The Mid-American Conference was once a strong mid-major conference. The MAC used to be the smart pick for early season upset specials. Recently, the MAC has become one of the weakest conferences in college football. Teams from the past and present such as Utah, Boise State, Hawaii, Fresno State, BYU, and TCU have changed the role of a mid-major, and the MAC has been left behind with the likes of the Sun Belt and Conference USA.
The conference loses its star player, Garrett Wolfe, to the NFL after a record breaking 5 MAC players were drafted in the first 3 rounds. This has been a conference of star players, but not star teams. NFL stars Jason Taylor, Chad Pennington, Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, and Randy Moss all came from MAC schools. In 2007, the MAC is a deeper and more talented conference than a year ago. Six to seven teams have a genuine chance to get to the MAC championship game, as the conference race is wide open.
The West division has been won by Toledo or Western Michigan seven out of the last ten years. Last season, a surprising Central Michigan team came out on top of the West, en route to a MAC championship game victory. The East, on the other hand, has been won by three different teams in the last four years, or since Marshall left the MAC. This year, two teams that struggled a season ago should have much better years and meet in the championship game in Detroit.
1. The play of sophomore quarterback Dan LeFevour. LeFevour led the MAC in touchdown passes as a freshman in 2006, and he led Central Michigan to their first 10 win season since 1979. If CMU wants to repeat, he will have to put up even better stats.
2. September 29th, Western Michigan vs. Toledo. I think the West will come down to this game. It will at least make a clear favorite. The early game will shape the loaded MAC West.
3. The easy MAC schedules of Miami and Ohio. Kent State, Ohio, and Bowling Green are players in the East, but Miamiís and Bowling Greenís schedules make them the favorites. Miamiís out of conference schedule should be challenging with Minnessota, Cincinati, Colorado, and Syracuse. However, they have a favorable conference slate, as they host Bowling Green, with road games against Kent State and Ohio. Under coach Shane Montgomery, Miami has been a better road team. Kent State has to play Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Bowling Green has to travel to Kent State and Miami. Ohio's schedule is easy as well, with Miami and Kent State at home, but I do not think they are ready to win the East. This gives Miami an edge in the East race.
OFFENSE: The Zips lose Luke Getsy, who was 2nd in passing touchdowns in the MAC last year. Dennis Kennedy, an Ohio State transfer, is a very underrated running back and is the key to the Akron offense. David Harvey leads the most talented group of receivers in the MAC. He caught 10 touchdowns last year and is also a superb kick returner.
DEFENSE: Akron returns 8 starters on defense, including their top 6 tacklers. Linebacker Brian Stokes leads Akron in sacks and tackles for loss. Akron has a talented group of defensive backs, as Reggie Corner led the team in INTs last year and transfers Andre Jones and Davanzo Tate combined for 131 tackles. Akron has one of the toughest defenses in the MAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Wisconsin transfer Matt Domonkos struggled as Akronís kicker in 2006. Domonkos missed 4 extra points and only made 2 field goals. Freshman Igor Iveljic should be a huge improvement at kicker. David Harvey is the most dynamic returner in the MAC. In 17 kick return attempts, he averaged 30 yards per return.
COACHING: JD Brookhart has had moderate success in his 4 years at Akron. Even with Charlie Frye under center, Akron could never get more than 7 wins.
SCHEDULE: Akron opens with Army on September 1st. The game will be called the Patriot Bowl. This will be an annual game played between a MAC team and a service academy. Akron later plays Western Michigan, Bowling Green, and Miami all on the road.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Akron could go .500 in conference and win 7 or 8 games this year with solid QB play. The playmakers on offense are in place. The defense should be able to keep all conference games in the 20s or lower.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The QBs left on the roster have combined for 1 pass attempt. Inexperience at such an important position could keep Akron under .500. The Zips will return a lot on offense next year, so maybe this year isnít the one to make a MAC title run.
MAKE OR BREAK: Akronís senior laden defense has all the potential to be the best in the MAC. If they want to get over the 7 win plateau, the defense needs to give the young offense a little wiggle room early in the year. Five or six wins is most likely.
