MAC

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#88 Central Michigan Chippewas

NATIONAL FORECAST

#88

MAC West PREDICTION

#4

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.


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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.




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#80 Northern Illinois Huskies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#80

MAC West PREDICTION

#3

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.

Related:

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.




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#79 Toledo Rockets

NATIONAL FORECAST

#79

MAC West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Jason Candle, First year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Anthony Johnson, Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian George

One of the MAC’s most consistent program doesn’t show signs of slowing down despite another coaching change. Matt Campbell has left for Iowa State, passing the job to offensive coordinator Jason Candle. The new coach’s offense will be loaded as usual in Toledo, but he’ll have big shoes to fill. The Rockets have won at least nine games in four of the last five years.

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Previewing Toledo’s Offense in 2016
 

New Toledo head coach Jason Candle’s offense is loaded with experience, all-conference talent and an explosive running attack. Candle won’t need any introductions — he was the Rockets’ offensive coordinator before replacing Matt Campbell in the top job at Toledo when Campbell departed for the same job at Iowa State. Candle has the luxury of two All-MAC running backs to work with since senior Kareem Hunt battled injuries for part of 2015 after piling up 1,631 yards and averaging 8.0 yards per carry the previous season. While Hunt was sidelined, junior Terry Swanson rushed for 923 yards and 6.5 yards per carry, and Hunt managed to gain 973 yards despite missing significant time. 

The dynamic duo will run behind a veteran line that Candle expects to provide the offense’s real leadership. That group is anchored by first-team All-MAC left tackle Storm Norton and three additional returning starters. 

The quarterback job goes to junior Logan Woodside, who was listed as the backup but did not play in the 2015 season after going 8–2 as the starter in 2014, when he threw for 2,263 yards and 19 TDs. When the Rockets go to the air, Woodside’s primary target will be wide receiver Corey Jones, whose speed and quickness have led to 123 pass receptions and 10 TDs the past two seasons. Junior Cody Thompson is a big-play specialist, averaging 22.3 yards per catch in 2015, third-best in the country.

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

Previewing Toledo’s Defense in 2016
 

Toledo relied on a dominant group up front to lead its defense a year ago, but graduation has thinned the ranks and opened the door for a rush of new talent to audition. Two-time All-MAC senior tackle Treyvon Hester is a well proven entity, with 23.5 tackles for a loss and 16 quarterback hurries over the past three seasons. While Hester will demand the attention of opposing offensive lines, senior Earl Moore, a graduate transfer from Miami (Fla.), and sophomore end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi will have to be disruptive. 

Things are a little more settled at linebacker, where senior Jaylen Coleman and junior Ja’Wuan Woodley are both proven tacklers and pursuit artists. Candle has stressed the need for solid coverage in a secondary that is led by senior safety DeJuan Rogers, who notched 67 stops last season and earned third-team All-MAC honors. Senior safeties Connery Swift and Delando Johnson are expected to quickly assume active roles in the back end of the defense, while junior cornerback Jordan Martin returns after starting in 2014 and missing last season with an injury.

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Previewing Toledo’s Specialists in 2016

Stability reigns in this area as the Rockets return all their specialists, a group led by senior punter Nick Ellis, who displayed his accuracy in field position exchanges. Sophomore placekicker Jameson Vest is back after taking care of the field goal and extra point work in 2015. Jones, a first-team All-MAC pick last season, is dynamic in the return game.

Final Analysis
 

The Rockets’ new head coach brings little in the way of major change since Candle has been with the program since 2009. This is his offense, and it is talented and solid, so Candle won’t mess with what has worked so well. Under Candle’s direction, Toledo produced 35.0 points and 460.9 yards of offense per game in 2015, and he will keep his foot on the throttle. The real challenges come on the defensive side, where too many new faces could force the Rockets to have to outscore their opponents until they figure out how to stop them. Non-league dates with Fresno State and BYU will test Toledo early in the season, but the Rockets are good enough to challenge for a MAC West title once again.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#113 Buffalo Bulls

NATIONAL FORECAST

#113

MAC East PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Lance Leipold, 5-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Andy Kotelnicki | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Borland

Buffalo didn't go to a bowl game last season, but Lance Leipold's first season as an FBS head coach can still be labeled a success as the Bulls went 5-7 and lost several one-score games. The foundation for sustained success has been laid, but 2016 will rely heavily on the success of an inexperienced offense.

