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The 2022 season is right around the corner! Dear readers, we can't let you plunge headlong into the footballs without some preparation so we herald in the upcoming campaign with some pre-season looks at the various teams of the Pac-12. Along with big-picture analysis and a look at key players lost and returning, we also highlight some first-year eligible players that look to make significant contributions. The PAC coaches were also polled and asked to rank the teams based on where they think each school will finish this year. Some also provided their comments on each team. Some notes before we begin: All stats listed are from the 2021 season. Coach comments are unedited, and their names are kept anonymous. Newcomers who are redshirt freshmen or JuCo transfers are marked as such. Without further ado in alphabetical order.... Arizona Wildcats (11-2 last year) Coach: @Jumanji (2nd year) Returning Starters: (Note: Estimated, at the time of this publication an official depth chart was not provided.) Offense: 5 Defense: 7 Key Losses: QB Sam Parish (250 of 363 [68.87%] for 3144 yards, 23/6 TD/INT, 262.00 YPG, 1 Fum lost), RB Shane Strong (142 rushes for 663 yards, 7 TDs, 82.88 YPG), WR Samir Palmer (61 catches for 910 yards, 10 TDs, 3 drops), C Marco Crum, DT Christian Barkley (11 TKL, 1 TFL, 4.5 Sacks, 1 FF), FS Cameron Bowden (23 TKL, 2 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR), ATH Ozzie Spillman (3 TKL, 1 INT) Key Returnees: OT Emil Colon, OG Luka Pratt, DE Tyler Toney (12 TKL, 4.0 Sacks, 1 FF), DT Darnell Herron (6 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 FR), OLB Josiah Benton (18 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD), CB Eric Hall (9 TKL, 6 INT, 6 PD) Key Newcomers: WR Zion Carroll (RFr), TE Avery Witherspoon, OT Julian Gilbert, SS Thierno Herbert (RFr) Last Year’s Conference Finish: 3rd (2nd PAC South) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 9th (5th PAC South) Overview: Like several other PAC teams inconsistent recruiting over the last couple of seasons is coming due for the Wildcats this year, but in Arizona’s case it’s exacerbated by losing C Marco Crum and OLB Phillip Davenport early to the draft. If they are to contend for the South this year it’ll be on the backs of a skilled “Desert Swarm” defense that has less questions to answer than the offense does. Position of Strength: Cornerbacks. With Eric Hall returning for his senior season, he and fellow senior Shamar Chavis (6 TKL, 5 INT) make a formidable pair of corners. Add in sophomores Nawkaw Rudd and Stephen Spencer, and you have the best CB group in the PAC. Position of Weakness: Offensive skill positions. We expect the Wildcats to name QB Adam Slone, RB Keiki Tatupu, WR Eli LeDesma, WR Zion Carroll, and TE Avery Witherspoon as starters. The first three names are 3.0/3.0s, the last two are 2.0/3.5s, and of all of them only Ledesma saw any playing time in 2021. Not only are there going to be growing pains with Arizona's offense, the growing looks to have a limited ceiling. Position to Watch: Center. Marco Crum leaving early was unexpected and seriously hurts the Wildcats’ line strength. Now coach Jumanji has some tough decisions to make. The best natural option at C is true sophomore Paul Abrams (2.0/3.0), who really needed another year of seasoning. Could Arizona maybe slide guard Samuel Teague or Mark Vanhorn over? Coaches’ Comments: The Wildcats have a top 25 defense combined with probably the worst offense in the Pac 12 and I don't see the defense carrying them to anymore than 7-8 wins this season. Eric Hall and Tyler Toney are going to feast on opposing offenses and put themselves into consideration as 1st round picks in next year's NFL Draft. This team is a shell of itself. The defense should still be fine with some talent there, but whew that offense is brutal. A couple nice pieces on the o-line, but a 3.0 QB, 3.0 RB, and best WR a 3.5 spell disaster for this team. They lost a lot of starters and will suck this year. Need a new QB. Like me This team is going to struggle immensely, quite a precipitous drop for a team that's been good for a long time. Eric Hall is just about the only player of consequence on either side of the ball. Lost a lot of talent this year. Should struggle more than they are used to. Very strong o-line and d-line and cornerbacks. Safeties and skill positions are a big question mark. Will depend if the o-line can hold the defense away to give the QB time to find his marks. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-7 last year) Coach: @ndunkelbarger69 (5th year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 7 Key Losses: TE Ibrahima Harrison (34 catches for 420 yards, 2 TDs, 3 drops), OT Tywin Babcock, OLB Timothy Greer, ILB Omar Gore (25 TKL, 1 TFL) Key Returnees: QB Parker Townsend (183 of 284 [64.44%] for 2320 yards, 17/5 TD/INT, 193.33 YPG, 49 rushes for 360 yards, 5 TDs), RB Israel Carlson (280 rushes for 1551 yards, 18 TDs, 1 Fum Lost, 129.25 YPG), C Nikolas DeJesus, DT Alpha Goldman (29 TKL, 8 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 2 FF), CB Jeremy Tolliver (6 TKL, 3 INT, 1 PD) Key Newcomers: ILB Jared Hansen Last Year’s Conference Finish: 7th (5th PAC South) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 5th (2nd PAC South) Overview: At first glance it seems that ASU has too many question marks to contend for the Pac-12 South, but you should never count out a team that has a talent like Israel Carlson. Still, if the Sun Devils make a serious run they’ll have to do it 1) behind a methodical ball-control offense that wants to stay on the field as much as possible, and 2) by dodging the Pipe. Can they? Maybe, maybe not. But this year is probably their best shot at it. Position of Strength: Running game. As a freshman Israel Carlson was second in the PAC with 1551 yards, behind only Oregon’s Trevon Yeldon. With an offense that’s dedicated to the ground game (a scrambling QB, a run blocking bulldozer at FB, four of five linemen that specialize in run blocking) and Yeldon bolting to the pros, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Carlson as the PAC’s leading rusher this year by a comfortable margin. Position of Weakness: Defensive End. With only three DEs on the roster and only one with a 3-star rating, there won’t be much edge pressure from this front four. Although last year’s starters Parker Fry (3.0/3.0) and Yariel Ordonez (2.5/2.5) combined for nine sacks last season, we expect offensive tackles will still play on islands against the Sun Devils while the guards look to contain DT Alpha Goldman. Position to Watch: Depth. Arizona State is one of a handful of PAC teams with very few capable backups. The starting 22 has enough talent to compete, but they have perhaps the smallest cushion for injury in the conference - some positions can’t even field full two-deeps (*cough* OT). Coaches’ Comments: Some real talent (Iz Carson might be the best back in the country) and some decent skill at key positions is hampered by absolutely no depth. ASU is going to basically be playing IronMan football this year, and that means problems. I genuinely like the look of their offence The fearsome Townsend and Carlson duo is back now with 2 5.0 WRs. Defense has some holes but is solid. Definitely one of the top favorites to win the South. Israel Carlson rushed for over 1500 yards as a redshirt Freshman and he'll be even better this year. As Herm Edwards would say, "You gotta watch out for them devils." Very happy I don't have to play them this year. Let's see if the Sun Devils can turn it around on the recruiting trail this year. Very strong corp of receivers with talented up-and-coming run game. thin depth at oline. This will be their strongest year for the next 2-3 seasons. Might have the new "Yeldon" this year. If their RB is healthy they will remain a good team. PAC12 Championship Contender California Golden Bears (2-10 last year) Coach: @Quasar (8th year) Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 7 Key Losses: QB Leonard Norris (227 of 364 [62.36%] for 2779 yards, 23/10 TD/INT, 231.58 YPG), OT Larry Byrne, DE Leon Maimoana (31 TKL, 3 TFL, 8.0 Sacks), SS Patrick Causey (10 TKL, 1 INT, 2 PD), K Sam Walsh (19/19 FGs, Long 55) Key Returnees: RB Zachary McFadden (208 carries for 904 yards, 7 TDs, 3 catches for 31 yards), WR Calvin Levesque (56 catches for 845 yards, 10 TDs), C John Eubanks, ATH/DT Adam Gibson (31 TKL, 6 TKL, 10.0 Sacks, 1 FR), ILB Ethan McIntyre (5 TKL), CB Blaine Lewis-Thompson (6 TKL, 1 INT, 2 PD) Key Newcomers: WR Spencer Sharpe (JuCo), TE Kahiau Alama (RFr), DE Jamal Dorsey (RFr), CB Shaq Kimbrough (JuCo), ATH/K Chris Darnell Last Year’s Conference Finish: 11th (5th PAC North) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 8th (4th PAC North) Overview: On paper the Golden Bears looked better than 2-10 in 2021, but a young and porous defense let up the third most points in the conference and a young offensive line scuttled the Cal attack more often than not, leading to an ugly -74 point differential. Now with a year of experience to lean on, the young Bears should be able to make a bowl game. However, they still look to be a step behind the top teams in the North. Position of Strength: Cornerbacks. Blaine Lewis-Thompson didn’t appear much in the stat sheet, but opposing teams didn’t feel the need to throw against Cal. The boundaries of the field may still be off-limits to many QBs, because BLT and his partner Aaden Dent (4/4) both returned for their senior seasons. Position of Weakness: Safeties. The deep middle of the field? Now that might be a different story. Neither Victor Gipson nor Lardarius Gilmore inspired any confidence in the coaching staff, so JuCo Kimbrough slides right in at FS - even though he’s a cornerback by trade. How he handles the new position will be watched closely by Cal fans, and it’s questionable if SS Stephen Rawls has the chops and ability to cover for any mistakes Kimbrough makes. Position to Watch: The kicking game. Quasar is giving both placekicking and punting duties to true freshman Chris Darnell. The blue-chipper has the all the talent in the world, but will he be able to handle the workload AND the pressure? Coaches’ Comments: Team looks okay. About the same as last year, which was brutal, so hard to say how they'll do. Cal might be a bit of a surprise team in the North, if their all-new backfield can get it together. Adam Gibson is as good as it gets, and BLT needs a bounce-back year after disappearing in 2021. Cal is gonna notch a few upsets, but ultimately look like a fringe bowl team. Kind of a wild card. Will win quite a few games imo. PAC 12 North Contenders A team that finished 2-10 last year and only marginally improved. I could see them winning 4-5 games this year, but the Golden Bears shouldn't be worried. The recruiting classes they've been pulling in will eventually flourish and this team will be a competitor. For now, however, they are not. Good receivers. Great group of receivers. Will compete for a conference championship next year. Colorado Buffaloes (5-7 last year) Coach: @paperllamasunited (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6 Key Losses: QB Evan Torres (181 of 299 [60.54%] for 2136 yards, 12/9 TD/INT, 178.00 YPG), ILB Malik Graves (23 TKL, 1.0 Sack), FS Seth Scott (17 TKL, 1 INT, 2 PD) Key Returnees: RB Latavius Murray (232 carries for 1089 yards, 11 TDs, 3 Fum Lost, 2 catches for 34 yards), WR Patrick Reardon (42 catches for 544 yards, 5 TDs, 1 Drop), DE Travis Napier (38 TKL, 5 TFL, 10.5 Sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR), OLB Sam Caron (26 TKL, 1 TFL, 3.5 Sacks), CB DeSean Barkley (12 TKL, 7 INT, 4 PD) Key Newcomers: QB Mike Naylor (RFr), TE Kameron McCrary (RFr), CB Chad Manuel (RFr), ILB Robert Dodson (RFr) Last Year’s Conference Finish: 10th (6th PAC South) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 6th (3rd PAC South) Overview: An oddly inconsistent 2021 Buffaloes squad gives way to a 2022 team that looks like it can compete for the PAC South crown - if they can answer two big questions. Position of Strength: Defense. There are studs all over the place. On the line twin 4.5/4.5 bookends Josh Bain and Travis Napier are set to wreak havoc, and behind them could come OLBs Frederick Grant and potential 2023 first-rounder Sam Caron. The backend is buoyed by yet another possible first round player in CB DeSean Barkley, and the rest of the secondary aren’t slouches themselves. However... Position of Weakness: Question 1: Defensive scheme. The Buffs look like a defense in transition. Are they a 3-4 or a 4-3? The majority of their personnel seem to dictate a 3-4, but that miscasts 1-Gapper Aaron Doty as a nose tackle. On top of that OLB Jaden Rogers is sliding inside to play the Mike, which seems really ambitious. Perhaps we’ll see a heavy dose of blitzing from the Colorado defense this year. Position to Watch: Question 2: Offensive scheme. Redshirt freshman Mike Naylor looks to be as polished a player as you could ask for from a first-year starter. There’s lots of talent surrounding him, from Murray to the experienced receiving corps and offensive line. But Naylor is much more of a scrambler than his predecessor Evan Torres was. But considering that Colorado scored the lowest amount of points in the PAC last year maybe a scheme change isn’t a horrible thing to implement. Does coach llamas see shades of Walt Sutherland and Byron Suggs in Naylor? Coaches’ Comments: Run game is the strong suit, average most other positions Worst team in the best div? The Buffaloes had a pretty disappointing collapse last season, finishing 5-7, after starting the year 3-0. However, this season's team could very easily finish the year with 9 to 10 wins. Latavious Murray is entering his final year in Denver and should be rushing for close to 1500 yards behind a good, but not great, offensive line. My only concern is about how committed HC llamas is to the college game. DeSean Barkley is a STUD. Top 10 D. Really depends on their Freshman QB, have them as the 2nd best team in the PAC. Naylor and Murray are an interesting pair on Offense. Caron, Napier, and Barkely are formidable on Defense, but there is not a lot happening on the OLine or much past these studs. Naylor, despite his 4/4 skill, is still a (FR). Ups and downs. Looks like 5-7 wins to me. Solid all around team with some star seniors in there. Struggled last year but could contend for the division this year. Oregon Ducks (10-4 last year) Coach: @bingo415 (3rd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 9 Key Losses: RB Trevon Yeldon (282 carries for 1,999 yards, 27 TDs, 166.6 YPG), QB Michael Coe (196 of 308 [63.6%] for 2,471 yards, 17/6 TD/INT, 205.9 YPG), WR Max Bakhtiari (45 catches for 707 yards, 6 TDs), CB Tre'Davious Dikes (15 TKL, 6 INT, 5 PD, 1 INT Ret TD) Key Returnees: QB Jason Baum (Redshirt in 2021), WR Kristian Hope (45 catches for 593 yards, 5 TDs, 3 Drops), DE Daniel Cuevas (34 TKL, 3 TFL, 10.5 Sacks), OLB Blake Martin (48 TKL, 6 TFL, 7.0 Sacks, 3 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF), CB Jamir Lacey (6 TKL, 3 INT), CB Donte Terry (1 TKL, 1 INT) Key Newcomers: TE Jack Booth, TE Aboubacar Dukes (JuCo), C Brian McMedley (RFr), OLB Jacob Gaines (RFr) Last Year’s Conference Finish: 2nd (1st PAC North) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 4th (3rd PAC North) Overview: Losing Yeldon early to the draft is a huge blow to the Ducks’ natty aspirations, but they should still be considered among the early favorites for the Pac-12 title due to an excellent defense that returns virtually everyone from last year. Position of Strength: Defensive Line. The Ducks return all four starters from a productive line that racked up 57 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 17.0 sacks, and a safety between them. All four stand a good chance at playing on Sundays, with senior space-eater Landry Everett likely to be the first to do so. Position of Weakness: Middle Linebacker. True freshman Ryder Gruber (1.0/4.0) is the future at ILB for the Ducks, but coach Bingo may feel that he has to be the present also because all the other options are either young as well or simply emergency depth material - the other best option is probably redshirt freshman Bill Talbot (2.0/3.5). Oregon’s saving grace is that there is so much talent on this defense that they don’t have to ask too much of the MLB. Position to Watch: Kicking game. Senior Jaden Ross struggled last season; 13 of 19 (68.4%) on FGs with a long of 46. But the sad truth is that the Ducks have no definitively better options, so they’ll just have to hope that his misses don’t hurt them in the long run. Coaches’ Comments: Solid Offense will definitely struggle due to mediocre QB and RB, but the rest of the team is good enough with bingo's coaching to be one of the top teams this year. Going to regress this year after losing yeldon. Trevon Yeldon is gone. The Ducks offense is really going to feel his loss. This team will only go as far as it's defense takes it. Good thing that defense is ridiculously good. Big question at running back. Receiving anchored by Kristian Hope. O-line will be best in the conference next year. D-line may be impenetrable. May be the best defense in the conference this year. Coach has to get creative on