Western Michigan ran away with the conference title last season, but 2017 promises to much more competitive.
College football season is finally here! At SQ, we caught fans up on every team ranked in our top-25. Now we take a closer look into each conference, and today we dive deep into the little known Mid-American Conference.
2016 In Review
Conference Champion- Western Michigan Broncos 13-1 (8-0)
The MAC belonged to Western Michigan in 2016. The Broncos ran through the conference going 8-0 and beating opponents by over 26 points per game. The only blemish on their record was a 24-16 loss to eighth-ranked Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. Ohio was the second-best team in the MAC, going 6-2 in conference play, but dropped the championship game to WMU 29-23.
Coach of the Year- P.J Fleck, Western Michigan
The 2012 Broncos finished 4-8 overall and fired their head coach, paving the way for P.J Fleck to take over. The Fleck era started off rough with a 1-11 record, but reached its peak in 2017 with WMU finishing 13-1 and ending the year ranked 15th in the country. Over his tenure, Fleck has coached five NFL draftees, including three in 2017. In 2018, however, Fleck will be coaching Minnesota, replacing Tracy Claeys.
Offensive Player of the Year- Corey Davis WR, Western Michigan
Corey Davis might be the most decorated player not only in Western Michigan history, but in MAC history as well. As a four-year starter, Davis had three 1400-yard seasons, including a career-high 1,500 in his senior year. His total of 5,278 career yards set the NCAA career receiving record, previously held by Nevada’s Trevor Insley. Davis also had career highs in receptions (97) and receiving touchdowns (18) in 2017. In addition to the MAC Offensive Player of the Year award, Davis was a consensus first-team All-American and drafted fifth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.
Defensive Player of the Year- Tarell Basham DE, Ohio
Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham is essentially the only individual award winner not from Western Michigan. Basham was the anchor on the Bobcat defense that finished as MAC East champs with an 8-4 record. He finished 11th nationally with 12 sacks and also picked up 16 tackles for loss. After a great career where he finished with an Ohio record 27 sacks, Basham was drafted in the third round by the Indianapolis Colts.
What To Expect In 2017
Conference Favorite-Toledo Rockets
Toledo finished 2016 at 9-4 overall but 6-2 in conference play, leaving them second in the MAC West Division. They shouldn’t be too upset, considering the two teams they lost to ended up playing in the MAC Championship game. This season there is tons of promise building off last year, and the Rockets are looked at as early favorites to not only win the West, but the entire conference.
Offensive play is what sets Toledo apart from the crowd. Last season, the Rockets had the best offense in the conference, and one of the best in the country. Toledo scored 38 points per game (19th nationally, second in the MAC) and 518 total yards per game (seventh nationally and first in the MAC). The cornerstones of that offense return to pick up where they left off.
Senior quarterback Logan Woodside had a career year in 2016, setting career highs in almost every category. Woodside threw for 4,129 yards (seventh in the country), 45 touchdowns (most in the country), and only nine interceptions. Not only can he sling the ball downfield, Woodside is extremely accurate, finishing fourth, completing 69.1 percent of his passes. He’s also getting the respect he deserves, showing up on four preseason award watch lists, including the O’Brien and Manning awards for best quarterback.
However, the Rocket defense was less than stellar last season, ranking 54th in in opponent yards (4,739) and 49th in opponent points per game (25.3). Coach Jason Candle returns six defensive starters, but improvement isn’t really expected. Ju’Wuan Woodley leads the defense as the only All-Conference player after being named to the All-MAC third team in 2016. The offense is good enough to carry this Toledo team, much like it did last year. If the Rockets really want to make an impact on defense, they need to not give up 50 or more points in a few key games and let the offense work its magic.
Conference Darkhorse-Miami (OH) Redhawks
Looking purely on their 2016 record, the Redhawks shouldn’t strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. Miami finished the year 6-7, including a 17-16 loss in the St. Petersburg Bowl to Mississippi State. However, the team played well during their conference schedule, finishing 6-2 in the MAC and second in the MAC East.
The Redhawks could not have gotten off to a worst start last season, and the offense was mostly to blame. During a 0-6 start, the team averaged only 17 points per game and got outscored by 12.3 points per game. After the poor start, Gus Ragland took over as the starting quarterback and turned the season around. With Ragland at the helm, Miami finished the year 6-1 and has the Redhawks thinking they can compete in the MAC.
The defense was one of the few bright spots for the Redhawks. They gave up 355 yards per game (26th in the country) but also 24.3 points per game (43rd). Overall, they gave up the third-fewest points in the conference and should continue that level of play in 2017.
Linebackers Junior McMullen, Brad Koenig, and De’Andre Montgomery form a solid core that combined for 227 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks. The star on defense will be cornerback Heath Harding, who finished the year tied with Montgomery with four interceptions. Harding was also named the All-MAC First-Team.
