MAC Western Conference Preview

WEST COULD BE WILD IN WIDE-OPEN MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE FREE-FOR-ALL

Yesterday, we talked about what looks like a possible one-team race over in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference. Bowling Green won that loop last year, and returns a lot of starters this season. Over in the West, things look to be a lot more competitive.

In short...

*Northern Illinois won the West last year, and returns meaningful talent
*Toledo won nine games last year, including their bowl, and will be a factor
*Western Michigan won eight games, and also returns a lot of meaningful talent
*Central Michigan won seven games last year, lost a bowl thriller, and hired a new coach
*Ball State returns more talent than anyone from a 5-7 unit that closed '14 well

That's a legitimate five-way race for bowl positioning at the very least...and possibly the Division title as well if those at the top can't consistently assert dominance. Should be a fun group to preview...so let's jump right in!

Toledo
2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 15 on offense, 76 on defense
Returning Starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Matt Campbell
Notebook: Toledo is getting the slight nod from the respected Athlon publication (the source of all of our posted data every summer in our conference previews). We can't see why ourselves. Toledo finished second last season, returns fewer overall starters, and lost their whole offensive line! They will definitely be in the mix after going 7-1 in league play (losing by 3 at Northern). Can the new unit up front take them all the way? That's not a common occurrence in this sport no matter how good the skill position players are. Interesting September tests at Arkansas and vs. Iowa State in the first month.

Northern Illinois
2014 Record: 11-3
2014 Rankings: 36 on offense, 57 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Rod Carey
Notebook: Northern was 11-2 until they got obliterated by Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl. It was a reminder how far behind the mid-major elites the MAC still is. They have some compelling stories...but their champ won't measure up to the best from CUSA or the Mountain West. Drew Hare returns at quarterback for the Huskies...and that offense graded out well in 2014. Tough sequence at Ohio State and at Boston College in late September will help battle test the group for league action.

Western Michigan
2014 Record: 8-5
2014 Rankings: 39 on offense, 45 on defense
Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: P.J. Fleck
Notebook: A lot of starters, including quarterback Zach Terrell return for a team that has something to prove after a disappointing finish. They closed the regular season with a home loss to Northern Illinois, and then dropped their bowl game by two touchdowns to Air Force in Boise. It's easy to visualize a step forward from 8-5 (though September meetings with Michigan State and Ohio State are auto-losses). Really good sleeper potential if the veterans can stay healthy after those early physical matchups.

Ball State
2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 92 on offense, 86 on defense
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Pete Lembo
Notebook: Weird year for Ball State. In September, they followed up an impressive 17-13 road loss to Iowa of the Big 10 with a stunning 27-20 home loss to lower level Indiana State. A 1-5 record out of the gate was followed by a sterling 4-2 finish that included a season ender over East champ Bowling Green 41-24. If you just cherrypick the highlights...this team is positioned to win the West! Can they keep their heads on straight for the full 12 games? September road games at Texas A&M and Northwestern have a chance to get very interesting.

Central Michigan
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 67 on offense, 29 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: John Bonamego
Notebook: Central Michigan had that wild bowl game in the Bahamas with Western Kentucky. They return quarterback Cooper Rush, and some athletes from a surprisingly good defense. But, new coach Bonamego is a huge question mark. He was the special teams coach for the Detroit Lions of the NFL the past two seasons, after a journeyman career in that role in pro football for various franchises. There's just no history of coaches with THAT kind of background setting the world on fire at the college level. He probably brings enthusiasm. But, repeated NFL teams never promoted him to anything beyond special teams coach! Could be a disaster. Could be a fun surprise. Be sure you check out the opener vs. Oklahoma State to learn what you can.

Eastern Michigan
2014 Record: 2-10
2014 Rankings: 121 on offense, 118 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Chris Creighton
Notebook: The only truly bad team in the West is very likely to going to stay bad. You can see in those stat rankings that the Eagles were "balanced" in terribleness. They didn't do anything well. One of their two wins was a nailbiter over Morgan State. They can take a step forward in terms of Power Ratings because of returning experience. They are still likely to trail the field by a good bit unless there's an unpleasant surprise coming to a team in front of them.

That wraps up the MAC. Now, let's wrap up the first half of the Major League Baseball season with some Sunday WINNERS from JIM HURLEY! It's the last day before the annual All-Star Break. You can purchase BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453 early Sunday before the games begin...or during normal business hours Monday through Friday.

We have one more mid-major college football conference to discuss. We'll take care of that tomorrow with the Sun Belt. Then, we'll have a limited schedule through the MLB ASB until things pick up again late in the week...

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 at NY Yankees

A lot of great baseball ahead when play resumes. And, those Big 10 previews signal the beginning of the major college football conferences in our summer series. The summer is flying by! Make the most of it with the HOTTEST NAME IN HANDICAPPING...JIM HURLEY!

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