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MAC Football 2016 Predictions

The MAC enters another year with familiar faces at the top of the projected standings, but could there be a changing of the guard in the West Division? Northern Illinois has won six consecutive West Division titles and is positioned for another run at the MAC Championship with 12 returning...


#88 Central Michigan Chippewas





HEAD COACH: John Bonamego, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Morris Watts | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Colby

Central Michigan was quietly one of the great stories of last season. Coach John Bonamego, hired in a pinch after former coach Dan Enos left abruptly to be offensive coordinator at Arkansas, was diagnosed with a cancerous spot on his tonsil during the summer. By November, he announced he was cancer-free. Along the way, Central Michigan went 6-2 in the MAC for the program’s third bowl trip in four years. With 14 returning starters, Central Michigan is aiming for more in 2016.

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Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2016  

Central Michigan has arguably the top quarterback in the Mid-American Conference in fourth-year starter Cooper Rush, who enjoyed a breakout 2015 campaign by throwing for 3,848 yards and 25 touchdowns. Once again, the Chippewas will go as far as the savvy and talented Rush will take them. He threw for at least 300 yards in eight of 13 games, including a 430-yard showing at Syracuse.

Rush will also enjoy a full complement of returning wide receivers, including Jesse Kroll (61 catches, 866 yards), who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Also back are veterans Anthony Rice (595 yards), Mark Chapman (559) and Corey Willis (564). Even if CMU struggles to find production at the tight end position, the depth at wide receiver should keep the passing game rolling.

The struggles for the Chippewas last year came in the run game, where they averaged a MAC-worst 101.3 yards per game. Starter Devon Spalding was lost for the season in Week 5 after impressive performances at Syracuse and Michigan State. It was not until the emergence of Romello Ross at the end of the season that CMU found some stability. Ross scored four TDs in a regular-season finale win over Eastern Michigan and rushed for 100 yards against Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl. Spalding, Ross and short-yardage back Jahray Hayes should be enough for Central Michigan to show significant improvement on the ground.

A couple question marks on the offensive line must be resolved before CMU can be called one of the MAC’s elite offenses.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Central Michigan’s Defense for 2016 

There is a lot to like about the Central Michigan defense, which was second in the MAC in yards allowed per game (332.2) and third in points allowed (22.0). Although the Chippewas graduated three key starters, back in the fold are the majority of the playmakers to keep them afloat as one of the conference’s better units.

Safety Tony Annese is a proven ball hawk who put himself on the map in 2013 when he returned interceptions for touchdowns his first two career starts as a redshirt freshman. He’ll be tasked with breaking in a new starter at safety alongside him, but back at cornerback are both starters in juniors Amari Coleman and Josh Cox. Coleman in particular is gaining a reputation as a shutdown cornerback, even getting the best of former Michigan State star wideout Aaron Burbridge in a matchup last year.

The defensive line will be boosted by the return of junior end Joe Ostman, who suffered an ankle injury early in 2015 and was eventually shut down. Central Michigan’s linebacking corps will be led by outside backer Malik Fountain (67 tackles, 4.5 TFLs), who could be poised for a breakout sophomore season.


Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2016  

Last year’s punter Ron Coluzzi opted to transfer to Iowa, leaving a void to fill. CMU should have no problem with turning over the reins to Cooper Mojsiejenko, whose father punted for seven years in the NFL. Kicking duties will once again go to Brian Eavey (16-of-24 on field goal attempts). The returns are likely to once again go to Emmett Thomas after he gained the coaching staff’s trust as a true freshman..

Final Analysis

The Chippewas surprised last year in coach John Bonamego’s first year at the helm. After being picked fifth in the MAC West preseason poll, CMU ended up sharing the division title. Expectations are riding high with so many starters returning on both sides of the ball. But standing in the way are other MAC West programs that have also been built to win in the immediate future. Central Michigan will not catch anyone sleeping in 2016.


#80 Northern Illinois Huskies





HEAD COACH: Rod Carey, 31-12 (3+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Uremovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Kane

Northern Illinois is coming off what was — by the Huskies’ standards — a down year. Northern Illinois still went 8-6 and reached the MAC title game. But this is a program that had won at least 11 games in five consecutive seasons. By no means is the program on the decline. The Huskies will still be in the mix and should have a potent offense. A seventh trip to the MAC championship game is attainable but no guarantee.

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Previewing Northern Illinois’ Offense for 2016

Northern Illinois averaged 31.1 points and 398.5 yards per game last season despite injuries at quarterback that threw the offense into complete chaos. Injuries to starter Drew Hare, backup Anthony Maddie and redshirt freshman Ryan Graham forced true freshman walk-on Tommy Fiedler to start in the MAC title game.

Hare, who ruptured his right Achilles late last season, is expected to be healthy in the fall and will lead a potentially explosive offense. Hare played limited snaps in the spring, but the good news about last season’s injury woes is that depth and experience will not be issues at quarterback.  Running back is the deepest position on offense, with everyone back from last season, most notably Joel Bouagnon, who rushed for 1,269 yards in 2015. Keep an eye on Indiana transfer Tommy Mister.

The offensive line lost two key four-year starters in Aidan Conlon and Andrew Ness, but left tackle Levon Myers is one of three returning starters. Many NIU coaches are calling sophomore Max Scharping one of the program’s most talented offensive linemen in years.

Wide receiver talent is plentiful, with Kenny Golladay and Aregeros Turner two of the best in the conference.


Previewing Northern Illinois’ Defense for 2016

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Coach Rod Carey entered conference play expecting his highly ranked defense to dominate. In consecutive road games last season, the Huskies limited then-No.1 Ohio State to 20 points and forced six three-and-out possessions against Boston College.

Injuries were a big reason for NIU’s late-season fade, though, as the Huskies gave up 41 points to Ball State, 30 to Buffalo and 55 points in a loss to Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. One bright spot was the play of FWAA First-Team All-America cornerback Shawun Lurry, who led the nation with nine interceptions. Lurry, a junior, had two interceptions at Ohio State and tallied 273 interception return yards for the season. 

The front four is experienced, though it lacks big-play talent, especially at defensive end. Senior defensive ends Ladell Fleming and Austin Smaha are experienced, and defensive tackles Mario Jones and William Lee played key roles last season. Look for converted linebacker Josh Corcoran to be an impact player at defensive end.

Senior linebackers Jamaal Payton and Sean Folliard headline the middle of NIU’s defense, with promising sophomore Renard Cheren expected to be a solid performer at outside linebacker.

Previewing Northern Illinois’ Specialists for 2016

Placekicker Christian Hagan connected on 14-of-18 field goal attempts last season. Punter Jake Ambrose, a California native, must improve on his punt attempts in colder weather, according to Carey. Turner is one of the top kick returners in the country. 

Final Analysis


The Huskies have advanced to six straight MAC title games and played in eight consecutive bowl games. Northern Illinois, though, has lost three bowl games in a row and six of its last eight. Motivation is high to record 10-plus wins, capture a MAC championship and end the bowl skid, Carey says.

Depth at quarterback, running back and defensive line is encouraging following an injury-marred 2015 season. The offense is potent with a healthy Hare back, while the linebacking corps is athletic and could be a hidden strength on the team. The secondary, with Lurry headlining the back four, can be a strength or weakness depending on whether some newcomers, such as Embry, can adapt to increased roles and expectations. 

The Huskies have the talent, motivation and favorable schedule to add to their record-breaking West Division title streak.