as a MAC team is normally the underdog against a Big Ten squad. However, the fact that Penn State will be looking to prove something as they head out onto the field for the first time since NCAA sanctions were handed down to the school just adds to the difficulty.

Ohio has the talent to compete with Penn State, but they will need to establish themselves early on the offensive end if they want to stand a chance inside the hostile environment of Beaver Stadium. Taking the crowd out of the game early will be very important for Frank Solich’s team, and if they don’t, this game could get away from them in a hurry.

In-Conference Game To Watch

Toledo vs. Northern Illinois (November 14th)

Last year this matchup produced one of the most exciting games of the entire season if you’re into offenses trading blows for 60 minutes. Don’t expect a 63-60 barnburner this season, though. Northern Illinois was stripped almost completely of its starters on offense from last season, most notably quarterback Chandler Harnish. Toledo is now without speedster Eric Page returning kicks and lining up as a wide receiver.

The team that wins this game will be the team that controls the clock. Neither offense will be as good as it was last season, although by November both teams could be scoring 40 points a game. Regardless, neither side has a quarterback that can bring his team back from three scores down in the fourth quarter, so keeping the ball will be key in this one.

Conference Predictions

East Division

1. Ohio (11-1, [8-0])

2. Bowling Green (8-4, [6-2])

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

4. Miami (Ohio) (4-8, [3-5])

5. Buffalo (3-9, [2-6])

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

7. Massachusetts (0-12, [0-8])

West Division

1. Western Michigan (9-3, [6-2])

2. Northern Illinois (8-4, [5-3])

3. Toledo (7-5, [5-3])

4. Central Michigan (6-6, [5-3])

5. Ball State (4-8, [3-5])

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

Championship Game (Ohio vs. Western Michigan)

Winner: Ohio

Questions from the Readers

Q. Are there any non-AQ teams that could make a BCS bowl this year? (Submitted by Coleman M.)

A. As you have read multiple times throughout this preview, I think that the Ohio Bobcats are a legitimate threat to make a BCS bowl. They definitely need to win 11 games during the regular season to receive consideration, and it may take a perfect 12-0 to make them feel comfortable. However, the schedule this year is favorable, and if they can get past Penn State in Happy Valley fans will begin to get excited.

The only thing that Ohio needs to avoid is beating itself. They are the most talented team in the MAC, but can sometimes lose focus as they did last year in the MAC Championship Game while leading 20-0 at halftime (Ohio went on to lose that game to Northern Illinois). If they continue to push for 60 minutes every game, I don’t see a one on the schedule they can’t win.

Q. Which new head coach do you think will make the biggest immediate impact? (Submitted by Coleman M.)

A. Many of the brightest young minds in the game cut their teeth in the Mid-American Conference, and one coach who may make a name for himself this season is Toledo’s first year head coach Matt Campbell. Campbell was the offensive coordinator for three years under former head coach Tim Beckman when Toledo routinely had one of the more explosive offenses in the nation. This year, it will be Campbell’s job to not only oversee the continued success of the offense, but to patch up a defense that was shaky last season.

As far as the offense is concerned, Campbell will need to get the best out of quarterback Terrance Owens, who appears to have the inside track to be the starter in the Rockets’ opening game. Owens is efficient, but can be erratic at times and will need to be calmer in the pocket if Toledo is to survive the loss of a lot of pieces on offense. The defense also lost a lot from last season, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the Rockets were 105th in the nation in pass defense.

If Toledo competes for the MAC West title, you can chalk it up to the fact that the team still has enough talent left over from last year. If they win nine games or more and/or win the MAC West title, Campbell will have been instrumental in the success of this team. That is because the defense will have to be improved dramatically in order to win that many games.

- K. Becks

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