Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 13
The final full week of the regular season is here in week 13. There are some massive College Football Playoff implications this week with #6 Washington at #23 Washington State, Minnesota at #5 Wisconsin, #3 Michigan at #2 Ohio State, and #16 Auburn at #1 Alabama among them. There are also other big games like Toledo at #14 Western Michigan, #21 Utah at #9 Colorado, #25 LSU at #21 Texas A&M, and rivalries such as #13 Florida at #15 Florida State.
We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. All 3 MACtion games on Tuesday (11/22 at 7 PM) – This trifecta consists of Akron at Ohio, Ball State at Miami (OH), and Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan.
There are a lot of story lines on Tuesday for the three MAC games. Akron sits at 5-6 and a win would put them in a bowl game. They face Ohio, which would win the MAC East with a victory. However, a loss by them opens the door for Miami (OH) to win the MAC East. They too play on Tuesday at home to Ball State. A win for Miami (OH) puts them in a bowl and combined with a loss from Ohio puts them in the MAC Championship. Do not take anything for granted with if you are watching these MAC East games.
The third game has no MAC or bowl implications, but involves a pretty good story: Eastern Michigan. The Eagles are 6-5 and will be headed to their first bowl game since 1987. A win against Central Michigan will guarantee the Eagles their first winning season since 1995.
2. Boise State at Air Force (11/25 at 3:30 PM) – Boise State is still in the running for the Group of 5 New Year’s Six spot, but they need a lot of help. First up, they need to defeat Air Force, but the Falcons have won the last two games versus the Broncos.
If Boise State defeats Air Force, they will then need a loss by Wyoming against New Mexico while they will have to defeat San Diego State in the MWC Championship Game. If all that happens, it will be up to the CFB Playoff Committee and their rankings to determine if it is Boise State or Western Michigan (assuming they win the MAC) that ends up with the Group of 5 spot.
There is something at stake for Air Force and that is a 10 win season. If Air Force wins they would be 9-3 and then would need to win their bowl game. That would give them two 10 win season in the last three seasons.
3. TCU at Texas (11/25 at 3:30 PM) – A battle of two underachieving teams will ensue here and both teams are a win away from being in a bowl game. TCU is 5-5 and face Kansas State on December 3 so a loss here is not the end of the road.
The end of the road is near for Texas’ Charlie Strong after the 24-21 overtime loss at Kansas last week. The Longhorns are 5-6 and a win here will at least get them to a bowl game, but Strong will not be there if it happens.
Will Texas’ players send Strong off with a win? Or will TCU reach 6 wins and a poor season for the Horned Frogs?
4. Kentucky at Louisville (11/26 at 12 PM) – Kentucky, for all their issues this season against good teams, still has a chance to pull of the big upset. They have already reach 6 wins and will be in a bowl game, but they get Louisville at the perfect time. Louisville was completely outplayed at Houston last week in their 36-10 loss. They lost their chance at the College Football Playoff and then lost their slim chance of the ACC Atlantic title on Saturday when Clemson beat Wake Forest.
How will Louisville respond? Will they play sluggish? There is no doubt that Louisville is the better and more talented team. They should dominate this game, but they do not have the same motivations they did after their win against Wake Forest. Then again, maybe this is a chance for them to let go of their frustrations. This game is worth keeping an eye on to see how they respond after their title aspirations evaporated.
5. Wyoming at New Mexico (11/26 at 10:15 PM) – Not much at stake here, just the MWC Mountain Division title. A Wyoming win puts them in the Championship Game as does a loss by Boise State versus Air Force.
This will not be an easy game though because New Mexico has a unique shotgun formation triple option attack that can put up points. Wyoming can put up points too and this game could come down which defense plays better. The advantage there goes to Wyoming, but will the idea of a division title creep into their minds and cause them to play cautious?
6. All smaller bowl game/5 win teams – There are currently 64 teams that have reached 6 wins and will be in a bowl game. There are still 19 teams that have a shot at reaching six wins (or 7 wins in the case of Army). In week 13, there are 7 games were 5 wins teams are facing an opponent with a winning record. There is a strong chance we will see 5 win teams in a bowl game in 2016. Let’s hope for some upsets (or some reduction in the number of bowl games).
This will be last edition of Under The Radar Games for 2016. The previous columns for this season can be found below.
Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 11
We are closing in on the end of the season with about a month until we find out the four teams that will comprise the College Football Playoff. Week 11 is not the best week for games with the best ones being #25 Baylor at #9 Oklahoma, #11 West Virginia at Texas, Pittsburgh at #3 Clemson, #19 LSU at Arkansas, Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, and USC at #4 Washington.
We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. Eastern Michigan at Ball State (11/8 at 7 PM) – Some Tuesday MACtion kicks off the week and this column. This game is all about bowl implications with both teams still looking for 6 wins.
Eastern Michigan is sitting at 5-4 and have lost 3 of their last 4 games after starting a strong 4-1. The Eagles will want to win this game because their next two are against the suddenly hot Northern Illinois Huskies and Central Michigan. Both of those games are at home, but the pressure will build the longer the season goes. In addition, both of those teams are still alive for a bowl berth.
Ball State is currently 4-5 and their road (literally) is just as tough. After this game they face both Toledo and Miami (OH) on the road. Miami (OH) is still alive for a bowl berth at 4-6 while Toledo has a chance at winning the MAC West. This game is big for both schools in terms of a bowl bid.
2. Kentucky at Tennessee (11/12 at 12 PM) – The SEC East is still wide open, which is why this game is crucial. Kentucky still has a glimmer of hope, but needs a lot to go their way to win this division. They own losses to Florida and Georgia, but a win here would put them at 5-3 in conference, in a bowl game, and two Florida SEC losses from a conference title game. Imagine that.
Tennessee’s path is clearer and they just need Florida to lose once in SEC play while the Vols need to win out. The Vols end the season with Missouri (home) and Vanderbilt (away) with the latter being the tougher of the two.
For as crazy as the SEC East has been this year, are there still a few twists left in the plot?
3. Cincinnati at Central Florida (11/12 at 12 PM) – Bowl hopes are on the line here and both teams are facing a must win. Cincinnati is 4-5 with losses in 4 of their last 5 games while their final two games are against good AAC West foes in Memphis (home) and Tulsa (away).
Central Florida, against the backdrop of a horrendous 0-12 season in 2015, sit just one win away from a bowl. They are 5-4, but their final two games are just as difficult as Cincinnati’s. They face Tulsa (home) and AAC East contender South Florida (away).
This game is big, but there is the possibility Cincinnati wins this game and both teams lose their final 2 games to finish 5-7. That would be a disaster for the American Athletic Conference.
4. Tulsa at Navy (11/12 at 12 PM) – There is not much on the line here except the outright lead in the AAC West. Both teams have already hit the six win mark with Tulsa at 7-2 and Navy at 6-2. Both teams control their destiny in this division with identical records of 4-1 and Navy could hold a commanding lead with a win over Tulsa.
