When asked about this time of year, the late great college football announcer Keith Jackson once said “Late summertime, it’s time to go get your work clothes because you know it’s time to get ready. College Football is just around the corner.”
The Mid-American Conference opens its 73rd season of intercollegiate football in 2018. When the conference held its Media Day last month in Detroit, all 12 schools were there each with a dream to return to the Motor City on November 30th in the Marathon-MAC Football Championship Game.
This preview looks at the favorites in each division, those who will contend and surprise, then the rest of the conference.
OHIO-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.
In 2018, the Cats are the preseason favorites not only in the Eastern Division but in the entire conference. Ohio offensively has eight returning starters. 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.
Rourke, a native of Toronto, Ontario, is the quarterback head coach Frank Solich has been looking for in his time at Athens, now in his 14th season. The kind of quarterback he had a Nebraska the one 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 offensive line brings back four starters (senior LT Joe Lowry, senior LG Joe Anderson, sophomore RG Hagen Meservy, and junior RT Austen Pleasants)
The defense returns just four starters, however, two of their big returnees is senior LB Evan Crouch who had 70 total tackles and three sacks a year ago and junior SS Javon Hagan (85 total stops eight pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception.
The special teams are led by one of the top placekicker in the MAC as well as the country in junior Louis Zervos who was 15-of-18 on field goals and scored 106 points.
After the opener against Howard, the Cats play four of their next five on the road including trips to Virginia and Cincinnati then open the MAC schedule at Kent State and Northern Illinois. They finish the season with four of their final six at home including a match with Buffalo.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS- 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 was ended on the final week of the regular season when they fell at Central Michigan 31-24. NIU was the pick among the pollsters to win the Western Division and return to the Championship Game.
The offense uses multiple formations and has nine starters returning 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. Many believe he is similar to Ohio signal caller Nathan Rourke as he can both run and throw well
The running game will be led by junior Marcus Jones. The Chicago native was third in the Huskies ground game with 350 yards on 78 carries with three touchdowns and also caught 12 passes coming out of the backfield. The passing game will also be building as they go along. 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) for at the wide receiver position and junior Mitchell Brinkman (four receptions for 48 yards & two touchdowns) at the tight end spot.
The offensive line is the strength of the offense with all five starts coming back led by one of the top tackles in the MAC, fifth-year LT senior Max Scharping a first-team all-MAC performer in 2017 RT Jordan Strecker. Add senior C Luke Shively, sophomore LG Benn Olson and junior RG Nathan Veloz and you have one of the best lines in the conference
The defense has just six returning starters. In 2017 NIU had 114 tackles for losses to lead the Football Bowl Subdivision and their 29 sacks are second to Miami (FLA)
The defensive 11 is led by Sutton Smith, the 2017 MAC Defensive Player of the Year the st. Louis native had just 63 total tackles a season ago however he had 14 sacks and 29 ½ tackles for losses a season ago. Smith was a consensus All-American last year appearing on 11 all-American teams.
The linebackers will be Sophomore Antonio-Jones Davis (45 total tackles and a sack) and junior Lance Deveux Jr to patrol the outside while the middle will be headed up by junior Kyle Pugh. The secondary will be patrolled Junior S Mykleti Williams who had 73 tackles (59 solo) with six pass breakups and an interception. The rest of the defensive backfield consists of fifth-year senior CB Aaron Smalls (44 total tackles – 39 solo), fellow fifth-year senior CB Jalen Embry (33 total tackles and three pass breakups), and junior Safety Treshon Foster (23 tackles, two sacks, and an interception)
the 2018 season, the most challenging non-conference schedules in school history, opens on September 1st at Iowa before two straight home game the first being Utah and then the MAC opener against the Chippewas coming into Huskie Stadium. The next week is a trip to Florida State and the first meeting against the Seminoles since the 2014 Orange Bowl. The FSU game starts a three-game road stretch at Eastern Michigan and Ball State before facing East Division favorite Ohio at home. The season ends with Toledo and Miami coming to DeKalb while the Huskies head to Akron and Western Michigan.
TOLEDO-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 offense returns six starters. The biggest question mark is who will replace 2017 MAC Player of the Year in QB Logan Woodside and RB Terry Swanson.
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 offensive line brings back three starters in senior LG Yazeed Atariwa, senior OL Sami Kaseem, and junior RG Bryce Harris.
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.
UT’s special teams are very strong led by senior PK Jameson Vest and sophomore P Bailey Flint.
Rockets open with three home games (VMI, Nevada, and the return match with the Hurricanes). A trip west to Fresno State before the MAC season opens with the traditional battle with Bowling Green on October 6th. Midnight Blue will have their two biggest division games (Western Michigan & Northern Illinois) on the road in 2018.
BUFFALO-The season was up and down for the Bulls in 2017 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.
Buffalo’s offense brings back eight starters which begins with 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. Junior KJ Osborn had 35 receptions for 493 yards with four scores. The offensive line is led by junior Romas Jack-Kurdyla, James O’ Hagan, and Evin Kslezarczyk.
