Football: Mid-American Conference Preview

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With the non-conference slate of their schedule over, the Ohio Bobcats kick of Mid-American Conference play this weekend when they head up to Akron to take on the upstart Zips. With five weeks in the books so far, the MAC, which was full of surprises in 2013, is starting to take shape. Several teams have already found themselves in big holes, while powers such as No. 23 Northern Illinois and Ball St. are off to great starts. Here’s a look at what the ‘Cats will see as they trek through the MAC in 2013.

At Akron (1-4, 0-1 MAC), Saturday, Oct. 5, 2 p.m.

The Zips have struggled for years. Since 2010, Akron has won only four total games, with the last win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team coming in Nov. 2010 against Buffalo. But despite the past troubles, and the team’s current 1-4 record, head coach Terry Bowden has the Roos on the up.

Akron nearly pulled off the upset of Michigan earlier this year, and in two games since have fared well, despite losing both. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl has been electrifying and has provided the Zips with the offensive leader they’ve been looking for. Jawon Chisholm is still one of the more versatile players in the MAC, despite reduced numbers so far this season. Akron could easily double its win total from last season if the team can continue to improve on a weekly basis.

Vs. Central Michigan (1-4, 0-1 MAC), Saturday, Oct. 12, 2 p.m.

CMU has owned Ohio historically. The Chippewas lead the series 21-5-2, and ‘Cats head coach Frank Solich is 1-4 all-time against them. Before the season CMU seemed poised for a big year, but a season ending ankle injury to second team All-MAC running back Zurlon Tipton (20 total touchdowns in 2012) and a broken collarbone suffered by quarterback Cody Kater, both in Week 1, have led to question marks on offense for CMU.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush has shown signs of promise, such as his three-touchdown second half against New Hampshire, but has also has made costly mistakes. In his past three starts he has accounted for nine turnovers. Saylor Lavallii has done an adequate job of filling in for Tipton, but CMU’s defense is also struggling, allowing 39.4 points per game.

At Eastern Michigan (1-4, 0-1 MAC) Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1 p.m.

Under fifth-year head coach Ron English, Eastern Michigan is off to a rough start this season. The Eagles lone win so far came in a come-from-behind victory over Football Championship Series member Howard in Week 1. Since then the Eagles have struggled to compete, losing by an average of 28 points over their past three games.

Junior quarterback Tyler Benz has shown he is one of the MAC’s better passers, but with little options to throw to, and a stagnant running game behind him, EMU’s offense has struggled to score. Defensively the Eagles have had some success rushing the passer, and average three sacks a game, but they’re also allowing 443 yards a contest.

Vs Miami (Ohio) (0-4, 0-0 MAC) Saturday, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m.

Through four games this season, the Miami RedHawks are one of the worst teams in the FBS. Gone are the days of Zac Dysert and Nick Harwell, and in the quest to replace their production the ‘Hawks have turned to a read-option offense that has failed to gain traction. Miami ranks 122nd overall in total offense, 121st in scoring and 122nd in first downs gained in the FBS.

Senior quarterback Austin Boucher has had success in the past—in 2010 as a true freshman he filled in for an injured Dysert, leading Miami to a MAC Championship and a win in the GoDaddy Bowl—but faces a huge uphill battle in a new offense, with few options to turn to. Defensively, the ‘Hawks still have Dayonne Nunley, one of the conference’s best defensive backs, but have struggled mightily. They’re allowing an average of 559 yards (122nd) and 39 points (114th) per game.

At Buffalo (2-2, 0-0 MAC) Tuesday, Nov. 5, 8 p.m.

The Bulls have shown mixed results so far this season. At times the Joe Licata-led offense has shown the ability to hold its own with a defense that features one of the conference’s best players in linebacker Khalil Mack. It’s averaging 25 points-per-game, but sometimes, such as the Bulls’ 70-13 loss to No. 23 Baylor, they’ve struggled to click.

Mack is still a force on the defense, and poses a threat to both the running and passing attacks of any team he lines up against. But if Licata can continue to find Alex Nuetz, and open things up for running back Brandon Oliver, Buffalo could wind up competing for a MAC East title.

At Bowling Green (4-1, 2-0 MAC) Tuesday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.

The Bowling Green Falcons possessed one of the best defenses in all of college football in 2012, but had issues offensively. This season, third-year starting quarterback Matt Schilz was benched in favor of sophomore Matt Johnson, and it’s paid off. Through five games the Falcons are averaging 487 yards per game, good enough for the 28th best offense in the country.

Helping Johnson on an offense that’s averaging nearly 33 points per game is a potent running back committee led by shifty sophomore Travis Greene, and bruising freshman William Houston (who has six touchdowns on 28 carries). The defense is still the strong point of BG’s football team however; it is currently holding opposing offenses to just 18 points a game.

Vs. Kent State (2-3, 1-1 MAC) Tuesday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m.

2012’s MAC East champions are off to a rocky start in 2013. Redshirt freshman quarterback Colin Reardon has played well, but a banged up roster has led Kent St. to a 2-3 start. 2012 All-American Dri Archer missed most of the team’s first four games with a sprained ankle, and defensive stars Luke Wollet and Roosevelt Nix have been battling through injuries all season as well.

With a healthy Archer the Golden Flashes possess a potent offense capable of putting up points with ease, but without him, the running game has been stagnant. In Week 5 Archer returned, leading Kent St. to a big 32-14 win over Western Michigan. If the Flashes can get healthy they have the pieces to compete in the MAC East, but with a tough conference schedule they could easily be near the bottom of the division.

Vs. UMass (0-4, 0-0 MAC) Friday, Nov. 29, time TBD

The MAC’s newest member is finding things much tougher in its second year in the FBS. The Minutemen have switched quarterbacks, turning to sophomore A.J. Doyle in the wake of a weak encore from last year’s starter Mike Wegzyn. UMass’s best player, tight end Rob Blanchflower, has been battling through injuries this year, adding more issues to a struggling offense.

If issues on the gridiron weren’t bad enough for UMass, recent controversies surrounding the possible mistreatment of players by head coach Charley Molnar and his staff have led to off-the-field headaches for the stumbling program. With a lack of FBS-level talent, and a defense that’s struggling to compete, the Minutemen are having issues in their quest for their second win as a member of the FBS.