Welcome, welcome, welcome! Back again for the MAC Network, this is Bruce Baguen, and it's a pleasure to be back again!
Spring Games and Depth Charts and Croots, oh my!
Spring Games and Depth Charts and Croots, oh my!
You know what that means, don't you? DON'T YOU? You know what time it is?
Uh, not quite, McCree. How about our other guest. Vader?
Sigh, no. It... it just means it's the first MAC article of the season. Let's just get on with it.
We're starting with capsule-sized looks at each team in the MAC, focusing on position groups of interest. Helping us with this article is our special guest, Toledo head coach Deathcpo! Many, many thanks for your insights.
Without further ado, in no particular order:
Northern Illinois Huskies (4-8 last year)
Coach: Noobie (1st year)
Overview: Northern Illinois returns a lot of starters from last years team and looks to see improvement from last season under newly hired head coach Noobie. With a lot of key players returning including senior RB Daniel Hutchins (5/5 power), the Huskies appear poised to contend for a bowl game, and maybe even be a dark horse candidate in the MAC conference race.
Position of Strength: Defensive Line. NIU returns its entire starting line from last season and three of them are seniors and the 4th a junior. Coach Noobie will look to this unit to lead a solid looking defense in their 2020 campaign. The entire front seven for the Huskies will be really solid if these upperclassmen can perform as the defense also features two young but high potential LBs in sophomore Kieran Linn (3.5/4.5 Will) and freshman Oliver McNeal (2/5 Mike).
Position of Weakness: Wider Receiver. Despite returning two productive seniors at WR, the Huskies have a serious depth problem at WR. There are only three wideouts on the entire team, yeah three. Fortunately sophomore QB Charlie Sanford (3/4 Pocket) still has his most talented target, senior TE Emory Johnson (5/5 receiving), and a solid running game to lean on.
Position to Watch: Linebacker. Last years starting Mike linebacker Kieran Linn (3.5/4.5 Will) has been shifted over to OLB this season to make way for freshman sensation Oliver McNeal (2/5 Mike). There is a lot of question marks surrounding how well Linns skill set transfers to the OLB position. There is certainly a lot reason to be excited about the Huskies front seven, but the LB situation seems to be boom or bust. The other OLB is true freshman Ivan Rosenburg (1.5/3 Blitz) who seems to be the black sheep on an otherwise talented defense. If this unit can perform this could be one of the better front sevens in the MAC.
Eastern Michigan Eagles (5-7 last year)
Coach: jdboyd (2nd year)
Overview: Eastern Michigan has some players to watch out for in seniors DT Shane Horton (4.0/4.0) and FS Zachary Dumas (4.0/4.0), but a lack of depth in key positions could force coach jdboyd to take some risks if he wants his stud players to taste a bowl game in their final season.
Position of Strength: Defensive Line. The D-line has two of EMU's five returning starters. This is easily the Eagles' most experienced unit, led by Horton, a 2019 2nd Team All-MAC selection. If we evaluate strictly on talent, this is not one of the better lines in the conference. The hope is that coaching will get them to play harder and better, as Eastern will need them to be a disruptive force and get opposing teams off the field as quickly as possible.
Position of Weakness: Running back/fullback. The offense looks to be less efficient at the methodical ball-control/play-action game they preferred last year. Even though Eastern was helped tremendously by the transfer window, receiving Sr RB Jamel Jamison from Illinois and saving them from having to start 1.5/3.5 redshirt freshman Chris Morton, the Eagles are starting a 2.5/2.5 TE at fullback. The team still looks to be heavily run-based, so Jamison may need to break more than his fair share of backfield tackles.
Position to Watch: Offensive Line. You want to know how to make a ball-control offense spicy? How does moving your starting tackles inside to guard and your starting guards outside to tackle sound? EMU's best guards are pass blockers, while their best tackles are run specialists. Jdboyd looks to bolster the interior running game, but will the position switches and chemistry issues negate the benefits? This is definitely a fascinating story to watch as the season unfolds.
Ohio Bobcats (9-5 last year)
Coach: Beeznik (2nd year)
Overview: The Bobcats were the MAC's top team last season, earning a conference title in Coach Beeznik's first season. The Bobcat faithful expect another conference title this season and appear poised to make that run, returning a lot of last years starters and gaining three talented new starters in CB Shawn Tillman (2/5 Man), DT Brady Whitaker (2/4.5 2 Gap) and TE Aaron Thibodeaux (2/5 Receiving). All these studs are sophomores with limited playing time in their freshman campaigns. It will be exciting to see what they can do as the number one guy on the depth chart in their respective positions.
