(Jordan Lynch/Northern Illinois University)
With the season a little more than a month away, it’s time to take out our dollar-store crystal ball and project the Mid-American Conference.
The MAC looks poised to have another solid year, but with a lot of talent on top, there may not be an unblemished team with an easy shot at a BCS bowl. However, teams like Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Toledo, Ball State, Kent State and Ohio should make bowl games, while Buffalo, Western Michigan and Central Michigan may have some last-minute work to do.
The Maroon Musket Power Poll will be a weekly addition to the blog, so pay attention to this first attempt, and be sure to mock us as it undoubtedly falls apart.
Champion and Runner Up
Northern Illinois over Bowling Green
The Huskies are once again led by all-everything quarterback Jordan Lynch, who has the ability to frustrate MAC offenses with both his arm (3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns) and his legs (1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns). Of course, one player does not make a team, and there is little doubt that Northern Illinois has gone through some changes. Perhaps most important: Dave Doeren has moved on to coach North Carolina State, and Rod Carey is entering his first season as a FBS head coach.
Despite upheaval at the top, the Huskies are still an odds-on favorite to win the MAC. Northern Illinois returns nearly its entire offensive line and appears to have reloaded at at key defensive positions during the 2013 recruiting cycle. Losing receivers Martel Moore and Perez Ashford will hurt, but, as usual the Huskies have impressive depth and seem to have decent momentum heading into the season. The only thing that will slow NIU down is if Carey tinkers with what worked last year.
Standing in Northern Illinois’ way is the brick wall known as Bowling Green’s defense. Anchored by one of the best defensive lines in the country, the Falcons allowed less than 17 points per game and frequently stifled opposing running backs. Bowling Green returns nine starters on defense in 2013 but has to figure out a way to replace defensive tackle Chris Jones, the 2012 MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Ted Ouellet should hold down one spot, while Jarius Campbell, a senior, will get his chance to shine in the trenches. Head coach Dave Clawson will still be roaming the sidelines, and 2013 will be the year he shows the rest of the country what a program looks like in his image.
The Falcons’ achilles heel is its offense. Bowling Green was in the bottom half of the MAC in points per game (22.9) but will return one of the more experienced offensive lines in the conference. Also returning is senior quarterback Matt Schilz, who had 2,585 passing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012. Schilz has a number of tall receivers, but the Falcons face a very real issue at running back. Anthon Samuel, who ran for more than 1,800 yards during the past two seasons, has apparently transferred to Florida International to be closer to his family. That means the Falcons will likely pick between Andre Givens and Jamel Martin.
Offensive Player of the Year
Jordan Lynch is the easy pick here. The dual-threat quarterback spent the 2012 season shattering Mid-American Conference records en route to the Orange Bowl. While things have changed at Northern Illinois, the team will siphon nearly 100 percent of its offense through the Chicago native, which will make it hard for running backs like Kent State’s Dri Archer or Toledo’s David Fluellen to take the top spot.
NIU has already launched a “Jordan Lynch for Heisman” campaign, going so far as to create a Twitter page for the occasion. It’s unlikely that Lynch will be called to New York, but the MAC’s best player will once again put up impressive numbers. While two Big 10 games – at Iowa and at Purdue – may slow him down, a relatively weak in-conference schedule (along with games against Idaho and Eastern Illinois) will give Lynch plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers.
Also Ran: Dri Archer (RB, Kent State), David Fluellen (RB, Toledo), Willie Sneed (WR, Ball State), Beau Blankenship (RB, Ohio) and Keith Wenning (QB, Ball State)
Defensive Player of the Year
Khalil Mack is an absolute monster.
Mack, Buffalo’s NFL-ready outside linebacker, is one of the most dangerous weapons in the MAC. With Big 10 size (6’3, 245 pounds) and a nose for the backfield (eight sacks in 2012), Mack is a headache for every team he faces – just ask UMass. Against the Minutemen, Mack had 15 tackles, 2.5 sacks and forced two fumbles. This year, the nation has already taken notice, and Mack has been named to the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list.
The Bulls primarily run a 3-4 defense, and that has helped Mack boost his stats from the outside position. This season will be Mack’s NFL job interview, as scouts want to see if the imposing athlete can play linebacker at the next level or if his speed will hold him back. If Mack can tally 19 more tackles for loss this season, he will break the all-time NCAA record.
Also Ran: Boo Boo Gates (S, Bowling Green), Nathan Collie (DT, Ball State), Ted Ouellet (DT, Bowling Green), Desmond Bozeman (LB, Western Michigan), and Dayonne Nunley (CB, Miami (OH))
Freshman of the Year
The MAC had a banner year on the recruiting circuit, and the top teams reached out to far-flung territory in lieu of fighting over Big 10 leftovers. No school recruited better than Toledo, and its crown jewel of the 2013 class – Rodney Adams – should be an impact player right away.
Adams chose the Rockets over a number of big-time offers, including: Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and others. One has to assume that a major lure for the St. Petersburg, Fla. native was early playing time. Considered one of the top 50 wide receivers in the country – and one of the top 50 recruits, overall, in the state of Florida – Adams will have high expectations throughout his career in Toledo.
As a freshman, Adams should make waves right away. He will likely see single-coverage early, as Toledo senior Bernard Reedy has proven to be one of the better deep-threat receivers in the conference. The 6’1, 166-pound athlete should step in right away as a slot target and will add to the already explosive Rockets offense. Adams will also have a chance to see what he’s missing out on early in his career – the Rockets travel to Gainesville to take on the Gators on August 31.
Also Ran: Lorenzo Woodley (RB, Massachusetts), Darius Holiday, (DE, Bowling Green), Derek Edwards (OG, Central Michigan), Darius Philips (WR, Western Michigan), Jerome Lane (S, Akron)
- Northern Illinois
- Bowling Green
- Ball State
- Kent State
- Western Michigan
- Central Michigan
- Miami (OH)
- Eastern Michigan
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