Mid-American Conference Football Media Day is tomorrow, which is when you’ll find out who the media (I’m not in this pool) picked as their predicted division winners and conference champion will be. I’ll be there at Ford Field in Detroit to cover the day, so I’ll have an update on what the media picks are when that time comes, but today I’m here to tell you about my picks.
AN EARLY PROGRAMMING NOTE: Last year, my first time picking division winners and such on this blog, I had Buffalo and Northern Illinois meeting in the MAC title game — and they did. (The problem that I didn’t realize I made at the time is that I didn’t pick a winner of said championship game because I’m a coward. I’ll be less of a coward today, promise.) In last year’s post, I also included my preseason all-conference teams. I will do that again this year, but it’ll be its own post in the near-future.
My divisional picks to win the MAC West and East this year, respectively, are Northern Illinois and Ohio.
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NIU is the reigning MAC champ, led by a new coaching staff, probably a new quarterback in Ross Bowers (Cal transfer) and without its two-time All-American defensive end in Smith. Still, I really love what the Huskies bring to the table. Eric Eidsness as the new offensive coordinator should give the Huskies a big improvement on his side of the ball, and let’s remember that this team won the MAC with a really bad offense last year. Buffalo had an amazing offensive line last year (didn’t allow a sack for the first half of the season) with Daryl Agpalsa as the position’s coach. Now, Agpalsa is NIU’s O-line coach. If the offense is at least league-average and the defense keeps up with its normal self, then there’s no reason NIU shouldn’t make its eighth trip to Ford Field this decade.
Ohio was the favorite by many to win the East last year, and I don’t blame people for getting that one wrong. Ohio’s problem is that it loses games it shouldn’t. Last year the Bobcats beat Buffalo, but only after losing to a Miami team that went 5-7. This year, quarterback Nathan Rourke is without two stud O-linemen (Joe Anderson and Joe Lowery), his most-looked-for wide receiver in Papi White, and running back A.J. Ouellette who finished with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Rourke’s still probably the best player in the league without them. When defensive coordinator Jimmy Burrow retired after spending so many years with Frank Solich, the head coach responded by promoting from within (Ron Collins), then hired Nate Faans to coach linebackers after being a graduate assistant with the team for three years. If Rourke gets some help from the receivers to add more tempo to the offense (whether or not Solich wants the team to go for more tempo is another discussion, but it’s a good ability to have in your back pocket), then there’s plenty of reason to love the Bobcats this year.
For the championship game itself, I am picking Ohio over NIU. I think it’d be a lot more fun to pick this game the other way around, because that’d mean a first-time head coach would beat Frank Solich on the biggest game of the year. These two will be playing each other on October 12 at Peden Stadium, which may or may not throw a wrench into this whole situation. If Ohio wins that game, then that could open things up a whole lot more for the other West contenders. As of this writing, I think Ohio could lose the regular-season matchup with NIU and survive it by cleaning up in its own division.
- EMU: The Eagles have, at worst, the third-best defense in the league coming into the season with Vince Calhoun, Kevin McGill, and Brody Hoying all coming back. The offense should still be good with Mike Glass III at quarterback and should be even better if there’s going to be improvement in the run game. Fix that aspect of the offense and the Eagles might win eight games this year. Maybe even nine if they can get off to a hot start.
- WMU: The Broncos have a ton of talent, and it’s easy to love a team that has a really good quarterback situation and is always recruiting better than most others in this league. The schedule though? At Toledo. At EMU. At Ohio. At NIU. It’s not impossible to at least break even in those four games, but it’s going to be one heck of a fight. (Or four hecks worth of fights, rather.)
- Toledo: The Rockets, like WMU, recruit really well year after year, but last year’s 7-6 finish has me concerned for Toledo’s immediate future. What do Toledo’s quarterbacks (who I don’t think are as good right now as they have been in years past) do without the three stud receivers most featured in the 2017 and 2018 seasons? I’m sure the running backs will play really well, but that position group is really thin, and is only a bad injury or two away from making this a one-dimensional offense, potentially. On the plus side, Toledo has WMU, EMU and NIU all at home this year, so that might be a factor I’m underselling here.
- Ball State: This is a prove-it year for Mike Neu, I believe. The defense got younger a few years ago, but now the Cardinals have an experienced defense with a 3-4 look. In 2017, Ball State allowed 40.7 points per game. Last year, it went down to 32.8. If this team doesn’t suffer from Football Plague again and the defense takes another step in the right direction this season, maybe Ball State will be flirting with bowl eligibility this year.
- CMU: Jim McElwain and a lot of players at CMU didn’t mesh well at the very beginning of the turnover. More players started to hit the transfer portal from CMU (notably, WR Julian Hicks transferred to Akron, but no transfer is a bigger loss to this team than DE Mike Danna to Michigan), but this team’s also coming off of a 1-11 season. Things could trend in a better direction for the Chippewas sooner than I realize, but there’s just so much work to be done.
- Buffalo: The Bulls have a lot that they need to overcome to finish with another winning season, but if the rest of the East is as weak as I expect it to be, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish here. What Buffalo does have going in its favor: four returning starters at O-line, a talented group of running backs, and a really sound defense that has enough returning starters that should make it all work again. Quarterback play will be a big question mark.
- Miami: With Chuck Martin still there and finishing 6-6 last year with a big, talented class of seniors that had a lot of experience, I can’t see this team finishing much higher than that this year.
- Kent State: Looking at the schedule, the Flashes might end up with a whole four wins this year. That’s not a big number, but this program hasn’t seen that many wins since 2013! I’m not as high on QB Woody Barrett as a lot of others are, but I think RB Jo-El Shaw could blow up this year as a senior. Still an uphill battle to be better than the rest of the East, but this is only year No. 2 as Sean Lewis as the head coach.
- BGSU, then Akron: I’m 0% confident in saying that Bowling Green is better than Akron, and I’m 0% confident in saying that Akron’s any better than BG. The coaching staff over at BG is older and more experienced, and on the whole they’ve got players who were more highly-rated recruits than Akron’s roster.