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Previewing Buffalo’s Offense for 2016


The Bulls aren’t merely breaking in a new quarterback. The entire unit is undergoing a dramatic change under second-year coach Lance Leipold. The competition to replace four-year starter Joe Licata, who owns nearly every passing record in school history, will be a two-way battle between redshirt freshmen Tyree Jackson and Chris Merchant. Both Jackson and Merchant were solid during the spring as they learned the intricacies of the offense.

Leipold still plans to rely on the running game, perhaps moreso considering that the quarterback will likely go through growing pains. Senior Jordan Johnson rushed for 811 yards and 12 touchdowns last season as the backup to All-MAC tailback Anthone Taylor. The former high school quarterback is a punishing runner who can reach the second level of the defense in a hiccup. Taylor’s power is complemented by the speed of sophomore Johnathan Hawkins, who showed flashes as a true freshman and will also handle some kick return duties. 

Quality depth along the line and at wide receiver is an area of concern. Center James O’Hagan is the only returning offensive lineman to start every game. Brandon Manosalvas started 10 games — six at right guard and four at left guard — while Roubbens Joseph started four games at right guard. After those three, it’s slim pickings on the line in terms of experience. 

Tight end Matt Weiser and wideout Ron Willoughby, who combined for 125 receptions for 1,438 yards and nine touchdowns last season, must be replaced. The leading returning receiver is Marcus McGill (50 catches in 2015), but the receiving corps suffered a blow when Collin Lisa (31 catches for 325 yards and two touchdowns) transferred back to UAB in May.  

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

Previewing Buffalo’s Defense for 2016


The Bulls made considerable strides under coordinator Brian Borland in spring practice. But will that carry over to the season? The defense was more aggressive and physical in the spring due in part to new additions and schematic adjustments. Like last season, the secondary should be a strength. Senior corner Boise Ross, arguably the best athlete on the team, ranked eighth in the country in passes defended. 

Both starting safeties are back, including Ryan Williamson, who ranked fourth on the team in tackles last season with 83. Andrews Dadeboe started nine games at safety and had 36 tackles and two interceptions. Two starters are gone at linebacker, but the Bulls do return All-MAC selection Brandon Berry, a converted safety. 

The defensive line is experienced but needs to be stout against the run and create a consistent pass rush. End Brandon Crawford finished with 34 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss and a pair of sacks. Crawford anchors the line along with 307-pound junior Chris Ford at tackle.  

Buffalo is dealing with the tragic loss of linebacker Solomon Jackson, who was hospitalized after a medical emergency during offseason conditioning and died a week later. The Bulls have dedicated their season to the memory of Jackson. 

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Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists for 2016  
 

Conor Clarke and Kyle Deween, a pair of junior-college transfers, battled for the punting job in the spring, and fellow newcomer Taylor Sheets joins the fray in the fall. Adam Mitcheson was 13-of-19 on field-goal attempts last season. 

Final Analysis

Leipold, a highly respected Division III coach, is a proven winner and difference-maker, so it’s only a matter of time before Buffalo is back in the hunt for a MAC East title. Since Turner Gill left the program in 2009, the Bulls have challenged for a spot in the league championship game just once (2013). The Bulls’ success in ’15 will hinge on the readiness of the new quarterback and wide receivers, and whether the defense can create a pass rush. 



COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#69 Western Michigan Broncos

NATIONAL FORECAST

#69

MAC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: P.J. Fleck, 17-21 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kirk Ciarrocca | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ed Pinkham

Previewing Western Michigan’s Offense for 2016

Western Michigan lost one-half of its dynamic receiving duo to the NFL. And Corey Davis easily could have followed Daniel Braverman to the draft. Instead, the nation’s active leader in receiving yards returns for his senior season, giving the Broncos a big-play weapon to feature in an offense that should again be among the most potent and balanced in the Mid-American Conference.