Team That Will Disappoint-Western Michigan Broncos
After a 13-1 season, it’s easy to pencil in Western Michigan as preseason favorites. A closer look at what the Broncos have going into this season is a reason to reconsider. The Broncos were the MAC’s most complete team last season, not only scoring the most points but also allowing the fewest in the conference. Western Michigan will have to replace a number of their key players from last year’s squad, including head coach P.J. Fleck.
The biggest loss on offense might just be receiver Corey Davis. As a four-year starter, Davis set a number of MAC and NCAA records. Western Michigan this season will have to rely on a receiving core that has totaled only 19 career receptions after losing Michael Henry and Carrington Thompson as well.
Jon Wassink first start as Western Michigan’s QB will come in front of 75,000 fans at the L.A. Coliseum https://t.co/NzfXcAVqso— BC Enquirer Sports (@bcesports) August 29, 2017
Losing the FBS record holder in career receiving yards definitely hurts, but losing the school’s record-setting passer doesn’t help ease the pain. Zach Terrell is the Broncos most decorated passer after starting all four years, and throwing for 12,100 yards and 96 touchdowns, completing 65.5 percent of his throws. This year’s QB competition was supposed to be between Tom Flacco and Jon Wassink, but Flacco transferred to Rutgers over the summer.
Western Michigan should still be able to compete in the MAC with a capable defense, but the offense will take some time to develop chemistry. If Wassink and the receivers don’t develop a rhythm in nonconference play, then the Broncos could be in danger of dropping an early game or two while they try and find an offensive identity.
Three Players to Watch
1. Amari Coleman CB, Central Michigan - In a conference like the MAC it’s important to find impact potential early on. Coleman is one of those guys for the Chippewas that has turned potential into production. He has turned himself into one of the top-tier defensive backs in the conference by leading the MAC and ranking sixth in the FBS with 15 pass deflections. Coleman also picked off four passes and returned two for touchdown. The national media has taken notice of the Central Michigan talent, naming Coleman to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list for 2017.
2. Ulysees Gilbert III LB, Akron- Akron had one of the worst defenses in the country last season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent to be found. Ulysees Gilbert went from special teamer to defensive leader in just his sophomore season. Gilbert led the team in total tackles (121), tackles for loss (11.5), and sacks (four). Along with statistics, Gilbert was named to the All-MAC first team and named to the preseason Bronko Nagurski award list for best defensive player.
3. Jarvion Franklin RB, Western Michigan- Senior Jarvion Franklin is no stranger to success during his first three seasons. In 2014, Franklin rushed for 1,551 yards, 24 touchdowns, and was the first player to be named MAC Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. Unfortunately, Franklin hasn’t been able to replicate those numbers over the past two seasons. In 2015 he rushed for only 735 yards and five touchdowns, albeit on half the carries. Last season was a bounce back year where he was named All-MAC second team with 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns. With the losses at receiver and quarterback, Franklin will be the workhorse he was his freshman year, and will have a hand in every part of the offense.
Most Important Conference Matchup-Miami (Ohio) at Ohio, Oct. 31
The most important game in the MAC could have easily gone to the matchup between Western Michigan and Toledo on Nov. 24, but I think Toledo has the upper hand in that game. The game between Miami and Ohio is a lot closer and could decide the fate of the MAC East.
The Bobcats are the reigning MAC East champs and look to be the early favorites in 2017. Ohio has won the past four games against the Redhawks, including last season’s 17-7 matchup. The game this season should be a much more interesting contest, and will feature a number of players who weren’t there a year ago. Ohio and Miami starting QBs Quinton Maxwell and Ragland didn’t play in the 2016 game, and should prove to be the difference makers this season. It’s a toss-up at this point and will come down to defense, where the advantage swings in Ohio’s favor.
The MAC conference doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but every now and then a team will break free and make it into the top-25. Last year was Western Michigan’s time in the spotlight, but don’t expect them to make it back that far. This conference is top heavy with only four teams fighting for the title: Western Michigan, Toledo, Miami (OH), and Ohio.
Western Michigan is the darling of the conference after a 13-1 season, but lost essentially all their firepower on offense. Franklin will have too much to carry and I believe the Broncos drop an early-season game as well as an early non-conference game. Toledo, on the other hand, returns their key contributors, including Woodside, to their juggernaut offense. The Rocket defense will need to be simply average to slightly above-average in order to take the MAC West crown.
In the east, things are a little closer. Ohio finished 6-2 in the conference and 8-6 overall, but had some uneven quarterback play. Quinton Maxwell started the final eight games for the Bobcats, but only threw for 1,247 yards and eight touchdowns. Another year under his belt will help his development, but losing his top targets will make the process a lot tougher. Miami went through the growing pains last season with a young offense, and the suffering has bred a competitive offense. Ragland has the keys to the offense and looks to build off his 6-1 record as a starter for the Redhawks. The Ohio-Miami game will determine the East, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen.
MAC Championship Game- Toledo def. Miami (OH)
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- Miami (OH)
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