offense due to a lack of high-end talent at the skill positions, but the OLine is good and should be a strength. The defense will keep them in games all season. Might not make it 3 North titles in a row. Will really miss Yeldon. This should be a down year, but with the recruiting they have had previously it won't be long until they are competing for the PAC again. Oregon State Beavers (8-5 last year) Coach: @DoesItFitInABreadBox (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6 Key Losses: OLB Thomas Metzger (28 TKL, 1 TFL, 3.5 Sacks, 1 PD, 1 FF), CB Jamari Turner (8 TKL, 4 INTs, 1 PD, 1 TD) Key Returnees: RB Lloyd Samuels (244 carries for 1146 yards, 11 TDs, 5 catches for 84 yards), WR Richard Rolle (52 catches for 749 yards, 8 TDs, 1 Drop), OT Mason Hamby, K Elliot Ellis (19 of 21 [90.48%] FGs, long 49) Key Newcomers: DE Larry Swain (RFr), CB Dylan Talbert (RFr) Last Year’s Conference Finish: 8th (3rd PAC North) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 12th (6th PAC North) Overview: Undoubtedly the feel-good story of 2021 was the Oregon State football team. The owners of a CFBHC record 27-game losing streak shocked the world with not just achieving their first winning record, not just making it to their second-ever bowl game, but winning said bowl game (and giving @constapatedape the unique distinction of losing to the Beavers twice in a season). But that was last year and 2022 is what this article is about. So can the Beavers do it again and finish in the top half of the North? Not without some help. The team overall is solid to decent across the board but doesn’t have any noticeable advantages to leverage. They now have new coach DoesItFitInABreadBox to gameplan, and he’s going to have to be to good at it because Oregon State will be out-talented for the majority of their games. Position of Strength: Team consistency. They project to have no one worse than 3.0/3.0 or 2.0/4.0 anywhere in the starting 22. Beaver opponents have to work harder to beat them, as there’s no obvious weak point. Position of Weakness: Secondary. Having said that, a 3.0 isn’t quite as good as a 3.5 or a 4.0. And this is the area where there are more 3.0s potentially starting than anywhere else. FS Adam Harden is one who is expected to start, and it will be a three-way dance between 3-stars Sincere Harris and Daveed Lawton, and redshirt 2.0/4.0 freshman Dylan Talbert for the two starting CB spots. Offenses will be tempted to look here and see if they can bend more than the rest of the defense. Position to Watch: Head coach. Coaching the Beavers is the “Challenge Mode” of the Pac-12. They have a competitive team, but one that isn’t likely to be favored in many conference games if at all. More than any other PAC team they need a steady hand to guide and gameplan them to victory while recruiting well for their future. No pressure, DoesItFitInABreadBox. Coaches’ Comments: I wish someone would stay here Oof. Beavs are gonna be bad. No real talent across the board, and they have a tough schedule. Beavs staring at 1, maybe 2, wins. Receivers are a weak spot, but a balanced run game could help a lot. Average oline and dline. Mason Hamby will be the team captain until he leaves. All around average team. Need a committed and consistent coach Turrible. Had the most success they ever had last year, can't see them replicating that this year. Average. That's the only word that comes to mind when I look at this team. Nothing really jumps out at you when you look at the Beavers' roster. Average is in no way a bad thing, however. Average is probably good enough for a 4th place finish in the North. They were okay last year with rotating coaches. I wouldn't project them to do much this year, but they've proven they can so you never know. Stanford Cardinal (1–11 last year) Coach: @stinsy (3rd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6 Key Losses: QB Clint Campbell (233 of 397 [58.69%] for 2678 yards, 24/12 TD/INT ratio, 223.17 YPG), WR Joshua Freeman (51 catches for 637 yards, 11 TDs, 2 Drops), WR John O'Donnell-Beavers (63 catches for 784 yards, 6 TDs, 6 Drops), OLB Xavier Collier (17 TKL, 2 TFL, 3.5 Sacks, 1 PD), FS Damani Sheppard (27 TKL, 2 INT, 4 PD) Key Returnees: FB Sebastian McCain, TE Zachary Shields (6 catches for 86 yards, 1 TD), DE Jeffrey Russell (24 TKL, 3 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 1 FF), CB Donovan Powell (7 TKL, 3 INT) Key Newcomers: QB Troy McMurray (JuCo), WR Aboubacar Oates, WR Jake Britton Last Year’s Conference Finish: 12th (6th PAC North) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 10th (5th PAC North) Overview: When stinsy took over as coach, Stanford’s roster was a mess due to the previous coach’s inattention. The Cardinal have some promising pieces, but they are still very much a work in progress with several notable holes. Stinsy has them moving in the right direction but they’re at least a good year or two away from contention. Position of Strength: Safeties. Even with free safety Damani Sheppard moving on to the pros, replacement Marc Fox and SS Javier Hayward (11 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 PD) make for a pretty good last line of defense - useful when your 2022 schedule includes the potent passing attacks of USC, Washington, SDSU, and UCLA among others. Position of Weakness: Wide receiver. The only returning WRs are all true sophomores and none is better than 1.5/2.5. Highly touted receivers Aboubacar Oates and Jake Britton will likely go straight from high school to starting roles as true freshmen. Position to Watch: Quarterback. Stinsy managed to grab JuCo QB Troy McMurray to replace departed started Clint Campbell. McMurray looks like a player, but outside of TE Zachary Shields he has zero reliable targets to throw to. If he comes anywhere close to 2300 yards passing and 20 TDs it’s probably a minor miracle, and coach stinsy may have to incorporate McMurray’s legs into the Cardinal offense a lot this year. Coaches’ Comments: A couple pieces a way, but they are key pieces. Should struggle this year. McMurray should help them get an extra win or two, but there's too many holes for them to be a serious contender. Eh they’ll be okay. Very very young WR corp may waste talents of Troy McMurray. Zachary Shields may be the number one receiver. Lot of questions at defense. Stanford still has a couple of years left in their rebuilding process and that's very apparent with how many holes their team is filled with. They do have a shiny new toy with quarterback Troy McMurray, but with no real receiving threats and no real threat of a run game, this team is in for another rough season. I don't predict more than 4 wins for the Cardinal. They need Andrew Lu-... oh wait UCLA Bruins (9-4 last year) Coach: @cultur3 (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 7 Key Losses: QB Steven Gore (354 of 566 [62.54%] for 4238 yards, 41/6 TD/INT ratio, 353.17 YPG), WR Jay Arreola (89 catches for 1383 yards, 17 TDs, 1 Drop), OG Angelo Denny, OT Ryan Redding, OG/C/ATH/TE/WR/KR/Left Field/Goaltender/Flight Attendant Darius Waters. Key Returnees: RB Frederick Girard (112 carries for 404 yards, 4 TDs, 3 catches for 23 yards), WR Ronan Humphreys (72 catches for 1066 yards, 11 TDs, 3 Drops), WR Noah Tumaalii (63 catches for 890 yards, 11 TDs, 2 Drops), C Maurice Poindexter, DE Blake Tipton (25 TKL, 6 TFL, 10.5 Sacks, 1 FF), OLB Tavarius Hicks (45 TKL, 1 TFL, 1.0 Sack, 2 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR), SS D'Andre Curry (11 TKL, 2 INT) Key Newcomers: QB Aaron Harden (RFr), WR Brian D'Angelo (JuCo), OT Shane Reese (RFr), DE Shia Abernathy (RFr), FS Nathan Tolliver Last Year’s Conference Finish: 4th (3rd PAC South) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 7th (4th PAC South) Overview: UCLA had a better 2021 than what many observers thought they would. But a big portion of that potent 2021 offense is no longer here, and there’s enough of a talent gap between them and some of the other South teams that any picks for the Bruins to win the South should be qualified with the word “darkhorse.” Position of Strength: Wide Receiver. Even with Arreola leaving early this is a formidable group. Ronan Humphreys (4.0/4.0) caught over 1000 yards himself last season, while slot receiver Noah Tumaali (4.0/4.5) had nearly 900 himself and is expected by observers to take over the #1 WR position. JuCo Brian D’Angelo (3.5/4.5) looks to have inside position on the slot receiver role and all three of these pass catchers are at least 6’3”, making them matchup nightmares for defensive backs. Position of Weakness: Quarterback. Redshirt freshman Aaron Harden is clearly the man now for the Bruins, but for