“I think he’s got to win the ball more, and he’s got to be able to play stronger, which sounds crazy,” WMU fourth-year coach P.J. Fleck says of the 6'3" Davis, who caught 90 passes for 1,436 yards as a junior. “I think he understands that. And I think that’s why he came back.”

It’s unclear who will emerge as a second option, though there are other proven weapons elsewhere on an offense that was second in the MAC in scoring and total offense a year ago.

Quarterback Zach Terrell, with 32 career starts, returns for his senior year after throwing for 3,526 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. He’ll be protected by three returning starters on the offensive line and more depth up front than in any of Fleck’s previous three seasons.
 
The Broncos’ top two rushers from a year ago — diminutive sophomore Jamauri Bogan (1,051 yards, 16 TDs) and junior Jarvion Franklin (735 yards) — both return, having helped WMU averaged better than 200 yards per game on the ground last season. Bogan, last year’s MAC Freshman of the Year, is ahead of Franklin on the depth chart, though two years ago Franklin rushed for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns during a dazzling season.

 

Previewing Western Michigan’s Defense for 2016

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

If the Broncos hadn’t allowed two second-half scores against both Bowling Green and Northern Illinois last season, they would have played for a MAC championship. Fleck believes he finally has the difference-makers and maturity on defense to avoid those late-game swoons. “There’s a ton of depth and a ton of competition,” he says. “We’ve never had that.”

Safety Asantay Brown and linebacker Robert Spillane, both juniors, are the catalysts. Spillane, who played outside linebacker a year ago, moves inside. Brown anchors a secondary that also returns junior Darius Phillips, whose play at corner is starting to catch up to his electrifying returns. The Broncos are less proven at the other two spots, which are expected to be occupied by a pair of freshmen.

Previewing Western Michigan’s Specialists for 2016

Phillips has become an All-MAC corner, but he’ll play in the NFL because he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball in the return game. He’s expected to handle both punt and kickoff returns. Freshman Butch Hampton, who enrolled early, takes over the kicking duties with high expectations after a stellar spring. Former minor league baseball player Derrick Mitchell, who tied the school record with 36 touchbacks as a 28-year-old freshman last season, will also punt this year.

Final Analysis


WMU took a major step by winning eight games for the second straight year. The Broncos finished in a three-way tie atop the MAC’s West Division, then picked up the program’s first bowl win, keeping momentum despite a schedule that featured Ohio State and Michigan State in non-conference action and road dates against MAC West rivals Northern Illinois and Toledo.

This year, WMU has a legitimate chance at its first conference championship since 1988 and first double-digit-win season in program history. The Broncos get Northern Illinois and Toledo at home, and they have more manageable non-conference games against Northwestern and Illinois. 

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Fleck says. 




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#98 Akron Zips

NATIONAL FORECAST

#98

MAC East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden, 19-30 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: A.J. Milwee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Amato

Terry Bowden's team broke through with eight wins last season, including a 23-21 victory over Utah State in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But with just six starters returning, the Zips' progress could be stymied this fall.

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Previewing Akron’s Offense for 2016


The Zips return only two offensive starters, but there are plenty of transfers and experienced upperclassmen to step in and provide a positive answer to major question marks.

It is a surprise to say that the two key returnees are quarterback Thomas Woodson and receiver Jerome Lane, both juniors. It’s a surprise because after spring practice a year ago, Woodson was third string and Lane was a strong safety. A change in their status in 2015 was instrumental in the Zips recording an 8–5 mark — the program’s first winning season since 2005. Woodson, who took over as the full-time starter in the fourth game, threw for 2,202 yards and 16 touchdowns and ran for 591 yards and three scores. Lane moved to offense in preseason camp and caught 39 passes for 782 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. His 20.1 yards-per-catch average ranked 12th nationally. Lane likely will pair with transfer JoJo Natson to provide Akron with two deep threats. Natson was dismissed at Utah State after last season for his third violation of team rules, but he was a solid producer for the Aggies when he was in the lineup. 

The running game could get a boost from Warren Ball, a graduate transfer from Ohio State. A former four-star recruit, Ball played sparingly during his career in Columbus.