Outside of getting blasted by Ohio State, Tulsa has played well in every game. They lost by a touchdown to Houston, but also went to overtime against Fresno State and SMU. Since that 38-31 loss at Houston, Tulsa has won their last three games by an average of 24.3 points per game. That loss to Houston also means they need to win out against Central Florida and Cincinnati or get another loss from Houston in addition to two more losses by Navy.
Navy is coming off their 28-27 win against Notre Dame and they have already beaten Houston this year. Navy needs a win this week and one win in their final two AAC games against East Carolina and SMU to clinch the AAC West Division. Both of those games will be on the road, which may be a little cause for concern because that is where they had their two losses this season (at Air Force and at South Florida).
This could be a high scoring affair as both teams have been putting up points. Then again, Navy could just do what they did against Notre Dame and allow only 2 possessions for Tulsa in the final 30 minutes. This should be a good game.
5. North Carolina State at Syracuse (11/12 at 12:30 PM) – Here are two 4-5 teams that will still need quite a lot to go their way if they win. A win will push one team to 5-5 and the other 4-6, but both teams’ final two games will be hard to win.
NC State started 4-1 this year, but have lost four in a row including three games by a touchdown or less (Clemson, Boston College, and Florida State). They end with Miami (FL) at home and North Carolina away. If they can get enough offense, they may be able to sneak into an upset, but they must beat Syracuse first.
For Syracuse, they have had an up and down season. The offense has looked good at times, though last week against Clemson was terrible. The defense has not been great, but has shown some improvement at times. Both sides will need to be in sync with games against Florida State (home) and Pittsburgh (away) to end the season.
6. UT-San Antonio at Louisiana Tech (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – The C-USA West Division will be on the line here. UTSA is 5-4 overall and 4-2 in C-USA while Louisiana Tech is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in C-USA.
UTSA is playing really well the last five games with a 4-1 record and their lone loss was a 52-49 to UTEP that went to five overtimes. Their win against Middle Tennessee last week was impressive as they won by 20 points on the road and considering UTSA has struggled away from home this year. A win here puts them in their first bowl game in their short history and in first place of the C-USA West.
Louisiana Tech has been on fire the last six weeks, which have all been wins. Five of those games have been blowouts and the close game of those was a 55-52 win over Western Kentucky. Even their 1-3 start is deceiving because they lost 21-20 at Arkansas, demolished FCS South Carolina State, lost 59-45 at Texas Tech, and lost 38-34 at Middle Tennessee. A win here does not completely clinch the C-USA West because Southern Miss has only 2 losses in conference play.
7. Appalachian State at Troy (11/12 at 3:30 PM) – What a game we have here in the Fun Belt. 7-2 Appalachian State (5-0 in SBC) and 7-1 Troy (4-0 in SBC) meet in one of the biggest conference games of the year.
Appalachian State has a strong defense and they will be put to the test against Troy’s offense that averages 39.4 points per game and have scored at least 31 points in six of their eight games (6-0 in those games). Appalachian State’s defense has given up 19.6 points per game and just 8.4 points per game in Sun Belt games.
A win for Appalachian State would pretty much put them in position to win the Sun Belt or at worst tie for the title. Their final two games are against UL-Monroe (home) and New Mexico State (away).
Troy’s final four games are daunting. They face Appalachian State, fellow Sun Belt undefeated Arkansas State (home), Texas State (away), and Georgia Southern (away). Keep an eye on this game to see which side can gain the upper hand.
8. South Florida at Memphis (11/12 at 7 PM) – The third AAC game to make an appearance this week and this one also has possible conference title game implications. South Florida is 7-2 overall while Memphis is 6-3 overall.
South Florida, which already holds a loss to Temple, is 4-1 in the AAC East and needs Temple (5-1 in the AAC) to lose another game while winning out to win the AAC East. They face SMU (away) and Central Florida (home) in their final two games so their last three games in total will not be easy wins.
Memphis is 3-2 in the AAC and are a long shot to win the AAC West division having lost to both Navy and Tulsa already this year. Still, this is a solid team that could ruin South Florida’s AAC hopes if they are at their best. Memphis also faces Cincinnati (away) and Houston (home) to end the year so this could be a chance to build momentum heading into the bowl season.
Check back next week for the week 12 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
We are closing in on week eight and there are some big games this week. Miami (FL) is at Virginia Tech, TCU is at #12 West Virginia, #6 Texas A&M travels to face #1 Alabama in the biggest game of the week, #17 Arkansas is at #21 Auburn, #2 Ohio State plays Penn State on the road, and #23 Ole Miss is at #25 LSU.
Those are big games, but we will take a look at some of the games not listed above that could have an impact on week eight and beyond. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. Oregon at California (10/21 at 10:30 PM) – This game will be nationally televised, but the implications are huge. Oregon is on a four game losing streak and sits at 2-4 overall. They had a bye last week and one can only assume the defense was the focal point (Oregon has given up at least 35 points each game during their losing streak).
California has alternated between wins and losses this year to get to 3-3. Their offense has been very good this year too with Davis Webb at the helm (2,256 yards at 60.8% with 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions), which presents a great opportunity against Oregon’s porous defense. Oregon’s defense gives up 522 yards per game including 284 yards through the air.
Oregon needs this win more than California, but the road to end the season for both teams is not easy. Oregon faces Arizona State, USC (away), Stanford, Utah (away), and Oregon State (away) after the Cal game. How many wins are there for the Ducks with this defense?
California has USC (away), Washington, Washington State (away), Stanford, and UCLA after playing Oregon. Their schedule is tough as well and a win will help both teams if they want to make a bowl game.
2. Indiana at Northwestern (10/22 at 12 PM) – On paper, Northwestern seems like the favorite given their back-to-back road wins over Iowa and Michigan State. As of this posting, the Wildcats are favored by a point and a half. Indiana is a scrappy team though and they could make things interesting.
The key in this game, and for Northwestern’s offense, is Justin Jackson. He ran for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns (all in the opener) on 83 carries through his first four games for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Against Iowa and Michigan State, he has rushed for a combined 359 yards and 3 touchdowns on 60 carries for an average of 6 yards per rush. In turn, he allows the passing game to flourish especially if the ball is headed towards Austin Carr. Carr has 5 touchdowns in the last two games, but he has been producing all season long (at least 5 catches and 73 yards in every game).
For Indiana, this year’s team is different. It is no longer just about out-scoring the opponent and hope the defense can make a stop or two. The defense is a cohesive unit that can consistently play well in 2016. For 2015, the defense gave up 37.6 points per game compared to 25.3 points per game through six games this year. The hiring of Tom Allen has no doubt improved the defense and they will have their hands full with Justin Jackson this week.
Both teams enter this game at 3-3 and it is clear the winner will be in a very good position to make a bowl. However, a loss can be overcome with both teams having 3 winnable games in their final five contests.
3. Akron at Ball State (10/22 at 3 PM) – This is not the biggest game of the week for the MAC. That is listed two slots below, but this is a big game for both teams in their respective division.
