2016-07-29 09:44

The next Conference is of cause the

Mid American Conference

The conference is surprising stable and lost only affiliate member UMass from last season, cutting it down to 12 again.
Last season were Toledo worth a deeper look on national level until the November did kick in and they lost some crucial games and dropped out of the rankings. This season the conference might also get some attention, but this time probably it’s Western Michigan.

The now 12 teams are:

East Division
University of Akron Zips
Bowling Green State University Falcons
University at Buffalo Bulls
Kent State University Golden Flashes
Miami University (OH) RedHawks
Ohio University Bobcats

West Division
Ball State University Cardinals
Central Michigan University Chippewas
Eastern Michigan University Eagles
Northern Illinois University (NIU) Huskies
University of Toledo Rockets
Western Michigan University Broncos

There is not much room for changes in the MAC, with big shifts in the power rankings are usually not accomplished in a season or two.
Most of the time coaching changes do freshen up the gameplay each season, as will it happen this season with Toledo for example.
Overall I don't expect a big rise or fall of teams, so Eastern Michigan will NOT win the division or conference (that would be a coach of the year worth accomplishment, with a loooooong distance to 2nd place) and it's also not expected to see NIU losing big time.

My way too early TIP is:
East Division
Ohio Bobcats
Akron Zips
Bowling Green Falcons
Buffalo Bulls
Kent State Golden Flashes
Miami RedHawks

West Division
Western Michigan Broncos
Northern Illinois Huskies
Toledo Rockets
Central Michigan Chippewas
Ball State Cardinals
Eastern Michigan Eagles

And if you ask me who will win the conference I would say the Broncos will beat Ohio.

Now let's try to give you the why or at least a read worthy try to explain the why.

East Division

The Miami RedHawks have a quite fresh coach with Chuck Martin, who won 2 games in 2014, 3 games in 2015.
For 2016 I don't think they will get a big boost on that.
Eastern Illinois (FCS) will be likely a win, but beside that they play some better teams, even from not so good conferences.
So 1 win here.
Lucky them, they will play Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Ball State from the West, making this one of the softest inter division schedule, if not THE softest one.
On the other hand they will play from their own division only Ohio and Kent State at home, which could lead to some crucial close game losses.
Summed up, I don't see much room for an improved win record, even with the easy schedule against Western teams, but they might get enough to top the 3 wins from last season by 1 or 2.
The MAC has a trend to produce some unusual upsets, so Miami might get some wins out of this or will lose more than expected.
I don't trust the coaching staff to push the team near mid field, where Kent State has better players and Buffalo will have a bit better schedule.
Hence the 6th place pick.

The Kent State Golden Flashes will eventually have a new coach after this season.
Paul Haynes has 4-8, 2-9 and 3-9 as results from the last 3 seasons.
He will have to deliver a great season, otherwise I think they AD will look for a new coach.
I expected a coaching change already at last seasons end, but it did not happen, so maybe he has some other qualities I'm not aware of.
Regardless, his 4th season will be crucial, I'm sure.
It helps they play 2 FCS teams this season, which should give the 2 wins out of conference.
After Alabama (SEC) they will face Akron at home, which might makes this very likely the most crucial game.
A loss here will set the tone for the remaining season and with that road crash against the Crimson Tide in their bones, chances are high they WILL lose.
End of October will start the West tour with Central Michigan, Western Michigan and as season final NIU. Take a breath.
Bowling Green on the road a week before.
Not the best possible schedule.
With this in mind I can't see them winning too many games.
They might do, but I doubt it.
IF they win 6+ games, they will likely play for a TOP spot in the division.
With that in mind, why are the Golden Flashes not at 6th means last place?
The quality of players is from my point of view a bit better, which gives them a chance to win the winnable games.
Most important will be the Miami (OH) game, on the road. They can win this, I'm sure.

On the other hand do the Buffalo Bulls have a 2nd year coach in Lance Leipold and so far he did his job good.
The Bulls did finish 5-7, but 5 wins were the level the last coach got axed, so Leipold better add some wins this season.
The non-conference games are against two good schools for losses and Albany (FCS) and Army (Indy), which they can win.
The West games are against Ball State, NIU and Western Michigan, which make this quite tough.
East games are OK, the question is, whether they can benefit from the home game against Akron and will be able to challenge Ohio and Bowling Green on the road.
I think they will play close games, but I doubt bigger upsets.
Still they should be able to keep Kent State and Miami on distance for a 4th place spot.

