NCAA Football 2018 Season Preview: MAC

Complete preview for the MAC in 2018.

The MAC hasn’t had a repeat champion since 2011-12, and it’s likely that streak extends to five years in a row in 2018. That’s due to Ohio taking the top spot in the 2018 MAC predictions as the favorite to win the league. The Bobcats fell just short of reaching the league title game last season and are a heavy favorite in the East Division. Buffalo and Miami aren’t far behind the Bobcats, with Akron in the next tier. The picture is a little cloudier at the top of the West Division. Toledo is the defending conference champion but must replace standout quarterback Logan Woodside. Northern Illinois returns one of the MAC’s top defenses, while the development of quarterback Marcus Childers could help coach Rod Carey’s team win the West once again.

Akron

This year, Akron seems to have some pieces in place, but the Zips could have a tough time getting back to the league title game as the top teams in the East should be vastly improved. Ohio looks to be the class of the division, and both Miami and Buffalo will be in the hunt. The Zips could finish anywhere from first to fourth in what figures to be an intriguing season of MACtion.

Bowling Green

Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini has some decent building blocks with Bowling Green’s veteran secondary and athletic linebackers. QB Jarret Doege has the confidence of his coaches and teammates after making five starts as a freshman, while Scott Miller provides a clear No. 1 target on the outside. The first month of the season will be rough, with Oregon, Maryland and Georgia Tech all on the schedule, so a break-even year will require a strong conference showing.

Buffalo

Coach Lance Leipold won five Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater but has not reached the postseason in three years at Buffalo. With so much firepower returning, anything less than a trip to a bowl game will be a major disappointment.

Kent State

If nothing else, the team will be much more fun to watch in 2018, with head coach Sean Lewis calling the shots in a fast-paced attack. His system will breed a star or two per usual, and if one of them is a quarterback, the Flashes could pull off a few surprises in 2018 — and set the stage for much bigger and better things in the years to come.

Miami (Ohio)

Despite the numerous and costly mental breakdowns, coach Chuck Martin saw his contract extended for two years, through the 2020 season. He has spent the first four seasons building up the roster, both in talent and physicality, and he feels now that the RedHawks are in an enviable position with experienced players who are better able to physically compete in the MAC.

Miami will be tested by a challenging schedule that includes only five true home games. The RedHawks are due to play archrival Cincinnati at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, and they face a grueling stretch of three road trips to Army, Buffalo and Northern Illinois in the second half of the season.

Ohio

Coach Frank Solich has the Bobcats poised for a run at the MAC East title. “This is a team that could easily win the division — and the league — this year if they get more of the same kind of play from the quarterback position,” says one opposing MAC assistant coach.

Ball State

The Cardinals should show significant improvement across the board — assuming they don’t suffer a similar rash of injuries. That, however, might not be enough for them to make a significant move in the MAC West, the more challenging of the league’s two divisions.

Central Michigan

A lot of what Central Michigan does this season will tie in with the development of QB Tony Poljan and the inexperienced wide receiver group. Every other position group should be satisfactory to strong, so those could be the final pieces of the puzzle in taking another step forward. The Chippewas have a fairly difficult schedule with three Power 5 opponents in addition to the MAC slate, which is bookended by road games at Northern Illinois and Toledo. At least rival Western Michigan is a home game.

Eastern Michigan

There are plenty of reasons for optimism this year with so much back in the fold on defense and on the offensive line, but the name of the game in football is quarterback play, and there is a serious question mark there. It’s hard to imagine anyone living up to the standard set by Brogan Roback. If Eastern Michigan is to win more games than it loses this season, it will be due a running game that controls the clock and a defense that limits big plays. It won’t be long before EMU figures out where it stands in the MAC as it opens league play at home against Northern Illinois, travels to Western Michigan and is back home versus Toledo in the first three weeks of the conference season.

Northern Illinois

The Huskies have not won more than eight games in any of the last three seasons, and although the talent level, especially on defense, would indicate a possible 10-plus-win team, the schedule is a big obstacle. The good news is that the Huskies possess significant talent on both sides of the ball, enabling them to make a run at the West Division title.

Toledo

If either Mitchell Guadagni or Eli Peters emerges as a viable replacement for Logan Woodside at quarterback, then it’s all systems go. But if the offense struggles a bit, the defense will have to do its part. And that defense will be tested early with non-conference dates against Miami (Fla.), Nevada and Fresno State. The Rockets do catch a break in league play by not having to face either Ohio or Miami, the two favorites in the East.

Western Michigan

By the end of last season, WMU had lost a whopping 21 players to season-ending injuries, including five safeties, five running backs and five receivers. “It started getting ridiculous,” head coach Tim Lester says. It did, however, create a good dynamic entering this season — an experienced roster, devoid of a large senior class. The Broncos have only nine seniors on a team with realistic designs on competing for a MAC championship, meaning this should be a two-year group.

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