The Huskies have won at least six league games each of the past three seasons, finishing in a tie for first in the MAC West each of the past two years with Toledo. The common denominator throughout those past three seasons has been the prowess of senior RB Garrett Wolfe. The talented Heisman candidate went for more than 1600 yards and 16 TDs last fall, and with the return of QB Phil Horvath (2000 yards, 18 TD) under center this season, the NIU offense will be one of the more potent ones in the MAC.
The season opener at Ohio State will be interesting to watch, but then things get much easier until another Big Ten road trip to Iowa in late October. The following week, West rival Toledo comes to town, and that battle will likely determine which squad goes to the league title game. NIU avoids both Akron and Kent out of the East.
Projected Wins: Ohio, BUF, IndSt, at BSU, Temple, CMU, at EMU
The Zips shocked most everyone last fall by tying for the MAC East title and earning a trip to the league championship game, which they won. With 17 total starters back this fall, even more success is expected from J.D. Brookhart's Akron squad in 2006. QB Luke Getsy is a tough competitor who threw for nearly 3500 yards and 23 TDs last fall. He has lost both his 1200-yard back and his top three wideouts, however. Look for Getsy's senior leadership and a defensive unit that returns 9 starters to carry the load early on.
A pair of season opening games at Penn State and NC State won't be easy, and in fact, six of the team's first eight games of the season will be played away from home. Road battles at Kent State, Toledo, and Ohio will likely determine whether this team makes a return trip to the title game this season.
Projected Wins: at CMU, UNT, at CIN, Miami, BGSU, BUF, WMU
Coach Tom Amstutz has established one of the most consistent winners in the conference. In his first five years on campus, he has won 45 games and made four postseason bowl trips. With fifteen starters returning, much of the same is expected in 2006. It won't be easy, however, as the squad loses both RB Trinity Dawson (1300 yards, 5 TD) and QB Bruce Gradkowski (2500 yards, 29 TD). The defense, though, returns seven starters of its own and will look to pace the squad until the offense picks up the pace.
A season opening road game at Iowa State will be worth keeping an eye on, as will both a home showdown with Kansas in mid-September and a road contest at Pittsburgh later in the month. While the national audience will have their eyes on those games, a two-game stretch late in the season vs Akron and at Northern Illinois is likely to determine the Rockets' conference fate in 2006.
Projected Wins: McNeese, CMU, at Kent, at EMU, BSU, BGSU
Coach Frank Solich got a huge win early in his first season at Ohio last year against Pittsburgh but could not build on the momentum as the team went on to win only four games last season. But with 18 starters returning for this fall's campaign, many expect the former Nebraska coach to begin making some noise and moving the Bobcat program up the ladder. Among those returning starters are both QB Austen Everson, who needs to improve his TD:INT ratio, and RB Kalvin McRae, who went for more than 1100 yards and 7 scores last fall.
Three of the squad's first four games are away from home at Northern Illinois, Rutgers, and Missouri; few will look for the Bobcats to prevail in any of those, but if they can pull out just one win, it could set the stage for a winning season in 2006. Other swing games include road trips to Illinois, Kent State, and Miami (Ohio).
Projected Wins: TNMartin, BGSU, WMU, BUF, at EMU
Though last year's snakebit season was highly disappointing, 18 starters return this fall from that team that was just seventeen total points away from five wins in 2005. QB Michael Machen threw for nearly 2100 yards last season but must protect the ball better; the same could be said for the entire offensive unit after scoring a -11 in turnover margin a year ago. Top wideout Najah Pruden (700 yards, 5 TD) and team-leading back Jerry Flowers (300 yards, 3 TD) are also back, as is a defensive unit that brings back 9 starters from 2005.
A home date with Minnesota to open the season is a chance for the Flashes to make a statement early on, and taking advantage would be huge since the squad's next three games are all away from home. A 2-2 (or better) start to the season will be critical if KSU is serious about moving out of the MAC cellar.
Projected Wins: at Army, at Temple, at BUF, EMU, at BSU
The Redhawks have been one of the MAC's best teams over the past few years, averaging nearly 7 conference wins per season since 2003. However, just 7 total starters from last year's squad return in 2006. One of those departing is QB Josh Betts, who threw for nearly 3200 yards and 27 TDs last fall. Top rusher Brandon Murphy (1000 yards, 9 TDs) is back, though, as is star WR and kick returner Ryne Robinson. The defensive unit, which returns just two starters from a season ago, could struggle at times in '06.
The season opener against Northwestern should see some points put on the board, and a follow-up road trip to Purdue the next week will be interesting to watch as well. Two more non-conference road games at Syracuse and Cincinnati are winnable as well, meaning the difference between a decent season and a very good season will likely be decided in how Miami fares in non-MAC contests.