The reason for Buffalo not finishing 3rd are the Bowling Green Falcons.
It escalated quickly for Dino Barber.
In 2013 he was a successful FCS coach, 2014 he won the division with Bowling Green, 2015 he won the conference and went to Syracuse for 2016.
That wage increase over 3 seasons must look impressive.
Now Bowling Green has a new coach, former Texas Tech assistant HC and RB coach of 2015 Mike Jinks and will try to replicate the 10-4 season of 2015.
Not easy.
Don't expect too many non-conference wins, playing Ohio State (Big10) as season opener won't help and even the FCS-team is a good one with North Dakota.
As said, it won't be easy.
I think they can get 2 wins out of those 4 games.
From the West-Division they play Toledo on the road, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois. That's hard.
And they play from the East as contenders Ohio and Akron on the road each.
If they manage to win the division with that schedule, they are the favorite for the conference.
I’m not convinces they can do this.
I think this will be a reloading year, maybe even rebuilding.
Only the strength of last seasons squad does make me pick them 3rd.
Chances are quite high they will fall deeper.

It's party time for the Akron Zips.
I'm not sure whether Terry Bowden will get a statue of his image set on campus, but it wouldn't surprise me.
The team went 7-5 in regular season 2015 and won even a Bowl game, finish with 8 wins.
Last time they won 8 games in a season?
1985, the season they had their first bowl game (a loss).
Last time they won a bowl?
Well ... never, they played prior 2015 only in 2 bowls and lost both.
So that Potato Bowl win does mean a lot for Akron.
The good news is, Bowden is back for a 5th season.
If he can duplicate last seasons success or even exceed it, I think he will get some offers.
The play as non-conference games an FCS teams and some bigger shots from good conference or weaker conferences.
Best chance for a win will be against the Mountaineers from Appalachian State, since that's at home.
They will play from the other division Western Michigan, Ball State and Toldeo, which could have been worst, but also could have been better.
The Toledo game will be crucial, since they are under new management and they will play at Akron. Could be an easy win.
Contender Bowling Green from their own division will be played at home, so if Akron really starts winning, that's probably the best chance to seal the division.
Another crucial game could become season final against Ohio on the road.
If this team does come out better than last season, they will aim for the conference title game.
I expect Akron to play for a TOP 3 spot in the division and battle it out against Bowling Green and Ohio.
Overall I think they will not play as good as Ohio, so I picked them 2nd.

That leaves the Ohio Bobcats as picked division champ.
Frank Solich is now in his 12th season and this season he and his team could be able to win the division and maybe the conference.
He never won with the team the conference, last time he won the division was 2011.
What he needs is a very good season, or he has to hope for bad season of the other teams.
Overall the Bobcats teams where always strong in the last few seasons, but lacked consistency over the whole season.
They play non-conference games against 2 weak teams, SBC and FCS, so 2 wins are a must, with Kansas (Big12) they could even win a 3rd one.
Bowling Green at home is good, Akron on the road at season final is probably the final test for the East teams.
The West teams are Eastern Michigan, Toledo and Central Michigan, which means all are beatable, unfortunate for Ohio is the Toledo game on the road.
The Bobcats CAN win the division, if all pieces do fall in place.
I'm willing to pick them 1st, based on that easier schedule and a solid coach on the sidelines.

West Division

The Eastern Michigan Eagles will lose, again.
Chris Creighton is in his 3rd season and so far has won 3 games in 2 seasons.
I'm not saying they will not improve, I'm saying they will just lose again many games.
The Eagles do need a culture change and it will take some time to do this.
Either must they get more out of the players they are able to recruit or they must recruit better players.
Both things are not very likely, having such a losing tradition like EMU has.
I hope for them to improve from last seasons 1 win.
They have quite easy non-conference teams on schedule with Mississippi Valley State (FCS), Missouri (SEC), Charlotte (CUSA) and Wyoming (MWC).
Fine, Missouri is way too good, but the rest could be won.
A 3-1 start would very likely produce so much party on campus that they can only lose the next 8 games, but 2-2 is possible.
The following 4 games are brutal, Bowling Green and Ohio from the East (later then Miami (OH) at home to have all the Eastern games together) and Toledo and Western Michigan will sink eventually upcoming hopes fast.
The team better aim for the road trip to Ball State for an additional win or get much better much faster than expected.
I hope they can improve, but I doubt they will NOT finish last.

