Draft of MAC things

A round-table discussion where Justin, Fitz and myself pick things that could (and definitely will) happen during the 2017 football season.

We all like season previews, so here’s ours. Justin Coffin, Brandon Fitzsimons and myself all did a five-round draft where we picked things that we want to happen, expect to happen or take a gamble at things that are real possibilities within the alternative universe known as “Mid-American Conference football.”

The order of this draft goes Justin, Fitz then me. We didn’t do a snake draft because why would we?

This will also serve as a list of things that we might be rooting for. Sure, them rooting for Western Michigan is a given, much like how I’m still holding out for Eastern Michigan to make it to the Rose Bowl, but first and foremost, we just like weird things. If you ask any of us which movie most-appropriately defines our respective personalities, we’re all gonna reply with “Galaxy Quest, and it ain’t even close.”

At the end of the year, I’ll look through this list and see how we did and will choose a winner, based on how well we drafted our things. The scoring system will be figured out when that time comes. Until then, here’s our draft:

Round 1

Justin: Ryan Graham will not be Northern Illinois’ starting quarterback when MAC play begins.

Rod Carey may use two quarterbacks against Boston College, but the first snap will likely go to Ryan Graham. I anticipate he starts at least the first four games, but the way the non-conference schedule sets up, the Huskies could be without an FBS win as MAC play starts. If I’m Carey, I’m not coaching for my job without trying something new, and Daniel Santacaterina could be that something new. Of course, this prediction could come true based on injury history alone,as recent NIU quarterbacks haven’t been able to stay healthy for one reason or another.

Fitz: Logan Woodside throws for 5,000+ yards this season

Bold? Sort of.

However, you have to remember that there have only been 15 5,000-yard passing seasons in FBS history, and a majority of them come from notorious gun-slinging schools (Texas Tech and Houston have a combined nine of those 15 seasons). You don’t have to go far back in the MAC to get its record holder in Matt Johnson. However, Matt Johnson of Bowling Green came up 54 yards short of the mark.

So why Woodside? No Kareem Hunt might require a little more reliance on the pass game. Plus, having Cody Thompson, Jon’Vea Johnson, and Diontae Johnson on the receiving end of your passes doesn’t hurt either.

Alex: NIU vs. Toledo will be decided by seven points or fewer

Here’s what the scores for this matchup has looked like for the past ten seasons, from 2016 through 2007: 31–24, 32–27, 27–24, 35–17, 31–24, 63–60, 65–30, 20–19, 38–7, 70–21.

History says this year’s game should be lop-sided in Toledo’s favor. On-paper, this year’s game reads that it should lean toward’s Toledo’s favor. But this game is in November, and I’m still too scared to bet against NIU so vehemently.

Round 2

Justin: “Bowling” Green; see what I did there?

Bowling Green is the toughest team to figure out. Last year, many thought this team would win the East. This year, many expect it to be bad. I’m going to split the difference here at 6–6, you know, to be safe. I’m confident about four of those wins: South Dakota, Akron, Kent State and Buffalo.

Finishing the job means the Falcons need wins over two schools on this list: Michigan State (probably not), Northwestern (no), Middle Tennessee (Why not, I guess), Miami (eh), Ohio (Only if they move the game to November), Northern Illinois (No longer bulletproof), Toledo (nearly did it last year), Eastern Michigan (sure!)

James Morgan’s improvement and a formidable running game will be key factors to this actually happening, and I think the Falcons will take a step forward

Fitz: Don Treadwell wins more games this season than Paul Haynes.

This might be a Hail Mary, but with Howard and Marshall within the first 3 weeks of the season, I think the former Miami coach gets a pair of wins before Haynes comes back for a brutal MAC schedule (and Louisville).

Honestly, we could see Haynes get the boot after an 0-fer October and November, and Treadwell would throw a third win on his resume with the Wagon Wheel.

Alex: Kent State is really bad, wins the Wagon Wheel anyway

I promise to you that I had this in mind already and I’m not softly piggy-backing off of Fitz here.

For what it’s worth, I think Haynes will live out his contract. Just a hunch.

At most, Kent State will win four games and that’s being nice, I believe. Kent could easily lose to Buffalo by 13 then beat Akron by a blocked PAT or something stupid like that. Kent State winning anything requires a grain of stupidity. Imagine how much suffering you’d have to endure before you even get to enjoy a Wagon Wheel victory. Is it even worth it? You have a finite number of days in this lifetime and you’re going to stress over the Wagon Wheel? Are you proud of yourself? Are you actually proud of yourself? You’re seriously getting angry with me right now? Why do you care? Why do you actually care? People are losing their homes in Texas because of the hurricane and you’re gonna fret over Kent State football?

(This, coming from an EMU fan)

Round 3

Justin: Western Michigan will have two 1,200 yard backs

What happens when you take two running backs that were responsible for 427 carries and 2,276 yards in 2016, put them behind one of the best offensive lines in the conference and give them Kevin Johns as an offensive coordinator? MAC CHAOS TEAM.

Indiana ran over 80 plays per game for the last three seasons as one of the most fast-paced offenses in the country with Johns at OC, and since he’s taking over a team with some uncertainty throwing the ball, there’s sure to be carries to go around.

Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan each averaged over five yards per carry a year ago, and will need about 218 and 230 carries, respectively to reach 1,200 yards — just 21 more carries between the two than 2016.

Fitz: Eastern Michigan will wins the Michigan MAC Trophy.

This one kinda hurts, since my beloved Broncos have dominated the trivalry over the past three seasons. I easily think Central Michigan is the worst team of the bunch and will finish 0–2. This leaves the game in Ypsilanti as the decider for me, and strange things seem to happen in the town with the phallic water tower.