OFFENSE: Nate Davis returns to lead a talented passing attack. Davis was 2nd in the MAC in passing efficiency last year. Darius Hill and Dante Love, meanwhile, are 2 very skilled wide receivers, who combined for over 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. The running game is by committee, and Ball Stateís offense is held back by their weak running attack.
DEFENSE: Ball Stateís defense improved last year, allowing 12 less points per game than in 2005. The pass defense should improve even more though they do lose talented safety Erik Keys. Six players who started in the defensive backfield return, while senior linebacker Wendell Brown is the returning leading tackler. The talent is good, but not game changing.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Miller returns as the leading punter in the MAC with an average of 46.3 yards per punt in 2006. Kicker Ian McGarvey is a freshman who has to fill the shoes of Brian Jackson, the best kicker in the MAC last year.
COACHING: Brady Hoke is in his 5th year since coming from Michigan as a defensive-line coach. Ball State has yet to beat a BCS team since Hoke has been coach, but this year a win over Indiana or Illinois is possible, especially after they almost beat Michigan at Michigan last year.
SCHEDULE: Ball State has a tough out of conference schedule that includes Navy, Nebraska, Illinois, and Indiana. This will not help their attempt to become bowl eligible. They do get Miami, Central Michigan, and Toledo at home, their toughest MAC games.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If the running game picks up the slack and helps balance the Cardinals' offense, a run at bowl eligibility is not out of the question.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Ball State has a very tough out of conference schedule, and a late season stretch against Western Mich, Illinois, Indiana, Toledo, and Northern Illinois will be a difficult task for the Cardinals. Three to four wins is possible, and that is bad news for Hoke and his job security.
MAKE OR BREAK: The running game needs to get focused on one player. Freshman Frank Edmonds could be that one player. If he can separate himself from the other running backs and be the feature back, Ball State will be successful in conference play.
OFFENSE: Last year, Bowling Green averaged under 30 points for the first time since 2000. QB Anthony Turner should get nearly all the snaps for BGSU this fall. The dual threat had 16 total touchdowns last year. Eric Ransom and returning starter Chris Bullock should share time as running back. Corey Partidge, Freddie Barnes, and Tyrone Pronty are three talented receivers, and each could be returning kicks or punts this year as well.
DEFENSE: BGSUís strength on defense lies in its secondary. Jerett Sanderson and Kenny Lewis lead a solid group that allowed only 174 yards on average last year. The defense struggled stopping the run. Diyral Briggs is the star of the front 4. Briggs led the team in sacks with 7 and had 69 total tackles. Erique Dozier is the returning leading tackler, and he also lead the team in pass break-ups. The defense will be much improved, however it will still struggle stopping the run at times.
SPECIAL TEAMS: BGSU replaces their kicker and punter with two juniors. This is a good thing. BGSU had the worst special teams in the MAC last year, and they will only get better with new personnel.
COACHING: Gregg Brandon has done a fantastic job as head coach at BGSU. They are 3-5 vs. BCS teams, and 2-4 vs. Top 25 opponents. Last year was his first losing season as head coach at BGSU.
SCHEDULE: The Falcons open up with Minnesota and Michigan State. They also play Boston College 2 games later and must travel to Kent State and Miami. The schedule is the reason why BGSU wonít win the East.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... BGSU wins all games besides the 5 mentioned in the paragraph above. The offense could average more than 30 points per game. Eric Ransom makes this offense one of the best in the MAC, and another winning season for Brandon and the Falcons is likely.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL....BGSU loses winnable games against Ohio and Akron, and their tough OOC schedule allows no mistakes against the powers of the MAC. Another 4-5 win season could happen with their schedule.
MAKE OR BREAK: October 13th at Miami and October 20th at Kent State is a very important 2-game stretch in the MAC East. If BGSU can just pull out 1 victory, a MAC title is not out of the question.
