For the twelve teams in the Mid-American Conference, the road to Detroit and the 2018 Marathon MAC Football Championship Game began with fall practice under the broiling August sun and Thunderstorms. The is the time of seat and sacrifice where everyone has that dream to be a Division Champion and play for the Conference title.
The MAC begins its 72nd season on Thursday night with Ball State hosting Central Connecticut State then on Friday Western Michigan faces Syracuse.
Here is a quick look at the teams as they begin the 2018 season
The Zips were the surprise team in the Eastern Division a season ago taking the title, winning their final two games over Ohio & Kent State. UA then faced Toledo in the MAC Championship game and then went to South Florida to face Florida Atlantic in the Boca Raton bowl their second in the last three years.
Terry Bowden goes into his seventh season as UA head coach, The offense in 2018 is in the hands of QB Cato Nelson.
The sophomore started five games completing 50 percent of his passes (70-of-140) for 989 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. Nelson can make plays both running and throwing the football. The running game has Van Edwards and Deltron Sands who has recovered from a leg injury against Miami as the starters. The receiving corps is led by senior Kwadarrius Smith. The transfer from Missouri has shown the past two seasons to make the big play in the passing game. In 2017 he had 34 receptions for 726 yards and led the team with seven touchdowns. Senior Mikael Traylor-Bennett was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and if he can stay healthy he can be that second deep option joining Smith.
The defense will be led by senior LB Ulysses Gilbert III the 2016 MAC Defensive Player of the Year. had another solid season in 2017 leading UA in tackles with 141 (45 solos). In addition, he had five sacks, three interceptions including one for a touchdown as well as 9 ½ tackles for losses, four pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. The defensive 11 has ten seniors look for junior free safety Jamal Davis who finished second on the team in tackles with 83 overall (55 solos) along with two pass breakups and an interception. Another to watch is senior rover back Jordan George who finished third in tackles with 71 (43 solos) and led the Zips with five interceptions and had three pass breakups.
The Zips open their 128th season on Saturday night at Nebraska in Scott Frost’s first game with the Cornhuskers a game nationally televised on FOX
The Falcons look to rebound from a 2-10 season a year ago. Mike Jinks heads into his third season in Northwest Ohio.
The offense brings back six starters including QB Jared Doege at the controls. Last season passed for 1381 yards and 12 touchdowns throwing for over 250 yards in four games. Also on the offense sophomore RB Mike Clair who rushed for 725 yards and four touchdowns, senior WR Scott Miller with 63 receptions for 722 yards and four scores.
The Orange, Brown, and White defense will be led by senior LB Brandon Harris who had 92 total tackles a season ago (57 solos).
BGSU opens the season on Saturday as they travel to the Pacific Northwest to battle Oregon from the PAC-12 in Eugene
2017 as a season of ups and downs for the Bulls. After starting the season 0-2 the Bulls then won three straight before losing that seven-overtime loss to Western Michigan which started a four-game losing streak. However, UB won their last three games and finished 6-6.
Most people believe that the winning streak to end the season that if there is any stumble by Ohio they would be the team to be there in the Eastern Division as Lance Leopold heading into his fourth season in Western New York.
The offense is led by junior QB Tyree Jackson who completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,096 fans and 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
The running game is led by Emmanuel Reed who rushed for 840 yards and nine touchdowns. The receivers are led by Anthony Johnson one of the top pass catchers, not only in the MAC but in the country, he had 76 catches for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns.
UB’s defense is led by senior LB Khalil Hodge who had 154 total tackles (66 solos) with three sacks, two interceptions. If he has another solid season, Hodge will be in the running for MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bulls open the schedule with two of the first three at home, including this Saturday against Delaware State
In 2017 the Golden Flashes finished the season at 2-10 losing their last five games. It was the first 10-loss season since 2005. It was time for a change, on December 22, 2017, the school hired 31-year old Sean Lewis as the 22nd head football coach in school history.