all his talent the fans will have to remember he isn’t Steven Gore. Harden redshirted last year, so this will be his first experience of real in-game action. On top of that Harden was a passer that liked to roll out and be on the move in high school; how will that mesh with the vertical concepts UCLA used last year? Position to Watch: Running back. As in, “Will Frederick Girard actually see some use?” He chipped in 404 yards on the ground last year on only 112 carries so his legs are quite fresh. Harden could probably use a stronger running game to take some of the pressure off his arm this year. Coaches’ Comments: Hot weather, average results It all hinges on Aaron Harden. If he's good as a freshman this team could be really good. If he has typical freshman struggles, this team could be really bad. Quarterback Aaron Harden is an exciting prospect, but he's young and might make a lot of mistakes. Good thing he has some great receivers to help relieve the pressure on his first starting season. The Bruins have come a long way on defense from last season and should be pushing for a spot in the Coaches Poll. Bruins will go as far as Aaron Harden takes them. If he plays like a Freshman, they'll struggle. But here's guessing his veteran WRs and OLine will step up. Can the secondary stop anyone? Who knows, but the front 7 is goooood. Lost a lot of major contributors to the draft. Young team, will live and (mostly) die by their young quarterback Redshirt freshmen at QB with lots of potential. Hopefully a solid WR will help settle him in. O line is up and coming and may become one of the best in the conference in a few years. Defense has some holes, especially in the secondary, but overall very, very strong. Overrated. Possibly the most overrated team in the site. USC Trojans (7-6 last year) Coach: @Jumbo (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 5 Key Losses: RB Bernard Shook (272 carries for 1,349 yards, 11 TDs, 122.64 YPG), DE Cameron Goode (25 TKL, 2 TFL, 8.5 Sacks, 2 FF), DT Ben Beckwith (19 TFL, 3.0 Sacks, 1 FR), CB Donovan Singleton-Blake (5 TKL, 3 INT, 4 PD) Key Returnees: QB Marc Lockwood (146 of 217 [67.28%] for 1765 yards, 10/4 TD/INT ratio, 196.11 YPG, 41 carries for 267 yards, 4 TDs), RB Charles Bowser (no 2021 stats), WR Samuel Gulla (45 catches for 641 yards, 7 TDs, 2 Drops), WR Marc Ponder (38 catches for 544 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Drop), C Conor Hall, OLB Gregory Gibson (27 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD), ILB Nate Garrett (63 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR) Key Newcomers: OT Anthony McGregor, DE Damien Bethea (JuCo), DT Oluwatoke Abiodun (Nigeria), DT Christian Callahan, CB Maximillian Wilcox Last Year’s Conference Finish: 6th (4th PAC South) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 1st (1st PAC South) Overview: The Trojans may be 2022’s #Pac12AfterDark designated representative, thanks to a potent offense and a defense long on talent but short on experience. If USC doesn’t win the South it’s primarily due to lean recruiting classes they suffered before Jumbo arrived. But it won’t stop the Trojans from being entertaining. Position of Strength: Offense. Most defensive gameplans will focus on stopping the receiving trio of WR Samuel Gulla, WR Marc Ponder, and TE Mualu Sititi. But redshirt sophomore RB Charles Bowser will pick up where the graduated Bernard Shook left off, and a talented offensive line will give both the Trojan air and ground games time and space to get going. Position of Weakness: Secondary. The likely candidates for both starting cornerback spots and the nickelback are all true freshmen. The only returning starter, FS Justin Grayson, is a true sophomore and is in a heated battle with yet another freshman. There’s talent here, especially CBs Maximillian Wilcox (2.0/5.0) and Darren Tamayo (1.5/4.0), but if they play this year they’re going to learn the hard way. Position to Watch: Quarterback. The Trojans may want to invest in bubble wrap for Marc Lockwood. When he went down with a rotator cuff injury against the Utes in week 4, so did USC’s chances at winning the division. If the Pipe again visits Lockwood, it’s probably on junior Sebastian Reardon to pick up the slack. If that happens hopefully he does MUCH better than last year. (18 of 38 [47.37%] for 216 yards, 1/4 TD/INT) Coaches’ Comments: My pick for the best team in the Pac 12 this season. I believe they have a top 5 offense nationally and should be in the running for a College Football Playoff spot. Gonna be a tough out each week If the QB stays healthy, should be a good season. Probably the most complete team in the conference. Will compete with Oregon blow for blow. This is looking like the best team in the South by a long shot. Biggest question: secondary play. If they keep passing teams under 300 yards, they'll win every Conference game. Times are on the up I hate those losers. They should be favorites to win the PAC and should make the playoffs this year. Utah Utes (11-3, CFBHC Playoffs last year) Coach: @Kirby (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 4 Defense: 5 Key Losses: QB Donald Culver (306 of 465 [65.81%] for 3826 yards, 37/6 TD/INT, 318.83 YPG), OG Fletcher Joyner, DE Derrick Hightower (18 TKL, 5 TFL, 7.0 Sacks), ILB Javon Knox (41 TKL, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 1 FF), OLB Patrick Haines (33 TKL, 5 PD, 1 FR) Key Returnees: RB Savion Talley (160 carries for 705 yards, 8 TDs, 18 catches for 243 yards, 2 TDs), WR Sawyer Lawrence (68 catches for 1023 yards, 13 TDs, 4 Drops), WR K.J. Simpson (45 catches for 698, 8 TDs, 3 Drops), OG Silolo Siula, CB Zion Hooker (9 TKL, 3 INT, 4 PD), SS Brody Gibbons (27 TKL, 2 INT, 3 PD) Key Newcomers: DE Dion Pryor Last Year’s Conference Finish: 1st (1st PAC South) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 11th (6th PAC South) Overview: The Utes achieved way more than anyone could have dreamed last year, forcing their way into the CFBHC playoffs behind the right arm of the Mormon Lasercannon Donald Culver. It’s a good thing for new coach Kirby that he has all these playoff recruiting points to work with because between graduations, early declarations, and non-existent 2020-2021 recruiting Utah is in very real danger of being a first-to-worst story in the South. Position of Strength: Pass catchers. There’s a pair of highly-experienced wideout atop the WR depth chart in Lawrence and Simpson. Combine them with receiving TE Aneterea Tupuimatagi and RB Savion Talley and there will be a lot of targets for new QB James Coulter to choose from. Position of Weakness: Defensive line. It’s.... not good. The only returning starter on the line is 2.5/2.5 DE Devon Dunbar who did manage to rack up 3.0 sacks. His opposing number is 3-star true freshman Dion Pryor, who is forced to play way too soon and in between is 2/3.5 Marlon Spencer who has decent size (6’1” 294) but not the experience. Also, Dunbar and Pryor are the only two DEs on the entire roster. Position to Watch: Quarterback. Culver’s shoes were always going to be next to impossible to fill, but still, Ute fans have to be nervous watching 3-star Coulter taking snaps now even though he’s clearly the best of the bunch. It’s no wonder local recruit QB Finn Leonard’s twitter has been blowing up with a lot of #GoUtes hashtags. Coaches’ Comments: Without Culver, and with a brutal front 7, this looks like one of the worst teams in the conference this year. It's going to be bad. This is not going to be fun year in SLC. Those stud WRs are going to be starved for any sort of consistent passing game, and Brody Gibson is going to have to try to rally the entire (outmanned) defense. 