OFFENSE: Drew Willy made 8 starts last year before getting injured and forced out of the lineup for the rest of the year. Last season, he was the only starting quarterback to not throw an INT after 4 games. James Starks returns as a good receiving running back who should push near 1000 yards rushing this year. Buffaloís offensive line and receivers leave a lot to be desired, but the offense will be improved from last yearís team that averaged 18.3 points per game, though not by much.
DEFENSE: Last yearís defense gave up an average 36 points per game and returns 9 starters. Trevor Scott was 4th in the MAC in sacks last year with 9, while Mike Newton was solid last year with 5 interceptions and 60 tackles at safety. However, Buffalo really struggles in stopping the run. I see some improvement on defense, but not enough to make a jump up the standings.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Returning starter Ben Woods struggled last year as punter with an average under 40 and 3 blocked punts. Kicker Gerry McGroarty has lots of potential, as he made a 64 yard field goal in high school. If he can avoid injuries, he should have a solid year.
COACHING: Turner Gill is in his 2nd year at Buffalo. Gill will one day build this program up to 6-7 win status, but it will take him 2 or 3 more years. UB fans have to be patient.
SCHEDULE: Rutgers, Penn State, Baylor, and Syracuse make Buffaloís out of conference schedule the most difficult in the MAC. UBís only winnable game is at Temple, unless they show unimaginable improvement.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL....UB could get 2 or 3 conference wins if Drew Willy picks up where he left off last year, especially early in the year. The defense could improve with 9 returning starters. That would keep UB in half of their conference games.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... UB could be held winless if they donít beat Temple. Their out of conference schedule is so tough that they have no chance of winning any of those 4 games. The receivers are the weakest in the conference, leaving Willy little to work with.
MAKE OR BREAK: September 8th at Temple. This biggest game of the year for the 2 worst teams in the conference. The winner avoids a winless season. All in all, I donít see Buffalo having any success this year.
OFFENSE: Sophomore QB Dan LeFevour was a 2 star recruit who was thrown into the starting job as a true freshman in 2006. He threw for 26 touchdowns and 3031 yards, while rushing for 7 touchdowns. This year, the Chippewas should be able to rely on their running backs, mainly Ontario Sneed. Sneed rushed for 764 yards last fall, but I expect a higher total in 2007. Central Michigan has a balanced group of receivers that should give LeFevour several targets.
DEFENSE: The defense returns 7 starters, including Red Keith, who led the team with 127 tackles. The linebackers are very talented, but the defensive backs need to improve. Three sophomores should start along with senior Curtis Cutts, who did not have an interception last year. Central Michigan has such a strong offense with LeFevour that their lack of defensive playmakers should not hurt them as much as it would other teams in the MAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tony Mikulec returns as CMUís solid punter. He averaged 42 yards per punt and pinned 20 punts inside the 20. Brett Hartmann takes over the kicking duties. The sophomore may struggle with his accuracy, but the youngster has a huge leg.
COACHING: Butch Jones takes over as head coach after former coach Butch Kelly left for Cincinnati. Jones was offensive coordinator at Central Michigan. He also had a stint in West Virginia working with receivers. Jones will make a good coach, but not right away.
SCHEDULE: The Chippewas have Kansas, Purdue, and Clemson on their out of conference schedule. They also travel to Kent State and Western Michigan. A week 2 game at home versus Toledo will set the season for Central Michigan.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If LeFevour has another outstanding year and Ontario Sneed rushes over 1000 yards, Central Michigan will be contending for a MAC title all the way to the finish.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The defense may struggle because of key losses and lack of big time play makers. LeFevour will need more help from his surrounding offensive players this year, more than he did last year.
MAKE OR BREAK: The defense needs to come together quickly. Young players need to step up and make big plays in big time movements to help out the offense.
OFFENSE: In 2006, Eastern Michigan averaged under 14 points per game. Their leading rusher was QB Andy Schmitt, who threw for 2 touchdowns and 6 interceptions last year. Eastern Michigan loses its top 2 receivers, who combined for over 110 receptions last year. The top returning receiver is Dontayo Gage, who caught 28 balls last year. The running backs are a mess. Pierre Walker and back up QB Tyler Jones should get most of the carries at running back, but both had injuries last year.
