The MAC rounds out my conference-by-conference win totals preview for the upcoming college football season. This is the conference that you watch on most days other than Saturday and are quite thankful for those mid-week games. Coaching changes and personnel turnover have given us the potential for some fresh blood to make it to the title game. But then again, things are always interesting in the MAC.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of the South Point sports book
(Over 5 -110...Under 5 -110)
Thomas Woodson is back at quarterback and he's one of seven starters returning on offense. The offensive line is pretty much intact and ready to open holes for Warren Ball and Van Edwards. Out wide you've got several options as the team tries to replace Jerome Lane and JoJo Natson. The defense could be an issue with just four starters back, but one of those is linebacker Ulysees Gilbert, who had 122 tackles and four sacks in 2016. The Zips get a home game with Iowa State in week three and have four road games over a five-week span. I think five is a good number so no play here.
(Over 4 -120...Under 4 EVEN)
The defense was pretty awful last year allowing nearly 40 points per contest. This unit returns five starters and figures to be a little stronger on the back end with more experience there. On offense, the Falcons hope that James Morgan is the answer under center. Morgan had 16 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions last season. The wide receiver group features Scott Miller, Teo Redding and Hunter Folkertsma. Miller nearly had 1,000 receiving yards last season. The offensive line only has two starters back so that will be a factor. Road trips to Michigan State, Northwestern and Middle Tennessee figure to hurt this team early. I kind of like the under because I think Bowling Green will struggle at home in conference with the likes of Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo.
(Over 3.5 -110...Under 3.5 -110)
Year two with Tyree Jackson at quarterback should be a lot better as the sophomore accounted for more than 2,000 yards of total offense as a redshirt freshman. His problem will be finding weapons to connect with. The run game has Jonathan Hawkins, Theo Anderson and Kamerion Pickett. The defense figures to be a strength at least early on. Eight starters return, a group that’s headlined by second-team All-MAC linebacker Khalil Hodge. The Bulls open up the season with back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Army before two straight at home. Small lean to the under, but don't really love it.
(Over 3.5 -120...Under 3.5 EVEN)
Last year, some (including me) were optimistic about Kent State but the Golden Flashes only managed three wins. The offense struggled to score, averaging just 20.6 points per game. Nick Holley is back for his senior season under center and the hope is that the converted wide receiver who started as a running back can bounce back from a late-season knee injury. The passing game was non-existent for Kent State last season but senior wide receiver Kris White could provide a boost, if he’s healthy. After being dominant in 2015, the defense was solid last season, but could take another step back with just five starters returning. Jon Cunningham, a 300-pound, all-conference tackle anchors the front. The Flashes play at Clemson, Louisville and Northern Illinois in the first half of their schedule. I agree with the line move on the over. I think four or five wins is possible.
(Over 8 +105...Under 8 -125)
This is the class of the MAC East and you can see why with eight starters back on both sides of the ball. The team has all the momentum in the world after closing out the regular season with six straight wins and nearly beating Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The secondary is going to be very good while the defensive line should be able to put pressure on the quarterback. The offense took off once Gus Ragland was installed as quarterback midway through last season. He threw just one interception in 179 passes and has wide receivers Jared Murphy and James Gardner back along with four starters up front. A seemingly weak division should benefit the RedHawks, who even have a shot at upsetting Cincinnati in week three at home. I think eight is a good number so no play here.
(Over 7.5 -125...Under 7.5 +105)
The Bobcats are the biggest threat to the RedHawks. Frank Solich has done some great things at the school and has the coaching advantage over most of the other MAC teams. Quarterback Quinton Maxwell was up and down as a freshman so we'll see if he can improve in 2017. He's got A.J. Ouellette in the backfield, who missed all but four plays last season with a foot injury. The Bobcats don't have a ton of playmakers on offense. Linebackers Quenton Poling and Chad Moore will quarterback the defense as seniors. Only five starters are back from the group that was fifth nationally against the run in 2016. Ohio beat Kansas on the road last year and now get the Jayhawks at home in week three. At this price, the under is worth a look.
