1. Top MAC offensive player?
It’s likely to take decades — if ever — for another MAC athlete to approach Dan LeFevour’s astonishing offensive production. The best bet I see for big offensive production this fall is Temple’s sophomore running back Bernard Pierce, who piled up 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns on 236 carries in 2009, for 5.8 yards per carry. His 9.2 yards per carry against bowl-bound Navy was just astonishing, and all that was done as a freshman.
2. Top MAC defensive player?
If EMU’s run defense can force other teams to take to the air, senior EMU safety Latarrius Thomas (more about him below) could make a run at this, but the Eagle run defense was so atrocious in 2009 that it’s a big “if”.
3. Surprise MAC team?
I think EMU will surprise a lot of people just because expectations are so low. I’ve seen a lot of pre-season reviews and rankings suggesting that EMU will be the worst FBS team this year, which historically implies another winless season, or possibly (but unlikely) a one-win season. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this team will even finish at .500. I’m expecting 2-4 wins, but expectations are so low that 3 or 4 wins would surprise an awful lot of people.
4. Biggest drop?
Central Michigan is an obvious pick here, and I’ll take the obvious pick. They lost a tremendous talent in Dan LeFevour — a two-time MAC Offensive player of the year, he holds the all-time record for FBS touchdowns with 149, and is second all-time in total offensive yards with more than 15,000. They’ll be breaking in a new head coach, who comes in with no prior head coaching experience and whose only FBS experience has been coaching quarterbacks and running backs. There’s experience at some positions on the team, but they’ve lost too much. Last year they finished 12-2, 8-0 in MAC play. This year, traveling to Temple, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, and Navy, they’ll struggle to get to eight wins, a drop of four from 2009.
5. Coaches on the hot seat?
Michael Haywood and Ron English are each in their second season as head coach, and while they’ll both need their teams to show some improvement, I think they’ll largely get a pass this year. Stan Parrish, although 2010 will only be his second full season as head coach at Ball State, is an experienced head coach, and he inherited a team that had gone 12-0 in the 2008 regular season, so I think he’s going to have to produce some results this year.
6. Top 2010 recruiting class?
I don’t really follow other schools’ recruiting closely enough to make a judgement on that.
7. MAC title contenders?
Northern Illinois, Temple, and Ohio, in that order. NIU probably has the most favorable schedule of the three, hosting Temple and not facing Ohio.
8. Best EMU player we don’t know?
I’m not sure any EMU players are terribly well-known outside the EMU fan base. One player we’re hoping to get a big impact from this fall is senior safety Latarrius Thomas. He was a starter at Louisville as a true freshman in 2006, where he was voted to the Big East All-Freshman team, and played there through 2008. When Ron English left the Cardinals for EMU, Thomas followed, sitting out the 2009 season. Thomas said of English, “I would have followed him anywhere. If he would have gone D-2, I would have gone…It’s about me being with someone with a guy that I trust, my father trusts. He’s a good guy, and that’s what it is really about.” Another defender with the potential to make a big impact is redshirt freshman cornerback Marlon Pollard, who just transferred to EMU from UCLA. He was rated as a four-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout.com, and in addition to UCLA, he had offers from Arizona State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Washington. UCLA granted his release because he was “buried on the depth chart” there. All in all, the pass defense should be one of the strongest aspects of this team. On the offensive side, senior running back Dwayne Priest will shoulder the majority of the load. Since he was a defensive coordinator, we only have 2009 to learn about Ron English’s offensive style, but he seems to favor the running game pretty heavily. Priest was far and away the leading EMU rusher last year, carrying the ball 175 times for 633 yards and 7 touchdowns. The other rushing threat is sophomore QB Alex Gillett, who ran 95 times for 484 yards in 2009, topping 100 yards against Western Michigan and Akron.
9. How many MAC teams make a bowl?
The MAC has 3 bowl tie-ins (GMAC, Little Caesar’s, Humanitarian) and I think those spots get filled, but no others. So I expect three MAC teams to go bowling, probably the three I mentioned as MAC title contenders.
10. MAC team in top 25?
Northern Illinois has the best chance. As I already mentioned, their conference schedule is a little more favorable than Temple’s or Ohio’s. Also, their out-of-conference schedule is good enough that they’ll get some credit for it, but weak enough that they could get some wins against major-conference foes; the Huskies’ games at Iowa State, Illinois, and Minnesota are all winnable. By comparison, Temple travels to Penn State and hosts a strong Connecticut team, and Ohio travels to Ohio State and Marshall. A MAC team will need to be at least 10-2 to get into the top 25, and Northern Illinois has the clearest path to do it.