DEFENSE: The defense gave up 26.8 points per game for the 2nd straight season. Nine starters return, including Daniel Holtzclaw, Eastern Michiganís leading tackler. They also return stud defensive tackle Jason Jones, who had 14.5 tackles for loss last year. The defense is the most experienced group in the MAC. Eastern Michigan should give up no more than 20 points per game on average.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sophomore Zach Johnson will kick and punt at times this year. He had 20 punts inside the 20 last year. Sean Dutcher is a redshirt freshman who has to fill the shoes of three-time MAC All-Conference player Andrew Wellock. Johnson and Dutcher may share kicking duties until one pulls ahead.
COACHING: Jeff Genyk is in his 4th year at Eastern Michigan. He had 8 wins in his first 2 seasons, but 2006 yielded only one win. Genyk promised a MAC championship win at his inaugural press conference, but he still has lots of work to do to make sure that promise comes true.
SCHEDULE: The Eagles travel to Pittsburgh, Vandy, and Michigan in their toughest out of conference bouts. They play Northwestern in a neutral site game in the middle of October. Genyk was running backs coach under Randy Walker when he was at Northwestern, so I am sure that game will stir up lots of emotions. Besides an early game vs. Howard, Eastern Michigan has no easy contests.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Eastern Michigan could win 4 or 5 games if their running backs stay healthy. Andy Schmitt is talented, but he cannot carry the running game by himself. If the backs can stay healthy, Eastern Michigan could have their best season since Genyk has taken over.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Eastern Michiganís lack of passing game may lead to their downfall. Losing their top 2 receivers is tough, especially for a team trying to find their offensive identity.
MAKE OR BREAK: Pierre Walker and Tyler Jones must stay healthy and must be productive. A strong running attack will give the young receivers confidence to succeed.
OFFENSE: Julian Edelman is a dual threat quarterback who ran for more yards than he threw for in junior college in 2005. He struggled at times last year, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Eugene Jarvis is the star running back who had 800 yards rushing last year. Greg Keys and Jon Drager will fight it out for backup position. Kent State loses 3 of its top 4 receivers, making tight end Tom Sitko Kent Stateís best available pass catcher.
DEFENSE: The defense returns 8 starters, just like the offense. Defensive back Jack Williams had 4 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, and 3 sacks last year. Kevin Hogan is the leader of a very talented front seven, six of whom are juniors or seniors. The experienced defense should be one of the best in the MAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: In 2006, Kent Stateís poor special teams lost them several games. They went through 2 kickers, who combined to make 2 field goals all year. They had 2 punters who both averaged under 37 yards per punt. All 4 of those special teamers are back, so improvement will be minimal.
COACHING: Doug Martin had his first .500 season at Kent State last year. Now in his 4th year, Martin has his best team yet and should finish over .500.
SCHEDULE: Iowa State, Kentucky, Deleware State, and Ohio State make up a likable out of conference schedule for Kent State. KSU also gets Miami and Bowling Green at home. However, they have to play Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, unlike the RedHawks.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL....Kent State has the players to win a MAC title. However, the schedule works out more in Miamiís favor. Kent State will have a strong running attack in 2007, and that should lead them to 7-8 wins. If Miami stumbles this year, Kent State has the next best chance to win the MAC East.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Kent Stateís offense may be too focused on the running game, just like in 2006. Kent Stateís worst case scenario is another .500 season, especially if they struggle to capitalize on the winnable out of conference games.
MAKE OR BREAK: Julian Edelman needs to be more productive through the air. He can obviously get it done running, but can he balance out the offense with a solid passing game?
OFFENSE: Mike Kokal was okay, but not great last year at quarterback. I look for him to improve upon his 14-8 TD to INT ratio. They lose star receiver Ryne Robinson who had over 1000 yards in 2006, but Miami has a bundle of talented receivers. One out of the many receivers should step up and take the star position that Robinson has left, such as freshman Armand Robinson, a speed demon that was recruited as a defensive back. Brandon Murphy had a great sophomore year at running back, but an ankle injury ruined his junior year. I look for him to have a great year and lead the RedHawks to a nearly flawless MAC season.