Lewis is the youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision coming from Syracuse where he was the offensive coordinator under Dino Babers. The two worked together at Bowling Green leading the Falcons to the 2015 MAC Eastern Division and the overall Championship defeating Northern Illinois.
The offense will be totally different than the past two seasons going from the multiple/run option offense to the spread. The running game is led by one of the most underrated, and honestly, underused running backs in the MAC in Justin Rankin. The junior led the team in rushing with 490 yards and five touchdowns. In addition, he caught 70 passes for 311 yards and a pair of scores. Under the spread, Rankin has the possibility to flourish.
To play the spread offense you must have speed and hands at the skilled positions. KSU will have the speed in junior Antuwn Dixon who missed the past two seasons due to medical maladies.
There is talent at the wide receiver position. Junior Trey Harrell is tops the list of returning receivers with 18 catches for 331 yards and a touchdown along with Mike Carrigan who hauled in 14 for 281 yards and a pair of scores which included an 84-yard catch and run to defeat Miami in KSU’s lone conference win of the season. In addition, junior Mandela Lawrence-Burke was moved from defensive back to wide receiver to add some speed and depth
The big question for KSU is the quarterback. The Flashes have not had a strong-armed quarterback since the days of Spencer Keith. Lewis hopes Dustin Crum and junior college transfer Woody Barrett will start them back on that road to respectability
The group is led by senior LB Jim Jones who had a great season leading the team in tackles with 98 (52 solo) with six sacks, eight tackles for losses a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery en route to first-team All-MAC honors Look for junior Jamal Parker (57 total tackles 10 tackles for losses and a forced fumble) and senior Juantez McCrea to be all around the football from the defensive secondary
KSU opens the 2018 season on Saturday at Illinois against the Fighting Illini
Last season, the Redhawks finished at 5-7 however they won three of their last five games including a home win over eventual East Division Champion Akron.
Head coach Chuck Martin begins his fifth season as the head coach in Oxford looking to bring MU into contention in the East
Offensively, it starts with quarterback Gus Ragland. The fifth-year senior completed 55.8 percent of his passes in 2017 for 2032 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The running game will be led by another fifth-year senior in Kenny Young who rushed for 781 yards and six touchdowns leading the team. and he will have one of the best receivers anywhere to throw to in senior James Gardner 47 receptions for 927 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The defense will be led by fifth-year senior LB Brad Koenig who had 102 total tackles a season ago with three sacks, 10 ½ tackles for losses and five pass breakups.
Along with Koenig senior LB Junior McMullen ( 57 total tackles, INT) as well as Josh Allen (53 total tackles and three interceptions) and D’Andre Montgomery both seniors as well (63 total stops, INT) to be the leaders coming out of the defensive backfield .
The Hawks open the season at home against Marshall. These two teams met a year ago in Huntington with the Thundering Herd pulling out a late 31-26 victory
Late last season the Bobcats pulled off a big home win over Toledo and were ready to return to the MAC title game. However ,they lost in a shootout at Akron that determined the East Division title and then at Buffalo in the finale. Ohio though was the only MAC team to win its bowl game defeating UAB in the Bahamas Bowl
Head coach Frank Solich is heading into his 12th season as head coach in Athens and has possibly one of his best teams in his tenure
Their option offense is led by Nathan Rourke who rushed for 912 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago. He completed 55.1 percent of his passes for 2203 yards with 17 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He is the kind of quarterback Solich had when he as head coach at Nebraska a Quarterback who can run and throw with equal effectiveness.
The running game will be led by senior A.J. Ouellette who gained 1,06 yards in 2017 and scored seven touchdowns. The receivers are led by seniors Papi White (36 catches for 631 yards and three TD) and Andrew Meyer (35 receptions – 483 yards two TD).