3-4 wins for the Utes is all. Just turrible. Better get some good use out of those recruiting points. Going to decline heavily this year. Might finish last in the south. A team that, in my opinion, was mostly carried by Donald Culver last season will hit a very big speed bump this year. Utah will finish last in the South and I don't think it will be close. Need a QB. Eye spy with my little eye (also need depth in just about every position) Questions at defense end, but secondary may bail out the dline and linebackers. Washington Huskies (8-5 last year) Coach: Jieret (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 7 Key Losses: DE Miles Slater (17 TKL, 5 TFL, 5.5 Sacks, 1 FF), TE Omeri Maimoana (27 catches for 362 yards, 1 TD, 1 Drop) Key Returnees: QB Jake Davis (262 of 436 [60.1%] for 3,290 yards, 23/9 TD/INT, 274.2 YPG), WR Davis Harley (69 catches for 963 yards, 9 TDs), OG Logan Romano, DE Jermon McKnight (34 TKL, 5 TFL, 10 Sacks), DT Julius Mercer (18 TKL, 3 TFL, 3.5 Sacks, 1 FR), CB Kofi Dennis (9 TKL, 5 INT, 1 PD) Key Newcomers: WR D.D. Dyson (RFr) Last Year’s Conference Finish: 5th (2nd PAC North) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 2nd (1st PAC North) Overview: Coach Jieret arrives in the Pacific Northwest after two MAC championships, a playoff appearance, and a 34-7 record in three seasons with the Western Michigan Broncos. If he can harness the potential of this team, they are a solid contender for the North division crown. But a few weak spots and the incredibly top-heavy nature of this team should temper fan expectations. Position of Strength: Passing game. Junior QB Jake Davis looked like he figured some things out in the second half last year. If that’s true then he’ll be able to do a lot of damage, especially with a solid and experienced receiving corps in Davis Harley, Jason Ivy (25 catches for 451 yards, 3 TDs), and Adrien Araujo (52 catches for 800 yards, 6 TDs). That’s a lot of weapons for Davis, and we didn’t even mention redshirt freshman D.D. Dyson (2.0/5.0) until now. Position of Weakness: Depth. Except for a handful of positions, there is a HUGE difference in the skill levels of the starters versus the backups. No one is safe from the Pipe, but the Huskies are particularly susceptible - even a few random visits would spell disaster, never mind if they hit a key player like Davis. Position to Watch: Running back. Last season’s starter Darius Armstrong returns, but even accounting for the pass-heavy offense his numbers weren’t all that impressive (171 carries for 679 yards, 6 TDs). Expect redshirt sophomore Kofi Walls to put up a spirited fight in training camp. Coaches’ Comments: Very strong team. Deep at CB, but lacks a true leader. Linebackers a question mark. Strong offense. Might be the preseason favorite in the North, but they're going to have to get some real production out of a secondary that appears to only be OK on paper. Jake Davis has turned a corner and has some real talent to work with at WR, but Kofi Walls needs to give them a LITTLE balance for real success. Crooting hurt them the last few years, but with a new coach there will be some new excitement. Should be a really good team. Jake is going to have a breakout year and help make the playoffs. If Jieret can coach up Jake Davis, this team is gonna rip through the entire conference this year. New coach who dis. Jieret made the move from Kalamazoo to Seattle and has a top 25 team in his hands. I'm very excited to see how Jake Davis performs under his guidance. Easy Playoff contender in my opinion. Hunky new coach. (Editor's note: Again we would like to remind the readers that the Coaches' Comments are not only unedited but also did not come from Jieret.) Washington State Cougars(5-7 last year) Coach: @Arc1126 (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 9 Key Losses: WR Eric Krause (44 catches for 738 yards, 7 TDs, 2 Drops), TE Eduardo Cantu (27 catches for 462 yards, 7 TDs, 6 Drops), FS Darius Patton (11 TKL, 1 INT, 1 PD) Key Returnees: QB Bradley Hassan (247 of 381 [64.83%] for 3217 yarads, 30/11 TD/INT, 268.08 YPG, 7 rushes for 16 yards, 1 TD), WR Luke Sikuli (75 catches for 1080 yards, 12 TDs), OT Riley Greenfield, DE Henry Negron (39 TKL, 6 TFL, 8.0 Sacks), DE Quincy Hobson (17 TKL, 3 TFL, 5.0 Sacks, 1 FF), ILB Aaron Mathis (56 TKL, 2 TFL, 3 PD,1 FF) Key Newcomers: DE Emmanuel Knox (JuCo), CB Darron Rucker (JuCo), FS Lardarius Braswell Jr. (RFr), SS Thomas Gay (RFr) Last Year’s Conference Finish: 9th (4th PAC North) 2022 Projected Conference Finish: 3rd (2nd PAC North) Overview: After longtime coach constapatedape left for $Texas, Arc1126 moved cross-country from Syracuse to take up Ol’ Crimson. He inherits a roster that returns more starters in the 22 than any other PAC team, and Wazzu surely should improve on their disappointing 5-7 2021 campaign - perhaps even to the point of being a contender to the PAC title. Position of Strength: Defensive Ends. It isn’t often we talk about rotational depth, but Washington State has three potent defensive ends between JuCo transfer Knox, Negron, and Hobson (who is good enough that he could declare early and be a potential first-round pick). Opposing QBs and their offensive tackles aren’t going to get much rest. Position of Weakness: Wide receiver. Leading WR Luke Sikuli returns, but there isn’t anyone behind him that looks like a credible threat. True sophomore Landon Muse will likely be the #2, but expect the Cougs to run multiple 12 and 22 sets to maximize their passing game with TEs Antonio Greer and Andre Riggins. Position to Watch: Safeties. The Cougs are breaking in two new starters on the backend. Both FS Lardarius Braswell Jr. and SS Thomas Gay have performed well in camp but they are still both redshirt freshmen, so it remains to be seen how they hold up in actual games. Coaches’ Comments: If coach ape was still in Pullman, I might pick the Cougs to be the top dog on the West Coast, but I don't know what direction new arrival Arc will be taking the team in, so I'm hesitant to rank them #1. This team has a scary defense and probably one of the best linebacking units in the nation. Washington State @ Washington will be a huge game with a lot on the line. The Apple Cup is going to a great battle. Cougs look like they have a boatload of skill in good spots. Bradley Hassan is good, but why is Luke Sikuli WR2? Coug DLine is gonna be fun to watch. Poor mans Huskies JUCOs really helped them out. Should be the best improved team in the nation and should contend for a PAC championship Improving but have a long way to go. This team has some good players at random positions, but they just kinda scream mediocrity to me. Safeties a question mark, relatively balanced oline. skill positions above average.
Welcome to the 2021 season! It's great to be back for another season of wild #MACtion. 2020 was a good year for the conference with seven teams making a bowl and their first-ever playoff appearance. Will 2021 be even better? We certainly hope so. But let's look at the teams of the Mid-American! Along with analysis by the MAC Network, the MAC coaches were also polled and asked to rank the teams based on where they think each school will finish this year. Some also provided their comments on each team. Without further ado, in alphabetical order.... (Note: any stats provided are 2020 season stats.) Akron Zips (9-4 last year) Coach: @darkage (3rd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 5 Key Losses: QB T.J. Zamora (230 of 367 for 2850 yards, 18/7 TD/INT, 57 rushes for 348 yards, 2 rush TDs, 1 Fum Lost), C Jacob Alves, CB Troy Galloway (17 TKL, 5 INT, 1 FR), SS Jadon Boykin (10 TKL) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 3 Projected conference finish: 5th (3rd MAC East) Overview: Departed QB T.J. Zamora may have jump-started the Zips’ run to prominence last season, but it was the “Eater of Worlds” Marlon Bailey (49 tackles, 7.0 sacks) who raised the bar for an Akron team that led the conference in sacks with 28 last year. With Bailey returning for one more go-around, the Zips look to exceed expectations and challenge for the MAC East crown. Position of Strength: The defensive interior. As if dealing with Bailey wasn’t enough, Akron now features a second 5-star player on the line in DT Jeremiah Clarke. The duo is set to make life miserable for opposing offensive linemen and with JuCo MLB Devin Frazier plucked from nearby Kirtland, it’s hard to imagine many interior rushing plays going for positive yardage. Position of Weakness: Secondary. With no starters having higher than 3-star potential - and only FS Aron Ricketts playing to his potential - the Zips’ back four can expect to see a LOT of footballs chucked in their direction. Position to Watch: Quarterback. After four years of the T.J. Zamora Experience, redshirt junior Griffin Donahue will take the snaps under center. It took Zamora all the way until his senior year to put things together, can Donahue harness his talent sooner? It helps that he has underrated RB Nathaniel Ruff (287 carries for 1295, 12 TDs) to lean on. Coaches' Comments: Should run the ball well, offense capable of 25 PPG. Secondary is weakness on Defense. 