Last week, I previewed the MAC East so now it’s time for the MAC West. Three teams are projected at 6.5 wins, with two at 5.5 wins. Essentially, this side of the conference is wide open. Let’s take a look.
Central Michigan Chippewas
The award for most improved goes to the Chippewas, who went from 1-11 in 2018 to making the MAC championship game against Miami (Ohio), ultimately losing 26-21. One factor was the hiring of head coach Jim McElwain, who earned MAC Coach of the Year honors as a result of the turnaround.
Key Players Lost/Returning
I have high hopes for this team, a team that I loved to bet on. They were 10-4 ATS and 10-4 to the OVER/UNDER. However, the quarterback position is questionable at this point with Quinten Dormady transferring to Houston and David Moore set to miss the first five games after testing positive for a banned substance. The Chippewas were 38th in total offense with a balanced attack.
A stabilized quarterback situation would bode well with the return of the team’s top four receivers and running back Kobe Lewis, who paired with Jonathan Ward last year to amass 2,100 yards and 27 touchdowns.
CMU had a much tougher schedule in 2019, playing Wisconsin, Miami and Buffalo. This year, they face Nebraska in Week 2 and Northwestern in Week 3 but no Buffalo. With the toughest conference defense not on tap, we could see this team make another run at the MAC title.
Western Michigan Broncos
I don’t have high hopes. The Broncos have to replace quarterback Jon Wassink, running back LeVante Bellamy and receiver Giovanni Ricci, three key components that placed them top 25 in total offense.
Key Players Lost
Wassink passed for nearly 3,100 yards and 20 touchdowns. Bellamy was the MAC player of the year, rushing for 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns, and Ricci led the receiving corps with eight scores.
They return four starters to the offensive line that was top 20 in quarterback protection. Their success will depend on how the replacements at QB and RB fare. They have a tough stretch to start at Cincinnati and Notre Dame, face Kent State and Dustin Crum midseason and close against the MAC’s best defense, Buffalo.
Ball State Cardinals
The Cardinals’ records since 2015: 3-9, 4-8, 2-10, 4-8, 5-7. However, Ball State was 17th in total offense, 19th in rushing and 26th in points scored, and led the conference in scoring. All seven losses were by 13 points or less, including three by four points or less.
Key Players Returning
We could see a big season out of quarterback Drew Plitt. He has improved each year and last season passed for nearly 3,000 yards with 24 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
The Cardinals were 95th in the country in sacks allowed, and the OL returns three starters. Leading rusher Caleb Huntley, who scored 12 TDs, returns along with top receiver Justin Hall.
Based on the odds, this team is clearly expected to do well. They play at Michigan and Indiana but if they can avoid injuries, they could end up 8-4 or better. They thumped MAC champ Miami 41-27 to close out the 2019 season. Plitt had three touchdowns, no interceptions and 578 yards of total offense. If that is a sign of things to come, I’m looking forward to seeing what this team can produce.
Northern Illinois Huskies
I’m not sure what to make of this team. In 2018, the Huskies were MAC champions for the first time since 2014, after making it to a title game for six straight seasons from 2010 to 2015. So, when they brought in Baltimore Ravens running back coach Thomas Hammock, and combined that with one of the best running backs in Tre Harbison, you have to wonder why they had such a poor season, resulting in Harbison transferring out to the Charlotte 49ers. Sure, they had a tough schedule at Utah, at Nebraska and at Vanderbilt in straight weeks but they went 4-4 SU and ATS in conference games.
This year, they face only Iowa away and BYU at home, so the schedule is not nearly as tough. Improvements are needed on offense: the Huskies ranked 101st in total yards, 78th in rushing, 89th in turnovers and 98th in scoring. They weren’t much better on defense and lose five of their top six tacklers. The 2020 season isn’t looking like it’s filled with hope.
The last time the Toledo Rockets had a losing record was 2009, with 2019 being the worst season since. Injuries at quarterback largely led to a roller-coaster season. Mitchell Guadagni and the Rockets started 4-1, including a 28-21 upset over BYU as two-point underdogs. The team went 2-5 SU and 1-6 ATS the rest of the way with Guadagni injured, finishing 3-8-1 ATS overall. Eli Peters and Carter Bradley return to contend for the QB1 spot. Top running backs Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour also return.
Area of improvement: defense. They were bottom 10 in total defense, bottom 12 in quarterback sacks, bottom 20 in scores allowed and as a team was bottom 10 in turnover margin. Toledo has new offensive and defensive coordinators but does have away games at Tulsa and Michigan State to start the season.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
The Eagles nearly upset Pittsburgh in the Quick Lane Bowl. Entering that game, EMU was 103rd in converting third downs and 112th in defending third downs. They did excel in one area, finishing top 30 in takeaways.
They have to replace quarterback Mike Glass, who threw for 3,169 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for another eight scores. They must also replace their leading rusher and leading receiver, who combined for 15 touchdowns.
On defense, they lose three players who were either first- or second-team All-MAC. They play at Kentucky, at Missouri, at Ohio, at Army, and close against the MAC champs at Miami (Ohio). Last year, they were 4-3 SU and ATS in away games. Since 2017, they are 11-3 ATS as a road underdog.