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Grading the MAC Teams

by Jonathon Angarola

By week 10 of the regular football season, the so-called “class of the MAC” in Toledo, Miami, Bowling Green and Northern Illinois has tumbled in their conference hegemony.

Whether the MAC is having a down year or the middle-tier teams have raised their games is still under debate. Shocking surprises and disappointments have created a scenario where it is a photo-finish to the MAC championship with four teams in the race for first in the MAC East and three in the MAC West.

The nebulous confusion that is the MAC standings means only one thing: A MAC football report is due.

 

 

MAC West

Toledo
After winning the MAC championship last season, the Rockets were expected by many to repeat in 2005. VandelaySports.com predicted the Rockets to appear in the MAC Championship and many college football analysts predicted UT to be a top 50 team.

Fresno State beat Toledo on national TV with a convincing 44-14 home win in week five in what was supposed to be a close match-up between two perennial MAC and WAC powers.

The Rockets then won three straight to remain undefeated in the MAC schedule until week 10 with a loss to Central Michigan. CMU snapped a 10 game Rocket winning streak vs. Central Michigan and pulled atop the MAC West.

Bruce Gradkowski ranks third MAC passing efficiency and was invited to play in the 2006 Hula bowl. He leads an offense that is first in the MAC in points per game at 35.5.

Trinity Dawson was listed as the No. 1 running back in the preseason depth chart. He has since averaged 99.6 yards per game and his three game 100 yard rushing streak was ended by CMU. Dawson was held under 100 yard in both Rocket losses.

UT got the job done last week beating Ohio 30-21 in Athens, where both teams had championship hopes on the line.

The Rockets still have a tough stretch of games vs. Northern Illinois and Bowling Green. NIU is right behind Toledo in the MAC West at 4-2 in conference play. Bowling Green is still in the race to win the MAC East.

While Toledo hasn’t dominated their soft schedule, a second straight MAC Championship is still within reach and seems contingent on a healthy Gradkoski and a viable rushing attack.

Grade: A-

 

Central Michigan
Central Michigan seems to be the surprise team of the season. Picked by VanDelaySports.com to place fifth in the MAC West, the Chippewas are vying for a MAC West title and tied for first with Toledo.

Last season, CMU went 4-7. Before last week’s game vs. Northern Illinois, CMU was on a four game winning streak, their longest since 1994. Currently no player on the current roster has ever finished a season with a winning record.

Touted as a possible NFL draft pick, senior quarterback Kent Smith has carried the team to surprise wins at Miami and Toledo. Smith is fourth in the MAC in passing yards per game and has earned three ‘MAC West Division Player of the Week Award’ honors.

CMU’s only losses are a throttling by a good Penn State team that is first in the Big Ten and a loss to Eastern Michigan in OT.

After the Penn State game, the EMU defense didn’t allow more than 20 points or a touchdown after halftime in four straight games.

The Chippewas needed to win out the rest of the season in order to head to Detroit, and last week that dream pretty much ended with a 31-28 loss to Northern Illinois as the ‘Chips missed two short field goals in the loss.

Although a MAC championship seems out of reach, Brian Kelly and the Chippewas have revived a stagnant program and can look forward to continuing to build on that momentum next season.

Grade: B+

 

Northern Illinois
It looked like, as everyone predicted, the MAC West would come down to Northern Illinois and Toledo. Then week 9 occurred.

After losing two close games at Michigan and Northwestern, NIU was upset on the road at Akron before beating Miami, which began a three-game winning streak.

Huskie fans are looking forward to a showdown at Toledo in week 12 to decide their championship even after a shocking home loss to Ball State. With Toledo’s loss at Central, NIU still has a chance to win the west if they beat the Rockets in the Glass Bowl, something they have not done since 1972.

NIU is leading the league in total offense at 4,514 yards and rushing attack at 2,409 yards. Their Achilles heel seems to be a consistent rushing attack every week. Both Huskie defeats came at the hands of a lackluster rushing performance. Ball State held Northern to just 66 rushing yards.

Injuries have also plagued the Huskies as star running back Garrett Wolfe has been out nursing a knee injury, and starting quarterback Phil Horvath suffered a broken left arm against the Chippewas.

In spite of the loss of Horvath, the Huskies put together a good win at 31-28 against a hot CMU team Saturday.

Backup quarterback Dan Nicholson looked good against CMU compiling a school record 266 yards off 12 pass receptions. The duo rushing attack in A.J. Harris and Adrian Davis has been sporadic since taking over for Wolfe in week 7.

NIU has weathered some tough injuries but has still navigated its way to a possible MAC West title. As most people predicted, the MAC West comes down to a showdown at Toledo next week. Whether the backup running and throwing attack can hurdle the Huskies over the likes of Toledo remains the central question.

Grade: B-

 

Western Michigan
After finishing last season 1-10 under former head coach Gary Darnell, Western Michigan is a surprise team that still remains in the hunt for a MAC West title. The Broncos are 6-3, 4-2 in MAC season play and only one game behind Toledo.

New head coach Bill Cubit has turned the program around into a MAC contender. Cubit is a solid choice for ‘MAC Coach of the Year’ honors.

