Thursday, August 14, 2008

Is the MAC ready for a breakout season in football in '08?

Like the Sun Belt Conference, the Mid-American Conference doesn't have a major 'mid-major' like the WAC or MWC that is likely to make noise for a BCS bid. But, is the MAC ready for a breakout season in football in '08?

There is no preseason consensus favorite for 13 member MAC in '08, which is broken into two divisions: East and West. Bowling Green and Miami-OH get the most love in the East, while Central Michigan and Ball State get the most love in the West. Western Michigan may be a sleeper to watch out for?

Central Michigan (6-1 in '07 in the West) beat Miami-OH (5-2 in the East in '07) in the '07 MAC Title Game 35-10. CMU has won back to back MAC titles games, so will '08 make it three in a row?

When I wrote my comments on the Sun Belt Conference yesterday, I failed to point out Phil Steele's Top 40 and Top 50 spots for the Sun Belt and MAC. Looking over page 29 of Phil Steele's 2008 College Football Preview: FAU was rated ahead of three MAC teams in the Top 50 nationally. Remarkably, Phil Steele had FAU #37 nationally and though Phil Steele doesn't pick Western Michigan to win the West, they are ranked #40 nationally. Rounding out the Top 50: Central Michigan #44 and Ball State #46 are in.

As PFW/College Football News speaks to on page 8 of their '08 Season Preview,
"Which conference other than your own should you care about. The MAC."

Top 21 OOC MAC football games in '08:
  1. Central Michigan at Georgia
  2. Central Michigan at Purdue
  3. Miami-OH at Michigan
  4. Toledo at Michigan
  5. Western Michigan at Nebraska in season opener
  6. Illinois vs. Western Michigan (in Detroit)
  7. Bowling Green at Pittsburgh in season opener
  8. Minnesota at Bowling Green
  9. Kent State at Iowa State
  10. Ball State at Indiana
  11. Ohio U at Northwestern
  12. Central Michigan at Indiana
  13. Northern Illinois at Minnesota
  14. Temple at Penn State
  15. Ohio U at Ohio State
  16. Boston College vs. Kent State (in Cleveland) in season opener
  17. Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
  18. Vanderbilt at Miami-OH
  19. Northern Illinois at Tennessee
  20. Akron at Wisconsin in season opener
  21. Akron at Syracuse

Phil Steele (page 19) didn't have any Sun Belt teams among his 2008 Most Improved Teams, but the MAC has four teams on the list: #3 Northern Illinois, #8 Western Michigan, #14 Kent State, and #20 Miami-OH. Northern Illinois welcomes the conference's only new coach in Jerry Kill, who moves over from FCS Southern Illinois. Kill has coached at the Division II level, the FCS level and now the FBS level.

Miami-OH coach Shane Montgomery is entering his fourth season and it would be good to continue moving up the MAC ladder and find a way to garner a bowl game or MAC title in the near term. The RedHawks haven't bowled, since hiring their former OC to replace the late Terry Hoeppner, after the '04 season.

Who are the top teams in '08 for the MAC in football (my picks):

MAC East:

  1. Miami-OH RedHawks (4-2 division, 5-2 MAC in '07) continue the move up the MAC ladder in '08.
  2. Bowling Green Falcons (4-2 division, 6-2 MAC in '07) will battle to spoil the RedHawks climb.
  3. Kent State Golden Flashes (1-5 division, 1-7 MAC in '07) makes the move back into top half of the MAC East.
  4. Temple Owls (3-3 division, 4-4 MAC in '07) enter year two as a member of the MAC in football and third year with promising Al Gordon as head coach.
  5. Buffalo Bulls (4-2 division, 5-3 MAC in '07) enter third season under coach Turner Gill and look to continue to build on improving as a football program.
  6. Ohio U Bobcats (3-3 division, 4-4 MAC in '07) enter fourth season with former Husker head man Frank Solich at the helm.
  7. Akron Zips (1-5 division, 1-7 MAC in '07) haven't had a winning season, since '05 title year.

MAC West:

  1. Western Michigan Broncos (2-3 division, 3-4 MAC in '07) enter fourth season under coach Bill Cubit have talent, but lost three MAC games by less than 7 points in '07. My Surprise Pick
  2. Central Michigan Chippewas (4-1 division, 6-1 MAC in '07) look for third straight MAC title, with everyone gunning for them in '08.
  3. Ball State Cardinals (4-1 division, 5-2 MAC in '07) is becoming solid under coach Brady Hoke, who enters 6th season.
  4. Northern Illinois Huskies (0-5 division, 1-6 MAC in '07) have a lot of ground to make up after downturn last year, but new coach should provide some fresh opportunities.
  5. Toledo Rockets (2-3 division, 3-5 MAC in '07) last solid year was in '05.
  6. Eastern Michigan Eagles (3-2 division, 3-4 MAC in '07) broke out of the cellar in '07, but will it hold in '08?
  • Biggest Game in '08: Oct. 18th - Western Michigan at Central Michigan
  • Biggest Game in MAC East: Oct. 18th - Miami-OH at Bowling Green
  • MAC Title Game Prediction: Miami-OH over Western Michigan
  • Coach of the Year: Shane Montgomery, Miami-OH

Do I agree that the MAC is a conference to watch other than the Big Ten and Big Twelve? Defense wins championships and I am not ready to say defense has become a trend in the MAC. The MAC plays some exciting football, but when your top team loses to a FCS division team (i.e. North Dakota State over Central Michigan, 14-44 in '07)... there is a chink in the armour.


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