(Over 4.5 -115...Under 4.5 -105)
Riley Neal had some growing pains last year, but will be under center once again. He didn't participate in spring ball because of offseason shoulder surgery, but is expected to start in the opener at Illinois. His wide receiver corps is unsettled entering the season, but he has running back James Gilbert and a solid offensive line to work with. The defense forced just 14 turnovers last season and is breaking in a new coordinator. Only four starters are back, but Anthony Winbush is one of the best defensive linemen in the conference. The special teams are pretty solid. Besides the Fighting Illini, the Cardinals play UAB, Tennessee Tech and Western Kentucky out of conference. There’s potential for at least two wins there and the MAC East isn’t that strong overall, so small lean to the over.
(Over 6.5 +105...Under 6.5 -125)
The quarterback job will either go to Michigan graduate transfer Shane Morris or Tony Poljan, a promising 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman. Running back is pretty deep with Devon Spalding leading the way and 1,000-yard receiver Corey Willis returns as well. If a quarterback can be found, this offense could surprise behind an offensive line that returns entirely intact. After two strong showings, the defense slipped some last season, but six starters return. The biggest area of concern is up front as the Chippewas have struggled getting to the quarterback in recent seasons. Even with the uncertainty at quarterback, Central Michigan has enough pieces to get back to a bowl, but a win at either Kansas or Syracuse may be required. The under is probably the right side because of the depth of the MAC West and questions at QB.
(Over 4.5 -120...Under 4.5 EVEN)
Eastern Michigan is riding some momentum after going 7-6 and playing in its first bowl game in 29 years. Brogan Roback is back after doing a good job protecting the football (18 TDs, 7 INTs). He's got the solid running back duo of Shaq Vann and Ian Eriksen, but the offensive line is being rebuilt. The defense returns most of its pieces, but the production of Pat O’Connor (8.5 sacks, 14.5 TFL) must be replaced. Special teams shouldn’t be a concern. The Eagles play Charlotte, Rutgers, Kentucky and Army out of conference. No real opinion here.
(Over 6 +110...Under 6 -130)
Usually it's NIU that's in the spotlight in the MAC and now the Huskies find themselves flying a little under the radar. Some stability at quarterback would be a nice change, after starting five over the past two seasons. It will either be Ryan Graham, Marcus Childers or Daniel Santacaterina under center for the opener against Boston College. Jordan Huff and Marcus Jones should be able to replace Joel Bouagnon’s production at running back. The offensive line allowed just eight sacks last year and returns three starters. On defense, the secondary is in great shape with Shawun Lurry, Albert Smalls and Jalen Embry at cornerback. Besides the Eagles from ACC, NIU plays FCS Eastern Illinois at home but then takes on Nebraska and San Diego State on the road. That’s the start of a seven-game stretch in which the Huskies play just two at home. Six is a good number so no play here.
(Over 8.5 EVEN...Under 8.5 -120)
Toledo hasn't been known for its defense, but the 2017 version should be pretty good. Defensive tackle Marquise Moore is a great place to start while three of four starters in the secondary are back. But the offense is what will get the most attention with quarterback Logan Woodside, running back Terry Swanson and wide receiver Cody Thompson leading the way. Woodside threw 45 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions last season. Tulsa comes to the Glass Bowl in week three and the Rockets will have a shot at a signature win the following week in Miami. I actually think the under is at least worth a look. In the past, Toledo has had trouble winning the big game. The Rockets went 10-4 last season, but came up short at BYU, at home against Ohio, in the MAC title game against Western Michigan, and Camellia Bowl vs. Appalachian State.
(Over 8.5 -110...Under 8.5 -110)
My how things have changed. Not only is P.J. Fleck is no longer rowing the boat in Kalamazoo, but QB Zach Terrell and WR Corey Davis are gone too. The offense figures to be run-heavy with LeVante Bellamy, Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan the options out of the backfield. The offensive line also returns three starters. Tom Flacco, Baltimore Ravens QB Joe’s younger brother, announced that he was leaving the program, so the starting job will either go to Jon Wassink or Alex Mussat. The defense will have to carry the load early with a strong secondary leading the way. The front seven is unsettled and may take some time to figure out. Road trips to USC and Michigan State to open the season will be tough, but then the Broncos have three straight at home. The under is the play here. Western Michigan better get wins early because its closes out the regular season slate on the road at Northern Illinois and Toledo.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of Toledo Rockets Facebook page)