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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 starters. However, Western Michigan is a team on the rise behind coach P.J. Fleck, and the Broncos host Northern Illinois on Oct. 8 for a game that could decide the division winner. New coach Jason Candle isn’t expected to make many changes at Toledo, and the Rockets remain squarely in the mix for the West Division title.

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The picture is murkier in the East Division. Ohio is Athlon’s pick to win this division, but Bowling Green and Akron aren’t far behind. And it may not take a 7-1 or 6-2 record to win the East. The Falcons have to replace quarterback Matt Johnson, the Zips lost key players on both sides of the ball, and the Bobcats also have to find an answer under center. Athlon’s projections have the top three teams from the East tied at 5-3 for the league title, with Ohio – the projected champion – checking in at No. 91 nationally.  

Five Key Questions That Will Shape the MAC in 2016

1. Will Northern Illinois Win its Seventh West Division Title in a Row?

Dominant. It’s a simple word, but it’s the best way to describe Northern Illinois’ run in the MAC West over the last six years. The Huskies have claimed six straight trips to the MAC title game and earned three conference titles in that span. And under coach Rod Carey, Northern Illinois has lost only three conference games since 2013. While last season’s six losses were the most since 2009, there’s no reason to panic in DeKalb. Injuries were largely to blame for last year’s losses, including a season-ending ailment to starting quarterback Drew Hare in early November. With Hare back under center, the Huskies should own one of the MAC’s top offenses once again. Additionally, new coordinators Kevin Kane (defense) and Mike Uremovich (offense) should provide a spark on both sides of the ball. However, there are obstacles for Carey’s team to overcome. The Huskies lose three All-MAC performers on defense, and two first-team all-conference linemen depart on offense. The schedule also features a road game at Western Michigan, and the home date against Toledo was moved to U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.   

Related: Athlon's College Football 1-128 Team Rankings for 2016

2. Western Michigan or Toledo in the West?

While Northern Illinois has owned the MAC West over the last six seasons, Athlon is picking against the Huskies in 2016. It’s a close call at the top, but Western Michigan and Toledo are Athlon’s pick to take the top spots in the West. Why Western Michigan? The Broncos host both the Rockets and Huskies this season – a critical scheduling note after all three teams tied at 6-2 at the top of the league in 2015. Western Michigan also returns eight starters from a dynamic offense. Quarterback Zach Terrell is the MAC’s top signal-caller, and receiver Corey Davis should be an All-American pick in 2016. Additionally, Western Michigan has recruited well under coach P.J. Fleck, and this program has been trending up over the last two seasons. While Matt Campbell was a rising star at Toledo, new coach Jason Candle will keep the Rockets in contention for the MAC title. A deep backfield and standout line leads the way on offense, while the addition of graduate transfers Earl Moore (DT) and Jeremi Powell (LB) add talent to a defense that returns only four starters. Another tight race at the top of the division should be expected, but Western Michigan’s favorable home slate should help this program earn its first trip to the MAC title game since 2000.

3. Is there a Clear Favorite in the East Division?

Not at all. The MAC’s East Division was one of the toughest leagues to sort out in Athlon’s prediction meetings for the magazine. Bowling Green has won the last three East Division titles, but the Falcons have a new coach (Mike Jinks) and lose standout quarterback Matt Johnson and receivers Roger Lewis and Gehrig Dieter. Jinks should keep a similar offensive style in place, but he’s never been a head coach or coordinator at the FBS level. Akron has made progress under coach Terry Bowden and is coming off the best season in program history. However, the Zips return only six starters and must replace five starters on the offensive line. With uncertainty at Akron and Bowling Green, Athlon’s pick to win the East is Ohio. The Bobcats haven’t had a losing record since 2008 and are a steady winner under coach Frank Solich. Ohio isn’t without its share of personnel concerns, as a quarterback must emerge, and the secondary needs to find three new starters. However, the Bobcats host Bowling Green and Akron and won’t have to play Northern Illinois or Western Michigan from the West Division in crossover play.

Related: Grading College Football's New Coach Hires for 2016

4. Central Michigan…a Sleeper in the MAC West?

The balance of power in the MAC is clearly slanted to the West Division for 2016. The league’s top four teams reside in that division this year. Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan are considered the top three teams, but Central Michigan shouldn’t be overlooked. Under first-year coach John Bonamego, the Chippewas tied for the MAC West title at 6-2 in league play last season. Central Michigan is aiming even higher in Bonamego’s second year, and the return of quarterback Cooper Rush should keep the Chippewas within striking distance of the top three. Rush is surrounded by a deep group of receivers, and the ground attack should improve with a full year from running back Devon Spalding. Additionally, the defense returns seven starters, with the line getting a boost from Joe Ostman’s return from injury. Central Michigan has to play at Northern Illinois and Toledo, but rival Western Michigan visits Mount Pleasant. The Chippewas are just a step behind the top three in Athlon’s overall power rankings for 2016. However, Rush is capable of carrying this team to the MAC title game.