Akron is currently a joint-first with Ohio in the MAC East at 2-1 in conference play. They are coming off a shellacking at the hands of the top MAC team Western Michigan 41-0. It was not pretty as the offense put up 283 yards of offense and the defense gave up 585 yards. The offense did not get into Broncos’ territory until late in the first half.
Ball State got their first conference win this year over Buffalo after losses to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. James Gilbert, who has been good this year, had a monster game with 264 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries. It was his fourth 100 yard rushing game this year and third in a row (at least 2 rushing touchdowns in the last three games as well). It is worth noting that Jarvion Franklin ran for 281 yards and 1 touchdown in Western Michigan’s win over Akron in week 7.
How good is Ball State? How will Akron respond to their drubbing? Those questions will be answered this week and beyond in Ball State’s case. At this point, Akron can only have one more loss prior to their game at Ohio to end the season if they want to have a chance at winning the MAC East. Ball State still has to face Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo this year, so a win may be crucial this week just to try to make a bowl game.
4. Memphis at Navy (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – This is a big AAC West Division tilt. Memphis is 2-0 in the AAC while Navy is 3-0 in conference. Plus, Navy has the win over Houston from their last game so a win here would really help the Midshipmen given their schedule to end the season.
The defense for Memphis has been solid this year giving up 19.3 points per game and 140 yards rushing per game. The latter is more pertinent against the triple option of Navy. Navy’s offense puts up 32.2 points per game and 262.4 yards rushing per game. In last year’s game, Navy put up 374 yards rushing against Memphis, but that offense included Keenan Reynolds and and Chris Swain, both of whom are no longer there.
Memphis had Paxton Lynch in 2015 and now Riley Ferguson has taken over at quarterback. Ferguson has done well throwing for 1,596 yards (65.5%) with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Memphis’ toughest opponent this year has been Ole Miss, a game in which Ferguson threw for 343 yards, but with no touchdowns and three interceptions. If he can continue to be accurate and avoid interceptions, this team has a good chance of winning.
Memphis still has to face Tulsa, SMU, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston to end the season so a win here will help and give them some confidence. Navy will play South Florida, Notre Dame, Tulsa, East Carolina, SMU, and Army to end the season.
5. Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – Here is another MACtion game, but this one is the marquee matchup this week.
Eastern Michigan has been a surprise this year. They are 5-2 and sit one win away from their first bowl game since 1987. They defeated MAC East contender Ohio on the road last week 27-20. BroganRoback threw for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions to lead the Eagles.
Western Michigan has been a surprise too, but on a national level. They defeated both Northwestern and Illinois on the road in their first three games. They have looked like the best team in the conference to this point and have a legitimate chance at making a big bowl if they go undefeated and win the MAC Championship. Zach Terrell has been fantastic this year throwing for 1,597 yards with 17 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. He also has 142 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns. Jarvion Franklin has been good the last three weeks, which coincides with Jamauri Bogan missing time due to an ankle injury. Franklin has 582 yards and 4 touchdowns on 87 carries the last three games (6.7 yards per carry).
This will be the toughest team Eastern Michigan has faced this year in MAC play (possibly all year if one wants to consider WMU better than Missouri). They will have their hands full, but could keep it interesting. A win for Western Michigan would put them in a commanding position for the MAC West title until their game against Toledo in the season finale.
6. Old Dominion at Western Kentucky (10/22 at 7 PM) – Old Dominion enters this game at 4-2 while Western Kentucky is 4-3. The Monarchs two best opponents so far this year have been Appalachian State and North Carolina State, which ODU lost. Those two games were played on the road and the combined final scores were 80-29. Their other four games have all been 2+ touchdown margin of victories.
As for Western Kentucky, they played #1 Alabama and obviously got crushed, 38-10. However, their other two losses were to Vanderbilt 31-30 in overtime and 55-52 against Louisiana Tech. They have close wins against Middle Tennessee (44-43 in 2 OT last week) and Miami (OH) 31-24.
Old Dominion runs a balanced offense (yardage is 53% passing and 47% rushing). David Washington leads the offense and while his numbers are not impressive, he is efficient. He has thrown for 1,250 yards with 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also has 158 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He completes only 56.4% of his passes, but has only had 1 game with a negative TD to INT ratio (Appalachian State when he threw 1 INT and no touchdowns). The running game will be led by Jeremy Cox (420 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Ray Lawry (373 yards and 3 touchdowns).
Western Kentucky is led by former South Florida quarterback MikeWhite. He has thrown for 2,098 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In two seasons at USF, he threw for 2,722 yards with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His favorite targets are Taywan Taylor (54 catches for 870 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Nicholas Norris (43 catches for 647 yards and 8 touchdowns).
If Old Dominion’s pass defense, which gives up 224 yards per game, can stop Western Kentucky’s offense that puts up 372 yards passing per game (and 526 yards of total offense per game), they will have a chance. The more time they run off the clock, the better chance they have of winning this game.
With both teams in the thick of the C-USA East division race, this game will be important. ODU has yet to face FlU and will also play Marshall and Southern Miss. Western Kentucky will also play FIU and Marshall, but have one loss already in C-USA.
Check back next week for the week nine edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
After a great opening week there was a lull in the big games during week two, but that gives way to some top games in the third week. #2 Florida State at #10 Louisville, #1 Alabama at #19 Ole Miss, and #3 Ohio State at #14 Oklahoma are the headliners this week. There are also other good contests like #25 Miami (FL) at Appalachian State, #22 Oregon at Nebraska, Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State, and USC at #7 Stanford.
We look for those small headliners that are worth keeping an eye on both this week and possibly down the road with their impact on the season. Let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week three. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.
1. Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech (9/17 at 12:30 PM EST) – This game is big for both schools in regards to making a bowl game this year. Georgia Tech can improve to 3-0 with a win heading into their ACC schedule and would need just three wins in their final 9 games to reach a bowl game. As for Vanderbilt, they are 1-1 after seeing their opening week game slip away to South Carolina. They rebounded on offense to put up 47 points against Middle Tennessee with Ralph Webb running wild to the tune of 211 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries.
The key for both teams will be third down. For the season, the Vanderbilt offense is 8 of 27 on third down and they are facing a Georgia Tech defense that has allowed 16 of 32 on third down. It could also be a low scoring affair given the amount of carries both offenses will feature.
2. South Florida at Syracuse (9/17 at 3:30 PM EST) – South Florida made an appearance on this last week with their game against Northern Illinois. They crushed the Huskies 48-17 just as they did Towson in week one, 56-20. Syracuse opened with a 33-7 win over Colgate before getting dominated 62-28 by LamarJackson and Louisville at home.
The Orange will not have to worry about facing a guy like Jackson this week, but they do have to contend with Quinton Flowers. Flowers threw for 350 yards with 4 touchdowns and ran for another 53 yards on the ground against NIU. South Florida also held that NIU offense to 318 total yards as well as 5 of 18 on third down. The Orange did move the ball well against Louisville, but will need to have the defense step up if they are to keep this game close and have a chance at winning.