The offensive line is the prime overall concern for coach Terry Bowden, because all five starters were seniors in 2015. Tackle Kyle Ritz, guard LaVonne Gauthney and center Stephen Ericksen have had spot starts but must prove they can produce over the course of a season. Several junior college transfers also will be in the mix.

Related:

Previewing Akron’s Defense for 2016

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

There are also a limited number of returning starters on defense (four), but there is not quite as much optimism as on the offensive side.

Last year, the Zips ranked No. 3 nationally in rushing defense (92.9 ypg) and No. 15 in total defense (331.5 ypg). But six of the top seven tacklers are gone, including all three linebackers. A drop-off at those three positions is probable, although middle linebacker John Racha has plenty of experience.

The defensive line will be anchored by ends Jamal Marcus (third-team All-MAC in 2015) and Se’Von Pittman (a former Ohio State Buckeye), who give the Zips a pair of bookends that rival any in the conference. Bowden likes the potential of junior Darius Copeland and sophomore Brock Boxen on the interior of the line.

The secondary has the chance to be solid if the regulars can stay healthy. Corner DeAndre Scott led the team with six interceptions.

Previewing Akron’s Specialists for 2016


Kicker Robert Stein and punter Zach Paul were two of the best in school history. Both must be replaced. Tom O’Leary has limited experience but likely will hold the placekicking job in the fall. The punting duties will go to one of three sophomores. Natson gives Akron a punt returner who can change field position in a hurry. His 11.7 yards per return in 2014 for Utah State ranked No. 11 nationally.

Final Analysis


Bowden has changed the culture at an Akron program that went 3–33 from 2010-12. The Zips went 5–7 in both 2013 and ’14 and then broke through with eight wins last fall. He has taken some chances on transfers — both from FBS schools and the junior college ranks — but that has translated into a more talented roster that has made this program competitive in the MAC East.  Another successful season is possible — if the offensive line develops, if Woodson continues his maturation and if the linebacking corps can at least be steady. It helps that Akron has Bowling Green and West powers Toledo and Western Michigan at home.




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#97 Bowling Green Falcons

NATIONAL FORECAST

#97

MAC East PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Mike Jinks, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Kilmer, Andy Padron | DEF. COORDINATOR: Perry Eliano, Marcus White

Dino Babers led  to the MAC championship last season and then left to become the head coach at Syracuse. Mike Jinks, former associate head coach/running backs coach at Texas Tech, has taken over the reigns of the Falcons and will look to keep the program's momentum going. Jinks' debut will likely have its share of growing pains, however, with just 10 starters returning.

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Previewing Bowling Green’s Offense for 2016


There is a very good reason that Texas native Mike Jinks is now stationed deep in the heart of the Midwest and running the program at Bowling Green — the rapid-fire offense the Falcons run is very familiar to Jinks, who spent the past three seasons at Texas Tech and is the new head coach at BG. His predecessor, Dino Babers, brought the Baylor look to Bowling Green, and Jinks sees no reason for an offensive overhaul to take place. But there will be a significant personnel shuffle, since the Falcons need to replace a quarterback who set school and conference passing records, along with five of the top six pass catchers from a year ago. 

Senior James Knapke is poised to take over at quarterback after making 13 starts in 2014 when the record-setting Matt Johnson was injured. Knapke’s 280 completions for 3,173 yards and 15 touchdowns that year left little doubt he could do the job. Senior Fred Coppet moves in at tailback after rolling up 825 yards and scoring five touchdowns in a backup role in 2015. 

The biggest holes are at receiver, where Roger Lewis left early for the NFL after finishing with 85 catches for 1,544 receiving yards in 2015. Possession man Gehrig Dieter led the team with 94 catches, but he chose to play his graduate year at Alabama. That leaves Jinks to lean on dynamic senior Ronnie Moore, who had 72 grabs for 954 yards last season, and junior Teo Redding, who made his first start last season in the bowl game and responded with 13 catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns. 

The line is a veteran group with four returning starters who are well accustomed to the fast tempo Jinks prefers.

