MAC West Preview

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

WHO WILL TAKE OVER IF
CENTRAL MICHIGAN FALLS?

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

The Central Michigan Chippewas have been the class of the MAC in recent season. First Brian Kelly, then Butch Jones kept this team right at the top of the league. Talented quarterback Dan LeFevour seemed to be throwing passes longer than Timmy Chang was at Hawaii. These guys were seemingly ALWAYS in the mix for September upset potential and exciting postseason performances.

Jones departed CMU for Cincinnati, to take over for Kelly...who's now at Notre Dame. LeFevour will be playing NFL Preseason football in a few weeks. New coach Dan Enos has quite a rebuilding effort in store.

If you assume Central is going to fall back to the pack, who's ready to step up and win the West? Let's crunch some numbers and see what we can figure out.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Athlon Ranking: 72
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 83 on offense, 30 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 9 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Northern Illinois is the default choice because they return their starting quarterback while most everyone else is dealing with question marks. Plus, we're looking at a strong defense (ranked 30th nationally last year) playing in a league with a lot of new quarterbacks! This sets up the Huskies very well to make a run to the top.

Just keep things in perspective in terms of national scope though. Northern Illinois lost to South Florida 27-3 in the International Bowl last year. South Florida was dealing with turmoil, and wasn't all that motivated to play. They still spanked Northern pretty hard.

By MAC standards, Northern is going to be good...and could possibly end up being the overall champion. It's not like Temple or Ohio over in the East are particularly scary (please see the archives if you missed yesterday's look at the MAC East, or any of our prior previews). We're interested to see how they perform in road trips to Iowa State, Illinois, and Minnesota in September. Note that Northern upset Purdue last year, and hung tough with what turned out to be a good Wisconsin team.

We respect defense and stability...so we'll be looking for value spots with Northern Illinois from the get-go.

TOLEDO
Athlon Ranking: 92
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 13 on offense, 95 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: There's quite a big drop off from Northern Illinois to everyone else in terms of preseason expectations. Toledo lost QB Aaron Opelt to graduation, and is far from a sure thing to thrive on that side of the ball this year. The defense was very poor last year, and doesn't have much back in terms of true impact talent. If the new QB can't get things going at first, that spells DISASTER!

We'll be looking to go against Toledo early in matchups with Arizona, Ohio, and possibly even Purdue. Maybe Tim Beckman's crew will change our mind with some quality early results. We were impressed with their win over Colorado last year. But, that was with Opelt...and the team ended up being very inconsistent once league play began. Opelt's gone, which means the 'good' part of 'inconsistent' may have left with him.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Athlon Ranking: 95
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 24 on offense, 43 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Who can possibly know what's going to happen here? Many were afraid the program would fall on hard times when Brian Kelly moved to the Big East. Central went right on taking care of business, culminating last year in a MAC Championship (beating Ohio in the title tilt) and an exciting bowl win over Troy (and, let's not forget a September win over Michigan State of the Big Ten). The loss of a coach AND quarterback suggests trouble on the horizon obviously.

Frankly, all anyone can do here is guess. A season opener with Hampton won't tell us anything, unless CMU plays poorly. Then they'll REALLY be in trouble! September 11th at Temple, and September 25th at Northwestern will be better tester games for the new regime.

In 2009, Jim Hurley's college dogs bit the bookmakers to the tune fo 26-6-2! Get on board for our Blue Ribbon Football Club and be ready to hit your man hard off the ball in September!

WESTERN MICHIGAN
Athlon Ranking: 106
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 56 on offense, 101 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Here's another team that lost a veteran quarterback, as Tim Hiller must be replaced. The MAC sure was pretty lousy last year for having so many good senior quarterbacks! The defense was abysmal, and the team as a whole was outclassed by middle of the road Big Ten teams (losing by a combined 80-21 to Michigan and Michigan State).

The bad teams have so many question marks that you might as well stick all of them at about 100-110th in the nation and see what happens in the battle royal through the year. A combination of new QB and bad defense is typically a huge red flag in this sport. The MAC is a league of red flags...after a several year stretch where too many teams were flattened by oncoming bulls.

BALL STATE
Athlon Ranking: 108
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 114 on offense, 77 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Just two years removed from a run at greatness (and ridiculous calls from a clueless media to include them in the BCS process), Ball State fell to 2-10 last year during their rebuilding effort. The good news for 2010 is that the team is experienced. The bad news is that they may not know how to play!

Road games at Purdue and Iowa in September will be the testers that show us whether or not the veterans are ready to step forward. You know, in this group...one step forward is going to feel like 3-4 steps forward because so many teams may be in trouble.

EASTERN MICHIGAN
Athlon Ranking: 120
Last Year's Stat Rankings: 116 on offense, 106 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
2010 OUTLOOK: Ugh. Eastern Michigan went 0-12 last year (which mostly means they're not giving themselves a Hampton/SEMO type opponent for an automatic win). That means everyone will stick them at the bottom of this year's projections and ask them to earn their way up. They may not really be all that much worse than the other bad teams in this group. Let early results against Army, Miami of Ohio, and Central Michigan be your guide.

Coach Ron English...see if you can win a game this year!

That wraps up our look at the MAC West. You can stop shielding your eyes! Northern Illinois is a team to pay attention to. Everyone else has so many question marks that they might as well be playing the Riddler on Batman. Fitting that the conference of Frank Solich looks like Frank Gorshin!

We will say this. If you can figure out which teams solve their riddles the quickest, you'll be able to make a lot of money in the MAC this year. It's not a high profile betting conference. And, oddsmakers have had notorious troubles in this league for years.

We'll be back to look at the Sun Belt tomorrow, then we'll wrap up or college football previews with Notre Dame and the Independents on Sunday. NFL Divisional previews are coming up soon. We'll spend next week getting caught up with baseball.

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23
Nov

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