2019 NCAAF Preview: Mid-American Conference

August 28, 2019
By K. Becks

Are you ready for some MACtion?

Oh, who are we kidding – everyone loves the Tuesday night games in November that are often characterized by half empty stadiums and scorelines that require a double-take to make sure it wasn’t being mistaken for an early season basketball contest.

Sure, the MAC may be the little brother to just about every other league in the Midwest, but it’s football, and we can’t get enough of it.

College Football Playoff Contenders

None

Typically, the MAC needs to feature a team that is head and shoulders above the rest of the conference competition to be a legitimate threat to place a team into one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Unfortunately for the league, that team doesn’t appear to exist this season. There are plenty of teams that feel like they have a good chance at competing for a division title, but that will likely result in a cluster of good but not great overall records come December.

Despite the chances of a New Year’s Six contender being low, MACtion should be particularly exciting in 2019 with no one team projecting to be the undisputed class of the conference.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Kent State

Let’s face it – the Golden Flashes have been downright bad since the magical 2012 campaign in which the program won 11 games and made it to the MAC title game. Since then, the Golden Flashes have failed to win more than four games in a season and have been anemic offensively. That should all change this season, thanks to quarterback Woody Barrett and a strong stable of wideouts for the junior to find downfield. While Barrett isn’t the most consistent passer in the league, he’s one of the more exciting and when he’s on, Kent State’s offense moves at a quick pace.

The schedule isn’t the most favorable, with non-conferences stops at Arizona State, Auburn and Wisconsin, but no one can say Sean Lewis’s team won’t be battle-tested heading into MAC play. And assuming that the offense is the most productive it has been in six seasons, the Golden Flashes are poised to flirt with postseason eligibility this year.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

LaVante Bellamy, Western Michigan senior running back

Western Michigan is not in short supply of dangerous weapons on the offensive side of the football, but Bellamy is arguably the most important one of the bunch. The senior was second in the MAC in total rushing yards last season and is poised to be the top back in 2019 serving as the main option in Tim Lester’s offense. No team in the conference averaged more than the 43.54 rushing attempts per game that the Broncos threw at opposing defenses and that is unlikely to change this year.

Expect Bellamy to take on a higher workload this season following his productive junior season. With an experienced offensive line and a capable quarterback who can keep the middle of the defense honest, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for Bellamy to creep up on 1,400 yards rushing this season.

Out-of-Conference Games to Watch

Ohio at Pittsburgh (September 7)

The Bobcats travel in back-to-back weeks to play tough non-conference opponents, and this is the first of them. Pittsburgh will try to keep the ball out of Nathan Rourke’s hands to minimize damage, but Pat Narduzzi’s team is unlikely to stifle the senior quarterback completely.

Expect Ohio to remain competitive in this one for four quarters. Frank Solich’s team is good enough defensively to hang with the ACC opponent and is arguably the stronger offensive squad. Size in the trenches could be the only thing separating the MAC from a big win here.

Western Michigan at Michigan State (September 7)

The Broncos have given Sparty trouble before, and 2019 looks like a year where it could happen again. Western Michigan is one of the most complete teams in the MAC, pairing experience on defense with some truly talented pieces on the offensive end.

Michigan State’s defense will be tough to crack, but the Broncos should be able to find some success. If this one is within a touchdown by the fourth quarter, Tim Lester’s team should feel good. The Broncos were 4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, with essentially the same playmakers on both sides of the football.

In-Conference Games to Watch

Ohio at Buffalo (October 5)

The Bulls are coming off of a banner year in 2018 but face some challenges in getting back to that level without some luck this season. Getting to play what should be their toughest conference games at home is a start. The Bobcats will need this victory to maintain breathing room in the East Division.

Despite losing a lot of solid pieces from last year’s squad, Lance Leipold has proven the ability to sustain success in his career. Expect the Bulls to be playing at a high level by the time this game rolls around, even if they start the season off slowly. It will take a strong effort for Ohio to get a win on the road up North.

Western Michigan at Eastern Michigan (October 19)

This in-state rivalry, and yes, it is one, hasn’t experienced many years where both teams are legitimately vying for a conference title. But that could very realistically be the case when these two programs square off in mid-October.

With returning quarterback Mike Glass III, Eastern Michigan’s offense has the opportunity to take the step from average MAC unit to one of the best. If that does indeed occur this season, then the Eagles will be able to go toe-to-toe with the Broncos in this one and will have home field advantage at its back.

Conference Predictions

East Division

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

2. Miami (OH) (6-6, [5-3])

3. Kent State (5-7, [4-4])

4. Buffalo (6-6, [4-4])

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

6. Akron (1-11, [1-7])

West Division

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

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

3. Eastern Michigan (7-5, [5-3])

4. Northern Illinois (5-7, [4-4])

5. Ball State (2-10, [1-7])

6. Central Michigan (3-9, [1-7])

Championship Game: Ohio vs. Toledo

Winner: Ohio

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