The defense has seven returning starters and led by senior LB Khalil Hodge who had 154 total tackles (66 solo) with three sacks, two interceptions. The defensive line is led by seniors Justin Brandon (36 total tackles 4 ½ tackles for losses) & Chuck Harris (73 total tackles – 44 solo). Joining Hodge in the linebacking corps is senior Jordan Collier (37 stops-6 TFL) while Cameron Lewis (34 tackles), Tatum Slack (26 stops), and Brandon Williams (43-INT) all seniors will return in the secondary.
The Bulls open the schedule with two of the first three at home, including the MAC opener against Eastern Michigan. They have East rivals Akron, Kent State, and Miami coming to Amherst and their biggest division game on the road at Ohio. The only big western Division school they will face is Toledo in the Glass City.
WESTERN MICHIGAN-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 touchdowns. 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 offensive line will be led by junior RG Luke Juriga, seniors C John Keenoy and RT Zach Novoselsky along with sophomore LG Mike Caliendo.
The WMU 4-3 defense will be mostly new this season as the bulk of the squad graduated. The Defensive line is led by junior LE Antonio Balbani who had 3 total tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble. The linebackers will be green led by junior Drake Spears while the secondary is led by 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 at home against Syracuse before heading east on I-94 to battle Michigan. The MAC opener is September 29th at Miami and will have their biggest games of the season (Toledo & Northern Illinois) in Waldo Stadium.
EASTERN MICHIGAN- When the Eagles began the 2017 season with wins over Charlotte and Rutgers (their first ever victory over a Big Ten School) there were whispers of optimism that EMU would challenge Toledo and Western Michigan atop the standings in the Western Division.
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 has 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 Don’t count out junior Issac Holder who returns to his favorite position he had just nine catches a season ago but look for him to come up big in 2018.
The offensive line brings back three starters led by C Dakota Tallman one of the most underrated linemen in the MAC. He is flanked at LG by senior Jeremy Hickey, senior RG Jimmy Leatiota who was second team all-MAC a season ago, and junior RT Steve Nielsen.
The defense is led up front 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 of fumble recoveries. The linebackers are experienced and strong. They are led by seniors Jeremiah Harris second-team all-MAC as he had 45 total tackles in which 12.5 tackles for losses along with six sacks an interception, and forced two fumbles and juniors Jaylen Pickett and Kyle Rachwal. The secondary brings back four starters led by senior FS Justin Moody who had 50 total tackles and an interception.
The Eagles open at home on August 31st against FCS opponent Monmouth before heading on the road for four of their next five games which include trips to Purdue and San Diego State. The MAC schedule opens on September 15th at Buffalo. In addition of their ket games in the Western Division EMU faces Northern Illinois (the west favorite) and Toledo at home while traveling to Western Michigan
THE REST OF THE CONFERENCE
AKRON-The Zips were a surprise a season ago winning the Eastern Division. Terry Bowden goes into his seventh season as head coach will have Cato Nelson at quarterback. He led UA to wins over Ohio & Kent State to win the East. The defense is led by 2016 MAC Defensive player of the year Ulysses Gilbert who had 140 total tackles in 2017. UA has three tough road games (at Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa State) before starting MAC play
BALL STATE-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. QB Riley Neal comes back after playing just three games last season due to injury while RB James Gilbert will be in the backfield. The defense will be led by LB James White. BSU will be tested earlty with road games at Notre Dame, Indiana, and Western Kentucky
BOWLING GREEN-The Falcons look to rebound from a 2-10 season a year ago. Mike Jinks heads into his third season in Northwest Ohio with QB Jared Doege at the controls along with sophomore RB Mike Clair, WR Scott Miller & Janarvis Pough. LB Branon Harris leads the defense as he made 92 tackles in 2017. Falcons have Oregon & Maryland on their schedule before MAC play begins
CENTRAL MICHIGAN-The Chippewas finished 2017 strong with an 8-05 record overall and won their last five regular season games. SMU has one of the top running backs in the MAC in Jonathan Ward the big question who will replace Shane Morris at quarterback. The defense is led by Malik Fountain & Alex Briones
KENT STATE-The Golden Flashes went 2-10 last season will be under the leadership of Sean Lewis who comes from Syracuse and will be the youngest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Lewis will implement the spread offense. His biggest need is at quarterback. They have one of the top running backs in the conference in junior Justin Rankin. The defense is led by LB Matt Bahr and S Juantez McCrea
MIAMI-Head coach Chuck Martin begins his fifth season as the head man of the Redhawks. Gus Ragland will start at quarterback and he will have one of the best receivers anywhere to throw to in James Gardner. The defense will be led by LB Brad Koenig who had 102 total tackles a season ago.
There you have it. A preseason look at Mid-American Conference football in 2018.
Ohio and Northern Illinois are favored as conference champions. However every season in this league there are surprises.
It all begins on August 31st in Kalamazoo
SEE YOU AT THE STADIUM!!!