6-8 Wins ceiling Expect a career year for Nathaniel Ruff, with behind a solid O-line, as opposed to an average receiving corp. Would be higher, but they have too may holes in the defense to claim a contender spot. Zips backfield is great, O-line okay, receviers meh. Running on this defense may be next to impossible, but that secondary is not good at all Strengths- run game, d-line. Weaknesses- Cbs/Wrs Ball State Cardinals (1-11 last year) Coach: @npklemm (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 5 Key Losses: WR Chan Pease (55 rec for 696 yards, 4 TDs) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 12 Projected conference finish: 8th (4th MAC West) Overview: In what was a shocking move to many - but shouldn’t have been- former Virginia coach npklemm left the Cavs after their first playoff appearance ever to return home to his alma mater. No one will doubt the coach’s credentials, but they do doubt Ball State’s ability to make a bowl this year. Npklemm hopes to accelerate the rebuilding process and bring the Cardinals to the same heights he brought the Hoos, sooner rather than later. Position of Strength: Defensive line. MAC coaches are tired of seeing Twin Tower DTs Isamaeli Afamasaga (20 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Rashaad Malcolm (34 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR) lining up next to each other - this is their third and final year doing so. But they’re lining up differently this time; with Ball State’s move to a 3-4 defense Afamasaga has been moved to the 5-technique DE spot. Position of Weakness: Linebacker. Three of their four starters (2.5/3.5. 2.5/3.5, 3.0/3.0, 2.5/3.0) are underclassmen and wouldn’t normally be starting. But lack of depth again rears its head, forcing players to play too early. Position to Watch: Quarterback. Which one would you like to have starting? QB A: 69 of 126 for 805 yds, 6/6 TD/INT in 5 games, 114.62 QBR QB B: 100 of 170 for 1089 yds, 4/7 TD/INT in 7 games, 112.16 QBR It was a rough year for any Ball State signal caller, but with no blue-chip QB prospect in the fold coach klemm gave the starting nod to Marquis Causey. Causey didn’t take the step forward many expected him to when Chan Pease was there; can klemm do his QB whisperer magic for Causey like he did with Matteo Rook? Causey is QB B, by the way. Coaches' Comments: You can see the beginnings of a potent offense, but even a coach like npklemm needs some time to mold his team. Only the defensive line scares you here QB is an issue. Back 7 leaves a lot to be desired. 6 Wins Ceiling Potential for a fun gun slinging offense with a host of well rounded staff. Defense on the whole seems under staffed with the exception of a few standouts. This feels too low. Offensive spark and a new coach with pedigree could have them surprise people. Strengths- d-line/safeties...COACH. Weaknesses- lack of depth at key postitions Bowling Green Falcons (2-10 last year) Coach: @Popadom17 (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 8 Defense: 6 Key Losses: OLB Brandon Thomas (50 TKL, 5.0 sacks), DE Theodore Bergeron (17 TKL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 10 Projected conference finish: 10th (6th MAC East) Overview: Good news: There’s a surprising amount of continuity on the Falcons roster with 14 of 22 starters from 2020 returning including five pro-potential offensive players. The bad news: Last year’s team badly underperformed compared to their skill level. Coach Popadom17 should raise the Falcons’ win total just by being a coach with a pulse and if he can harness the talent on this roster, a bowl game may be in play. Position of Strength: Interior offensive line. Left guard Maximilian Pope (4.0/4.0), center Jonas Zambrano (4.0/4.0), and right guard Derrick Briggs (5.0/5.0) are the best center/guard combination in the MAC, and match up favorably against any other interior group in the country. Bowling Green gave up the second most sacks in the conference with 25, but that was more about the putrid tackle play they had last year. Position of Weakness: Outside linebacker. The Falcons have only three OLBs on the roster and two of them are true freshmen. Expect both Fr Joshua Lyles and Jr Thierno McNeal to get tested a lot by tight ends and outside zone runs. Position to Watch: Running back. Zack Odell returns as the starter after a not-great year statistically (234 rushes for 982 yards, 8 TDs, 3 Fum Lost). His style doesn’t seem to mesh well with BGSU’s strengths on the offensive line, plus there’s the fumbleitis he suffered from last year. How will coach Popadom get Odell on track this year? Coaches' Comments: With 4.0 LG, 5.0 C, and 4.0 LG, this would be a Power RB's dream offensive line. But with Zach Odell, a speed RB, might not have as great of gains due to weaker OTs. Despite solid safties, the defensive line is paltry and the LB corp not much better. Teams with good RB's could just chip away with 4 yard carries all game and win comfortably. Strengths-o-line/safety. Weaknesses-tackles/guards/olbs Still good pieces scattered here and there, but who is Eddie Connelly throwing to? Coaches' focus could be on the recruiting trail as much as it is on the field. Good OL. Not much else on Offense. Defense will be a struggle too. Odd blend of senior experience and young "talent". 5 Win Ceiling Buffalo Bulls (10-3 last year) Coach: @SodapopSeth (6th year) Returning Starters: Offense: 5 Defense: 9 Key Losses: RB Mamadou Wynn (268 rushes for 1349 yards, 16 TDs), OT Marcus Waterman, OG Edward Galloway Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 4 Projected conference finish: 6th (4th MAC East) Overview: Out with MAMADOU SMASH, in with the Fabulous One. Tough-nosed Mamadou Wynn graduates, but Denzel Porter transfers in from the highly-competitive Fashion Institute of Technology. But it’s reigning MAC Offensive Player of the Year QB Blair Holcomb that determines how the Bulls season will go. Holcomb clearly has the talent and the trust of coach SodapopSeth, but a suddenly weak offensive line may derail the Holcomb train before it leaves the station. Position of Strength: Quarterback. Senior Blair Holcomb (268 of 399 for 3532 yards, 35/7 TD/INT) is undoubtedly the best quarterback in the MAC, and the improvement in the Bulls’ offensive output since he arrived on campus is startling. With a quartet of experienced pass-catchers to throw to, Buffalo’s fortunes are riding on Holcomb’s right arm. Position of Weakness: Offensive Line. It almost feels sacrilegious to type this, but these are not the implacable Buffalo road graders of years past. Although junior center D.J. Wilkinson is ready for the pros now, centers are playing at both guard positions and both tackles really needed another year or two to develop (2.5/3.5, 1.5/3.5). How well will Holcomb do when he doesn’t have the pockets develop for him like they did last year? Position to Watch: Placekicker. With no true placekicker on the roster that any coach would feel good about, Mohamed Saylor is back for a second year of double duty. He struggled mightily on field goals converting only two-thirds of his attempts (24 of 36, long 42), and this phase of the game cost the Bulls at least two wins last year. If Saylor struggles again coach SodapopSeth’s best option after him is senior Charles Luther (2.0/2.0) who has never taken a snap in-game. Coaches' Comments: Blair Holcomb is the obvious front runner for the best QB in the MAC, but will probably be spending most of the time running for his life behind a weak o-line that lacks depth. Tough to tell how defense will fare... but there is potential for it to be surprisingly resolute. This alone should keep Buffalo firmly in the middle of the MAC. QB Holcomb and RB Porter are a potent backfield, but outside of center D.J. Wilkinson this O-line is bad. Worst kicking game in the conference Passing Team Now? OL will be downfall of Offense in games. Lack on talent on Defense. Plenty of shootouts this year. 7 win ceiling Strengths- Pass Game/Run game. Weaknesses- kicker/ lack of depth at d-line Central Michigan Chippewas (2-10 last year) Coach: @johnkirk (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 4 Defense: 8 Key Losses: CB A’Shawn Ellison (20 TKL, 6 INT, 1 TD) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 9 Projected conference finish: 7th (3rd MAC West) Overview: 2020 was always a bridge year for the Chips, as Matt Rowland kept the QB seat warm until phenom Byron Suggs was ready. Now Suggs is ready to show that the hype is justified. Position of Strength: Passing game. It helps that Suggs has a pair of big targets to throw to. Junior TE Jasper Rowley (37 rec for 465 yards, 6 TDs) is the reliable safety valve over the middle who has raised his game every year, and redshirt freshman Joseph Aikman is a HUGE (6’5” 227) target that will make life difficult for opposing CBs - especially when they could giving up as many as nine inches in height differential. Position of Weakness: Offensive Line. However, Central can’t be as confident in their front five to keep all their shiny weapons safe. This was the worst performing unit in the MAC last year (4.07 rating, 21 sacks allowed), and only senior LT Victor Reaves (3.5/3.5) qualifies as someone most coaches would be okay starting. Everyone else either needs another year or is “okay.” “Okay” and “needs another year” probably won’t fare well against the Marlon Baileys and Donte Pennels of the world. Position to Watch: Front seven. Even with bookend DEs Nazir Tatum-Kimbrough (17 TKL, 1.0 sack) and Rory Bolin (24 TKL, 4.0 sacks, 2 FF) back for yet ANOTHER year*, this unit failed to get any significant pressure on the QB last season with only eight sacks. They return virtually the same players, but with no one starting specializes in getting to the QB and the ROLB spot again manned by an ILB it’s hard to see a dramatic improvement in this area. Coaches' Comments: Most exciting freshman in conference (Byron Suggs). Could score a ton. Average Defense. 