MAC Eastern Conference Preview

BOWLING GREEN MAY BE IN A ONE-TEAM RACE IN DISSAPOINTING MID-AMERICAN EAST CONFERENCE

Saturday brings the return of our summer series of college football conference previews. We hope you already read (and printed out!) earlier reports on the Mountain West and Conference USA. If you missed those, please scroll back in the archives. Over the next few days, we'll finish off the mid majors by studying the Mid-American Conference (today and Sunday), and then the Sun Belt (Monday).

The MAC East only launched one team to a bowl last season...as Bowling Green won the group, lost the MAC title badly to Northern Illinois (51-17)...then beat lowly South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl. Nobody else reached the postseason from the East year. Nobody may be able to make it this year!

But, there are some interesting stories along the way. Let's run the numbers...

Bowling Green
2014 Record: 8-6
2014 Rankings: 41 on offense, 115 on defense
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Dino Babers
Notebook: The only decent team in the bunch returns 10 starters to an effective offense. That should enable them to outscore whatever that horrible defense allows within this seven-team sampling. Look for potential high scoring non-conference shootouts in the season openers vs. Tennessee (in Nashville) and at Maryland. Quarterback Matt Johnson missed almost all of last season, but James Knapke took over with acceptable results. Both return. This isn't a top 50 team nationally but looks to be well clear of the MAC East field.

Massachusetts
2014 Record: 3-9
2014 Rankings: 48 on offense, 101 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense
Head Coach: Mark Whipple
Notebook: Yes...that's how bad it's getting in the MAC East. UMASS suddenly looks like they might be the second best team in the group! This is arguably the most interesting team in the Division this year. They return a ton of talent (including quarterback Blake Frohnapfel) to a team that lost heartbreaker after heartbreaker. From early September to mid-October, the Minutemen had losses of 3, 3, 5, and 1 point. A few plays here and there, and we're looking at a .500 caliber unit last year. If you assume that experience (and revenge) is going to matter, it's at least easy to visualize good things happening this season. Big season opener at Colorado on September 12 is a revenge game and a fatigue advantage because the Buffs open at Hawaii the week before. Hey, Notre Dame's on the schedule September 26! Way to schedule tough, Irish. Pay attention to UMASS as a potential super-surger (by MAC standards anyway).

Akron
2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 88 on offense, 44 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Terry Bowden
Notebook: Akron dropped five of its last six games a year ago...including the season finale against awful Kent State that kept the Zips from finishing at .500. The offense was bad, and will now be inexperienced. Though, quarterback Kyle Pohl does return. The biggest saving grace for the MAC this year is that almost all starting quarterbacks are sticking around. Tough opener at Oklahoma. Hard to see that Bowden is moving things forward in his return to the sidelines from the TV booth.

Ohio
2014 Record: 6-6
2014 Rankings: 91 on offense, 59 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Frank Solich
Notebook: Ohio made it to .500 by barely beating awful Miami of Ohio by a field goal in the season finale. On the one hand, you have a lot of experience back for a team that was 6-6 a year ago. On the other, they were an extremely soft 6-6 given their schedule. Solich is a proven quantity in terms of being in the mix. Good September tests vs. Marshall and at Minnesota. A possible sleeper.

Buffalo
2014 Record: 5-6
2014 Rankings: 38 on offense, 62 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense
Head Coach: Lance Liepold (new)
Notebook: If you don't recognize the coach...he was the guy setting Division III records for Wisconsin-Whitewater. No way to know if Liepold ready for the big time...to the degree the MAC can be considered the big time. Big rebuilding effort on defense. At least senior quarterback Joe Licata returns to run the offense. Great early test September 12 at Penn State. A true Wildcard, so pay attention! Vegas oddsmakers can only guess about a team like this.

Kent State
2014 Record: 2-9
2014 Rankings: 116 on offense, 88 on defense
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Hayes
Notebook: Teams like this are tricky...because returning BAD talent isn't necessarily a plus. You'd think the Golden Flashes could improve on that 2-9 mark (lost a game to weather). But, there's room to still be a doormat after improvement. Monitor the season opener at Illinois.

Miami-Ohio
2014 Record: 2-10
2014 Rankings: 85 on offense, 94 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Chuck Martin
Notebook: Things should get extremely ugly for an offense that had a lot of trouble scoring consistently last year when it was more experienced. Facing so many horrible defenses helped hide some issues. No reason to expect anything here until you see something good happening.

Back with the MAC West tomorrow...where we have multiple bowl teams and a shot at a great race.

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Coming up in the NOTEBOOK...

Sunday: College Football Preview...Mid American "West"
Monday: College Football Preview...Sun Belt
Tuesday: MLB All-Star Break Report Card
Friday: MLB Series Preview...LA Dodgers at Washington
Saturday: College Football Preview...Big 10 "East"
Sunday: College Football Preview...Big 10 "West"
Monday July 20: MLB Series Preview...Pittsburgh at Kansas City
Tuesday July 21: MLB Series Preview...Baltimore Orioles at NY Yankees

Baseball is off all the way until Friday in the expanded All-Star Break. So, we'll put together an all-purpose review of the first half to run game-day and through the season's intermission. Football continues on weekends through July. The Big 10 and defending National Champion Ohio State herald the arrival of the major conferences on these pages.

Hey...we can't forget to say it this week...with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK...the letters MAC stand for Make All the Cash!

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