The West Is Still Best
Entering its 71st year of gridiron competition, the MAC welcomes 12 teams as it settles into a balanced format for the second consecutive season.
According to 5Dimes.eu, these are the odds to win the 2017 conference championship:
East Miami Ohio +500, Ohio U +500, Akron +1300, Bowling Green +3000, Kent State +8000, Buffalo +10000
West Toledo +250, Western Michigan +250, Northern Illinois +1000, Central Michigan +1200, Eastern Michigan +1400, Ball State +5000
By doing the math it appears the power in the MAC resides in the West, which is noting new as the West has won the title 7 of the last 11 years.
Ballin' Outside the Conference
As lightweight a reputation as the MAC has they have surprisingly managed to hold their own when installed as favorites outside the conference, especially as invaders.
That's confirmed by the MAC's sterling 24-7 SU and 19-11-1 ATS mark as non-conference road chalk since 2004 including 11-1 SUATS from Game Four out.
And speaking of non-conference opposition, the MAC has been little more than feedstuff for opponents in bowl games dating back to 2007, as they are just 14-38 SU and 18-32-2 ATS in post season play in that span.
Worse, when facing a bowl opponent off a season ending loss, the MAC lacks any kind of attack going a paltry 3-21 SU and 5-18-1 ATS in these games. It should be noted, though, they have picked up the slack of late, managing to go 3-4 SU and 4-2-1 ATS in these same games the past three seasons.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2017 PLAYBOOK Football Preview Guide magazine the 25th Anniversary Issue, on sale at newsstands nationwide. The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2017 MAC EAST PREVIEW
AKRON Off *8/4 Def 7/2 57 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Head coach Terry Bowden is the dean of MAC coaches with the most career wins (164). Nationally, Bowden ranks sixth among active coaches in career wins. Meanwhile, the Zips welcome two-year SR starting QB Thomas Woodson behind center, along with former Pitt quarterback transfer turned WR Tre'Von Chapman. In addition, the NCAA granted RB Warren Ball a 6th year of eligibility. Good news also returns on both the offensive (4 starters) and defensive lines (2) in 2017. After losing 188 starts to graduated seniors in 2015 (tied for the most in the nation), Akron was forced to suck it up last year. The benefits should begin to surface in 2017.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Zips head coach Bowden is 2-16 SU and 3-14-1 ATS as a home dog against .500 or greater opponents.
PLAY ON: at Bowling Green (9/30)
BOWLING GREEN Off 6/2 Def 6/2 43 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: LO JINKS ERA OFF TO ROUGH START
The Mike Jinks era at Bowling Green got off to a really rough start last season. After winning 36 games the previous four years, the Falcons fell like birds without wings en route to a 4-win campaign, thanks mainly to an offense that ranked dead last in passing efficiency defense last season. Things were so bad that only lowly Kansas had more lost turnovers (36) in 2016. Yes, BGSU's offense slipped 140 yards and the defense dipped 40 yards under Jinks, but the Falcons were one of just 20 FBS teams to conclude the season on a winning streak of at least three games, rushing for 984 yards in those contests.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons went 36-3 SU in games where they won the stats, and 4-22 SU when they lost the stats over the last five years.
PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (10/7)
BUFFALO Off *6/4 Def 8/2 46 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SPEEDY D
The baby Bulls football team struggled through some growing pains in 2016 as Buffalo had 42 new players on the roster. Now with a more experienced group, 3rd-year head coach Lance Leipold is hoping the program can turn the corner. Last season UB's defense was last in the MAC and 124th out of 126 in the nation against the run. Big plays were the problem: Buffalo gave up 10 runs of 40-or-more yards (only seven teams allowed more). UB returns a lot of experience on defense, but the influx of speed on display during the spring game is the most encouraging sign. "We're trying to find more athleticism, more speed," insists DC Brian Borland.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since joining the MAC in 1999, the Bulls are 6-54 SU and 21-38-1 ATS versus winning opponents.
PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (10/21)
KENT STATE Off *9/3 Def 6/2 52 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: EERIE FLASHES
Talk about a bizarre season. Per Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, you know it was a bad year when you cycle through five quarterbacks, one of whom ended up with 868 passing yards, 1,038 rushing yards, and 135 receiving yards (you read that right). And how about a true freshman walk-on running back that led the team in receptions! If all that wasn't weird enough, the Flashes were ranked No. 128 last in the nation in first down offense last season that on the heels of finishing No. 127 in 2015! Is it any wonder that through it all the offense actually improved 8 points and 36 YPG last season? Go figure.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Flashes are 3-30 SU and 8-24 ATS in games in which they score less than 24 points under Paul Haynes.
PLAY AGAINST: at Akron (11/21)
MIAMI OHIO Off *9/4 Def 8/2 54 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: CHARMIN-SOFT SCHEDULE
After opening the season with six straight losses in 2016, Miami made NCAA history by winning its final six games. In the process they landed a bid in the St. Petersburg Bowl where they went toe-to-toe with an SEC team. And while a letdown would normally be in order the following season, we can't knee-jerk to that assumption with this suddenly experienced squad. For openers, a super-soft schedule in 2017, with only two winning teams from 2016, dots their itinerary. In addition, the Hawks welcome back 17 starters, including all three linebackers and three members of the secondary from a unit that finished first in total defense in the MAC. Whew.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After losing 15 consecutive games to winning opponents the previous five years, Miami went 2-2 last season.