3. Western Michigan at Illinois (9/17 at 4 PM EST) – Welcome back, Western Michigan. They were featured in this season’s opening column and did not disappoint with a 22-21 win over Northwestern. They decimated North Carolina Central in week two 70-21 to move to 2-0. Illinois started with a 52-3 win over Murray State in week one and then lost 48-23 to North Carolina in week two. They hung close with the Tar Heels for most of the game, but gave up the final 17 points in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos are actually favored in this game (by 3 points as of this writing). They will not have to worry about facing a tough defense like Northwestern in week one. However, they are facing a better offense this time around than they did in the opening week. Wes Lunt can sling the ball, but he did not look too solid against North Carolina throwing for only 127 yards and 2 touchdown on 17 of 35 passing. Like opening week, this should be a good game to watch and Western Michigan could make it 2-0 against the Big 10 this year.
4. Georgia at Missouri (9/17 at 7:30 PM EST) – Georgia has looked underwhelming this year with a 33-24 win over North Carolina in week one and then squeaking past FCS Nicholls State 26-24 last week. Missouri struggled against West Virginia in their 26-11 loss on the road, but bounced back to trounce Eastern Michigan 61-21 at home last week.
This will be the fifth meeting of these two teams since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. Georgia is 3-1 in those games and they have beaten Missouri handily in both games at Missouri. They won 41-20 in 2012 and 34-0 in 2014. It is difficult to call any game in the SEC a trap game, but this could be it. Georgia faces Ole Miss on the road next week while Missouri faces Delaware State.
Will Georgia get the running attack going like they did against North Carolina when Nick Chubb ran for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns? How will the defense handle Missouri’s Drew Lock who happens to be the SEC’s leading passer after two weeks? This game could be pivotal in what appears to be another wide open SEC East race.
5. Duke at Northwestern (9/17 at 8 PM EST) – This is a game of what could have been. Duke lost quarterback Thomas Sirk before the season and then lost by 10 points to Wake Forest in week two as they sit at 1-1. Northwestern has been even worse. They lost to both Western Michigan and Illinois State with the offense looking particularly bad against ISU. They lost running back Justin Jackson to a “lower-body injury” in the ISU game, but he is expected to play in this game. The Northwestern offense looked bad against Illinois State and are just 9 of 28 on third down this year.
This game could be ugly especially on the offensive side of the ball. If Jackson is not able to make an impact and the Duke running game cannot get going, it could be even worse. This is a big game at this point in the season for both teams given their schedules the rest of the season.
6. FCS Teams versus FBS Teams– Getting sick of seeing this one yet? Well, it will stick around for at least this week. After four wins in the opening week, there were three more FCS victories over FBS opponents in week two. This week features a total of 12 FCS versus FBS teams and there are some games that look like possible victories for the FCS. The most likely upsets are Eastern Kentucky at Ball State, Monmouth at Kent State, and Delaware at Wake Forest. In addition, North Dakota State (winners of five straight games versus FBS opponents) face Iowa on the road. Will a team have their name added to the list below?
Five Predictions For The Mid-American Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Mid-American Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.
There is one change to the teams in the MAC and that is the loss of Massachusetts as they are now an Independent. That evens out the teams to six in both the East and West. The six East teams are Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, Miami (OH), and Ohio. The six West teams are Ball State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo, and Western Michigan.
Here are five predictions for the Mid-American Conference in 2016:
1. Northern Illinois will make it 7 straight MAC Title Game Appearances – The Huskies have been a dominant force in the MAC and MAC West by competing in the MAC Championship Game each year since 2010. They have won three of those (2011, 2012, and 2014) and look poised to reach the title game once again in 2016.
For NIU, they will have two main challengers in Western Michigan and Toledo. The Huskies face Western Michigan on the road and play Toledo off campus in Chicago on a Wednesday night at US Cellular Field. The Huskies welcome back seven starters on offense including quarterback Drew Hare (1,962 yards, 63.8%, 14 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions), running back Joel Bouagnon (1,285 yards and 18 touchdowns), and receiver Kenny Galloday (73 catches for 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns). The defense will bring back six starters from a unit that allowed 27.6 points and 418 yards per game. That unit should have a solid year.
Toledo is coming off a 10-2 season, but is introducing a new coach in Jason Candle and only have 11 starters back (seven on offense and four on defense). Western Michigan seems like the biggest threat because they have eight starters returning on offense (36 points and 491 yards per game in 2015) as well as five on defense (28.3 points and 414 yards per game). The biggest factor for WMU is they face both NIU and Toledo at home, which may give them the slight edge. Still, NIU seems to have a knack for getting it done and that is why they are predicted to make the MAC Championship. Again.
2. Western Michigan will defeat at least one Big Ten opponent in 2016 – The Broncos will be facing two Big Ten foes in the first three weeks of the season when they travel to both Northwestern (Sep. 3) and Illinois (Sep. 17). The first week of the season is always interesting because teams are not in peak form, which leads to upsets (see Northwestern v. Stanford in 2015’s opening week).
The Illinois game looks like the better opportunity for an upset, at least on paper. Lovie Smith is entering his first season as a college coach, but he is taking over a team that has 11 starters back (seven on offense and four on defense) as well as implementing new schemes. The Broncos are entering their fourth year of head coach PJ Fleck‘s schemes.
The Broncos have a history of playing Big Ten teams really tough as well. They lost 23-20 to Illinois in 2011, lost 28-23 to Minnesota in 2012, lost 26-13 to Michigan State in 2013, lost to Purdue 43-34 in 2014, and lost to Michigan State 37-24 last year. All of those games were on the road except last year against the Spartans. Western Michigan is poised for a potentially big year and defeating one (or possibly both) Big Ten schools is not out of the question.
3. The East will be mayhem – It is hard to confidently make a prediction as to which team will win the MAC East in 2016. Bowling Green has a new coach (Mike Jinks) while also losing their quarterback, running back, and three of their top four receivers. Ohio is returning 12 starters (six on each side), but need to find a suitable quarterback and running back combination. Akron has only seven total starters returning in 2016 and lost six of their top seven tacklers on defense as well as their top running back and second and third leading receivers.
Buffalo will be in their second year under Lance Leipold, but have only three starters back on offense. The defense should be solid with eight starters back, but the loss of their top quarterback, top running back, and top two receivers will hurt. They could pull a surprise in 2016 though with a solid defense leading the way. Kent State went only 3-9 in 2015, but they return an incredible 18 starters in 2016 with ten on offense and eight on defense. In addition, they are in year four under Paul Haynes and could make serious strides. Then there is Miami (OH) who also returns ten starters on offense and six on defense. They are in the third year of Chuck Martin‘s reign and could also pull some upsets.
The MAC East has a lot of variables that will produce plenty of action. Sure, Bowling Green may be the favorite, but they are far from a cinch to win the division. Expect some upsets and chaos from the East.
4. Kent State will reach six wins – The Golden Flashes have 18 starters returning with ten on offense and eight on defense. The offense will need to make a massive jump in production if they are to make this prediction come true.