Related:

Previewing Bowling Green’s Defense for 2016

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

The emphasis has been on establishing a solid foundation with the fundamentals of sound tackling, physical play and dogged pursuit, and all indications are that the Falcons are buying into what the new staff has been pushing. Bowling Green returns first team All-MAC linebacker Austin Valdez, who had 13 tackles in his first start against Tennessee, and he should be one of the league’s top defenders on a veteran unit. He is joined by senior Trenton Greene, another all-conference pick after his 127-tackle performance in 2015, and James Sanford, a third returning starter at linebacker. 

The secondary is also anchored by proven veterans, with cornerbacks Alfonso Mack, the team leader last season with six interceptions, and Clint Stephens, who has six picks in his career. 

Most of the rebuilding is taking place up front, where senior Terrance Bush is the lone returning starter after making 68 stops a year ago. 

Previewing Bowling Green’s Specialists for 2016


Punter Joseph Davidson led the conference last season with a 46-yard average and had 17 punts over 50 yards. Departed placekicker Tyler Tate converted only 8-of-15 field goal attempts last year. Sophomore Jake Suder is next in line.

Final Analysis


About four years ago, Jinks was coaching high school football in his native Texas. Now he is the head coach of a solid mid-major program in the Midwest, and he was hand-picked for the job due to his high degree of familiarity with the offensive approach. 

There is no rebuild necessary at Bowling Green. Instead, Jinks is looking to build on the winning culture, and maybe crank things up a tad faster with the frenetic offense. The Falcons are the defending MAC champs and have won 17 straight games against their fellow MAC East members. The bar is set pretty high for Jinks in his head coaching debut, but the system and the personnel on hand would seem to put Bowling Green in a strong position once again.




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#91 Ohio Bobcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#91

MAC East PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Frank Solich, 80-61 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Albin, Scott Isphording | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jimmy Burrow

didn't win the MAC East in 2015 but the Bobcats did make their sixth bowl appearance in the last seven seasons. Another postseason trip should be in the cards for 2016, as Frank Solich's team could very well represent the East in the MAC Championship Game.

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Previewing Ohio’s Offense for 2016


Ohio was better offensively, improving its point production by a touchdown per game in 2015. With the bulk of the skill-position talent returning, and an offensive line that appears capable of replacing three starters, the Bobcats could make another jump up this season. But the quarterback question lingers; Ohio has two seniors who could potentially start. Greg Windham played in a handful of games last fall. He has arm talent but is prone to forcing throws. J.D. Sprague has started 12 games over the last two seasons and has the skill set Ohio desires to run its option-influenced, one-back, no-huddle offense. But Sprague had offseason surgery on his shoulder and missed spring practice. It’s not a given he’ll be at the top of the depth chart in August. 

The QB issue is the biggest surrounding the offense, which returns junior running back A.J. Ouellette and all three starting wide receivers. Ouellette has been dependable if unspectacular and has led Ohio in rushing each of the past two seasons. Sophomore Papi White had more big plays than any other back on the team last year. 

At receiver, Ohio has good talent in place with seniors Sebastian Smith, Jordan Reid and junior Brendan Cope. They combined for 1,905 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and Smith is an All-MAC talent. Junior tight end Troy Mangen, a two-year starter, is expected back after missing 2015 with a knee injury.

On the offensive line, senior Troy Watson and Durrell Wood return at right tackle and guard, respectively, but the Bobcats need to find three new starters. Junior Jake Pruehs, a starter in 2014 at guard, will move to center. 

Related:

Previewing Ohio’s Defense for 2016

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

Ohio’s defense hoped for more in 2015, but a midseason swoon keyed by a rash of injuries at linebacker left the Bobcats looking a lot like their 2014 counterparts. Still, Ohio should have perhaps the MAC’s best front seven. The Bobcats return three starters on the defensive line and eight of the 10 players it used in rotation along the line. Seniors Tarell Basham and Kurt Laseak at end and senior Casey Sayles at tackle give the unit a great foundation on which to build. 

Ohio returns junior middle linebacker Quentin Poling, a contender for MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. Senior weak-side force Blair Brown returns as well, and new strong-side starter Chad Moore has played starter’s reps as a multi-positional backup over the past two seasons.