Position of Strength: Running Back. Junior College transfer Owen Walton (4.5/4.5 Power) was a key part of the Bobcats success last season as junior and looks to make his senior year his best season yet. Earning a controversial 1st team MAC selection headed into the 2020 season shows the confidence many have in Walton to lead this offense to its second consecutive conference title and bowl victory.
Position of Weakness: Cornerback. On an otherwise solid team it's hard to find a weakness on this roster especially when you have a stud like Tillman leading the unit. Looks can be deceiving though as the Bobcats only have three corners on roster, and while talented Tillman (2/5 Man) is young and untested. The next up is new starter junior Kristian Mitchell (2.5/2.5 Zone). The nickel corner is a converted SS Xavier Bailey, a young sophomore (1.5/3.5 Man) with absolutely zero experience in the position. This unit is a big headache for coach Beeznik who will have to constantly gameplan around this unit and hope the rest of the defense, particularly a very solid front seven, can mask the weakness.
Position to Watch: Offensive Line. As a run-first team with a problem in the secondary the Bobcats are going to need to control the time of possession on offense. The combination of QB Stephen Peters (3.5/3.5), RB Owen Walton (4.5/4.5 Power) and FB Abdoul Harley (3/4 Run Blocking) look promising but the question mark is how good is the OL. The OL features two talented true freshman in RG Drew Platt (2/4 Pass Blocking) and RT Shane Poe (2/3.5 Run Blocking), but critics question whether they're ready to to carry the load expected of them this season. Fortunately the other three OL are returning junior starters from last years team to provide some experience and leadership; LT Damien Arroyo (3/4 Run Blocking), LG Jayden Grover (4/4 Pass Blocking) and C Jake Jennings (3/3 Run Blocking). If they can come together and get a push for the backfield to make plays this team could be tough to get off the field.
Kent State Golden Flashes (5-7 last year)
Coach: TazerMan (1st year)
Overview: Coming from Down Under, new head coach TazerMan hopes to instill a culture of toughness and winning into a Kent State program that hasn’t much of either lately. TazerMan realizes that a long rebuild is needed, so that’s a step in the right direction already for the Golden Flashes. It’s just a matter of how many lumps they’ll take along the way.
Position of Strength: Safeties. Seniors SS Quinn Benson (4.0/4.0) and FS Billy Switzer (3.5/3.5) form one of the most experienced safety tandems in the conference, and your last line of defense isn’t a bad place to have your best players. They’ll need to play up to that level -and then some- to keep games close. Benson, especially, has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders as the one Kent State player with a shot at playing on Sundays.
Position of Weakness: Running Back. FB Harrison Mullin did a fine job carrying the ball last year, but coach TazerMan has decided to move him back to his natural position and is handing the rock to 2.5/2.5 true sophomore Abdoul Donald. 2.5/3.5 James Ridley-Henry and Mullin himself stand ready to take over if Donald falters, but no matter who carries it at the end it’s a fair step down from other MAC RBs like Gabe Ciamo, MAMADOU SMASH, Owen. Freaking. WALTON, and Austin Laws.
Position to Watch: Cornerback. Except for Benson, Kent State’s entire starting roster has a potential between 2.5 and 3.5 - the very definition of “okay.” What makes the cornerbacks stick out, though, is that two of their top three cornerbacks aren’t CBs at all - they’re free safeties filling in. From a talent standpoint it’s definitely the right call, but it remains to be seen how it plays out against some of the more proficient aerial attacks such as Miami(OH) and… Purdue? Oh boy.
Western Michigan Broncos (10-3 last year)
Coach: Jieret (2nd year)
Overview: The Broncos were one the top teams in the MAC last season dropping just one conference game all season to division rival Toledo. The Broncos are expected to contend for the conference once again this season but will have to get by Toledo to win the division. This team returns a TON of talent from last years team including the entire defense but for one DT that was replaced by an even more talented DT in Silas Booker (2.5/4.5 1-Gap). The only thing missing is last years top rusher in the MAC Gabriel Shields who totally smashed any preseason expectation anyone had of the young back. Shields mysteriously transferred to MSU one year after previous head coach Raybaxter who recruited Shields left for the Spartans, but the twist? Raybaxter isn't the coach at MSU anymore either, long time coach Slinky Jr. is.
