Looking at the MAC heading into 2010, there seems to be a big shortage in proven offensive weapons, most notably at the quarterback position. Six of 2009’s top eight passer ratings have departed including Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour – arguably the greatest signal caller in conference history. Departures at wide receiver will also be felt as five of the top seven in terms of yard per game have moved on.
Your top three returning quarterbacks are Miami's Zac Dysert, Northern Illinois’ Chandler Harnish and Kent State’s Spencer Keith. Dysert (12 TDs, 16 INTs) has upside but plays for a team that went 1-11. Harnish didn’t practice in the spring due to a knee injury and hasn’t even fully secured the position. Keith had a decent freshman campaign (14 TDs, 11 INTs) and should see the return of running back Eugene Jarvis. Beyond those three is Temple’s Chester Stewart, who completed 40% of his passes in a limited role last season. Akron’s Patrick Nicely started as a freshman and completed only 54% of his passes. Ball State’s Kelly Page, yet another freshman that started a year ago, connected on only 52% of his throws. Ohio is going with Iowa State transfer Phil Bates (who earned preseason Honorable Mention all-MAC according to Phil Steele). Buffalo plans on starting freshman Rudy Johnson while Bowling Green is going the same route with redshirt frosh Matt Schliz. At least Toledo sophomore Austin Dantin saw action (962 yards) when Aaron Opelt went down with injury. Lastly, sophomore Ryan Radcliff is projected to be CMU’s signal caller. He threw 21 passes last season, two of which were picked off. And while less important and easier to reload, the wide receiver position in the MAC also took a hit. Three 1,000-yard pass catchers graduated as did Buffalo’s duo of Naaman Roosevelt (954 yards) and Brett Hamlin (898 yards). And if all that youth and inexperience doesn’t scare you enough, keep in mind there are three first-year coaches and five more in only their second season.
Now for the good news. Every team but one (Bowling Green) projects to return no fewer than three of their five offensive lineman. And more than half the league returns four or five. Overall, 74% of the MAC’s offensive linemen are returning starters.
You could argue that the no conference in the country is affected more by graduation losses than the MAC. Unlike power conferences schools that can reload or raid the junior college ranks, a majority of MAC players come in as freshmen, patiently wait their turn and end up contributors by the time they are upperclassmen. Former quarterbacks likes Opelt, Nate Davis, Tim Hiller, Theo Scott, Tyler Sheehan…these guys just didn’t show up on campus as world beaters. It took time for each one to develop and learn their various systems. LeFevour of course is the exception to this rule as there may never again be a MAC quarterback of his caliber.
Based on all of the personnel losses listed above, it’s not a bad idea to assume some offensive decline in 2010. However, things may not end up being that bad. The amount of returning starters on the o-line conference wide is only going to help those with new quarterbacks and coaches. It puts teams like Ball State and Miami in a position for big improvement. The Cardinals and RedHawks have 21 returning starters on offense between them including quarterbacks and coaches ready for their second tour of duty. And while quarterback back play in the MAC is important, a sound offensive line and running game means just as much if not more. Temple had virtually no passing attack in 2009 and finished 9-4 thanks to 187 ypg on the ground). Northern Illinois (195 ypg) reached the postseason while using Harnish as nothing more than a game manager. Overall, what we can project out the MAC this season is that those teams who suffered through rebuilding years in 2009 (Miami, Ball State and Eastern Michigan) will undoubtedly improve on offense. Those who lost big production at the quarterback position (CMU, WMU, BG, Toledo) will indeed decline but not as much as you think. It is going to be a big challenge trying to handicap the MAC this season. Heading in, virtually every team has more than a few question marks. Deciding which strengths and deficiencies are going to be relevant however can provide the edge you need to rack up those ATS victories.