9 Win ceiling Strengths- Great passing game/o-line. Weaknesses- Cbs/inconsistent starters. NOT going to be fun dealing with Byron Suggs and Joseph Aikman for the next few years. LBs and O-line hold them back from making serious waves. The pieces of an offense are coming into place. But youth and large losses on defense will be the story. Should be better than last year, but another year away. Eastern Michigan Eagles (4-8 last year) Coach: @DrFootball (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 9 Defense: 7 Key Losses: RB Jamel Jamison (256 rushes for 1086 yards, 10 TDs), DT Shane Horton (29 TKL, 6 sacks, 1 FF), FS Zachary Dumas (8 TKL) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 8 Projected conference finish: 11th (5th MAC West) Overview: The Eagles boast 16 returning starters including 3-year starter Giovanni Shaw so the experience is there. But the RB situation is certainly not experienced, and even with all the continuity this looks like an average roster at best. Position of Strength: Quarterback. Giovanni Shaw’s stats last year were not good (174 of 302 for 2059 yards, 9/19 TD/INT, 51 rushes for 380 yards, 3 TDs) but he and graduated RB Jamel Jamison had absolutely no help from an O-line that produced a 4.41 rating and 19 sacks allowed. Now they have a line that on paper looks competent (if not inspiring), and having an actual fullback in JuCo transfer E.J. Greer play the position will help in the run and pass game. Shaw has long been thought of as better than his stats indicate, he might get a chance to show it this year. Position of Weakness: Secondary. FS Zachary Dumas didn’t put up many numbers last year, but his graduation leaves the back four as all 3.0/3.0 Man coverage personnel. This group is probably going to get tested a lot. Position to Watch: Linebackers. New coach DrFootball has moved to a 3-4 scheme to accommodate his best player in ILB Julian Rinehart (4.0/4.0) and incoming JuCo ILB Mosi Gary (3.5/4.0). Along with OLBs Brayden Winters and Brian Pearson, this group will probably get leaned on to provide most of the defensive activity for EMU especially with Eagle legend Shane Horton no longer blowing things up inside. Coaches' Comments: Giovanni Shaw is a favorite QB of mine that isn't my own. However, A poor running back crew really holds back this offensive potential of this offense. One of the stoutest interior D's but has issues in the secondary. There are a lot of good QB's in the MAC this year to let that go. No real Cohesion on Offense. Defense is kinda average. 5 win ceiling Strengths- Decent pass game/d-line/lbs. Weaknesses- Hard team to coach since they all have different preferences on how they play the game the best. Giovanni Shaw can't do it by himself (stud RB Tyler Pearson isn't ready yet) but he may have to. Kent State Golden Flashes (6-7 last year) Coach: @TazerMan (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 4 Key Losses: WR Thaddeus Torrez (43 rec for 540 yards, 7 TDs), WR Iye Parris (46 rec for 628 yards, 4 TDs), WR Cayden Sampson (30 rec for 369 yards, 1 TD), CB Richard Roberts (19 TKL, 6 INT), SS Quinn Benson (20 TKL, 2 INT, 1 TD) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 7 Projected conference finish: 9th (5th MAC East) Overview: Another team feeling the sting of coachless years past, Kent State has to take a mulligan on building off of their inspiring bowl season. They are getting much better but a lack of ready depth to replace the 12 lost starters means it probably won’t show on the field this year. Position of Strength: Quarterback. Senior John Garland (238 of 391 for 2749 yards, 19/15 TD/INT, 59 rushes for 441 yards, 7 TDs) often feels like a member of House Greyjoy: “What is dead may never die.” He’s been beaten and battered ever since stepping foot on campus, and yet here he is. He isn’t the most talented player on the roster, but coach TazerMan had him playing better than you’d expect last year. Garland is going to need to do the same this year. Position of Weakness: Cornerbacks. No one in the two-deeps at this group has potential higher than 2.5. Even with support from JuCo SS Steven Gordon, the CBs are going to get picked on early and often. Position to Watch: Wide Receiver. Kent State’s top four receivers all graduated so this position is extremely thin. With the #2 WR a 2.0/3.0 true freshman and the slot receiver a 1.0/3.5 true freshman, it makes us wonder if the Golden Flashes will move to a 2-TE base set to compensate. Coaches' Comments: Scoring won't be easy. Stopping people from scoring won't be easy either. 3 win ceiling The coachless teams of years past catch up to Kent this season. If TazerMan can get this team anywhere near a bowl berth he's a miracle worker. 2022 on looks much better. Could be a difficult year for Kent State. The only thing that could be consider a standout playmaker for them is SS Steven Gordon, a 3.5/4.5 JUCO transfer. An impressive class of redshirts waiting in the wings should make them feel better for the future. Strengths- Decent D-line/ beating akron. Weaknesses- Everyone else is on the redshirt. Miami (OH) Redhawks (8-5 last year) Coach: @caesari (3rd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 9 Defense: 8 Key Losses: WR Melvin Grubbs (41 rec for 396 yards, 4 TDs), DE Jabari Hilliard (27 TKL, 4.0 sacks), CB Shamar McClendon (17 TKL, 3 INT, 1 TD) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 6 Projected conference finish: 4th (2nd MAC East) Overview: With an unreal 17 of 22 starters coming back, there is a lot of hype and expectations surrounding the Redhawks. Miami is the primary challenger for Ohio’s MAC East crown, and the success of that challenge is primarily going to depend on their ability to cover their one or two weak points. Position of Strength: Passing game. We know that aerial fireworks comes to town along with Zack Cera and the Redhawks. Not many teams have been able to stop them. Cera (340 of 570 for 3745 yards, 36/11 TD/INT, 1 Fum lost) has another year of experience under his belt and all his primary weapons return - the lone graduate from the receiving corps was their #3 WR. With WR Kenneth Harrison (74 rec for 787 yards, 11 TDs) on the outside and Mackey winner Casey Swann down the middle (79 rec for 1038, 14 TDs), defenses are going to have a hard time deciding where to focus their efforts. Position of Weakness: Cornerback. Your #1 CB as a 3.0/3.0 (Jr Travis Watson) won’t inspire much confidence from the fans, but coach caesari was forced to double down and put talented but raw (1.0/4.0) CB Jeremiah Christy in the fire right away opposite Watson. Miami has a very good safety duo to back them up in FS Nicholas Mingo (30 TKL, 6 INT) and Ian Huntley (18 TKL, 3 INT), but the CBs and Christy in particular will be tested a lot. Position to Watch: Running Back. As in is it worth watching to see Miami’s running game? Redshirt junior Ajani Garrett (163 rushes for 700 yards, 8 TDs) isn’t a bad RB by any means, but his carries seemed to be of the 1/2-yard TD plunge variety or else just to keep defenses honest. Coaches' Comments: Strengths-Great passing game. Weaknesses-cbs Cera will destroy MAC (again). Solid OL. Defense is kinda meh. 10 win ceiling It's all on Zack Cera again, but an improved O-line should keep him upright better than last year. Inexperienced CBs might mean a lot of their victories are "last score wins" Pray that our good lord and savior protect Miami from injuries. A lack of depth at WR, CB and RB is concerning, but should they stay healthy, I'd be surprised if they don't have the best offense in the MAC. Defense while not quite as all around amazing is still quite formidable. Northern Illinois Huskies (2-10 last year) Coach: @subsequent (2nd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 6 Key Losses: RB Daniel Hutchins (292 carries for 1519 yards, 14 TDs), TE Emory