Position of Strength: Cornerback. Led by the conference's most electric player CB Sean Taylor (5/5), the Broncos appear to have the conference's top secondary once again this season. Depth is no issue for this unit which also returns its starting CB2 and nickel from last season CB Jaylin McQueen (4/4 Man) and CB Emmanuel Faulk (3.5/3.5 Man). With solid experienced help over the top from their safeties this unit will likely be very aggressive and disruptive for opposing offenses forcing many turnovers and incomplete passes.
Position of Weakness: Uhh... This is a pretty fantastic team and it's pretty difficult to identify a weakness. So I'll be awfully specific and declare the right side of the OL the weakness of the team. True freshman RT Avery Curley (1/4.5 Run Blocking) has the potential but is very raw. RG Harry Keith (3/3 Run Blocking) replaces the team's top lineman from last year Ian Braden (4.5/4.5 Run Blocking) and the gap in talent is very noticeable. For a team that is reliant on their run game a weak cog in the machine is something to watch but likely shouldn't be an issue due to the talent around them.
Position to Watch: Running Back. Was there ever any question? Following the departure of Gabriel Shields there is a new running back in town at WMU with tons of hype. Redshirt freshman DeSean Madison (2.5/5 Power) has great size for the WMU offense at 5'7” 222 pounds and many people are calling him the next Emmanuel Fields. WMU has seamlessly passed the torch at RB the last 3 years as they posted the top rushing numbers in the conference year in and year out and they hope to do the same this year with Madison. Critics says that inexperience and turnover on the OL could spell trouble for Madison, but Head Coach Jieret has given his RB his vote of confidence by naming Madison the starter over Shields during the spring, even before the transfer was announced.
Ball State Cardinals (1-11 last year)
Coach: lrickar1 (3rd year)
Overview: Medium-take alert: Ball State was easily the best 1-11 team in CFBHC last year. Medium-hot-take alert: Ball State has the pieces to jump all the way up to the upper half of the MAC West. With solid players in the skill positions and a pair of fearsome space-eaters anchoring the defensive line, coach lrickar1 could take the Cardinals bowling this season.
Position of Strength: Defensive Tackle. Running up the middle is a miserable proposition against Ball State. Juniors Rashaad Malcolm (4.0/4.5) and Isamaeli Afamasaga (4.0/4.0) are a formidable pair who devour interior blockers. Excellent in occupying space and at the point of attack, both could easily find themselves on numerous award watch lists.
Position of Weakness: Linebackers. Often times the purpose of the defensive tackles in a 4-3 is to absorb the blockers so the MLB can clean up the running back. Malcolm and Afamasaga may be asked to more than that, as they have a redshirt freshman Jon Carpenter (2.0/3.5) starting behind them at Mike. But despite his inexperience Carpenter may actually be the best of the Cardinal linebacking starters; LOLB Liam Dickinson (3.0/3.0) and ROLB Henry Hagan (2.5/2.5) won’t scare anybody.
Position to Watch: Free Safety. The job belongs to redshirt freshman Eddie McGill (2.0/3.0) - at least for this year, with 4-star recruit Geno Atkins taking a redshirt this season. The Cardinals hope that McGill can hold down the fort, or at least that he won't create a hole in the secondary. But McGill will seriously need to play out of his skin in order for coach lrickar to not burn that redshirt, especially if a bowl berth is at stake.
Miami (OH) Redhawks (2-10 last year)
Coach: Caesari (2nd year)
Overview: The once elite Redhawks have faded since coach FSUalumni has left the team a few seasons ago. The team seemingly under-performed last season and was never really in the hunt for the division, much less the conference. In his second season coach Caesari will look to correct mistakes from last season and lean on his experienced defense to propel his team to bowl eligibility. This, however, will be no easy task in the ever improving MAC. They are built to play Buffalo and Ohio tough this season though!