WMU really turned some heads in the conference when they pummeled Bowling Green 45-14 in week #8. The Broncos followed the upset with wins over Kent State and Eastern Michigan. Picked by VandelaySports.com to finish third in the MAC West, this Bronco team is only one game off the top of the MAC West standings and have their first winning season in five years.

Western’s offense looked solid under Ryan Cubit posting 35.1 points per game and at least 44 points in their last four games. However, the defense has played inconsistent, allowing 60 points in their multi-OT loss against Ball State and 56 against Toledo.

The Broncos go down the stretch with a difficult schedule against Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. It’s a long shot, but Western still has a chance to win the west division. As VanDelaySports.com predicted, this would be the surprise team of the MAC and would finish with a winning season.

The remainder of the Bronco schedule remains their true test, but, as week 9 showed, the MAC is up for grabs and the Broncos remain of the recipients.

Grade: B+

 

Ball State
With the most difficult schedule in the MAC, Ball State remained under the radar most of the season until they upset Northern Illinois in week 9 to declare that they would remain the MAC doormat no more.

The Cardinals started the season 0-4, losing to Iowa, Bowling Green, Boston College and Auburn, respectively.

It seemed like another throw-away season for BSU, until the team turned the corner against Western Michigan, beating the Broncos 60-57 in five OTs.

BSU then fell to two good MAC opponents in Toledo and Ohio before upsetting Northern Illinois in DeKalb.

The win seemed to give the Cardinals the confidence they needed, as they followed the win with another the following week to beat Akron 23-17.

A well balanced offense and defense have been factors to BSU’s recent success lately. Junior quarterback Joey Lynch has a 65.0 passing percentage with a respectable 166.3 yards per game.

BSU’s defense was statistically the worst in the league, until it displayed its potential against Northern Illinois by holding the best rushing attack in the MAC to only 66 yards.

Head coach Brady Hoke has said that he believes the Cardinals have underperformed up until this point and is only now showing its potential by playing with confidence and heart.

Although out of contention for a MAC championship at 3-6, BSU is certainly hoping it can build upon its momentum to swing it into a viable contender next season. Considering the extremely difficult schedule and the player suspensions that Brady Hoke has had to deal with, this season is going better than most expected.

Grade: C

 

Eastern Michigan
While they have shown sparks of brilliance, Eastern Michigan is last in the MAC West at 3-6 and hoping to just end the season on a good note.

The Eagles began the season 1-3 losing to a bad Cincinnati team 28-26 before a pounding by Michigan in Ann Arbor 55-0.

They beat a bad Louisiana Lafayette team in week 2 and then had a quality road win at Central Michigan. The Eagles went on a two-game winning streak by beating Kent State 27-20 the following weak, before a three game slide, including a one-point loss to Miami, ended the EMU’s post season hopes.

Senior quarterback Matt Bohnet has played well at times, highlighted by his play against Western Michigan. He led the Eagles to 36 points, four touchdowns and 398 yards in close rally only to fall short 44-36 to WMU.

EMU has lacked both offensive and defensive consistency. However, the Eagles face two teams with losing records in Ball State and Buffalo in the next two weeks, where they can hope to match their 2004 conference record of 4-4 and build some momentum going into next season.

Grade: C-

 

 

MAC East

Miami
In what seemingly sounds like a broken record, Miami again sits on top of the MAC East despite a disappointing start to their season.

The RedHawks started the season 0-2, and while the loss to Ohio State was expected, a 38-37 home shocker to Central Michigan definitely was not.

Miami ensued to win two straight over Kent State and Cincinnati before falling short to Northern Illinois at DeKalb.

The RedHawks were picked second in the MAC behind Bowling Green in the preseason polls. Hopes for a conference championship, however, seemed doomed with their two early in-conference losses.

But following their loss to NIU, Miami has gone on a four game winning streak, scoring over 41 points in three of the last four games. Help from both Western Michigan and Akron has given Bowling Green two losses and Miami a tie for first in the MAC East.

Josh Betts has remained a consistent threat throughout the season. He leads a potent offense that has scored over 38 points in six of nine games played and is second in total offense with 4071 yards.

A surprise in sophomore running back Brandon Murphy has also helped boon the offense. The Strongsville (OH) native, Murphy is averaging a 115.4 yards per game with nine touchdowns on the year.

The biggest questionmark this season for the RedHawks has been their defense. In each of Miami’s losses, the defense gave up at least 34 points. However, the defense hasn’t allowed more than 23 points in the past four games.

Touted NFL draft pick and preseason favorite for the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award, Terna Nande was injured early in the season against Kent State. His return in week 10 vs. Buffalo is expected to help maintain more defensive consistency.

Miami, like Toledo and Bowling Green, has failed to live up to expectations with a senior-laden team and multiple NFL prospects. They have only convincingly beaten teams with losing records and barely came away with a win at Eastern Michigan.

However, Miami is on top the division and is control of their destiny if they win out against Bowling Green and Ohio.