Johnson (49 rec for 680 yards, 6 TDs), DT Russel Brandt (18 TKL, 2.0 sacks) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 11 Projected conference finish: 12th (6th MAC West) Overview: Once the class of the MAC, several years of inattention are finally catching up to the Huskies. There are still talented players on this roster but zero depth, making an injury in the wrong spot devastating. Position of Strength: Quarterback. Junior Charlie Sanford again gets his chance at the head of the NIU QB Carousel. But without the likes of NFLers Daniel Hutchins and Emory Johnson it’s on Sanford’s shoulders to make plays for the Huskie offense; his skill players are talented but unproven - out of his entire WR and TE groups only WR Nathaniel Alford has any in-game experience, and that was just 5 catches for 58 yards in 2020. Position of Weakness: Defensive End. Brand new starters Miles Beasley (3.0/3.0) and Cristopher Carmona (2.0/3.5) won’t scare many tackles coming off the edge. Look for MAC tackles to be on islands while DT Thierno Thomas commands the double-teams until either Beasley or Carmona show they deserve respect. Position to Watch: Cornerback. Juniors Samuel Echols and Alpha Mitchell are a good CB tandem, but their nickel back is a (1.5/2.5) true freshman and they have no other CBs on the roster. Will teams be tempted to go 3 and 4-wide to exploit that? Coaches' Comments: 3 WR's and 3 CB's would put me in a panic, but a pretty capable roster is on the table here. I think we will be dreading facing Oliver McNeal for a long time, both CFB and NFL. They'd be much higher if I knew the coach would be capable. This year's NIU is shorter on talent than years past, but should be better with a steady coach. Strengths-lb/dt. Weaknesses- serious lack of depth on offense especially o-line/wr Offense could keep things interesting. Who starts at QB? Defense OK. 4 Win ceiling Ohio Bobcats (9-5 last year) Coach: @Chad_Michael (1st year) Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 7 Key Losses: RB Owen Walton (310 rushes for 1616 yards, 19 TDs), OG Jayden Grove, FS Robert Mahoney (34 TKL, 5 INT, 1 TD) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 2 Projected conference finish: 3rd (1st MAC East) Overview: The MAC East winner the last two years, Ohio looks ready to make another run at the division. With stud Jeffrey Flowers ready to take over for Owen Walton and the best linebacking corps in the conference, the Bobcats certainly have the tools to go as far as their new coach can take them. Position of Strength: Linebackers. With as much talent as Ohio has at this position, it makes a world of sense to put them in a 3-4 alignment. Senior Mike LB Calvin Blue (40 TKL, 2 INT, 0.5 sacks) is the heart and soul of their defense and directs traffic for outside linebackers Donovan Pendleton (22 TKL, 3.0 sacks) and Myles Lindsay (50 TKL, 1 FR). Position of Weakness: Offensive line. Specifically the right side where two new starters are playing in 2.5/2.5 So OG Ethan Felder and 3.0/3.0 Sr Devin Golden. They’re not the worst G/T combo in the conference, but defensive coordinators will likely be looking to overwhelm the duo in order to get to the backfield. Position to Watch: Quarterback. 4.0/4.0. This is new QB Austin Lowe’s rating as a redshirt freshman. Lowe stepped onto the campus in Athens with much fanfare and expectations he’d start from day one, but then-coach @beeznik redshirted him in favor of then-struggling QB Stephen Peters. The gamble paid off as Peters had the best season of his career, but it is clearly Lowe’s time to shine in a packed MAC East. No pressure, kid. Coaches' Comments: Strength- Run game, receivers. Weakness- O-line, secondary Still a very solid team. Potent offense, but new coaching and a weakened secondary would put them just a hair below from last years prestige, but very much not a team to sleep on. Bobcats have the talent to be fighting for the MAC East again, most consistent team in the division. Right side of OL only weakness on Offense. Safeties big weakness on defense. 9 win ceiling. Toledo Rockets (8-5 last year) Coach: @deathcpo (6th year) Returning Starters: Offense: 6 Defense: 9 Key Losses: QB Benjamin Hanson (249 of 358 for 3213 yards, 28/6 TD/INT), WR Thomas Yang (57 rec for 851 yards, 9 TDs), DT Dwayne Montgomery (32 TKL, 2.5 sacks) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 5 Projected conference finish: 1st (1st MAC West) Overview: IT’S HERE, THE PROMISED TIME IS UPON US. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all looked forward to it for so long. Now it is… #TOLEDO2021 But in all seriousness, this is on paper the best team in the MAC and the best team coach deathcpo has probably ever had. Now it’s just a matter of turning that paper talent into on-field results. Position of Strength: Defensive line. The Rockets lose two starters to graduation (one to the NFL), and they get better? Okay, sure. Check this line out: DE Dwayne Briggs 6-1 251 (Jr) Germantown (Germantown, WI) 4.5 of 4.5 [Contain] (38 TKL, 7.5 sacks) DT De'Shawn Beckwith 6-3 285 Jr Northfield (Northfield, MN) 4.5 of 4.5 [1-Gap] DT Damian Larkin 6-2 287 (So) Lompoc (Lompoc, CA) 4.0 of 5.0 [2-Gap] DE Ezekiel Williams Jr. 6-1 265 Jr Southwestern Community College (Creston, IA) 4.0 of 4.5 [Blitz] (But really, we could choose almost any group on the field) Position of Weakness: Placekicking. 5-star redshirt freshman Sam Painter is promising but untested. Their long snapper is a 3-star tight end. Shaky special teams have cost many games over the years, could it derail Toledo’s hype train? Position to Watch: Offensive line. It’s a group any other coach in the MAC would love to have, but there is a lot of inexperience and untapped promise here. New QB Michael Thompson will need his big men to play to their potential and not their floors. Coaches' Comments: All-in this year, this team is obviously built to win NOW. A key injury could make everything fall apart though, very little depth. #Toledo2021 Not sold on #Toledo2021 (but I might get a shirt for Toledo 2022, a lot of their starters return). A few low rated - high potential guys might make the difference for Toledo. Probably best Offense in MAC (untested QB though). Very experienced & talented on Defense. 12 win ceiling Strength-Star players. Weakness- Inconsistent star players. Western Michigan Broncos (12-2 last year) Coach: Jieret (3rd year) Returning Starters: Offense: 7 Defense: 6 Key Losses: FB Marquise McQueen, DE Michael McKinney (28 TKL, 7.5 sacks, 1 FF), ILB Kareem Boykin (46 TKL, 3 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR), CB Sean Taylor (19 TKL, 5 INT, 1 TD) Last Year's Power Ranking finish: 1 Projected conference finish: 2nd (2nd MAC West) Overview: Fresh off a CFB playoff appearance, the Broncos sport an improved offense. But the early declarations of Western’s two best defensive players will make it difficult to defend their conference title, let alone make it the top eight again. Position of Strength: Running back. It’s year two of the DeSean Madison era and opposing MAC coaches are already tired of facing him. The redshirt sophomore is fresh off a 1600-yard, 21 TD campaign and looks to break New York Jets legend Emmanuel Fields’ school record of 3480 career rushing yards. Position of Weakness: Linebacker. Outside linebacker was already set to take a hit with no one on the depth chart ready to replace Shia Kenney, so the job goes to blue-chip prospect Christian Reese (1.0/5.0). But Reese’s security blanket was lost with Boykin’s early declaration, so he is going to have to learn on a VERY steep curve. The other LBs (3-stars Walter McGregor and Eric Holbrook) can hold their own but aren’t players to fear. Position to Watch: Defensive line. DTs redshirt sophomore Silas Booker (21 TKL, 4.0 sacks, 1 FR) and redshirt junior Rocco Gifford (23 TKL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR) were sneaky-good last season, mostly because the attention was on the Broncos secondary. But with the secondary and linebacker groups taking steps backwards, these two plus redshirt freshman Victor Roberson will have to pick up the defensive slack. Coaches' Comments: Can DeSean Madison transfer pls? Defense is OK, nothing special. 11 win ceiling Strength-Secondary. Weakness- o-line can be inconsistent When the only negative thing I can come up with is something along the lines of "the receiving corp is good not great", that usually rockets a team to the top. Not an easy road to a repeat with many teams improving, but my pick to win it all again. Better offense, much worse defense. Can DeSean Madison and Chase Sims score enough to make up for losing Sean Taylor and Kareem Boykin?