The Broncos won there two years ago, but those were drastically different WMU and EMU teams. Brogan Roback leads a late comeback drive to win the game and the Eagles clinch the trophy a couple weeks later in Mt. (Un)Pleasant.

Justin: are you high

Alex: Sergio Bailey leads the MAC in receiving TDs

Is this bold? I don’t think this is bold. Let’s spit-ball some likely candidates to lead the conference in this category: Cody Thompson, Jon’Vea Johnson, Scott Miller, Chris Gardner.

Last year, Bailey was EMU’s leading receiver (60 catches, 868 yards, seven touchdowns) and it’s safe to assume more from him. He’s easily one of the MAC’s better receivers, and Roback really liked going to him late in the games (see: game winners over Bowling Green and CMU).

All it takes is a few games where he scores twice. That’s totally do-able.

Round 4

Justin: Shawun Lurry: Defensive PoY

Shawun Lurry battled some nagging injuries late last year and was unable to follow up his All-American season from 2015. I expect him to get back to 2015 form and lead the MAC in pass breakups and interceptions (with two or three for touchdowns). This is based on nothing more than the fact that Lurry is amazing and should never be thrown at, but people will do it anyway because we are creatures destined to repeat our mistakes for the entirety of our time on Earth.

Fitz: The MAC wins five P5 matchups this year.

Last year, that number was four, but half of those wins came via Western Michigan which kinda feels like cheating given how great they were. This year, Ohio draws Purdue and Kansas, EMU plays Rutgers, and CMU plays Kansas. At worst, I see the MAC going 3–1 in those games and you have to find two more games.

The steals here could be NIU vs. Boston College, WMU vs. Michigan State, and Ball State vs. Illinois. I’m tempted to go with six with CMU also drawing Syracuse and BC on the road and EMU heading to Kentucky, but I’ll play a Liars Dice move and just up the ante by one.

Alex: Terry Swanson has a 1,000-yard season

Here’s how Toledo’s top-two rushers have done over the past four years:

2016: Kareem Hunt 1,475 yards, Terry Swanson 583

2015: Hunt 973, Swanson 923

2014: Hunt 1,631, Swanson 732

2013: David Fluellen 1,121, Hunt 866

Smells like some sort of reliable trend here. Toledo’s offensive line isn’t getting any worse, and if this team is going to score some serious points like everybody expects, it’s not because Swanson caps out at 800 yards two years after rushing for 923, and no Kareem Hunt in front of him.

Round 5

Justin: Tony Poljan will be the best quarterback not named Woodside or Roback

Troy Poljan should win the starting job after Rhode Island. John Bonamego’s tenure at CMU has been brutally average, and the 6'7" quarterback out of Lansing Catholic (same high school as Cooper Rush, which you’re going to hear a LOT on ESPN3 broadcasts) is the clear future of CMU’s program. I’m not convinced Shane Morris getting you to six wins again is better than four or five with Poljan.

That said, with 11.5 games of work, barring injury, Poljan could be one of the MAC’s best already. He was a three star recruit with offers from Nebraska, Michigan State (as a tight end) and Minnesota, along with MAC counterparts Toledo, Eastern Michigan and Buffalo. This was a coveted player with immense potential, and it could be exciting to watch it all unfold this fall. To quantify it, 260 yards per game, a 60 percent or greater completion percentage and 20 touchdowns should be enough to make the case as a true freshman and one of the MAC’s potential future stars.

Fitz: The MAC loses 1/3 of its head coaches this year

Last year was really weird in that we damn near lost nobody until Minnesota did some funny stuff in late December/early January to get P.J. Fleck from Western Michigan. This year will be drastically different as we’ll see a mix of firings and P5 jumps.

Easily, Jason Candle will be gone after another solid season at Toledo. I’m going to include Chuck Martin, whose Notre Dame coordinator background and solid rebuild resume at Miami gets him a job at some lower Power 5 school. Terry Bowden and Frank Solich would be jumpers if they weren’t firmly entrenched at Akron and Ohio, respectively. No one else really has the resume to move on up.

The middle of the pack — people who aren’t on a hot seat and who haven’t done enough, if anything, to move — includes Mike Jinks (BGSU), Mike Neu (Ball State), Tim Lester (WMU), Bonomego (CMU, but he also fits in the Bowden/Solich “won’t ever jump” band for now), and Chris Creighton (who is another year away from potentially moving on up to Rutgers).

That leaves three candidates for firing. Unless Buffalo goes 0–12, I don’t see Lance Leipold getting the boot, but could be nice and warm heading into 2018. I already said I think Haynes gets the boot from Kent State at some point this year, so that leaves Rod Carey. Carey has a MAC title, but his Huskies have looked uglier and uglier in each progressive season under his leadership. What’s worse is that the NIU fan base is so used to winning from those six straight MAC West titles that another bowl-less season would be the equivalent of a normal team going 0-fer. The schedule is set-up to at least get to .500, but I could easily see them going 5–7 again. The “Fire Rod Carey” voices get too loud and he’s a free agent again.

Alex: EMU runs at least four awesome trick plays

Here’s a comprehensive list of things that come to mind when I think of a Chris Creighton-operated football team:

1. Positive attitudes

2. Creighton is a very handsome man

3. Oversized tools (like, a giant wrench)

4. Timeouts called at weird points in the game

5. Trick plays because football should be fun

6. He’s so handsome it hurts

Last night, I relived the clip of Roback being on the receiving end of a 2-point conversion play that the Eagles ran at LSU a couple years ago. EMU has been more fun for a lot of reasons, but that 2-point conversion truly embodies why it’s so easy to say “EMU football is fun to watch.”

And EMU does have this tendency to run trick plays, like a non-QB throwing the football, and at this point, expecting four is actually low-balling EMU’s potential.