Bold Predictions: MAC
By Jon Coffey
At the beginning of every college football season, one thing is always certain, and that is that nothing is definite.
Last year at this time few people outside of College Station knew the kid named Manziel who would grow into the legendary Johnny Football.
Few expected Notre Dame to be playing for a national title, and fewer still expected that its star defensive player would be surrounded by the makings of a reality TV show.
Lastly, I don't think anyone would've told you that Northern Illinois would be playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl, and if they did, they probably would have said BCS National Championship and been joking.
I digress, but say this to prove that no one really knows what is going to transpire until the teams take the field and play the games.
That statement might be more true to the 2013 Mid-American Conference than in any year in recent memory.
It seems like Northern Illinois is going to run away with the conference title once again, but if Jordan Lynch misses a few games with an injury the Huskies would suddenly find themselves in a dogfight to win their division.
And what about those other teams in the MAC West?
Ball State and Toledo would each love nothing more than to unseat NIU as the perennial division winners. Don’t forget about Western Michigan and new coach P.J. Fleck either.
In the MAC East it looks like Ohio and Bowling Green top the division, but Kent State features two of the best players in the conference in RB Dri Archer and DT Roosevelt Nix — plus the Golden Flashes are just a season removed from the conference championship game. The Buffalo Bulls might be the darkhorse of the conference and could shake up the standings with one of the top-rated defenses in the MAC.
But in anticipation of everything that might happen, let me stir the pot by adding my 2013 MAC predictions.
Ohio and Northern Illinois will win their respective divisions.
It’s hard to imagine that NIU will lose too many regular-season games (if any). As long as Jordan Lynch stays healthy, I think the Huskies have a legitimate chance to run the table.
Ohio is one of the MAC’s deepest and most experienced teams coming into this season and I fully expect QB Tyler Tettleto and RB Beau Blankenship to lead them to a division title.
Northern Illinois will win the conference championship for the third consecutive season.
Although it looks like the Huskies won’t match that magical run to the Orange Bowl last season, new head coach Rod Carey looks to be in a great position to run away with the conference title once again. Jordan Lynch gets his entire offensive line back this year, and should have no problem putting up monster numbers once again.
Lynch will be the best Heisman candidate from the MAC in 2013.
Although the MAC isn’t typically seen as a Heisman factory, the numbers from previous MAC standouts like QB Zac Dysert, QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Garrett Wolfe don’t lie. There’s a lot of talent in the MAC. The question will be whether or not Lynch and the Huskies can keep the nation captivated to the point where he’s on everyone’s radar, because in the end the Heisman winner has to be one of the best players in the country who plays for a great team.
LB Khalil Mack will be the conference’s best defensive player this year.
Mack averaged 8.5 tackles per game, amassed 8 sacks, and led the MAC in TFL’s — all stats that best his biggest competitor DT Roosevelt Nix’s numbers from last season.
Buffalo’s defense should be one of the two best in the conference due in large part to the consistent and explosive play of Mack.
Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck will win MAC Coach of the Year in 2013.
Coming into his first year at WMU and first season as a head coach, Fleck could not ask for a better situation. The Broncos are a rising team with a talented quarterback and a solid defense.
It’s no stretch to imagine Fleck leading the team to a postseason birth as WMU knocks off a few division title contenders on the way.
The MAC’s biggest upset in 2013 will be Buffalo taking down Bowling Green on Nov. 29 at UB Stadium.
Buffalo should be contending for a bowl bid in 2013, but with a tough schedule early on, the Bulls could find themselves in a must-win situation in the last week of the season. That’s where the Falcons come into the picture.
Although Bowling Green is a preseason favorite to win the MAC East, I think the previously noted Buffalo defense will get the better of the matchup and earn the victory.
Ball State WR Willie Snead is the best rising star in the MAC this year.
Snead benefits from the superb play of QB Keith Wenning, but Snead has the talent to make any quarterback look good.
At 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, Snead has some size and exceptional quickness, which he used to rack up 1,410 receiving yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
With another year together, the Wenning-Snead connection will be among the most potent of offensive combinations in the MAC.
The Nov. 12 Ohio at Bowling Green matchup will be the best MAC game this year.
This game may decide the 2013 MAC East Division winner. Both of these teams should be in the race at this point and this game will carry the enormous weight of pitting the two best contenders against each other.
Kent State will be the biggest disappointment in the conference this season.
A year after winning the MAC East in 2012, the Golden Flashes may be watching their conference championship hopes dwindle for the next few years. Despite boasting two of the best players in the conference (Archer, Nix), Kent State likely will fail to contend for the division crown and could wind up being left out of the postseason picture altogether.
Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey is the MAC coach on the hottest seat.
With expectations running exorbitantly high around the Huskies, there will be a lot of pressure on the team to keep winning. If that doesn’t happen, the blame as it usually does, will fall on the shoulders of the head coach.
Carey knows that the culture surrounding NIU is trending toward that of bowl-busting Boise State, and if his team doesn’t hit the mark it will only be a matter of time before the school moves on to another option.
Buffalo will be the surprise team of the MAC.
Not considered to be one of the preseason contender picks in the East, Buffalo comes into this season after a 4-8 campaign that has them flying under the radar. But RB Branden Oliver and the eight other returning starters on the Bulls' offense should provide them with enough firepower to complement the potent defense.
Buffalo lost three games by one score last season and drew Northern Illinois and Toledo from the MAC West. Look for the Bulls to win a few more of those close ones in 2013, as the defense should be a little better at closing out games and the offense slightly more productive.
Buffalo should win seven games this year.
Kent State RB Dri Archer will be the best offensive player not named Lynch in the conference.
Despite his small stature (5-foot-7, 175 pounds) Archer put up big numbers, leading the Golden Flashes in both rushing and receiving. He ran for 1,429 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on offense. He also added three TDs as a return man before teams stopped kicking to him altogether in the second half of the season.
He has the ability to break a game open, as Bowling Green learned last season, and might be one of the top NFL prospects in the upcoming MAC draft class.
Seven MAC teams will be bowl eligible by year’s end.
There are the obvious choices like Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, and Ohio, but Toledo, Ball State, Buffalo and even Western Michigan all are capable of getting it done during the regular season. I’ll even give Kent State the benefit of the doubt and say they win six, which makes for a bonus eighth team.
Ball State QB Keith Wenning will break the school record for career passing yards this season.
Nate Davis currently owns this record with 9,233 yards. Wenning holds second place with 7,254 yards.
Last season Wenning threw for just more than 3,000 yards and should be able to match that performance. If he does, Wenning could smash the record, lead a formidable Ball State team to contend for the MAC West, and maybe catch the eye of an NFL scout.
Northern Illinois will go undefeated in 2013.
If the Huskies get past Iowa, and I believe they will, watch out. The Hawkeyes were the only team to take NIU down in the 2012 regular season and it was by a margin of only one point. From there Northern Illinois went on to win 12 straight, including victories over Toledo and Ball State before their forgettable performance in the Orange Bowl.
But don’t expect the Huskies to back down. This team has the most to prove out of any MAC team, because they are now looking to break into the next echelon of college football teams. To do that they will need all 14 wins this season.