Position of Strength: Quarterback. No doubt about it, the Redhawks have one of the best passers in the conference in SO QB Zack Cera (3.5/4.5 Pocket). Cera has his favorite target from last season back this year, WR Kenneth Harrison (4/4 Speed). The Redhawks have a much improved OL from last year with 2 returning starters along with some fresh talent. If everything comes together, Cera should have plenty of time to find his target and give Harrison some nice deep balls. If there is one game I know Bobcat Coach Beeznik and Bulls Coach SodapopSeth have circled on their schedule this season, it's the Redhawks who have all the tools to exploit their secondary weaknesses.
Position of Weakness: Cornerback. The Redhawks are another MAC team desperate for talent and depth at the CB position. With just three corners on the roster and none with more than mediocre talent (3/3 Man) and (3/3 Zone), it's easily the most vulnerable unit on the team. Fortunately for the Redhawks, their safeties Nicholas Mingo (4/4 zone) and Ian Huntley (4/4 Man) are the highlight of the defense. It's necessary for them to consistently make plays to hold this secondary together, as they're likely to see many attempts against them.
Position to Watch: Front seven. Playing in the MAC East, it's no secret that the division’s two best teams Buffalo and Ohio love to run the ball. The unit as a whole is pretty decent but nothing special. Lead by DE Donte Pennel (4/4 Contain) and Mike LB Jayden Kessler (3.5/3.5 Mike) they will need to hold strong if the Redhawks want to make noise in the conference this season. Perhaps with punter Maximilian Wilkes' (2.5/4 Power) strong leg and good safety play they can force teams to put together long drives to score.
Akron Zips (5-7 last year)
Coach: darkage (2nd year)
Overview: Coach Darkage has full control of an Akron squad that returns a surprisingly large amount of production. The Zips are looking to elevate themselves from the ranks of the MAC also-rans and prove the team that upset Arizona State last season are the real Akron football team, not the squad that laid an egg against Kent State the following week with a bowl berth on the line.
Position of Strength: Defensive Tackle. As a sophomore last year defensive tackle Marlon Bailey had a nice year with 4.5 sacks (as a 2-gap player too!), but he was often overlooked by scouts watching Gabriel Beauchamp. He’s taken those slights as motivation and is ready to take it out on opposing linemen this year. A strong year may have Bailey (5.0/5.0) thinking about declaring early for the draft. If he does, he may be doing so with his current trenchmate Corey Brantley who also shows Sunday potential.
Position of Weakness: Cornerbacks. Akron is starting a 2.5/2.5 true junior as their CB2 and a 3.0/3.0 free safety as their nickel. Oh, and they only have three cornerbacks on the roster period; one is redshirting, the other is a senior. Against pass-happy teams, Akron may have to turn the game into a 59-56 track meet in order to win.
Position to Watch: Quarterback. Senior T.J. Zamora’s (4.0/4.0) career to this point has been inconsistent, to put it mildly. In previous years, he didn’t have much offensive help outside of redshirt junior RB Nathaniel Ruff (1073 rushing yards, 11 TDs last season) and he didn’t have a consistent coach. Zamora has both of those things now and no more excuses. With probably the best offensive supporting cast he’s ever had, it’s on his arm and legs to lead the Zips to a bowl.
Buffalo Bulls (8-5 last year)
Coach: SodapopSeth (5th year)
Overview: The longest-tenured coach in the East, SodapopSeth has steadily improved in each of his 5 seasons at the helm of the Bulls. The Bulls started off as a bottom feeder in 2016 when SodapopSeth took the job and he has turned the program into a conference contender over the years, falling just short of winning the East division last season. The Bulls' Champion RB Mamadou Wynn (4/4 Power) will accept nothing less than a championship in his final year.
Position of Strength: Running Back: Mamadou Wynn (4/4 Power) has been the big man on campus in Buffalo since day one. Coach SodapopSeth built this team around Wynn and wants to see him achieve greatness in his last season in a Bulls uniform. Buffalo has always been known for the star OL talent they bring in every year. With arguably the best Center and Tackle in the conference, D.J. Wilkinson (4/5 Run Blocking) and Marcus Waterman (5/5 Run Blocking), the holes should be there for Wynn.