Kent State put up an anemic 13.1 points and 271 yards per game in 2015 despite having eight starters returning. The rush offense was okay putting up 133 yards per game, but the passing attack was horrendous gaining just 138 yards per game. The running game is likely to be anchored by Nick Holley who put up 133 yards in three games last year before an injury, but was more effective in 2014 gaining an average of 4.1 yards per carry. The receiving group has their top nine back and no matter who wins the quarterback job, the passing game will be better.
The defense gave up 26.1 points and 350 yards per game in 2015, which are very respectable numbers in this conference. There are eight starters back for this unit and it should be one of the best in the conference, which will help if the offense struggles again this year.
The Golden Flashes have a non-conference schedule of Penn State and Alabama on the road while playing FCS foes North Carolina A&T and Monmouth at home. In conference, they do draw Western Michigan and Northern Illinois from the West with both games at home, which will likely result in two losses. Their games against Akron (home), Buffalo (road), Miami (OH) (road), Ohio (home), and Bowling Green (away) in the East will dictate their ability to reach the six win plateau. However, the East is up for grabs and if the offense improves, it could be a solid improvement this season.
5. Eastern Michigan will end their four straight years of double digit losses (and not finish last in the West) – Eastern Michigan has not been a very good football program, but not for lack of trying. They went 4-8 in 2007 and 3-9 in 2008 before going with Ron English as their coach for 2009. It did not get better as they went 0-12 in 2009 and then 2-10 in 2010. They improved to an excellent (for this program) 6-6 in 2011, but did not go to a bowl game. The Eagles slipped back to 2-10 in both 2012 and 2013 with English being let go during the 2013 season. 2014 saw EMU go 2-10 and they struggled again in 2015 as they went 1-11. 2016 will be year three under Chris Creighton.
They return 8 starters from an offense that improved 10 points per contest in 2015. They went from 15.2 points and 290 yards per game in 2014 to 25.4 and 380 yards per game in 2015. Quarterback BroganRoback should improve on his numbers of 2,304 yards (61%) with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The running game and receivers will also benefit from the entire offensive line returning.
The defense has been terrible the last three seasons for Eastern Michigan. Their best effort was in 2014 when they allowed 40.9 points and 499 yards per game. Eight starters are back from last year’s group that allowed 42.1 points and 519 yards per game. Even an improvement to 2012’s bad numbers of 37.6 points and 479 yards per game would go a long way.
The schedule is favorable for Eastern Michigan to win at least three games. They open with Mississippi Valley State at home before road games against Missouri and Charlotte (another winnable game). They close with Wyoming at home. They have to face some tough teams (Bowling Green on the road, Toledo at home, Ohio on the road, Western Michigan on the road, and Northern Illinois at home), but they have a couple winnable conference games. They will face Miami (OH) at home and Ball State on the road, which could both be wins and improve. The Eagles end the season with Central Michigan at home. The Eagles have a decent schedule to navigate their way to possibly four wins (or even five with an upset or two). That would be a very solid improvement for this program.
The Prediction Schedule
With the MAC predictions above, there are now predictions for four conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.
The Big Ten had a full week of non-conference games before starting its conference schedule next week. It was a positive Saturday overall with the conference going 12-2, but, as always, there is room for improvement. Each game is broken down below.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: Nebraska Win 36-28 (Saturday, September 26)
Nebraska improved to 2-2 on the season, but it was another poor performance from the defense that should cause concern in Lincoln. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong went 23 of 35 for 368 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He was also effective in the running game with 63 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.
Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp had another big game with 11 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Reilly had a few big plays, as he caught 3 passes for 112 yards. Terrell Newby had 76 yards on 18 carries to lead the Huskers in rushing. Andy Janovich was quietly effective with just five carries, but went for a total of 68 yards.
While the offense was good by racking up 610 yards, it was not very effective when it needed to be. Kicker Drew Brown attempted 7 field goals and connected on five. An 8 point win could have been a lot more comfortable had they converted two or three of those field goals into touchdowns. The offense went 4 of 13 on third down.
The defense largely held the Southern Miss running game in check with only 11 yards allowed, but gave up 447 yards through the air. Most worrisome is that the defense gave up three touchdown drives of at least 53 yards and 21 points. It has been a constant them for the Huskers that their defense is giving up quite a few points in the fourth quarter and we have already seen it cost them one game on the final play.
Nebraska faces Illinois next week on the road in their conference opener.
Kansas Jayhawks at Rutgers Scarlet Knight
Result: Rutgers Win 27-14 (Saturday, September 26)
Rutgers took care of business against Kansas, one of the weakest (if not the weakest) teams in all of FBS. That makes it hard to judge the performance, but a win is a win.
Chris Laviano had a decent game going 18 of 25 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The rushing game was very good for the Scarlet Knights as they rushed for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns on 58 carries as a team. Josh Hicks led the way with 113 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 carries while Robert Martin also broke the century mark at 102 yards on 17 carries. Overall, the offense was very effective with 513 yards, but converted on 8 of 12 third downs as well.
Defensively, it is hard to gauge this effort. They held Kansas to 342 yards of total offense including 64 yards on the ground. They forced just one turnover, but did not have a lot of trouble overall. Perhaps this will give them some confidence as they continue on in the Big Ten conference schedule.
The Scarlet Knights are off next week. Rutgers will have a stern test at home in two weeks against Michigan State.
#22 BYU Cougars at Michigan Wolverines
Result: Michigan Win 31-0 (Saturday, September 26)
Michigan looked incredible on Saturday against BYU, a team that had impressed the first three weeks. The defense was particularly impressive for the Wolverines.
Jake Rudock had a solid game with 14 of 25 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown. There were no interceptions or fumbles from him and he accounted for another two touchdowns on the ground (10 carries for 33 yards). De’Veon Smith had 125 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while his bruising 60 yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game. Smith did leave the game in the second half and did not return, but he is expected to be fine for next week’s game.
Amara Darboh had 4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown including a wonderful one handed catch in the first half. Nine different players caught a pass for Michigan in a very equal passing game by Rudock.
The real story for Michigan was the defense. They allowed 105 total yards of offense to BYU with 55 through the air and 50 on the ground. BYU went 4 of 15 on third down and had just 8 first downs the entire game. The Wolverines did not allow them to get into a rhythm and this is what we expect from a JimHarbaugh coached defense.
Michigan travels on the road next week to face Maryland.
Central Michigan Chippewas at #2 Michigan State Spartans
Result: Michigan State Win 30-10 (Saturday, September 26)
Michigan State looked far from the #2 team in the nation on Saturday against Central Michigan, but they got the job done.
Connor Cook went 11 of 19 for 143 yards and a touchdown, but the offense did not always look great. Madre London ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while Gerald Holmes rushed for 22 yards and 2 touchdowns (both coming in the fourth quarter) on 4 carries.