The defense just four starters however two of their big returnees is senior LB Evan Crouch who had 70 total tackles and three savks a year ago and junior SS Javon Hagan (85 total stops eight pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception. The Cats also have one of the top place kickers in the conference in Louis Zervos
Ohio is the pre-season favorite, not only to win the Eastern Division, but to win the Championship Game. Their quest begins on Saturday as FCS member Howard comes to Peden Stadium.
Under second year head coach Mike Neu, the Cardinals look to rebound after a 2-10 season in which they lost their final nine games. It must be said that the Cards had a slew of injuries.
The offense will be led by QB Riley Neal comes back after playing just three games last season due to injury. In his ,to plus seasons the Junior has passed for 5476 yards and 35 touchdowns while completing 60.7 percent of this passes.
Also returning for the red black and white is RB James Gilbert. The redshirt junior has rushed for 2147 yards in his two plus seasons in Muncie scoring 23 touchdowns including 12 in 2016. Also coming back is sophomore Caleb Hundley who led the Cardinals in in rushing with 1003 yards a season ago along ith three touchdobns.
The receivers are led by sophomore Justin Hall who had 78 receptions last season for 801 yards and three scoires
The defense will be led by LB James White who led BSU in tackles a season ago with 72 (38) solo he also had three sacks and a fumble recovers.
The Cards open the season on Thursday night as FCS member Centrl Conecticut State comes to Schunemann Stadium
The Chippewas finished 2017 strong with an 8-5 record overall and won their last five regular season games. The Chippewas have one of the top running backs in the MAC in Jonathan Ward who rushed for 1019 yards last season along with 10 touchdowns. The big question in Mount Pleasant who will replace Shane Morris at quarterback. The defense is led by senior LB Malik Fountain (89 total tackles – 55 solo) & Alex Briones (63 stops – 55 solo)
CMU opens the season on Saturday afternoon as they travel to Kentucky to battle the Wildcats.
The Eagles started the season strong in 2017 after wins over Charlotte and Rutgers. However, beginning with a heartbreaking overtime loss at home to Ohio, EMU went on six-game losing streak all of the losses decided by a total of 23 points. They righted their ship with a victory over Ball State that send them winning three of their last four games and a respectable 7-5 overall record. Somehow if they had turned one or two of those narrow losses into victories they would have been bowl eligible.
As head coach Chris Creighton begins his fifth season in Ypsilanti. He hs major questions to address especially on offense and more specifically at the quarterback position. Looking to replace Brogan Roback, one of the best quarterbacks in EMU’s recent history, will be a tall task in deed. As fall camp opens look for fifth year senior Tyler Weigers who comes from Iowa with one year of eligibility left. He was ion the battle for the Hawkeyes starting QB job a season ago but lost and spent the season with a clipboard.
The running game will also need work but look for Seniors Ian Ericksen who gained 810 yards a season ago and Shaq Vann who rushed for 520 yards in 2017 to carry most of the ground game load. The receivers are led by juniors Matthew Sexton (26 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns) and Arthur Jackson III (a junior college transfer) along with Bryce Kemp (six reception for 199 yards and a score) will begin as the wideouts in the Eagles spread offense
The defense is led by junior DL Maxx Crosby the team’s most valuable player a season ago and first team all-MAC with 57 total tackles (16.5 tackles for losses and 11 quarterback sacks) he also forced four fumbles and had a pair or fumble recoveries
EMU begins the season on Friday night as FCS Monmouth comes to “The Factory” aka Rynearson Stadium.
After a pair of 5-7 seasons, the Huskies in 2017 were one of the big surprises in the MAC. Led by freshman QB Marcus Childers and DE Sutton Smith, the Huskies were 7-2 which included an upset at Nebraska and were undefeated in conference play when they faced Toledo on a Thursday night at the Glass Bowl. A 10-point loss to the Rockets gave their west division title hopes a serious blow and then were ended on the final week of the regular season when they fell at Central Michigan 31-24.
Head Coach Ron Carey in his sixth season in Dekalb will again use the multplke offense led by Childers. The MAC Freshman of the Year was a dual threat both running and passing the football. The Georgia native completed almost 58 percent of his passes in 2017 for 1674 yards with 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions. In addition, he rushed for 473 yards and five scores.
