2014 NCAA Football Preview: Mid-American Conference

August 13, 2014

Depending on which side of the debate you sit, the first mid-major conference I covered for the 2014-2015 college football season was the American Athletic Conference yesterday afternoon. But for what it’s worth, I still think of the AAC as a sort of “floater” between power conference and mid-major. I’ll need this season to cement my decision on that.

Thus, today marks the first day I’m covering a true mid-major.

The MAC is one of my favorite conferences to keep tabs on, not only because it provides us with Tuesday and Wednesday night “MACtion” beginning in early November, but also because I’m from the Midwest and many of my friends went to or still attend a MAC school. As a result I try not to knock their teams…too much.

Let’s preview the Mid-American Conference.


If you’ve followed the Mid-American Conference the past few seasons, then you may be a bit disappointed about its prospects. Teams such as Jordan Lynch’s Northern Illinois Huskies, Dri Archer’s Kent State Golden Flashes and Tyler Tettleton’s Ohio Bobcats have given not only the diehards something to cheer about, but the casual fans as well. Simply put, the MAC has showcased some pretty solid talent over the past few years.

But 2014 marks a new era for the conference. Gone are all three of the men listed in the previous paragraph and as a result those teams may have some trouble finding their footing this season. However, no conference better highlights the beauty of college sports better than the MAC. With each graduating class that leaves behind a trophy case full of memories, a new cast of fresh faces are ready to fill the void.

That being said, it is extremely difficult to predict the finishing order of MAC teams. But that’s also part of the fun. New leaders will emerge throughout the year and by bowl season there will be an unknown set of impact players ready to introduce themselves to an audience that largely overlooked them during the regular season. If I could offer one piece of advice regarding this conference, it would be this: try your best to catch some games. There are ample opportunities if you get ESPN channels and have a free weeknight.

Conference battles are called “MACtion” for a reason. Do yourself a favor and find out why.

Team(s) With the Best Shot at a Playoff Bid


A point that was made in the overview can again be used to substantiate the claim that there are no potential playoff contenders in the MAC. That point is that this conference is witnessing an overhaul of its best players and consequently its best teams. While there are some programs (namely, Bowling Green and Toledo) that looked poised to have solid seasons within the conference, there isn’t one team that appears to have the ability to run the table this year. As was the case during the BCS era, that will be the requirement for a MAC squad to get a serious look from the playoff committee.

Two factors that affect MAC schools more than any other conference in the nation are the coaching carousel and graduation of players. The best coaches in the conference are routinely plucked by bigger schools, so often a team that has a strong season one year will take its lumps due to coaching changes the next. In addition, graduating players often become the staple of an entire offense or defense, as in the case of former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch. Without Lynch, it is unclear just how effective the Huskies will be offensively in 2014.

In most cases when a MAC team is poised to make waves on the national stage, there are telltale signs before the season begins. That isn’t the case this year, so it’d be a complete surprise to see the conference represented in the inaugural playoff.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Ball State

Since the MAC instituted a championship game in 1997, Toledo and Northern Illinois have owned the West Division, combining to appear in 10 of 17 title games. But 2014 could mark a changing of the guard following Northern Illinois’ impressive run of four straight trips to Detroit. Ball State coach Pete Lembo may have lost the most successful quarterback in Cardinals history in Keith Wenning, but this team has the talent left to lessen that blow considerably. Senior tailback Jahwan Edwards returns for a final year after rushing for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013 and along with junior Horactio Banks comprises the most feared rushing tandem in the league.

If the Cardinals decide to opt for a run first offense, the only thing standing between them and a trip to the MAC title game is a questionable defense. It didn’t matter as much when Wenning was slinging the ball around the field and lighting up the scoreboard, but returning starters in the secondary will need to step up to avoid being overwhelmed by the usual suspects in the MAC. This is a conference that is known for its high scoring affairs, but Ball State could buck the trend en route to a West Division title if the defense improves upon last year’s numbers.

Hi, My Name Is… (Player to Watch)

Kareem Hunt (So.), Toledo running back

In a league with already established names such as Bowling Green’s Travis Greene and Ball State’s Jahwan Edwards, sophomore back Kareem Hunt could end up being the most dangerous rusher in the MAC. Despite being the backup for most of 2013 to David Fluellen, Hunt managed to rack up 866 yards rushing, 789 of which came in the last six games of the season. Even more impressive than his total yards is his average per attempt, which at 6.32 is higher than any returning MAC player.

Hunt 5’10”, 200 pounds, Hunt is big enough to be a power rusher but also quick enough to escape secondary defenders when he gets into open space. With Toledo breaking in a new quarterback in 2014, expect Hunt to be the focus of an offense that has been known for its explosiveness under head coach Matt Campbell. Don’t be surprised if he has enough of an impact on the Rockets to get the nod over Greene and Edwards for a first-team All-Conference spot.

Out-Of-Conference Game to Watch

Northern Illinois vs. Northwestern (September 6th)

The battle for bragging rights in the state of Illinois runs through this game, and it should be a pretty entertaining one. Not much separates these two teams, but with the news that Northwestern running back Venric Mark will be suspended for the game the scale tips slightly in favor of the Huskies. Despite losing 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch, the Huskies are still gritty on offense and will be able to move the ball on the ground. Northwestern returns a good portion of its defense from last year, but due to injuries last year it’s difficult to judge the strength of that unit.

Perhaps the most important matchup in this one is Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian against the Northern Illinois secondary. The Huskies were absolutely awful against the pass in 2013 allowing 263.1 yards per game through the air. If this area hasn’t improved greatly, Siemian is good enough to take full advantage. Even so, this is one of the few meaningful games versus a Big Ten opponent that the MAC has a legitimate shot at winning.

In-Conference Game to Watch

Toledo vs. Ball State (September 20th)

Unless Northern Illinois has something to say about it, this game will likely decide the MAC West champion. Both Toledo and Ball State should have strong rushing attacks, but the winner will be the team with the defense more prepared to stop the onslaught of scoring opportunities. Neither team was particularly strong on defense in 2013, but Toledo returns 10 starters on that side of the ball and is stocked with upperclassmen.

As is true of many early season contests, the issue of ball security will also play a major role in this one. Both teams will be breaking in a new quarterback and avoiding turnovers will be key. Of the two projected replacements, Toledo sophomore Logan Woodside has more game experience than Ball State’s Ozzie Mann. If the coaches are looking to employ offensive schemes similar to the ones they’ve run in past seasons, the team with fewer turnovers should be in good position as the game winds down.

Conference Predictions

East Division

1. Bowling Green (10-2, [7-1])

2. Ohio (7-5, [5-3])

3. Buffalo (7-5, [4-4])

4. Akron (5-7, [4-4])

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

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

7. Massachusetts (2-10, [1-7])

West Division

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

2. Ball State (9-3, [6-2])

3. Northern Illinois (8-4, [6-2])

4. Central Michigan (7-5, [5-3])

5. Western Michigan (3-9, [1-7])

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

Championship Game (Bowling Green vs. Toledo)

Winner: Toledo

Questions from the Readers

This is a section dedicated to the readers, where I will answer the questions you have sent me through Facebook, Twitter (@KBecks_ATC) or email (kbecks@aroundthecorn.com). Unfortunately, there were no questions sent regarding the MAC or its teams. Feel free to ask multiple questions, as I will answer any appropriate question that is submitted in time. Thanks guys.

– K. Becks

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