MAC East Preview
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
TEMPLE THE CLASS OF THE EAST THANKS TO BERNARD PIERCE
The MAC has fallen on such hard times lately, that recruiting one true stud athlete to your program can give you an edge over almost everyone else. Temple rose up to respectability last year thanks to superstar running back Bernard Pierce. It's only a bit of an exaggeration to call him a one-man team.
It's probably better to say one-man offense. The defense was solid by MAC standards, ranking 32nd nationally and holding its own against Penn State and Navy. It was destined to be a year of low scoring losses except Pierce took control and ran roughshod over the slate. Temple would finish the regular season 9-3, then hang tough with UCLA in a 30-21 loss in the Eagle Bank Bowl.
Though...again...that's more about the hard times for the MAC. Hanging tough with a mediocre Pac 10 team in a meaningless bowl is considered a big highlight.
Pierce is back, which gives the Owls a wing up on everyone else in the division. A division where the other "big" news is that Buffalo and Akron are both breaking in new head coaches. Oh for the days of Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich making headlines for the MAC against big name foes!
Athlon Ranking: 64
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 92 on offense, 32 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: It's tough to assume Temple will get better this year. They'll have a new quarterback...and opposing defenses know they can focus virtually 100% on Pierce to try to shut them down. MAC defenses have gotten so soft in general that it may not matter. It's tough to catch everyone by surprise two years in a row. That's worth remembering.
We'll closely watch a tough September slate that includes Central Michigan, Connecticut, and Penn State. Heck Villanova comes first, and they beat Temple last year 27-24. Performances against the early gauntlet will give us a very good sense of what to expect through the bulk of league play.
Don't get us wrong. We think Pierce is great. It's tough for run-based teams with increased expectations to cover Vegas spreads though. It's one thing to be a defensive dog that hangs close with a ball control attack. It's another when you have to cover spreads as favorites that way. An interesting season awaits Owls fans and college football handicappers.
Athlon Ranking: 90
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 106 on offense, 45 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Ohio won the East last year, but then lost to Central Michigan in the CUSA title tilt 20-10, and then fell to mediocre Marshall 21-17 in the Little Caesar's Bowl. So, it was a season to be proud of, but not a showcase campaign in terms of Midwest football.
Quarterback Boo Jackson returns after missing most of last year with a shoulder injury. He brings some explosiveness, relatively speaking, to an offense that's fairly dormant under the bland Frank Solich. You see above they ranked 106th on offense last year. That will get better. Will it get better to the degree that Ohio stays ahead of Temple in the standings? Time will tell. These could turn out to be two evenly matched teams who have quite a battle for the Eastern crown.
A September 18th visit to Ohio State will give the Bobcats a chance to impress against a national power. If Jackson, or a player who beats him out for quarterback, shows early promise, we could easily be on Ohio at value prices a few times in October and November.
Athlon Ranking: 97
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 96 on offense, 51 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Kent State is likely to improve with stability at head coach (Doug Martin) and a couple of experienced quarterback options. They were inconsistent last year and didn't impress when stepping up in class. Still, we like them better than Athlon does. Note that the stat rankings for Kent State average out to the mid 70's. They're likely to be BETTER statistically this year, so we'll give them that respect until they talk us out of it.
September includes visits to Boston College and Penn State in paycheck games. The Golden Flashes have a chance to catch somebody napping and snare a pointspread cover in that tandem. Temple and Ohio are both home games...giving this team a chance to sneak into the divisional race if things fall right. Note that Kent beat Ohio on the road last year. Athlon thinks this is a two-team race. We've got Kent State close enough to make it a "big three" in our own Power Ratings. We'll reserve the right to change that based on what we see in September.
Athlon Ranking: 102
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 39 on offense, 42 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Turner Gill is gone (now coaching at Kansas), and the pixie dust that had been raining on the program may have gone with him. Buffalo was never as good as they looked in their surprise season. They were getting too much respect from pundits last year when they ultimately finished 5-7 (with one of the wins coming over Gardner-Webb). It's very difficult to be optimistic going forward.