The running game will be led by junior Marcus Jones who was third in the Huskies ground game with 350 yards on 78 carries with three touchdowns while thje receivers Senior Marcus Tears (43 catches for 528 yards and four touchdowns) and fifth year senior Jajuan Wesley (10 catches 250 yards and a pair of scores) while junior Mitchell Brinkman (four receptions for 48 yards & two touchdowns) from the tight end position.
The defense is led by Smith the 2017 MAC Defensive player of the Year was a concenous All-American appearing on 11 All-American teams. Smith had just 63 total tackles a season ago however he had 14 sacks and 29 ½ tackles for losses a season ago. Look for Junior S Mykleti Williams to be one of the defensive leaders along with Smith leader. He had 73 tackles (59 solo) with sis pass breakups and an interception.
NIU was picked as the pre-season favorite to win the Western Division and will open the season on Saturday at Iowa
In 2017 the Rockets were simply a juggernaut as they breezed to an 8-1 record (the lone loss at Miami-FL) a road loss to Ohio was almost a speed bump as UT won the Western Division title for the first time since 1998, then defeated Akron to win their first MAC Championship since 2004. When the team reaches Mobile and the Dollar general Bowl they were shutout by Appalachian State 34-0.
The loss did not damper the great season for UT. However, with the 2018 season approaching, third year head coach Jason Candle knows that there is a target on their backs as the defending champion.
The biggest question mark is who will replace 2017 MAC Player of the Year in QB Logan Woodside and RB Terry Swanson. Candle said this week it ill be a game-time decision on who will be the signal caller.
The running game should be in good hands with sophomore Shakif Seymour who rushed for 702 yards last season and scored 12 touchdowns. UT spread offense brings back four receivers in junior Dionte Johnson (74 catches for 1278 yards and 13 touchdowns. Seniors Jon’Vea Johnson (42-689 five TD) & Cody Thompson (28-537 four TD) who is coming back after a season ending injury along with junior Denzel McKinley-Lewis (23-319 three TD).
The defense was one of the best in the MAC yielding just 26 points per game a season ago. However ,they return just four starters with junior DL Nate Childress, LB senior Taylor Taffe and DB junior DeDarralo Blue, senior Josh Teachey, junior Khalil Robinson, and senior Ka’dar Hollman. In addition, the special teams are very strong led by senior PK Jameson Vest and sophomore P Bailey Flint.
UT opens the 2018 campaign at home against Virginia Military (VMI)
The Broncos took a step back a season ago after going 13-1 and a berth in the Cotton Bowl in 2016. WMU went 6-6 in 3027 losing three of their last four games and finishing fourth in the Western Division. As Head Coach Tim Lester prepares for his second season he will have holes to fill on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos multiple offense will be led by junior QB Jon Wassink who played well in his first season before being sidelined the final four games with a broken collarbone. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1391 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The running game will be led by fifth-year senior Jamauri Bogan who is currently eighth on the Broncos all-time rushing list with 2,563 yards and 22 touchdons. Like Wassink, Bogan is coming back from an injury last season. The receivers are led by junior Keishaun Watson who led the team with 41 receptions for 374 yards and seven touchdowns and junior D’Wayne Eskridge who led the receivers with 506 yards (30 receptions) and three touchdowns.
The WMU 4-3 defense will be mostly new this season as the bulk of the squad graduated. However, junior Obbie Jackson who as a reserve last season had 23 tackles, two interceptions, three pass breakups, and a special teams touchdown.
The Broncos open the season on Friday night when the Orange of Syracuse comes to Waldo Stadium for a nationally televised game.
There you have it. Inside MAC Football to start the 2018 season the biggest games are the Broncos hosting Syracuse, Northern Illinois facing , and Akron traveling to Nebraska.
I’LL SEE YOU AT THE STADIUM