PLAY ON: at Ohio U (10/31)
OHIO U Off *8/3 Def 6/2 39 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: STEADY AS A ROCK
In Frank Solich's 72 years on this earth, including 12 with Ohio, the Bobcats have managed to win four MAC division titles, including one last season. Solich is certainly battle tested. The former head coach and running back at Nebraska has lifted OU from the depths of despair to a competitive program, one that seems to play an abundance of close games (nine decided by a TD or less last season). The difference between Solich and the revolving door of coaches in this league is he knows how to win them with (9 wins in the last three seasons coming in close call games). And it's a primary reason the Bobcats have been bowling 8 of the last nine years. Furthermore, the Bobcats kicking game figures to be rock solid for the next few years with PK Louie Zervos and P Michael Farkas. Each earned Campus Insiders Freshman All-American honors last season.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: OU will face only two teams this year that owned a winning record last season.
PLAY ON: vs. Central Michigan (10/7)
2017 MAC WEST PREVIEW
BALL STATE Off *6/3 Def 4/2 34 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: A NEU ERA UNFOLDS IN MUNCIE
Head coach Mike Neu one of the Cardinals' very own, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback with BSU in 1993 and former QB coach with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints returns for his second season on the sidelines in Muncie. His Cardinals were ranked No. 3 in the nation in 4th down percentage defense last season, which helped contribute to a 47 YPG improvement on defense to go along with a 78 YPG upgrade on offense. Unlike 2015 when Ball State was outyarded -172 YPG in conference play (worst in the MAC), the Redbirds cut that deficit to -69 YPG last year. Safe to say a new era is underway at Ball State. FYI: the Cardinals averaged the fewest fans in attendance among all FBS teams last season, drawing just 7,789 per game. Big brother Michigan led the nation with 110,648. The average FBS attendance was 46,731.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The stats winner is 44-5 SU in Ball State games the last four seasons, including 12-0 last year.
PLAY ON: at Eastern Michigan (11/2)
CENTRAL MICHIGAN Off 9/3 Def 6/2 47 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BIG, BIG JOHN
Talk about a consistent sort: CMU's record over the last five years is 7-6, 6-6, 7-6, 7-6 and 6-7. Thus, in two seasons with the Chippewas, head coach John Bonamego has not only taken his team to two bowl games, but also battled tonsil cancer in the process. And it looks as if his run is not about to end anytime soon. "I plan to win, win now and be here for a very, very, very, very, very long time," the coach said. The 2017 Chips return a 3,800-yard passer and his top five wideouts, plus most of the defensive two-deep. With that, we'll safely pencil them in for another 6-or 7-win season because we're big Bonamego fans.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chippewas are 12-5 SU and 13-4 ATS away from Game Six out the last five years.
PLAY ON: at Kent State (11/14)
EASTERN MICHIGAN Off *8/2 Def 8/2 53 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: E-TOUGH IS GOOD-ENOUGH
As predicted on this page last year, Eastern Michigan benefitted mightily from a sudden wealth of experience and a young coach in Chris Creighton, who is on his way to bigger things in the near future. Back this season are 16 starters from last year's bowl squad led by QB Brogan Roback, who threw for 2,694 yards in 10 games. Creighton's "E Tough" philosophy was never more apparent than last season when the Eagles won games against Wyoming and Ohio U. Like Creighton says, his team will compete against "anyone, anytime and anywhere even on a parking lot covered with broken glass." Now that's one tough team!
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Eastern Michigan enjoyed its first winning season last year since 1995.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS Off 5/3 Def 9/2 55 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: BEWARE OF THE SLEEPING DOG
Following a disappointing 5-win season in 2016, Northern Illinois becomes a certified 'Mission Team' this season. Looking deeper into their fait di accompli, the Huskies opened the campaign with 6 losses in their first seven games including a pair of gut-wrenching triple OT defeats before going on to win three of their final four contests. In the end, a skein of 6 straight MAC West titles vanished into thin air, but we're not about to nail the coffin just yet. After all, how does one expect a team beset with quarterback injuries (five in the past 18 games) to compete? They may be just 5-10 SU in their last fifteen games overall, but no one is sleeping on these Huskies.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies are 27-7 SU and 25-8-1 ATS in their last thirty-four road games.
PLAY ON: at Toledo (11/2)
TOLEDO Off *6/3 Def 7/2 44 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: READY TO RE-IGNITE
There is a lot to like about the Rockets this season. Head coach Jason Candle won 9 games in his debut last year and can't wait to see what the future holds for this team. "We have a great group of senior leaders, and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball," said Candle. It starts with SR QB Logan Woodside who led the nation with 45 TD passes last season. He's the reason UT was the 2nd best squad in the land in team passing efficiency in 2016. In addition, RB Terry Swanson, who gained 923 yards last season, returns. With the OL returning five players that either started or saw significant action in 2016, look for a lift-off from Toledo this year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Four of Toledo's 7 losing records over the last 36 years came in 2006-09 immediately following a point-shaving scandal.
PLAY ON: at Ohio U (11/8)
WESTERN MICHIGAN Off 5/3 Def 8/2 25 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: NEW FOOTPRINT
After winning its first championship in 27 years, and playing in its first title game in 16 seasons, new WMU head coach Tim Lester has big shoes to fill. But the WMU alum has big feet. Lester, who takes over for departed P.J. Fleck, resides in the Western Michigan Hall of Fame after passing for more than 11,000 yards for the Broncos in the late '90's. After losing stud QB Zach Terrell to the NFL, Lester inherits Tom Flacco (brother of NFL Joe) as his quarterback. The biggest loss, though, is that of superstar WR Corey Davis, a 1st round pick in this year's NFL Draft. It's a good thing Lester has his footprint on this transitioning program.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos led the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (8).
PLAY AGAINST: at Toledo (11/24)
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc's 2017 Mountain West Football Preview!
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