The defense also had its issues against the Central Michigan offense. Cooper Rush threw for 285 yards and a touchdown on 26 of 39 passing. The trio of Jesse Kroll, Anthony Rice, and Corey Willis all had at least 5 catches and 57 yards.
Shilique Calhoun was disruptive for the Spartans on defense and also blocked a field goal. That was one of two blocked field goals by the Spartans. More worrisome for Michigan State is the possible losses of JackConklin, RJ Williamson, and Josiah Price.
Michigan State takes on Purdue next week at home in their Big Ten opener.
Bowling Green Falcons at Purdue Boilermakers
Result: Bowling Green Win 35-28 (Saturday, September 26)
Purdue slumped to 1-3 this year thanks to a loss to MAC opponent Bowling Green. It was not the worst loss for Purdue, as there was a good sign of improvement at quarterback.
David Blough was named the starter for this game and he did well. He went 29 of 39 for 340 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown, but the Boilermakers were not good rushing with just 77 yards on 38 carries as a team.
The defense was all or nothing in the first half. Bowling Green scored a touchdown, then lost a fumble, scored a second touchdown, was intercepted, and ended the first half with a third touchdown. Purdue was able to turn one of the turnovers into a touchdown, but missed a field goal on the other.
The defense was better overall in the second half, but still could not do enough to hang on for the win. They allowed 539 yards of offense and also allowed Bowling Green to convert 11 of 16 third downs.
It will be a tall task next week for Purdue with a road trip to Michigan State.
Indiana Hoosiers at Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Result: Indiana Win 31-24 (Saturday, September 26)
Indiana got a road win to open the season 4-0 and sit just two games away from bowl eligibility. The defense was improved, but there is still plenty of concern on that side of the ball.
Nate Sudfeld had pedestrian numbers considering his normal output. He went 19 of 34 for 205 yards with 2 touchdowns. Jordan Howard had another big rushing game with 168 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. The offense converted 7 of 17 third down opportunities.
The defense played well early on for Indiana. The first three drives for Wake Forest yielded just one yard. The Hoosiers did allow 10 points in the second quarter, but held a 17-10 lead at the break. The defense played well again after halftime. A 20 yard pick six early in the fourth quarter by Kendall Hinton put the Hoosiers up 31-10. The concern is that Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on the next two drives. They did hold the Demon Deacons to 363 yards of offense including 99 on the ground and 4 of 18 on third down.
Indiana goes from facing Wake Forest on the road to Ohio State at home next weekend.
Maryland Terrapins at West Virginia Mountaineers
Result: West Virginia Win 45-6 (Saturday, September 26)
The worst Big Ten performance of the week belongs to Maryland. It was terrible performance, particularly from the quarterbacks.
Caleb Rowe went 10 of 27 for only 67 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 interceptions (!). Daxx Garman came in and threw for 86 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Brandon Ross did well to pick up 130 yards on 15 carries, but he was the lone bright spot in a dismal offense.
The defense struggled to put up any resistance to the West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers put up 601 yards of offense and it was nearly even with 297 through the air and 304 on the ground.
Maryland may find themselves struggling to get offense going again next week. They face Michigan at home, a team that has been solid on the defensive side of the ball.
North Texas Mean Green at Iowa Hawkeyes
Result: Iowa Win 62-16 (Saturday, September 26)
Iowa completely crushed North Texas to finish their non-conference schedule 4-0. It was a complete domination by both sides of the ball for Iowa.
C.J. Beathard was deadly accurate and efficient. He went 18 of 21 for 278 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Jordan Canzeri had a field day running the ball as well. He had four rushing touchdowns to go along with 115 yards on 22 carries. Tevaun Smith had 4 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The defense had only two turnovers, but both were interceptions returned for touchdowns. First, it was Josey Jewell for a 34 yard pick-six late in the third quarter. The second one came late in the game with BoBower taking a pick 88 yards to the house.
Big Ten play begins next week with one of the toughest games on their schedule. Iowa travels to play Wisconsin in Madison with the winner having an early inside track on the Big Ten West.
Ohio Bobcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Result: Minnesota Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 26)
For the second week in a row, Minnesota escaped at home against a MAC foe. This week, at least there was more scoring.
Mitch Leidner had a solid day going 22 of 32 for 264 yards with no touchdown or interceptions. He also ran for 22 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. Rodney Smith had a solid day as well with 94 yards on 16 carries, but Shannon Brooks emerged with 10 carries for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns including the game winner late. The offense looked much better this week and they put up 468 yards of offense and had only one turnover.
In an odd twist, the defense did not play as well as we have seen. They certain were not terrible, but it was not as stout as they were in the first three games. They allowed 8 of 16 on third down conversions and also gave up 345 yards of offense. They allowed 10 points in the fourth quarter that made it way too uncomfortable for the Gopher faithful.
Another worry, at least late, was the special teams. A muffed punt by Cody Grilliot was recovered by Ohio and led to a touchdown. They also gave up a massive kick return with less than 30 seconds remaining to Ohio after they just took the lead.
Minnesota finished their non-conference slate at 3-1 and they will have a defensive battle next week against Northwestern on the road.
Western Michigan Broncos at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Result: Ohio State Win 38-12 (Saturday, September 26)
Ohio State may have decided on a quarterback, but it still does not look like the Buckeyes we saw in 2014.
Cardale Jones went 19 of 33 for 288 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. His second half left a lot to be desired as he completed only 6 of 14 passes. Ezekiel Elliott, unsurprisingly, was good with 124 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Curtis Samuel had 2 carries for 55 yards including a 40 yard run for a touchdown just before the midway point of the fourth quarter. The offense still managed to put up 511 yards with 288 passing and 223 on the ground. They did go 8 of 13 on third downs, which is a big improvement over the 2 of 13 they managed against Northern Illinois last week.
The defense was very good for Ohio State. They did not allow Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell to get into a rhythm. He finished 18 of 33 for 169 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. That interception was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Adolphus Washington. The Buckeyes did allow Daniel Braverman to catch 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, but they clamped down in the second half.
Ohio State begins the defense of their Big Ten title next week on the road at Indiana.
San Diego State Aztecs at Penn State Nittany Lions
Result: Penn State Win 37-21 (Saturday, September 26)
Penn State relied on their running backs last week to get the offense going, but it was Christian Hackenberg that woke up the dormant offense this week. Hackenberg threw for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing.
Saeed Blackwell led the Nittany Lions with 4 catches for 101 yards while Chris Godwin had 5 receptions for 78 yards with a touchdown. The running game was dealt not one, but two blows, thanks to injuries. Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch both left leaving Nick Scott and Mark Allen to try and pick up the slack. Allen ran for 5 yards on 5 carries, but did catch 2 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. Scott had 6 carries for 9 yards. Those numbers will surely need to improve or Hackenberg will be primary target number one if Barkley and Lynch miss any time.
The defense was decent, but the highlight went to Austin Johnson. The defensive tackle ran (rumbled?) 71 yards for a fumble return touchdown that put Penn State up 34-21 early in the fourth quarter. The defense did only allow 242 yards of offense to SDSU including a poor 10 of 29 for 141 yards throwing.