Projected Wins: at BUF, BSU
The Cardinals had one of the better seasons in recent history last fall, going 4-4 in MAC play, and with 18 starters returning to the squad this fall, another quality season could be on tap for 2006. Among the ten offensive starters back is QB Joey Lynch. The senior threw for nearly 2000 yards and 18 TDs a season ago. Two of the team's top three backs return as well, as do leading wideouts Terry Moss and Louis Johnson. Consider that the defense returns 8 starters, and one can see why expectations are a bit higher than usual in Muncie this fall.
Early season non-conference games against Indiana and at Purdue will show if this team is ready to make a run at a plus-.500 record. The Cardinals should concentrate on getting much of their work done early in the season, as three of the team's last four games are away from home at places like Miami (Ohio), Michigan, and Toledo.
Projected Wins: NDSt
The Falcons had hoped to make a championship run last fall behind the guidance of star QB Omar Jacobs, but instead, the squad won just six games overall and came up short in the MAC East race. With only ten total starters returning and the problem of replacing Jacobs under center (as well as top backs B.J. Lane and P.J. Pope), things don't look all that promising for BGSU this fall. In addition to those already mentioned, top wideouts Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders have left campus as well. In all, those five players accounted for 64 touchdowns in 2005.
A season-opening matchup with Wisconsin is a tough test early on, but then things get a bit easier until a trip to Ohio State in early October. The team will play just four games at home this season, and only one after October 14. With the personnel losses as well as the difficult schedule, achieving another winning season would be considered a huge success.
Projected Wins: BUF, at FIU, EMU, at Temple
After winning just four conference games the past two seasons combined, the Chippewas snuck up on the competition last fall and went 5-3 in MAC play and 6-5 overall. Fourteen starters, seven on each side of the ball, are back for the 2006 season as CMU looks to make it two winning seasons in a row. Though top RB Ontario Sneed is back after dashing for more than 1100 yards and 8 scores last fall, the team will be looking to replace QB Kent Smith. However, the new signal-caller will have a steady target to throw to in wideout Damien Linson.
The first two games against Boston College and at Michigan will be tough tasks, as will trips to Kentucky, Toledo, and Northern Illinois later in the season. If CMU can find a way to pick up victories in the winnable games away from home, they could approach the six-win mark again this fall.
Projected Wins: (none)
The Broncos won seven games last fall, and with six offensive starters returning - including QBs Tim Hiller (1300 yards, 20 TD) and Ryan Cubit (700 yards, 6 TD) - 2006 has the chance to be another successful season in Kalamazoo. WMU will have to replace RB Trovon Riley, however. He dashed for over 1000 yards and a half-dozen scores last season. Also departed is top WR Greg Jennings, a 1200-yard receiver who hauled in 14 scores in 2005. While the offense looks to find new playmakers, a defensive unit that returns 8 starters will look to improve and help lead the team early in the year.
The first three games on the schedule (at Indiana, vs Toledo, at Virginia) will all challenge the squad early on. A 2-2 start to the campaign would be considered a huge step in the right direction. The direction this year's Bronco squad heads in will likely be determined during a mid-season stretch that sees the team play three of four games at home.
Projected Wins: Temple, EMU
After going .500 in conference play in 2004, the Eagles dropped back in the pack last fall and finished in last place in the MAC West. They still won three league games last season, though, and fourteen total starters are back for the 2006 campaign. Among those returning is WR Eric Deslauriers, one of the top wideouts in the country whom many have never heard of. The senior hauled in nearly 900 receiving yards and 8 scores last season. He'll be catching many of his passes from a new QB, though, as Tyler Jones looks to step in for the departed Matt Bohnet.
EMU opens the campaign with three straight games on the road. In fact, the team has just a single home game in both the months of September and October before finishing with three home contests in November. All four non-conference games will give the Eagles a tough time, so I expect the squad to finish well below the .500 mark once again in 2006.
Projected Wins: (none)
The Bulls, winners of just four conference games over the course of the last three seasons, continue to find their transition to D-I football to be difficult. A dozen starters return from last year's squad that won just a single game all season long. Every QB who took a snap last fall is back, though, as are the team's top four running backs. When you notice that Buffalo's top three wideouts return as well, things began to look just a bit brighter.
A season opening home game against Temple is winnable and could get the Bulls off to a good start before three consecutive road trips to round out the month of September. There are one or two more winnable games on the schedule as well, but one shouldn't expect Buffalo to win more than three games in 2006.
Projected Wins: (none)
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