MAC Media Media Poll
A year ago, Miami and Northern Illinois were the surprise teams in the title game with the RedHawks prevailing 26-21 to capture their first conference crown since the Ben Roethlisberger days of 2003. Both teams will kick off the 2011 season with new head coaches, but that may not stop them from a rematch in Detroit.
The RedHawks lost Michael Haywood to Pittsburgh before he was subsequently fired after being arrested on New Year's Day on a domestic violence charge.
After losing Haywood, Miami went on to win the GoDaddy.com Bowl with defensive backs coach Lance Guidry serving as interim head coach. The RedHawks hired Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell as their permanent replacement on December 31 - the night before his team was destroyed 49-7 by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Treadwell served at Michigan State for the past four seasons and was the acting head coach in victories over Northern Colorado and Wisconsin during the 2010 season. He was thrust into that position when Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack hours after an overtime fake field resulted in the game-winning touchdown against Notre Dame. Treadwell was a four-year starter for Miami from 1978-1981.
NIU lost head coach Jerry Kill (23-16, 3 seasons) to Minnesota and replaced him with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren. The 39-year-old Doeren spent four seasons with Kansas prior to his stint with the Badgers.
Other head coaching changes in the MAC have Elon (N.C.) head coach Pete Lembo replacing Steve Parrish at Ball State; Ohio State assistant Darrell Hazell taking over for Doug Martin at Kent State; and Florida associate head coach Steve Addazio succeeding Al Golden at Temple.
Miami is favored by the Congrove Computer Rankings to win the East, a year after turning everyone's head when the school made a 9-win improvement over the previous season. The computer says a November 9 meeting at Temple will serve as the defacto East Division championship game with the RedHawks favored by 3.39 points.
Toledo draws the computer's nod in the West, thanks to an anticipated 14.80-point home win over Northern Illinois on November 1. Last season saw the Rockets improve to 8-5 under 2nd-year head coach Tim Beckman after four consecutive sub-.500 campaigns.
A Miami-Toledo MAC Championship game would be a rematch of a regular season affair scheduled for October 22nd at Toledo. The Rockets are preseason favorites to win both contests, but have a potential trip-up game in the opener when they host FCS member New Hampshire. The Wildcats defeated Ball State in 2009 (23-16), Army in 2008 (28-10), Marshall in 2007 (48-35), and Northwestern in 2006 (34-17). Toledo could easily be caught looking ahead to the following week's game when the computer lists it as just a 0.54-point preseason underdog at Ohio State. The very next week, the Rockets go to Boise State as a 7-1/2-point underdog and then head to Syracuse as a 5.37-point favorite.
Ohio appears to be the next-closest contender in the East. Like the anticipated 2nd-place Owls, the Bobcats are forecasted to go 8-4 overall. Ohio's schedule is the nation's easiest just about any way you measure it. The Bobcats' 12 opponents won a combined 48 games in 2010. By contrast, Ball State's opposition won 80 and Bowling Green's won 78. Ohio's average opponent has a power rating that's more than a point weaker than the No. 119 school (FIU) and over 17 points behind the toughest schedule measurement of Texas A&M.
Temple's 8-4 forecast is rife with question marks, the biggest of which is the loss of its most successful head coach in years in Al Golden who was hired away by the Miami Hurricanes. Even under Golden, Temple underperformed against the computer's expectations by turning in regular season marks of 9-3 and 8-4 against 11-1 projections by the computer. This year's squad is predicted to beat FCS member and Philadelphia rival Villanova by more than 4 touchdowns, even though the Wildcats won the 2009 matchup and lost last year's battle by just a touchdown.
Temple is also a narrow 4.54-point home underdog to Penn State and a 5.05-point underdog at Maryland. Last year's 9-point loss to the Nittany Lions is the closest outcome in the series since a 2-point setback in 1985, and the Owls are 0-35-1 in the last 36 matches of the series. And Temple is 0-6 all-time vs. the Terrapins.
Kent State is expected to go 6-6 in Hazell's first season to take 4th in the East, followed by Buffalo in Jeff Quinn's sophomore year as had coach of the Bulls. Akron and Bowling Green each get lowly 1-11 forecasts. The Zips best chance for a second win could come at Buffalo on November 19 as they defeated the Bulls 22-14 in the 2010 season finale. Otherwise, the only forecasted victories for Akron and BGSU are vs. FCS schools VMI and Morgan State, respectively.
Western Michigan gets a 6-6 computer forecast to take 3rd in the West. Ball State, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan are each predicted to go 4-8.
A 4-8 campaign would be a marked improvement for EMU which has won a total of just five games over the past three seasons and is a combined 29-99 since the year 2000. However, the improved outlook stems from a weak schedule that ranks 116 nationally and opens with consecutive contests against FCS schools, Howard and Alabama State.
Ball State fans will be euphoric if the computer's opening day prediction holds true. It has the Cardinals installed as a 0.30-point favorite in Indianapolis over state rival Indiana. It will also be the first game for new Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson. But serving as a graphic illustration of the haves and have-nots, Ball State is more than a 5-TD underdog four weeks later at Oklahoma.
There are actually several projected wins by MAC teams over members of the Big 6 conferences and it will be interesting to see how many of these predictions hold true:
- Ball State by 0.30 vs. Indiana at Indianapolis
- Miami by 11.82 at Minnesota
- Miami by 8.18 vs. Cincinnati
- Northern Illinois by 3.80 at Kansas
- Toledo by 5.37 at Syracuse
All-in-all, this could be an eventful year for a conference that is dwarfed in the shadows of the Big Ten newsmaking events of adding Nebraska, splitting into two divisions and staging its first conference championship game.