5. Miami and Buffalo on the Rise?

As mentioned above, there’s not a clear favorite in the East Division. And with the uncertainty and personnel question marks surrounding Ohio, Akron and Bowling Green, could a surprise team emerge to win the division? If so, keep a close eye on Buffalo and Miami. The RedHawks have made steady progress under coach Chuck Martin, and with 13 returning starters, this team is poised to challenge for at least a .500 mark in conference play. Miami needs to settle on a quarterback, but a favorable schedule should allow the RedHawks to easily exceed last year’s three wins. Lance Leipold was one of the top head coach hires from 2015, and the future for the Buffalo program is still bright after a 5-7 record last season. Quarterback Joe Licata must be replaced, but the Bulls should be solid on defense and have promising pieces – quarterback Tyree Jackson and running back Jordan Johnson – to build around on offense. 

MAC 2016 Team Previews

Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2016 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year. 

MAC Football 2016 Predictions

MAC 2016 Superlatives and Season Predictions


Steven Lassan

Mitch Light

Mark Ross

David Fox






Offensive POY

Corey Davis WR, WMU

Corey Davis WR, WMU

Kareem Hunt RB, Toledo

Kareem Hunt RB, Toledo

Defensive POY

Shawun Lurry CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry CB, NIU

Shawun Lurry CB, NIU

Coach of the Year

P.J. Fleck WMU

P.J. Fleck WMU

P.J. Fleck WMU

John Bonamego CMU

Coach on Hot Seat

Paul Haynes Kent State

Paul Haynes Kent State

Paul Haynes Kent State

Paul Haynes Kent State

Top Freshman

Keishawn Watson WR, WMU

Matt Falcon RB, WMU

Tyree Jackson QB, Buffalo

Keishawn Watson WR, WMU

Top Newcomer

Warren Ball RB, Akron

Tee Shepard CB, Miami

Warren Ball RB, Akron

Earl Moore DT, Toledo

Sleeper Team




Central Michigan

Top Coordinator Hire

Brian George DC, Toledo

Tim Daoust DC, Ball State

Brian George DC, Toledo

Brian George DC, Toledo

Key Position to Watch





Hardest to Evaluate

Bowling Green

Bowling Green

Bowling Green


Coach on the Rise

P.J. Fleck HC, WMU

P.J. Fleck HC, WMU

P.J. Fleck HC, WMU

Jason Candle HC, Toledo

Must-See Game

Toledo at  W. Michigan

Toledo at W. Michigan

W. Michigan at Illinois

Toledo at W. Michigan

Breakout Player

Jordan Johnson RB, Buffalo

Teo Redding WR, BGSU

Alonzo Smith RB, Miami

Devon Spalding RB, CMU

Comeback Player

Pat O'Connor DL, EMU

Joe Ostman DL, CMU

Drew Hare QB, NIU

Drew Hare QB, NIU

Ranking the MAC's Coaches for 2016

1. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

2. Frank Solich, Ohio

3. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

Click here to view the full MAC Coach Rankings for 2016

Ranking the MAC's Top Five Quarterbacks for 2016

1. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan

2. Cooper Rush, Central Michigan

3. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois

4. Thomas Woodson, Akron

5. Logan Woodside, Toledo

MAC's Top Five Non-Conference Games for 2016

1. Western Michigan at Northwestern (Sept. 3)

2. San Diego State at Northern Illinois (Sept. 17)

3. Western Michigan at Illinois (Sept. 17)

4. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (Sept. 24)

5. Toledo at BYU (Oct. 30)

Key Coordinator Hires for 2016

1. Brian George, Defensive Coordinator, Toledo

2. Kevin Kane, Defensive Coordinator, Northern Illinois

3. Tim Daoust, Defensive Coordinator, Ball State

4. Mike Uremovich, Offensive Coordinator, Northern Illinois

5. Neal Neathery, Defensive Coordinator, Eastern Michigan

Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)

1. Matthew Falcon, RB, Western Michigan

2. Tony Poljan, QB, Central Michigan

3. Stefan Claiborne, S, Western Michigan

4. Spencer Kanz, OL, Western Michigan

5. Armani Posey, DB, Bowling Green

6. Matt Little, QB, Western Michigan

7. Tristian Pipp, LB, Western Michigan

8. Eric Rogers, LB, Western Michigan

9. Keevon Harris, ATH, Ohio

10. Dontre Boyd, CB, Western Michigan