DEFENSE: Linebacker Joey Hudson leads a defense that only returns 6 starters. Hudson led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and interceptions. The defense had only returned 2 starters last year and was just fine, so I look for improvement this year. Speedy Jerrid Gaines should have a great season at corner. I look for this defense to be one of the most improved in the MAC this year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Trevor Cook returns as Miamiís reliable kicker. The sophomore made 10 of 13 field goals last year, with a long of 49. Jacob Richardson is a solid punter who will only improve on his 41.1 yard per punt average.
COACHING: Shane Montgomery had a good first year leading Miami to 7 wins. However, last year's 2 win season was just unacceptable. If Miami does not have a 7 to 8 win season this year, he will be on the hot seat come 2008.
SCHEDULE: Minnesota, Cincinnati, Colorado, Syracuse, and Vanderbilt are on Miamiís plate in out of conference play. I think Miami wins 2 or 3 of those games, and keeps all of them close. Miami gets Bowling Green at home, but Kent State and Ohio on the road. The rest of their MAC schedule is relatively easy.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Joey Hudson should lead a talented defense to a dominating season. Also, if Brandon Murphy recovers from his injury and has a year rushing like he did in 2005, Miami should be in a great position to win the MAC East.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Brandon Murphy could get injured again, and Mike Kokal could show little improvement. If this happens, a lot of pressure will be put on the defense. Miami should do no worse than 6 wins in 2007.
MAKE OR BREAK: Brandon Murphy will either be a flop or a star in 2007. His success rushing is vital to the success of the RedHawks.
OFFENSE: Dan Nicholson will finally be the lone starter in 2007. The past 2 years, Nicholson has been splitting time with Phil Horvath. The loss of MAC player of the year Garrett Wolfe is crippling. Montell Clanton, Cas Prime, and Justin Anderson should all get carries early in the year. NIU returns their top 3 receivers and their starting TE, so the offense will rely heavily on the passing game this year.
DEFENSE: The defense returns only 6 starters, but 2 very important juniors. Defensive end Larry English is the best defensive player in the MAC. The future first day NFL pick had 51 tackles and 12 sacks last year. Linebacker Tim McCarthy, meanwhile, had 111 tackles and 5 pass breakups. NIU only had 7 interceptions last year, a number that needs to improve.
SPECIAL TEAMS: NIU returns their starting punter and kicker. The kicker, Chris Nendick, is a Lou Groza award candidate. In 2006, he was 20 of 27, while punter Andy Dittbenner needs to improve on his average of 38 yards per try.
COACHING: Joe Novak is currently the longest tenured head coach in the MAC. NIU has had a winning season every year since 2000, and in his last 7 years, he is 52-29.
SCHEDULE: Iowa, Wisconsin, and Navy make up a tough out of conference schedule for NIU. They get Western Michigan and Kent State at home, but Toledo and Central Michigan on the road.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If the running game does not skip a beat, NIU can win 7 or 8 games this year. Dan Nicholson should have a great season now that he does not have to worry about losing his job. He also has a great group of receivers surrounding him.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... NIU could struggle in their first year without Garrett Wolfe. Larry English needs help getting pressure on the QB, but he will probably have more sacks by himself than the rest of the team combined. NIU could get stuck around 5 wins if they are not balanced enough on offense.
MAKE OR BREAK: Life without Garrett Wolfe is scary, but not the end of the world. NIU has a talented group of running backs, and who knows, the next Garrett Wolfe may emerge this year. If not, NIU needs to at least be able to pick up 100 rushing yards per game as a team.
OFFENSE: Former Illinois transfer Brad Bower will take over at quarterback after a atrocious year in the passing game for Ohio. Last year, they had only one game over 200 yards passing, and five under 100 yards. Kalvin McRae is a nationally underrated running back who has a solid offensive line in front of him, including future NFL starter Matt Miller. Ohio loses 3 out of its 4 top receivers from last year, but new blood is not a bad thing for Ohioís struggling passing game.