The questions regard the secondary where Ohio has to replace its top four cornerbacks. Langston Provitt, an expected starter at corner, left the team in the spring.

Previewing Ohio’s Specialists for 2016


Ohio will have talented but unproven newcomers in the kicking department. Redshirt freshman Louie Zervos will replace the dependable Josiah Yazdani as the placekicker and proved to be accurate inside of 40 yards during spring camp. Redshirt freshman punter Michael Farkas initially signed with Cincinnati out of high school. New options will get plenty of chances in the return game, but White — the team’s best open-field threat — is clearly the favorite to get the bulk of the opportunities.

Final Analysis


The Bobcats will be once again among the top tier of MAC contenders. In a watered-down East Division and with three-time division champ Bowling Green in rebuild mode, Ohio may very well be the preseason favorite. Whether the Bobcats can turn an expected seven- or eight-win season into something more substantial depends on solving the quarterback issue and hoping young talent takes hold in the secondary. But a top-of-the-MAC front seven and quality offensive skill-position talent means Ohio can expect yet another bowl bid this season.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#127 UMass Minutemen

NATIONAL FORECAST

#127

Independent PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mark Whipple, 55-44 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Whipple | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Masella

UMass' last season in the MAC did not go according to plan, as the Minutemen's bowl aspirations were replaced by a 3-9 showing. Now UMass embarks on its journey as an FBS Independent, and it does not figure to be a smooth debut with just six returning starters and a schedule that features teams from the ACC and SEC, as well as BYU.

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Previewing UMass’ Offense for 2016


UMass is going to be inexperienced throughout its offense with only three returning starters. Tailback Marquis Young showed star potential at the end of the 2015 season, emerging as the team’s featured back. UMass rode his 240-yard, three-touchdown performance to upset Buffalo in the final game. The Minutemen will likely use him a lot, especially early, as the rest of the offense finds its way. Fellow sophomore back Sekai Lindsay, whose role had been gradually increasing before a season-ending knee injury, complements Young well. Lindsay is a bigger, between-the-tackles runner, while Young thrives in space.

Junior college transfer Andrew Ford, who redshirted at Virginia Tech in 2014, is a good bet to start at quarterback. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, and coach Mark Whipple has a history of starting transfers in two stints at UMass. But Ford will be learning on the fly behind an offensive line that returns three starters.

Senior Jalen Williams, who missed all of last season with a leg injury, caught 20 passes in 2014 and figures to be a key piece of a receiving corps that lost Tajae Sharpe, who left with most of the Minutemen’s career receiving records. Sophomore speedster Andy Isabella (a converted running back), Hawaii transfer Darrian Josey and redshirt freshman Lamarriel Taylor could all figure prominently.

Travis Reynolds, a sophomore and former Australian rules player, will try to be the latest player from Down Under to make an impact stateside. Whipple likes to have a pass-catching tight end, and the 6'5" Reynolds could fill that spot.

Related:

Previewing UMass’ Defense for 2016

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

Like the offense, the UMass defense will break in quite a few new players after graduating eight starters. New blood might be a good thing, as the Minutemen were in the bottom third of the MAC in scoring defense (31.4 ppg) and total defense (447.8 ypg).

Junior college transfer Teddy Lowery is coming off a strong spring and figures to make an instant impact at outside linebacker. Shane Huber, who is UMass’ leading returning tackler with 95, takes over for all-conference linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox inside.

UMass missed free safety Khary Bailey-Smith after the ball-hawking playmaker went down with a season-ending knee injury in the season’s second game last year. After taking a medical redshirt, he’ll return to the lineup and lead a young secondary. Lee Moses takes over at strong safety following a promising freshman season.

Jackson Porter started at corner as a freshman in 2014 before moving to receiver last year. He’s back at corner this season and should start alongside junior Jordin Hamilton.

UMass was 12th in the MAC last year in quarterback sacks with just 15. The Minutemen are hoping junior college transfer Ali Ali-Musa can help spark the pass rush as he joins a defensive line anchored by junior Sha-Ki Holines.

