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College football 2018: Mid-American Conference preview

Leading up to the kickoff of the 2018 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. As we continue today with the Mid-American, we’ll offer league predictions and look at the top performers while also highlighting key games from each conference.

Here we go.

Predictions

EAST DIVISION

1. Ohio
The Bobcats ranked ninth in the country averaging a school-best 39.1 points in 2017 and are poised for another big year. Nathan Rourke (2,203 passing yards, 17 touchdowns; 912 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns) is a dual threat who happens to be the best quarterback in the MAC.

Mid-American
Tyree Jackson (Photo by buffalonews.com)

2. Buffalo
Anthony Johnson is a stud receiver, but 6-foot-7, 245-pound quarterback Tyree Jackson isn’t too shabby. He threw for 2,096 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions when healthy last season. Big things are expected from that combination in 2018.

3. Miami (Ohio)
The Redhawks return 16 starters from last season’s 5-7 squad, so they do feel good about being able to take the next step. Miami also gets Ohio at home, which could end up being one of the more intriguing MACtion moments.

4. Akron
Surprise winners of the MAC East last season, Akron beat Buffalo and Ohio at home to accomplish that feat. In 2018, the Zips must travel to both schools where the challenges should be far greater.

5. Bowling Green
The Falcons have totaled six victories since posting 10 and winning the Mid-American title in 2015. That leaves coach Mike Jinks on the hot seat. However, Andrew Clair (6.8 yards per carry) is a solid back and there’s a quality receiving corps to feature.

6. Kent State
After going 14-45 the last five seasons, Paul Haynes is out as coach. ex-Syracuse assistant Sean Lewis is in. There is plenty of work to be done with an offense that averaged just 12.8 points and a defense that yielded 35.1 in 2017.

WEST DIVISION

1. Northern Illinois
The Huskies have a brutal non-conference slate that includes trips to Iowa and Florida State, but that should prepare them well for Mid-American play. Quarterback Marcus Childers was a nice surprise as a freshman and Sutton Smith blossomed into a stellar pass rusher. Getting Toledo at home should help.

2. Toledo
Replacing quarterback Logan Woodside and running back Terry Swanson won’t be easy as the Rockets try to keep the good times coming following last season’s 11-3, MAC-title winning effort. They still boast the league’s best receiving corps led by Diontae Johnson (1,278 yards, 13 touchdowns in ’17).

Mid-American
Diontae Johnson (Photo by gettyimages.com)

3. Western Michigan
Even with P.J. Fleck no longer rowing the boat, the Broncos still went 6-6 in 2017, but didn’t get a bowl bid. Replacing running back Jarvion Franklin could be tough and the offensive line has some holes, but WMU should still be the best MAC team from Michigan.

4. Eastern Michigan
From 2012-15, the Eagles totaled seven victories, then matched that amount in 2016. EMU took a step back last year with a 5-7 mark, but dropped three games in overtime. The offense needs some retooling, but Maxx Crosby (11 sacks in ’17) leads a defense that held five teams to 20 or fewer points.

5. Central Michigan
Central was a surprising 8-5 in ’17, and does have talented running back Jonathan Ward (1,019 yards, 10 touchdowns). However, there are other major holes on both sides of the line to fill and it must play at Northern Illinois and Toledo.

6. Ball State
The Cardinals carry a nine-game losing streak into the season, but the opener against Central Connecticut State should end that run. Injuries paved the way for the 2-10 finish in 2017, so if Ball State can stay even remotely healthy it might have more of a fighting chance.

Players to watch

OFFENSE
Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo: After posting 76 catches for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns (third in the FBS) last season, Johnson opted to return to school. The Bulls are certainly happy he did.

Mid-American
Sutton Smith (Photo by chatsports.com)

DEFENSE
Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois: Smith entered NIU as a running back, but it’s safe to say the position changed has worked. In 2017, he led the nation with 29 1/2 tackles for loss and tied for the top spot with 14 sacks.

 

Key Games

Oct. 13: Ohio at Northern Illinois. Will this be a preview of the Mid-American Conference title game? Perhaps. The Bobcats have won two in a row and three of the last four at NIU.

Nov. 7: Toledo at Northern Illinois. This will likely determine the champion of the MAC West. The Huskies have won the last four meetings in DeKalb.

Nov. 14: Buffalo at Ohio. If the Bulls have any chance of upending Ohio in the MAC East, they must find a way to win in Athens – where they’ve dropped 10 of 11.

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