DEFENSE: Ohio had a very stout defense last year, only allowing 18.1 points per game. The defense returns 6 starters, including sack artist Jameson Hartke. Corner Mark Parson led the conference last year with 16 pass breakups. They lose their top 4 tacklers but still return a good enough group to be a top 5 defense in the MAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter/kicker Matt Lasher graduated and leaves a large void in special teams. Transfer Michael Braunstein made 10 of 12 field goals with Washington last year. Lasher, meanwhile, pinned 30 punts inside the 20 last year, so freshman punter Matt Schulte will have 4 years to carry on the legacy of Ohioís best special teams player ever.
COACHING: Frank Solich was 58-19 at Nebraska, but somehow, Nebraska thought he was not doing good enough so they fired him and hired Bill Callahan, who is 22-15 in 3 years. Ohio should be thanking its lucky stars Solich is at Ohio. In 2006, he led the team to its first 9-win season since 1969.
SCHEDULE: Virginia Tech is Ohioís lone tough out of conference matchup, though they do have to travel to Toledo in a tough mid-season conference game. They get Kent State and Miami at home (to end the season). If they can win these 2 games, they will be front runners to win the East.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... If the passing game can help out the league's top running back, then I see a 2nd consecutive bowl bid for Ohio. The defense should not skip a beat, because they kept very key players such as Mark Parson and Jameson Hartke.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Ohioís passing game lies in the hands of Brad Bower. Last year he threw 7 interceptions in 72 passing attempts. If this trend continues, Ohio is in huge trouble and could take a step back after its 9 win season. The schedule is so favorable, though, anything under .500 seems unreasonable.
MAKE OR BREAK: Brad Bower needs to have a good year passing, while relying on Kevin McRae to carry most of the load. Ohio can be very dangerous if the offense comes together like Solich envisions. Ohio has the schedule to win the East. They will compete, but fall just short.Temple
OFFENSE: Adam DiMichele and Vaughn Charlton split time at the QB position last year, and I expect the same this year. Marcellous Grigsby and Jason Harper will also be sharing time at running back. The duo of Bruce Francis and Travis Shelton at receiver is the only bright spot on this offense that was last in yards per game last year. The offense averaged 10 points per game and season ago, and 9 points per game in 2005. They may hit 11 points this year, but the improvement will be minimal.
DEFENSE: The defense gave up 41.3 points per game last year, which was last in the MAC. The unit is full of youngsters that will need time to gel after only forcing 17 turnovers last year. Templeís leading tackler in 2006 only had 68 tackles, and he graduated. The defense will be better, but only by a few points. It will still be one of the worst in the MAC.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Freshman punter Johnathan Boyer should replace Jake Brownwell after he managed a measly 38 yards per punt. However, Brownwell should take over the kicking duties from graduated Danny Murphy.
COACHING: Al Golden came in after Temple recorded an 0-11 year in 2005. He had nowhere to go but up, and that is what he did. He got 1 win, against Bowling Green. Golden is one of the few coaches in college under 40, and he will only help this program along on the road to becoming more adapt to D-I football. He needs time, and Temple should give him plenty of it.
SCHEDULE: Navy, Connecticut, Army, and Penn State give Temple little hope for an out of conference win. They do get Buffalo at home, though, a very winnable game.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Temple could win 3 or 4 games this year, including Army, Buffalo, and a couple MAC upsets. Temple has strong special teams, so if they can keep games close, they should be able to win the field position game and make clutch kicks.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Temple could go winless if the defense struggles like last year. Army and Buffalo are winnable games, but not locks. The dual system at QB could backfire. Temple might be better off picking a starting QB before the season starts.
MAKE OR BREAK: The running back duo needs to be successful so they can take time off the clock, slow down the game, and try to keep games close with special teams. Watch out for Grisby to pull away from the rest of the running backs and make himself the premier back.
OFFENSE: Toledo is known for their stellar quarterback play, but this year the offense should be centered around running back Jalen Parleme. Parleme ran for over 1100 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. Quarterback Aaron Opelt, meanwhile, should takeover for injury plagued junior Clint Cochran. Toledo returns 4 out of its top 5 pass catchers, including tight end Chris Hopkins who snagged 7 touchdowns last year. Toledoís offense should be the best in the MAC this fall.