The Ball State Cardinals did play not well last season, which did cost last seasons HC the job.
So Peter Lembo is gone.
The 3-9 season was too bad to survive in his 5th season with a 10-3 season record only 2 seasons before.
Expectations were high and the new coach will be measured against this.
Mike Neu (funny, "neu" is the german word for "new") was the QB coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2014 and 2015, so he did coach Drew Brees.
If you hire an NFL coach, for sure expectations do go through the roof, so Neu will have to deliver fast.
The non-conference schedule might help to boost the win column higher than last season, playing Georgia State (SBC), Indiana (Big10), Eastern Kentucky (FCS) and Florida Atlantic (CUSA).
All those teams are no powerhouses, but Indiana will be probably too much and Florida Atlantic could be tough.
Still chances are they will collect 2 to 3 wins out of this.
From the East they will play Buffalo, Akron and Miami (OH), so a mix of teams strength and they could get also a win or two out of this.
Inside the division it looks a bit unlucky. The easiest home game is against Eastern Michigan, all other low level or mid level teams are meet on the road and at home they play the projected top teams.
So if they want to exceed the 3 wins from last year big time, they need to start winning on the road against the mid level teams or they need to win against the top teams at home.
All that did happen in the past, even with Ball State, but it's not likely to have such a miracle season to happen.
Overall I think they will not finish 4th, but also not last in the division, hence 5th.

The reason for the Central Michigan Chippewas to finish 4th is that they do not look like a really improved team, but better than EMU and Ball State.
It's John Bonamegos 2nd season.
His first season was quite good, 7-6 and a Bowl loss are not better results than the results of the coach he succeeded, but also not worse.
They play this season a FCS team for a sure win, but beside that I think they will lose the remaining non-conference games.
Lucky them they get Ohio at home and Miami (OH) and Kent State from the East, so they might be even be able to win those game, but Ohio could be too much.
The West will be decided by the home game against Western Michigan and the road games against Northern Illinois and Toldeo.
Overall a potential mixed result season is coming, with some unexpected wins and also unexpected losses.
I have them between 3rd and 5th, likely 4th.

The Toledo Rockets were hot last season until the November came.
They lost 2 crucial games and later did even win against Temple in the bowl.
For a short time they were ranked, but it's hard for MAC team to stay in the ranks.
As result did Matt Campbell bolt for Iowa State (most interesting move last season, and likely coaching suicide) and 2015 Toledo OC Jason Candle did become the new HC.
He did coach in the bowl last season and expectations are, that the team will not lose a beat.
Non-conference games are hard but not too hard and they could win 3 games here.
They got Bowling Green, Ohio and Akron from the East division, which means probably the top 3 teams of the East.
If they survive this unbeaten I'm impressed.
They will play NIU on neutral site and Western Michigan on the road.
Chances are big they will struggle over the season at some point and that they will not be able to overcome this later.
I respect a level of quality, but I doubt they will come up with a win in every or most games, so they are picked 3rd.

As 2nd place team I see the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Since 2010 are the Huskies at least divisional co-champs.
Last season they lost against Bowling Green in the conference championship game, and later they also lost the Bowl game.
Not the results they expected, I think.
This season they will have to overcome Western Michigan for the division title, eventually Toledo.
Rod Carey is now in his 4th season and for sure he wants a conference title, again after 2014.
They play a quite easy non-conference schedule, so 3 to 4 wins are really possible.
Buffalo, Bowling Green and Kent State from the East will help them to keep the championship dreams alive, only the Bowling Green game could end in a loss, but it's a home game.
They play contender Western Michigan on the road and Toledo on neutral site, so it's not the best situation they are in.
My gut feeling is, that they will not survive they schedule without some losses, which might end the division champ streak.
I think Western Michigan does have better chances to win the crucial games, which leaves the Huskies at 2nd place.

This might be a big leap of confidence in the Western Michigan Broncos to pick them winning the division and conference.
P. J. Fleck had a great season last year.
But it was not enough to win it all. 8-5, a shared division title and a bowl win were the most he got with the team so far.
That is meant to change this season, his 4th year with the team.
All signs are set for winning.
The non-conference games are challenging, but they can win this, with Northwestern (Big10) is likely the toughest one.
I pick a 3-1 record here.
Akron, Buffalo and Kent State are as easy as NIUs schedule.
But WMU will play NIU and Toledo at home, best chance to win this, once and for all.
They might at the end drop a game, but as long as they win the crucial ones, they will win the division.

Summed up is the MAC not very much changed, at least in my preview.
The good news is, the real results will differ from my picks heavily, depended on form and injuries (which I don't want to see), so this can become interesting as last few seasons.
I think they will need long term some more teams to be a bit more save and secure, but since they did great so far, chances are high the MAC will survive also the Big12 expansion plans.

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