Grade: B

 

Bowling Green
The biggest disappointment in the MAC so far has been the spiraling Falcons, who lost back-to-back games after losing star quarterback Omar Jacobs.

BGSU was ranked first in the preseason MAC poll and many had them in the nation’s Top 25. Omar Jacobs was boasted as a Heisman Trophy candidate and possible NFL prospect.

In the first game of the season, Bowling Green blew a big lead and lost on the road to Wisconsin. Next came a road game at Boise State on ESPN and the Falcons looked terrible is a sounding 48-20 drubbing. Billed as the best of the WAC versus the best of the MAC, BGSU was never in this game

The Falcons went on a three game roll winning easily against Temple, Ohio and Buffalo. It looked like BGSU had solidified a spot back in the MAC’s elite before an injury to Jacobs in the Western Michigan game. BG was drilled at home by the Broncos, and then fell flat on their face again with another home loss to Akron.

Defensively, BGSU has been a disappointment all season. The Falcons rushing defense has really struggled, allowing 4.4 yards per attempt.

BG has difficult games ahead of them against Miami and Toledo. At this point, Bowling Green is trying to hold on to hope for an east division championship but their first goal is to have a winning season. This was a goal taken for granted in August.

Grade D+

 

Akron
With the exception of the game against Miami, Akron has been a backward team in conference play, winning as underdogs and losing as favorites. This backward style hasn’t done the Zips any favors, as the team is 4-5 (3-3) and can only hope for both Bowling Green and Miami to lose one of their next two games to have a shot at a MAC East title.

The Zips started the season off well going 2-1, losing to Purdue but upsetting Northern Illinois 48-42. Akron would ensue to two conference losses against Central Michigan and Miami but still remained in control of its destiny at week 10 with a four way tie for first place in the MAC East.

Akron failed to capitalize on this opportunity and lost 23-17 to a 2-6 Ball State team.

Both the Akron offense and defense have been unremarkable, averaging 20.3 points per game and allowing their opponents 27.1 points per game.

One of the highlights of Akron’s season has been Luke Getsy, averaging 252.2 yards per game. The rushing attack, led by running back Brett Biggs, is also viable with 85.3 yards per game.

However, the rushing defense is abysmal allowing 150.8 yards per game. The defense has performed well of late, allowing 23 points or less in the past three games.

Grade: C

 

Ohio
Ohio has improved considerably under new head coach Frank Solich and still holds an ounce of hope to win a MAC East title.

The Bobcats came into the season an extremely difficult Out-Of-Conference schedule. As expected, Ohio fell to both Northwestern and Virginia Tech on the road squeezing in an impressive win over Pittsburgh 16-10 in Athens.

The Bobcats only bad loss was to Central Michigan 37-10, but thanks to CMU's success this year that defeat no longer looks so bad. It even looked for a bit like Ohio had a shot to beat Toledo in week 10, but the Rockets were able to pull away with a 30-21 victory in Athens.

Sophomore running back Kalvin McRae is the highlight of the Bobcat offense, highlighted by his game against Toledo with 114 yards and his fourth straight 100 yard game. He has 1,051 total yards so far this year including 3 games with 200+ yards.

The defense has remained an innocuous threat, as it has allowed 29.2 points in the past five games.

The Bobcats have improved considerably from last season, and can still attain a MAC East title if they can beat both Akron and Miami and the RedHawks beat Bowling Green.

Grade: B-

 

Kent State
Kent State has had sub-par season going just 1-8 with the sole win against Southeast Missouri State.

KSU has, however, has come close to pulling off some good wins. The Golden Flashes only lost by three to both Navy and Ohio.

The philosophy this year has been to live and die by the pass. KSU has garnered 2430 passing yards, compared to only 433 rushing yards. The lack of rushing attack has hurt the Golden Flashes making them a one-dimensional team.

Led by quarterback Michael Machen with 242.8 yards per game and receiver Najah Pruden with 76 yards per game, the Golden Flashes have thrown the ball well.

The potent passing game has failed to galvanize offensive points and defensive success as the Golden Flashes have scored 19 points per game while allowing 31.8.

Kent State next faces Buffalo and Akron where they can hope to end the season optimistically and rejuvenate the program for next year.

Grade: D-

 

Buffalo
The Buffalo Bulls are 0-9 posting 9.6 points per game and allowing 31.4. Things don’t look like they’re improving as they suffered their worst defeat of the season 54-13 on Saturday against Miami. Since that game UB announced that Head Coach Jim Hofher will not return in 2006.

UB’s problem seems to be stagnant offense that turned the ball over eight times against Miami. The rushing attack has totaled only 920 rushing yards on the season, while the rushing defense has allowed 1954 yards on the season.

The Bulls defense has been produced moderately well for the Bulls. They only allowed more than 38 points once, and that was last week vs. Miami.

Some young defensive players have created optimism for the Bulls this season like sophomore Kareem Byrom, who has led the Bulls in tackles the past three games and has 74 tackles on the year.

If the Bulls are going to compete in the MAC in 2006 and beyond, they need to look towards improving their offense. A viable rushing attack must be their first priority in becoming a real contender.

Grade: D-


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