DEFENSE: The Rocketís return 8 starters from a defense that struggled keeping opponents under 30 points. The defense got better by the end of the year, as safeties Barry Church and Tyrrell Herbert combined for 145 tackles and 7 interceptions. Toledo brings back 9 of its top 10 tacklers, and I expect the defense will be much improved and a vital part of a MAC title run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Alex Steigerwald made 7 of 8 field goals in his freshman year. However, he needs to prove himself with his range, as his long was only 39 yards. Senior Brett Kern returns after averaging 41.7 yards per punt. Toledo has good special teams that could be great.
COACHING: Tom Amstutz is in his 7th year at Toledo. Amstutz is 30-4 at home with the Rockets, who have 7 home games this year.
SCHEDULE: Toledo has an interesting out of conference schedule which involves Purdue, Kansas, Iowa State. Those games are very winnable. Toledo gets Western Michigan, Ohio, and NIU at home, but Central Michigan and BGSU on the road.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Winning 2 out of those 3 tough out of conference games would be a great sign for a strong Toledo squad. If the passing game is less like 2006 and more like 2005, Toledo should win, or tie, for the MAC West title.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... Toledo did struggle last year winning only 5 games. Without a superstar QB, the Rockets may struggle offensively if Opelt adapts slowly. A bad season for Toledo would be 5 losses. Anything less is unacceptable.
MAKE OR BREAK: Jalen Parmele should have a huge year. If he is the MAC offensive player of the year like I predict, Toledo should win the MAC West.
OFFENSE: Mark Bonds is the star of an offense that does just enough. Bonds ran for over 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns last year, and he should have a great year with the MACís most talented offensive line in front of him. Sophomore Tim Hiller should take over at quarterback for the Broncos. The 6í5 Hiller is the next great MAC QB, in my opinion. The Broncos return nearly all their receivers and tight end Branden Ledbetter, who caught a team leading 6 touchdowns last year.
DEFENSE: The Broncos return 9 out of their 11 top tacklers, and one of them, defensive end Zach Davidson, had 8 sacks last year. The Broncos have the best defensive backs in the MAC. All 4 returning starters had 3 or more interceptions last year. The defense should keep opponents under 20 points for the 2nd consecutive season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Mike Jones had 12 touchbacks in 44 kickoffs last year, and he should handle the kicking duties, even though freshman Brett Meldrum looks to have a bright future. Punter Jim Laney, also a senior, will look to improve upon his moderate average of 38 yards per punt.
COACHING: Bill Cubit is in his 3rd year at Western Michigan. In his first 2 years, he was a surprising 15-9. He took over the Broncos after 2004 when they went 1-10. If Western Michigan does not lock Cubit up this year, he may be gone after this season.
SCHEDULE: West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, and Central Connecticut State make up a tough opening 4 games in out of conference play. In MAC play, they have to travel to Toledo and Northern Illinois, but get Central Michigan at home.
IF EVERYTHING GOES WELL.... Western Michigan has its best team in years. Bonds and the youngster Tiller should improve the Broncos offense. A lot of the credit should go to the talented offensive line. Western Michigan has a great chance of making the MAC championship game for the first time since 2000.
IF THINGS DON'T GO SO WELL.... The Broncos should do no worse than .500. They have too much talent and too many returning starters. The special teams is average, so close games will not be friendly to them this year.
MAKE OR BREAK: The youngster Tiller will have a very good career. However, this may be the best Broncos team he will play on, so he needs to take advantage of it. The pressure to lead this team to a MAC championship is big with the possible departure of head coach Cubit at yearís end.
This will be a great year for the MAC. The conference known for quarterbacks has several talented running backs who will lead their teams to winning seasons and out of conference upsets. Toledo and Miami are my picks to meet in Detroit for the MAC Championship. The two former powerhouses that fell off the MAC map last year should get back on track in 2007. However, the competition will be stiff.