For the next several weeks, myself and Russell Clay will be priming you for the college football season. We’re moving from conference to conference, giving you offseason recaps, fall camp observations, season previews, and our own prognostications for 2019.
Big Ten Conference Preview
Big 12 Conference Preview
Pac-12 Conference Preview
Conference USA Conference Preview
Mountain West Conference Preview
American Athletic Conference Preview
Sun Belt Conference Preview
It’s time for some MACtion! Let’s break down a couple of the big offseason changes around the Mid-American Conference.
Running of the Bulls
Bulls Mafia had a lot to be excited about at this time last season. Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson were each thought of as possible early-round NFL Draft prospects, an improving defense returned most of its core, and the team had a more-than-manageable schedule in front of them.
Well, Buffalo did manage a spot in the MAC title game in December, but Jackson and Johnson fell flat when it mattered most.
Despite 10 wins
How does head coach Lance Leipold pick up the pieces? Matt Myers was just named the team’s starting quarterback. Myers has some speed, and with Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks in the backfield – the two backs combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2018 – and a very good offensive line, expect the Bulls to lean more on the run game this fall.
Chippewas Look to Revamp Their Offense
Central Michigan finished with their worst record in 45 years of play in the Mid-American Conference – going 1-11 and being swept by conference opponents. Their offense finished No. 128 in scoring (15 ppg), No. 123 in passing (134.5
Needless to say, the 2018 coaching staff is gone, and former Florida and Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain was brought in to fix this mess. He also served as offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-2011, helping to lead that program to a pair of National Championships, with a combined record of 48-6. To help get this offense moving, McElwain brought former MAC quarterback Charlie Frye (Akron) on board – this will be Frye’s first time running an offense at the NCAA level.
So, what tools does the new coaching staff have to work with? First and foremost, former 4-star QB Quentin Dormady transferred in from Houston. He was originally a Tennessee Vol, before moving to Houston in search of a QB1 gig. D’Eriq King dashed those hopes, so he winds up in the MAC, as one of the top passers in the conference.
Kalil Pimpleton also transferred in – from Virginia Tech – and is the assumed WR1 heading into the season. It’s not going to be an easy task to get this offense on track, but these additions will certainly help fuel that fire.
As we head into opening weekend, there are still a couple questions around the conference that remain unanswered.
Who Is/Are Miami U’s Quarterback(s)?
Gus Ragland graduated after 2018, leaving the Redhawks with three youngsters battling for the QB1 job. Sophomore Jackson Williamson was once thought of as the front-runner but seems to have fallen out of favor according to camp reports. Redshirt freshman A.J. Mayer and true freshman Brett Gabbert seem to be neck-and-neck heading into Miami’s season opener at Iowa.
Gabbert – the younger brother of NFL’s Blaine – was a 3-star pro-style recruit, although he seems to have some wheels too. Mayer was also a 3-star in 2018, has better size, strength, and the better arm.
With a solid group of pass-catchers returning – Jack Sorenson, Luke Mayock, and Andrew Homer combined for 91 catches, 1,292 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2018 – Mayer might be the better choice, but a split to start the season seems likely.
They’re going to be tested early, with games against Iowa and Ohio State in the season’s first four weeks, so it will be interesting to see if one of these guys stands out before conference play begins.
What Will Akron’s Offense Look Like?
Akron finished No. 124 in scoring last season (18.9 ppg), No. 126 in rushing (98.2 ypg), and No. 127 in total offense. Somehow this team managed to win 4 games, but the coaching staff still received an overhaul, with former Chattanooga head coach Tom Arth hired to lead the program.
Arth brought in Tommy Zagorski to run the offense – formally the OC at Eastern Kentucky. Arth’s Mocs finished No. 112 (out of 124 FCS teams) in rushing last season, while Eastern Kentucky ranked No. 26. Chattanooga’s passing offense was No. 36, while EKU finished No. 113.
So, does this offense have some sort of identity crisis, or is Arth simply attempting to supplement his rush-game deficiency with Zagorski’s strengths? What will this offense look like?
Kato Nelson will be the starter at QB and has most of his pass-catchers from a season ago
Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of plan Arth and Zagorski come up with for the Zips. One would suspect a balanced approach, but it might take a while to get there.
There are a number of MAC teams that should have vastly different results in 2019. We talked about Buffalo’s likely decline, and why Central Michigan is probably going to improve – here are a few other teams that are headed in opposite directions.
Teams On the Rise
Ball State – Generally, when a team loses players as important to the program as QB Riley Neal and RB James Gilbert were to this team, you could expect a swift decline. Neal transferred to Vanderbilt, and Gilbert to Kansas State, but the Cardinals should still be a better football team in 2019. 8 starters return on offense, including the entire offensive line. On defense, 9 starters are back. Junior Drew Plitt will take over full-time at QB. He played a few games in 2018 while Neal was hurt, and completed 64.9% of his passes. In 3 starts though, he tossed as many interceptions as touchdowns (6), so he’s going to need to be more careful if this offense is going to succeed.
Kent State – This team was a major disappointment in 2018, finishing just 2-10 after things seemed so promising with QB Woody Barrett – a former Auburn recruit – signed as a JUCO transfer. The Golden Flashes would go on to a 2-10 record, winning just 1 game in-conference. So how will they be better? Well, it starts with an offense that’s returning nearly everybody. All five linemen, the top receivers, top rusher, and of course, Barrett are back. That kind of consistency is invaluable in college ball. The defense was awful and will need some serious improvement. Keith Sherald returns in the secondary after making 91 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Senior Jamal Parker will help shore up the back-end, but there are a lot of holes to fill up front. Regardless, there is no reason this team shouldn’t at least double their win total from a season ago.
Teams On the Decline
Ohio – The Bobcats were major overachievers in 2018, finishing 9-4, with a 6-2 conference record. The good news for Ohio – Nathan Rourke returns at quarterback. Rourke is the best quarterback in the conference, completing nearly 60% of his passes thus far, and accounting for 38 total touchdowns a season ago (23 passing, 15
Northern Illinois – It’s not even that Northern Illinois is a bad football team. They are defending MAC champions, won 8 games last season, and get most of their key pieces back. However, have a look at this schedule: after a home “gimme” against Illinois State, this team goes on the road to face Utah, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt…ouch. Miami and Ohio will also be tough road games for this team, making another 8-win season look like a tough get. Marcus Childers will be back at QB, and he needs to stay healthy – something he’s struggled with. RB Tre Harbison is back after rushing for over 1,000 yards, but both of the team’s top receivers are gone, as are a
Predictions For 2019
1. Miami (OH)
3. Kent State
6. Bowling Green
2. Northern Illinois
3. Ball State
4. Western Michigan
5. Central Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan
Players of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year: QB Nathan Rourke, Ohio
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Christian Albright, Ball State
Offensive Freshman of the Year: RB O’Shaan Allison, Ohio
Defensive Freshman of the Year: S Ormondell Dingle, Central Michigan
Coach of the Year: Chuck Martin, Miami (OH)
Best Quarterback: Nathan Rourke, Ohio
Best Running Back: Levante Bellamy, Western Michigan
Best Wide Receiver: Kalil Pimpleton, Central Michigan
Best Offensive Lineman: Evin Ksiezarczyk, Buffalo
Best Defensive Lineman: Doug Costin, Miami (OH)
Best Linebacker: Christian Albright, Ball State
Best Defensive Back: Javon Hagan, Ohio
Most Important Games
East: Sat. October 5, Ohio @ Buffalo
West: Wed. November 13, Northern Illinois @ Toledo