New coach Jeff Quinn will be installing a no-huddle offense without an experienced quarterback and only four experienced starters. Good luck with that! You can't automatically assume failure at any college program. That's become clear over the years. Unheralded coaches have a way of becoming heralded when they know what they're doing. Maybe Quinn will take the MAC by surprise as the head man.
For us, we'll be looking to go against this inexperienced offense on the road at improving Baylor in Week Two. That's particularly true if this cold weather team has to play in warm temperatures. Buffalo's performances vs. Baylor and UCONN in September will determine how we proceed after that.
Athlon Ranking: 109
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 113 on offense, 59 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Rob Ianello is the other new coach in the MAC East this year. He's more known as a recruiter than a chess player. A lot of teams have hired recruiters as head coaches this year...which will either revolutionize the game or be a disaster! It's generally been a disaster in recent years for those who have tried it. But, if you're program is ALREADY a disaster, it's not that big a risk. In fact, the chance that better athletes will be in uniform has a chance to bring some spark to the alumni and fan base.
Akron's offense is in bad need of some work. Remember, this is a poor conference by national standards. If you rank 113th on offense in THIS league (and your best game came in a non-conference affair with Morgan State), then you're really horrible on that side of the ball. Ianello has his work cut out for him. We'll use September matchups with Syracuse, Kentucky, and Indiana to get a read on the new-look Zips. Let's give some credit to MAC teams for scheduling up in September. The programs earn some money. Handicappers gain much needed information about the teams.
Athlon Ranking: 111
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 43 on offense, 87 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 4 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: The Falcons are a real question mark team this year. Quarterback Tyler Sheehan is gone. You may remember him from the 43-42 bowl thriller with Idaho in last year's Humanitarian Bowl. Yes, Athlon is dropping a bowl team down to 111th in the country!
Graduation hit Dave Clawson's team hard. But, he's a respected coach...and this is a program that may have enough gravitas to avoid a collapse. We're not ready to agree with Athlon yet about a collapse. Maybe it will happen. Maybe not. We'll start the Falcons higher up than this in our Power Ratings, and adjust off September challenges with Troy, Tulsa, Marshall, and Michigan. Three of those are on the road. What a horrible way to have to break in new starters!
We respect the program enough to consider them as a possible money team in November. Should the newcomers impress, we'll act quicker than that.
MIAMI OF OHIO
Athlon Ranking: 114
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 84 on offense, 70 on defense
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: The stat rankings are a little misleading. This happens relatively rarely in college football. Typically yardage tells you what you need to know. In the case of the Redhawks....the fact that they ranked 116th in scoring offense and 108th in scoring defense better explains their disastrous 1-11 campaign last year. They could move the ball...but couldn't score. The defense could stop people given good field position. But, a -24 turnover differential meant opponents kept getting great field position.
The good news is that experience often helps with turnover differential, and abilities in the red zone. Miami returns A LOT of starters, and has a good chance to make a leap forward if they just execute a bit more regularly. If they play to their yardage stats this year, they're capable of making a very big jump in the standings. Keep that in mind as you watch September outings with Florida, Colorado State, and Missouri. Good showings there could signal a rags to riches story that's worth paying attention to.
Of course, sometimes a lot of returning starters on a bad team is just a red herring, and the team stays awful. Pay close attention to Miami out of the gate. Turnovers are the most fickle of football stats...and sometimes they kiss you on the cheek rather than punching you in the gut.
That wraps up our look at the MAC East. We'll study the MAC West tomorrow, with notes on the new coach and quarterback at Central Michigan. Our previews continue Saturday with the Sun Belt...then Sunday with Notre Dame and the Independents. After spending a few days getting caught up with baseball, we'll begin our NFL Divisional previews on August 8th.
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