Position of Weakness: Cornerback. It seems like everyone not named WMU has a weakness at CB and the Bulls are no different. The top corner on the depth chart this season is converted safety Travis Doe (3.5/3.5 Zone). After Doe is talentless Kai Hatcher (2.5/2.5 Man) and Jamel Bullock (2.5/2.5 Zone). The Bulls have both safeties back from last year Omar Easley (3.5/3.5 Man) and Thomas Gordon (4/4 Zone) which helps but it's hard to imagine this team is going to be able to prevent big plays and lots of passing yards. The key to victory lies on offense and clock control for the Bulls.
Position to Watch: Quarterback. To the surprise of many, the top junior college QB last season stayed home and chose the Bulls. QB Blair Holcomb (4/5 Pocket) will provide a new dimension to a team known for running the ball down your throat all day long. It will be incredibly interesting to watch this offense evolve under this pro caliber passer behind one of the top OLs in the MAC.
Bowling Green Falcons
Coach: AltShapes (1st year)
Overview: Although the Bowling Green Sack Factory lost its foreman to the NFL (MAC Defensive Player of the Year DE Isaiah Hall), it lives on through DE Malachi McKnight and OLB Brandon Thomas and MLB Abdoul Hurt wants to add to the party. But the Falcons will only go as far as the offense can take them and new coach AltShapes has a lot of work to do in order to wring every last bit of talent out of that side of the ball.
Position of Strength: Linebacker. Isaiah Hall may have gotten the sack numbers and the NFL contract, but it was OLB Brandon Thomas (5.0/5.0) that really cleaned up behind him last year (70 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR in 2019). The true junior has an eye on Sundays, but he won’t have to be a one-man show for the Falcon defense; redshirt junior Abdoul Hurt (4.0/4.0) is ready to make his mark.
Position of Weakness: Wide Receiver. Senior Steven Muse (3.0/3.0) has been a reliable target for the Falcons through his career, but that’s likely the best thing you can say about him. He won’t stretch the field or open space for others, and there isn’t much behind him - a 2.0/3.0 true freshman and 2.0/2.5 true sophomore are the flanker and slot wideouts respectively. Bowling Green has not been much of a passing team over the last couple of seasons, but you must at least present the notion of passing against a stacked box (unless you’re Buffalo).
Position to Watch: Cornerbacks. In what has become a recurring theme for the majority of the MAC this year, Bowling Green’s corner position is thin. Just as Kent State did, two of their top three on the CB depth chart are converted free safeties in 3.5/3.5 senior Alfonso Bates and 2.5/2.5 junior Jahmir Toney.
Central Michigan Chippewas (6-7 last year)
Coach: DjDrew43 (1st year)
Overview: CMU has had a knack for being the Kingslayer the last couple season but under new coach DjDrew43, the team appears to be in shambles. With many questionable decisions all over the depth chart where seemingly more talented players are benched in favor of lesser players, It looks like the glory days of CMU may have been short lived.
Position of Strength: Defensive Line. The only unit that looks to compete this year for the Chips is the DL. Lead by its two returning starters DE Nazir Tatum-Kimbrough (4/4 Contain) and Rory Bolin (3.5/3.5 Contain), it’s built nicely for a 3-4 defense. The unit is rounded out with Jabari Hardy (3/3 2 Gap) who stole the starting job from Ajani Goodson. The hope for the Chips is this unit can dismantle opposing OLs and give the rest of the defense a chance to compete. Perhaps with help from senior CB A'Shawn Ellison (4.5/4.5 Man), they can hold this defense together.
Position of Weakness: Quarterback. With sensation Walt Sutherland gone and freshman talent Byron Suggs (1/5 Scrambling) not ready to play college ball, the task of leading this offense has fallen on junior QB Matt Rowland (3/3 Pocket). Rowland has never attempted a pass in his college career and has virtually no help at WR or RB and has a mediocre OL. This is a recipe for disaster for the inexperienced QB. It's hard to imagine CMU having anything but the worst offense in the MAC, but only time will tell.
Position to Watch: Tight End. TE Jasper Rowley (3.5/4.5 Blocking) is about the only talent on the offense and the Chips are going to need him to block, catch, convert, and score if they're going to do anything on offense this season. Lots of question marks loom however, as Rowley saw limited action last season as the 2nd TE and doesn't seem to have the skill set to be the receiving threat the Chips need.
We hope you enjoyed these brief looks at the teams of the Mid-American Conference! Stay tuned for more from the MAC Network and again, a very special thank you to Coach Deathcpo for providing his expert insight!