Previewing UMass’ Specialists for 2016


Junior Logan Laurent appears to have both kicking jobs locked down after solidifying UMass’ placekicking midway through last season. Speedsters James Oliphant and Isabella both looked good in the return game as rookies last year and will try to build off of that.

Final Analysis


UMass’ hopes for a bowl appearance in its final season in the MAC came up well short, and the Minutemen’s first season as an FBS Independent looks to be a daunting one. With a young roster, they will play six road games in four different time zones and a difficult home slate as well. Three games against SEC teams (at Florida, at South Carolina and Mississippi State at home) will help keep the Minutemen afloat financially while they search for a new league, but they’ll make it hard to produce a winning record.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#124 Eastern Michigan Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#124

MAC West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Chris Creighton, 3-21 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kalen DeBoer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Neal Neathery

After winning just one game last season, there's only one direction for to go. The good news for Chris Creighton's team is that the schedule at least offers several opportunities to claim more than one victory. The bad news is to do that one of the nation's worst defenses in 2015 must get better (and quickly) for that to happen.

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Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Offense for 2016


As poor as Eastern Michigan’s season went in winning only one game in 2015, much of the blame can be pointed at the other side of the ball. The Eagles certainly had their deficiencies offensively, which included turning the ball over a total of 25 times, third-worst in the MAC. But overall, they sported a middle-of-the-pack offense that compiled some impressive performances while also often being tasked with trying to rally from deficits. 

A big asset for EMU is that the offensive line should be on the same page from the outset, as five returning starters, all seniors, return to man their spots. They helped the Eagles to 380 yards and 25.4 points per game last year, not eye-popping totals but also numbers that should have been good enough for more than one victory.

Additionally, back in the fold is junior quarterback Brogan Roback, who arrived at EMU in 2013 as the highest-rated recruit in program history. He had a solid sophomore campaign, throwing for 2,304 yards and 16 TDs against 11 INTs. Roback’s upside suggests he has 3,000-yard potential.

Shaq Vann showed flashes of being a productive running back last season and will step into the starting role. The biggest key for the Eagles offensively will be the production they receive from a wide receiver corps that is chock-full of underclassmen.

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

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Defense for 2016


The Eagles were nothing short of a disaster defensively a season ago, surrendering an average of 42.1 points and getting torched on the ground to the tune of 316.6 yards per game. Through the air, EMU was actually second in the MAC in yards allowed per game (202.8), but much of that was due to opposing teams holding leads and knowing they could churn out yards on the ground.

Injuries caused major issues, as 12 contributors missed part or all of the season, including leaders Pat O’Connor and Ike Spearman. As long as Eastern Michigan can remain relatively healthy, there is no reason why the Eagles can’t show significant improvement.

Also in place is a new defensive coordinator in Neal Neathery, who served in the same capacity at UTSA last season. He plans on implementing a 4-2-5 base defense, which is a welcome change from the odd-front scheme used the previous two seasons.

Eastern Michigan must figure out how to better stop the run under Neathery. If it does, significant strides should follow with the added talent and depth of a healthy roster.
Related: 

Previewing Eastern Michigan’s Specialists for 2016


The pint-sized Eddie Daugherty should provide a threat in the kick return game if he can find some openings. Blake Banham is the frontrunner to return punts for a second straight season after gaining 76 yards on eight returns a year ago, one of which he brought back 35 yards. Austin Barnes has been a steady punter for the green and white since 2013, booting it an average of 43.6 yards on 45 attempts last year. The placekicking job is up for grabs and figures to be a battle between senior kickoff specialist Brendan Renius and redshirt freshman Brian Alsobrooks.

Final Analysis 
 
Well, it can’t get much worse than a combined 3–21 record over the past two seasons under third-year head coach Chris Creighton. But losing has been so commonplace at Eastern Michigan — which is one of the most difficult places to win in college football — that it has not been met with much surprise or pressure to show immediate results. There are reasons for optimism in Ypsilanti — most notably at the quarterback position — but this program still has a long way to go before it can shake the deserved reputation of being a perennial cellar dweller. 



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