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The Zips are coming off a 4-7 season and fifth place finish in the MAC in 2001. With only 3 starters from the offense and five from the defense returning, this season doesn’t look much better. The OOC schedule is a tough one with three trips to teams from major conferences. Only five of Akron’s twelve games are at home, which will make the road that much tougher. I expect the Zips to have a record about the same or a little worse than their results in the 2001 season.
The Cardinals are coming off a decent season in 2001 in which they finished tied for second in the Western Division. Nine offensive starters and five defensive starters, along with both kickers, return for the 2002 campaign. They non-conference slate is not overly difficult, with all of the games winnable with the exception of a trip to Death Valley in Clemson. With seven of their twelve games on the road, the Cardinals will have to be victorious away from home at least a couple of times to have a winning season, but I think BSU will be .500 overall and in MAC play.
The Falcons had a successful 2001 season, going 8-3 and tying for third place in the Western Division of the MAC. Only eleven total starters return from that team, though; seven are on the offense and four on the defense. All four of the non-conference games are winnable. Two Big XII games are on the slate, but both of them (Missouri, at Kansas) are against two of the weakest teams in the conference. Half of the Falcons’ games are in Bowling Green which should help the Falcons have another winning season and challenge for the 2002 MAC title.
The Bulls had yet another tough season in 2001, winning only three games and finishing tied for sixth in the MAC East. Eight offensive starters will be back for 2002, but only four from the defense will return. The OOC schedule is extremely easy compared to the rest of the conference. Only one game, a road contest against Minnesota, is a sure-loss. The other three games, one of which is on the road, are all a possible win for Buffalo. However, I don’t expect the Bulls to win more than a few games on the season and only one or two in the conference, putting them at or near the bottom of the MAC again.
The Chippewas won only three games last season and finished fifth in the West, but they have sixteen starters returning from the ’01 squad, eight from each side of the ball. The non-conference schedule has a couple of easy home contests and two road trips to major conference teams (Indiana and Boston College). In expect CMU to fare well enough in the MAC to be in position to have a .500 season if they split their non-conference games. A winning record is not totally out of the question for Central Michigan.
The Eagles are hoping to break out of the cellar of the MAC in 2002, after suffering through a 2-9 season in 2001. With only four starters from each side of the ball returning (and both kickers), this may not be the year that EMU climbs to the top of the conference. Tough OOC road games at Michigan State and Maryland will be almost impossible to win though EMU should be capable of winning home non-conference matchups with SEMO and Southern Illinois. I think Eastern Michigan will fare about the same in ’02 as in ’01, with just a few wins overall and maybe one or two in the MAC.
The Flashes had a winning season in 2001 while finishing tied for third in the MAC East and will try to continue their winning ways in ’02. Five starters from the offense along with eight from the defense return to tackle the 2002 schedule. The OOC games are fairly easily, the only tough one being a trip to Ohio State. Two of the other three are in Kent. Half of KSU’s games are at home this season, and I expect this to help the Flashes to a .500 season overall and six wins for the second straight season.
Marshall, without a doubt, appears to be the class of the MAC in 2002. After an 11-2 season (and going undefeated in MAC play) and a miraculous Mobile Bowl victory, nine offensive starters and three defensive starters return for 2002. QB Byron Leftwich is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this season. The OOC games are all winnable, and the Herd’s trip to Virginia Tech will be watched by the whole nation, as it will be a chance for the Herd to climb high into the polls. I expect the Herd to be a dominant force in the MAC, slipping up only once in conference action and losing only two games overall. If everything goes right, they would be my pick for a team like Fresno State in ’01 who could sneak up and challenge for a BCS Bowl (though their weak schedule would limit those possibilities).
Six offensive and seven defensive starters return from last season’s Red Hawk team that went 7-5 overall and finished second in the MAC East. I expect this year’ team to be as good as last year’s, though the non-conference games are extremely tough. Trips to North Carolina, LSU, Cincinnati, along with a visit from the Iowa Hawkeyes, make up the toughest OOC slate in the MAC. If the Red Hawks can pull out one or more of these non-conference contests, they’ll be well on their way to a successful season and possibly a bowl game if they play well in the conference games.
I though Northern Illinois had a chance to be successful last season, and they were, winning six games and finishing tied for second in the MAC West. Five offensive starters and eight defensive players are back from that team to go for a winning season again. The OOC slate is fairly difficult with a visit from improving-Wake Forest as well as trips to South Florida and Wisconsin. A game against Western Illinois should be a win as well. A split of these four OOC games could set the Huskies sights on a winning season again, and I think they’ll get it, plus-.500 overall and in the MAC.
Ohio had a bad season in 2001, winning only one game all season and finishing tied for sixth in the MAC East, and the future doesn’t look much brighter. A total of nine starters, six from the offense and three from the defense, are all that return for the Bobcats. The non-conference schedule has two tough games at Pittsburgh and Florida. The other two OOC games are winnable. I think Ohio will struggle again in ’02 and will have basically no shot at a .500 season either overall or in conference play.
After an extremely successful 2001 campaign in which the Rockets went 10-2 and won the MAC West, only eight starters will be returning for the 2002 season (four on each side of the ball). The departure of TB Chester Taylor will hurt the offensive production, and the OOC schedule is in the middle of the pack in the conference. Road trips to Minnesota and Pitt will be tough, as will a home contest with the UNLV Rebels. A winning season is definitely not out of the question, but I feel that as the MAC gets tougher, the Rockets will slide to just under .500 overall aand be in the middle of the pack in the standings at season’s end.
UCF is in it’s first year in the MAC and should step in and be one of the best teams in the conference. Now that they are part of a conference that has bowl tie-ins, they have a chance for postseason play. Eight offensive but only two defensive starters return from the Knights team that went 6-5 in 2001. The OOC schedule is extremely tough, with road games at Penn State and Arizona State as well as a home contest with the Syracuse Orangemen. The Knights should be able to handle the MAC schedule, so the non-conference games will determine if UCF has an average season with about a .500 record or a really good season and nearly double-digit wins. Marshall is probably not catchable, but the Knights should be a close second.
After several consecutive successful season, the Broncos have fallen back to the middle of the pack in the MAC. Four starters from the offense and six defensive starters return from the WMU team that went 5-6 overall in ’01 and finished fourth in the MAC West. The non-conference games are very tough; the Broncos have games at Michigan and Purdue as well as a visit from Big East member-Virginia Tech. With the difficulty of the OOC schedule, I don’t see the Broncos exceeding the .500 mark overall in 2002.
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