You can’t blame the MAC for not wanting 2012 to end after the league enjoyed its most successful season ever. Not only did the MAC send a team (Northern Illinois) to a BCS bowl for the first time, but league teams also combined to win a record 18 games against FBS opponents in non-conference action and had four different schools nationally ranked at some point during the season.
You could make the argument that last season the MAC was the second best non-AQ conference in the nation after the Mountain West.
Don’t expect another BCS bowl qualifier in 2013, but the MAC has a chance to be just as strong overall.
Northern Illinois is the favorite to repeat in the West thanks in large part to the return of dynamic quarterback Jordan Lynch. As a junior, Lynch ranked fourth in the nation in total offense with 3,138 yards passing and 1,815 yards rushing and a combined 44 touchdowns. Six other starters return on offense, including tailback Akeem Daniels and speedy wide receiver Tommylee Lewis. Defensively, NIU returns only three starters, one on each level.
Ball State and Toledo will be the biggest threats to Northern Illinois in the West. The Cardinals are loaded at the skill positions, with the return of quarterback Keith Wenning, wideouts Willie Snead and Jamill Smith, tight end Zane Fakes and running back Jahwan Edwards. Third-year coach Pete Lembo has done a tremendous job rebuilding this program. Toledo, like Ball State, will be explosive on offense but has issues on the defensive side of the ball. Only two starters returns from a defense that allowed 473.2 yards per game in 2012. The Rockets will be tested early with a Week 1 trip to Florida.
No team in the MAC has done less with more over the past few seasons than Western Michigan. As a result, there is new leadership in Kalamazoo, with former Northern Illinois star P.J. Fleck, 32, talking over for Bill Cubit. Central Michigan hopes to build off its surprising late-season run that was capped off with a win over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Zurlon Tipton is one of the most underrated tailbacks in the nation. Eastern Michigan has not had a winning season since 1995 and will struggle again in the rugged West Division.
Bowling Green is searching for its first division title since 2003. The Falcons will be outstanding on defense, even with the loss of tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Dwayne Woods. If the offense (11th in the MAC last season) improves, the Falcons will be the team to beat in the East.
Under Frank Solich, Ohio has been the most consistent team in the division, but the Bobcats have yet to deliver in the MAC Championship Game. The return of quarterback Tyler Tettleton and tailback Beau Blankenship will keep the Ohio offense humming.
Kent State boasts the best one-two punch at tailback in the league with speedster Dri Archer and 250-pound bruiser Traylon Durham. Expect the Golden Flashes to be a run-oriented team once again as they break in a new quarterback under first-year coach Paul Haynes.
Buffalo played well down the stretch in 2012, winning three straight before losing by 14 at Bowling Green in the finale. With 15 starters back and a soft MAC schedule — no NIU or Ball State from the West — don’t be surprised if the Bulls make a move in ’13. Miami will rely on its speedy playmakers to overcome the graduation of QB Zac Dysert, a four-year starter who threw for 12,013 yards and 73 TDs.
Akron coach Terry Bowden had a rough first season in his return to the FBS ranks, but the Zips showed improvement and should be better in 2013. UMass struggled mightily in its first full season in the league — though the Minutemen did beat Akron in early November to avoid an 0–12 campaign.
2013 MAC Team Previews
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