The special teams is still a question mark after week four’s performance. They gave up a 100 yard kick return, fumbled a punt return that led to a touchdown, and also missed a field goal.
Unlike much of the Big Ten, they have not completed their non-conference schedule. Army visits next week in an early kickoff.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 27-25 (Saturday, September 26)
Illinois bounced back from last week’s thrashing at North Carolina, but it was not easy by any means. They needed a last minute field goal from Taylor Zalewski and also needed a missed field goal from Middle Tennessee with seconds remaining to pull out the win.
Wes Lunt went 29 of 49 for 238 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. The large amount of incompletions are a bit worrisome, especially after he went 15 of 32 against North Carolina a week ago. Josh Ferguson ran for 83 yards on 20 carries while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Geronimo Allison easily led the team in receiving with 10 catches for 128 yards. Desmond Cain was also involved in the passing game with 7 catches for 48 yards. Coming into the game, Cain had 8 catches for 53 yards on the year.
The defense gave up only 38 yards rushing to Middle Tennessee thanks largely to -30 yards rushing by the Middle Tennessee quarterback on sacks. They allowed 330 yards through the air as well as 3 touchdowns. The defense allowed 13 fourth quarter points as the Blue Raiders moved down the field with ease.
The special teams unit was good overall. There was a missed field goal, but a blocked punt subsequently allowed Illinois to build a 14-3 in the second quarter. Clayton Fejedelem fell on the ball in the end zone for the score.
Illinois enters Big Ten play 3-1 and they immediately get Nebraska next week at home. It is a potentially big game, as Illinois needs three wins to make bowl eligibility.
Ball State Cardinals at #17 Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 24-19 (Saturday, September 26)
Northwestern was able to hang on against Ball State in a deceivingly good second half from the offense. The first half left a lot to be desired from the Wildcats, especially at the quarterback position.
Clayton Thorson looked like a freshman during the first half. He lost a fumble after a nice run, which led to a field goal for Ball State. He also threw an interception (led to a missed field goal), but his fumble late in the first half allowed Ball State to score a touchdown and take a 10-7 lead at halftime.
The second half was like a whole new ball game for the Wildcats on offense. Their first three drives resulted in 17 points and a 24-10 lead. Thorson finished the game going 18 of 31 for 256 yards with 3 touchdowns and the interception. He also ran for 45 yards on 9 carries. Justin Jackson had a big game rushing the ball with 184 yards on 33 carries. Dan Vitale easily had his best game of the year with 5 catches for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. His emergence really helped Thorson in the final 30 minutes.
The defense played solidly and it is worth noting that they kept the game close while the offense struggled in the first half. They recovered a fumble deep in their own territory and forced a total of four field goals from Ball State. Ball State missed two field goals, which would have been the difference.
Northwestern is likely to have a defensive battle next week at home in their Big Ten opener against Minnesota.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at #22 Wisconsin Badgers
Result: Wisconsin Win 28-0 (Saturday, September 26)
Taiwan Deal rushed for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries while Dare Ogunbowale had 15 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers rushed for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team on 54 carries. Most importantly, the offense looked to have gotten their running game back, if only for this week. The offense nearly held a 2-1 advantage in time of possession, another good sign.
Joel Stave was not overly impressive, but he was smart with the ball and did not force unnecessary throws. He went 14 of 23 for 164 yards and a touchdown. In no surprise, Alex Erickson was his top target with 9 catches for 87 yards. Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 23 yards and a touchdown and is quietly becoming a big red zone target for Stave.
The defense did not make any big plays, but they did not allow any type of rhythm for the Hawaii offense. Hawaii’s longest drive was 60 yards, but the defense held firm on fourth and three at the Wisconsin 33. Another drive got as close to the Wisconsin 1 yard line, but a series of penalties by Hawaii resulted in a missed 49 yard field goal. In the last three games, Wisconsin has allowed a total of 3 points and has two shutouts.
Wisconsin faces Iowa at home in their Big Ten opener next week.
Check back next Sunday for a look at the Week 5 Big Ten Roundup. There will be plenty of Big Ten Conference action that is dissected.
The success started under Jerry Kill has been continued by Dave Doeren (2011 and 2012) and continued under Rod Carey who will be in his third season in 2015. The last five years have been impressive for North Illinois; five straight MAC Championship appearances, three MAC Championships, and five straight seasons with at least 11 wins.
2014 saw a precipitous drop in points per game by the offense. After averaging at least 38 points per game each season between 2010 and 2013, 2014 saw only 31.5 points per game and that was with 9 starters returning. In 2015, the offense loses the top rusher (Cameron Stingily – 971 yards and 14 touchdowns) as well as their top receiver (Da’Ron Brown – 68 catches for 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns). Offsetting those losses are the return of the now experienced quarterback in Drew Hare. Hare threw for 2,322 yards (59.5%) with 18 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also was the team’s second leading rusher with 900 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Huskies also return the #2 running back as well as they #2, #3, and #4 receivers from 2014. The offense should continue to plug along.
Defensively, the Huskies see 8 starters return from a unit that gave up 25.6 points per game in 2014. That number could be 7 depending on what happens to linebacker Rasheen Lemon, who was suspended in April for domestic battery. The loss of Lemon would hurt at LB, but the defensive line and secondary both return 3 starters each, which should help NIU improve on their numbers from 2014 (392 total yards per game, 163 rushing yards per game, and 229 passing yards per game).
NIU has a tough out of conference slate that segues into the start of conference play. NIU faces Ohio State on the road September 19, Boston College on the road September 26, and Central Michigan on the road October 3. They draw Miami (OH) (away), Buffalo (away), and Ohio (home) from the East, which is manageable. Their two toughest MAC West foes are Toledo (away on Nov. 3) and Western Michigan (home on Nov. 18). The game against Toledo will probably decide the winner of the MAC West.
Another double-digit win total is not out of reach for Northern Illinois.
2. Toledo Rockets
Matt Campbell has done well at Toledo in his first three seasons. He has guided the Rockets to a winning record all three years and made two bowl appearances (1-1 record in those 2 games). Now is the time for him to put Toledo back in the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2004.
The offense has only 5 returning starters and have to replace the entire offensive line. That means the Rockets will lean heavily on the skill position players early on including the electric Kareem Hunt at running back. He ran for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging an astounding 8 yard per carry in 2014! Handing him the ball will most likely be former Alabama player Phillip Ely, who tore his ACL in the second game last season. The top two receivers return for Toledo and they will definitely help the offense continue to average over 30 points per game in 2015.
Toledo has 8 starters back on defense. Similar to the offense, there is an entire unit that needs to be replaced and that is at linebacker. The three projected starters made only 4 starts in 2014, but they will have plenty of experience around them on the defensive line and secondary. Defensive end Trent Voss was a machine last year by recording 77 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and intercepting one pass. This unit, despite the inexperience at linebacker, should help the Rockets contend in the MAC West.
