MAC West Preview

NORTHERN ILLINOIS TRIES TO STAY ON TOP OF MAC WEST AFTER SHOCKING RUN TO BCS BOWL

It's easy to forget, as you prepare for the 2013 season, that Northern Illinois of the Mid American Conference just did the unthinkable. They earned a trip to a BCS Bowl! Their Orange Bowl experience wasn't very positive...as they got flattened by Florida State 31-10. They got to be Cinderella for a few weeks...while encouraging the powers-that-be to come up with a system that doesn't stick a team that lost to Iowa on a neutral field and had to go overtime with Kent State in a showcase bowl!

It's not the Huskies fault they benefited from a crazy system. It's all water under the bridge anyway because they have a new head coach and only three returning starters on defense. It's time to focus on the challenges ahead.

(Note that returning the starter data below comes from the respected Athlon publication. Be sure to see the special display ad for Jim Hurley's Network on page 173 across from Notre Dame!)

MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE - WEST DIVISION

NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 3 on defense
Quarterback: Jordan Lynch
Head Coach: Rod Carey (new)

Rod Carey replaces Dave Doeren, who's moved onto a bigger and better conference. Jordan Lynch was a solid team leader at quarterback, and will be a virtual coach on the field in his senior season. There's nothing to worry about on offense. It's the defense that could be in trouble with so little experience coming back from a team that was overmatched vs. decent offenses anyway. All things considered, Northern is still the best in the West. They can be caught from behind with a misstep or two.

BALL STATE
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Quarterback: Keith Wenning
Head Coach: Pete Lembo

It's the Cardinals of Ball State who are best positioned to make a run at Northern Illinois. They have plenty of experience back from a bowl team (lost to Central Florida), and they have a very easy early schedule that will help them prepare for the MAC campaign. Defense is still a problem, s the unit ranked #102 in the nation last year in yards allowed while playing in a poor conference. Pundits are picking Northern to top Ball State because of that factor...along with the reality that Northern gets to host the regular season meeting between the two teams. JIM HURLEY will look for spots to exploit Ball State's experience vs. inferior conference opposition.

TOLEDO
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 2 on defense
Quarterback: Terrance Owens
Head Coach: Matt Campbell

Another contender, another team that lost its bowl by double digits last year! Toledo was outclassed 41-16 by Utah State in Boise, an early omen for postseason woes that were ahead for this division. Only two starters return from a defense that ranked #109 nationally last season. Clearly handicappers need to look at Overs when these first three teams are playing! Experienced MAC quarterbacks will be posting some big numbers this year. Toledo opens the season at Florida and at Missouri, where they will be seriously tested at the point of attack.

WESTERN MICHIGAN
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: Tyler Van Tubbergen
Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (new)

The projected quarterback is a senior finally getting a chance to start...so this is the first signal caller in our discussion of the West who isn't a returning starter. Typically, those patient seniors are game managers who lack big play ability. If they had big play ability they wouldn't have been on the bench all those years! You can pick your spots with a team like the Broncos if their opponent is likely to come in flat. This isn't a team that's likely to do much on its own. They were only 2-6 in the MAC last year, and one of the wins was over helpless UMASS.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense
Quarterback: ???
Head Coach: Don Enos

We're posting the teams in the order they're ranked by Athlon. We have Central Michigan better than Western Michigan in our own proprietary numbers. We'll lower that if the eventual quarterback choice is a dud. Note that Central actually won a bowl for this division last year, edging Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt. We like what we've seen from Coach Enos. Interesting pre-conference tests await at Michigan, NC State, and UNLV.

EASTERN MICHIGAN
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Quarterback: Tyler Benz
Head Coach: Ron English

Eastern's one of those programs that's so bad off they can't afford to change coaches even when they know the current man is in way over his head. They were a disaster last year (with occasional good showings when opponents were flat). There's no reason to expect good things to happen in 2013.

Northern Illinois is still the frontrunner...but things could get very interesting at the top. Too bad Northern Illinois and Bowling Green don't play during the regular season. We have those teams closer together in our numbers than other prognosticators.

That wraps up this weekend's look at the MAC. We'll do a baseball series preview Monday, then pick up again with college football Tuesday and Wednesday with Conference USA. Next weekend brings the Sun Belt and major Independents. We'll jump into the SEC and the Big 10 when baseball's All-Star Break arrives.

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20
Nov

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