Toledo has a difficult looking non-conference schedule (Stony Brook, at Arkansas, Iowa State, and Arkansas State), but could conceivably go 3-1 if they upset Iowa State and take care of Arkansas State. Toledo has a brutal ending to the regular season with a home game against Northern Illinois (Nov. 3) followed by back-to-back road games at Central Michigan (Nov. 10) and Bowling Green (Nov. 17). They end the season with Western Michigan at home on November 27. That four game stretch will ultimately decided where the Rockets finish in conference. Expect Toledo to go bowling again in 2015 and wins over Northern Illinois and Bowling Green could send them to the MAC Championship.
3. Western Michigan Broncos
The dark horse candidate in the MAC West division goes to Western Michigan. PJ Fleck is one of the up and coming coaches in the FBS and he has 16 starters returning from 2014. 9 of those starters are on offense including the MAC Freshman and MAC Offensive Player of the Year in running back JarvionFranklin. Franklin was a workhorse by accumulating 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns on 306 carries, Quarterback Zach Terrell also returns after throwing for 3,443 yards (67.9%) with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The top 8 receivers also return for Western Michigan, which makes this unit dangerous against any defense.
The defense saw incredible improvement between year 1 and year 2 under Fleck. In 2013, the Broncos gave up 35.4 points and 419 yards per game with 7 returning starters. In 2014, those numbers were down to 24.9 points and 371 yards per game despite only five starters returning. 7 starters return for 2015 led by middle linebacker Grant DePalma. DePalma was second on the team in tackles with 102, recorded 5.5 tackles for loss, and had 2.5 sacks. There are some worries about the secondary (lost two big starters) that may hurt the Broncos on defense, but the defense should be fine overall.
The Broncos are probably staring at a 2-2 non-conference schedule with games against Michigan State, at Georgia Southern, Murray State, and at Ohio State. They have an incredibly tough conference schedule thanks to drawing Ohio (road) and Bowling Green (home) from the MAC East. They also have to play at Northern Illinois and at Toledo, which is why they are being placed behind them. It would be a surprise if the Broncos did not reach a bowl game in 2015.
4. Ball State Cardinals
Ball State has seen some success over the last decade. Brady Hoke led the Cardinals to back-to-back bowl games in 2007 and 2008 while current coach Pete Lembo did the same in 2012 and 2013. Ball State lost all four of those bowl games and are 0-7 all time in bowl games. What does 2015 have in store?
The offense returns 10 of its starters from last season. The one position they have to fill is a big one at running back. In 201, Jahwan Edwards ran for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns while helping out the inexperienced quarterbacks. Now it will be up to Jack Milas to help the inexperienced running back. Milas threw for 1,302 yards with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. The top three receivers return, which should make this offense potent.
On defense, Ball State has 8 starters coming back including their top five tacklers from 2014. The secondary is a slight concern with two starters gone, but the front seven appears to be the strong point of the defense. Linebackers Zach Ryan and Ben Ingle were #1 and #2 in tackles respectively in 2014 and will be raking in the tackles again in 2015. There may be some issues defending the pass in 2015, but with 8 total starters back the defense should be fine.
Ball State has their non-conference schedule strewn across the season. The open with VMI and a road trip to Texas A&M before starting MAC play. Between Texas A&M on September 12 and Northern Illinois on October 10, the Cardinals have 4 road games in 5 weeks. The one lone home game during that time? Toledo. The Cardinals end the season with back-to-back games against MAC East foes Ohio (road) and Bowling Green (home). It will not be an easy task for Ball State to reach 6 wins in 2015.
5. Central Michigan Chippewas
Central Michigan had a lot going for them in 2014. They returned 18 starters and were in year five of the Dan Enos era as well as some winnable non-conference games against Chattanooga, Purdue, Syracuse, and Kansas. They ended up splitting those 4 contests and finished 7-6 overall after a crushing last second loss in the Bahamas Bowl to Western Kentucky.
Enos is now gone and John Bonamego comes in with a tough task in his first season. Only five starters return on offense, but one of them is quarterback Cooper Rush. He threw for 3,157 yards (63.6%) with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He will not have his first and third leading receivers from 2014 to throw to and will also be missing his starting running back. The offensive line does return three starters, but they will be hard-pressed to top their 27 points per game average of 2014.
Just like the offense, the defense only returns five starters from a unit that gave up 25.2 points and 355 yards per game in 2014. The strength will be up front with three of the four starters returning from a unit that allowed only 123 yards rushing per game. The entire linebacking unit has to be replaced and only two of the starters return in the secondary. The defense will probably perform much worse in comparison to last season.
The first year under a new head coach can be difficult especially when there are not a lot of starters returning. The Chippewas will face Oklahoma State and Monmouth at home to open the season before road games at Syracuse and Michigan State. They did not draw the most difficult opponents from the MAC East with Buffalo, Akron, and Kent State making appearances on the schedule. Still, this appears to be a rebuilding season for Central Michigan.
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles
2014 was not a good year for Eastern Michigan under the first year of head coach Chris Creighton. All of their losses were by at least double digits, but the Eagles were able to win 2 games against Morgan State and Buffalo. 2015 appears to have a better team for the Eagles, but will that translate on the field?
Offensively, five starters return from a team that averaged only 15.2 points and 290 yards per game in 2014. That can only improve especially with the dynamic Reggie Bell behind center. He is a dual threat quarterback who led the team in passing (1,297 yards with 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions) and rushing (562 yards and 4 touchdowns). He loses his top target, but does have his #2 and #3 receivers from 2014 to throw to. With a year in the system complete, the offense can only do better.
There is plenty of room for improvement on defense, but 2014 was actually better than 2013. In 2013, the Eagles gave up 45.2 points and 511 yards per game with 5 starters returning. 2014 had 4 starters return and the Eagles gave up 40.9 points and 499 yards per game. 2015 should see those numbers continue to decline with 8 starters back. The front six in this 4-2-5 system looks like it will be better with all six coming back from last season. The back five only returns two starters, but adds in a former quarterback and two upperclassmen are expected to start. The defense will not be overwhelming, but there should be continued improvement over the past two seasons.
Eastern Michigan does not have the toughest non-conference schedule with games against Old Dominion (home), Wyoming (road), Army (home), and LSU (road), but it will be tough for them to eke out even a victory. From the MAC East, they do draw Akron, Miami (OH), and Massachusetts, which could provide a victory for them. 2015 is another year of rebuilding for Eastern Michigan.
Just like the MAC East, the West appears to be a two-horse race between Toledo and Northern Illinois. Western Michigan is a dark horse in this race, but their MAC schedule is brutal. They will probably make it to a bowl game while the bottom trio of Ball State, Central Michigan, and Eastern Michigan will battle to stay out of the cellar. Below is a recap of the predicted order of finish.
1. Northern Illinois
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan
The predicted MAC Championship will be Ohio versus Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois will be selected as the preseason pick to win the MAC Championship.
Check back on Tuesday, July 7 to see the Mountain West Conference – Mountain Division Preview.