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MAC Preview: Toledo tops dangerous group

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  • MAC Preview: Toledo tops dangerous group

    Aug. 7, 2004
    By Tony Mejia Staff Writer
    Tell Tony your opinion!

    MAC schools enter the 2004 season hearing they won't be able to duplicate last year's success. While it's true the conference is coming off a dream campaign featuring a record number of Top 25 appearances and NFL first-round draft picks, expecting it to recede significantly would be a bad assumption.

    Predicted Finish
    East West
    1. Miami (Ohio) 1. Toledo
    2. Marshall 2. N. Illinois
    3. C. Florida 3. Bowling Green
    4. Akron 4. W. Michigan
    5. Kent State 5. E. Michigan
    6. Ohio 6. Ball State
    7. Buffalo 7. C. Michigan
    Off. Player of Year:
    Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo
    Def. Player of Year:
    Terna Nande, Miami (Ohio)
    Coach of the Year:
    Tom Amstutz, Toledo

    Skeptics will dismiss last season's success as a one-year wonder, and indeed the talent well isn't quite as plentiful this time around. Replacements must be found for the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, arguably the top quarterback in college football in '03, versatile play-making QB Josh Harris, workhorse tailback Michael Turner and pass-rusher Jason Babin. All proved that major talents could prosper in a mid-major league.

    Despite its seemingly annual upsets of Big Ten competition, the MAC is typically cast aside as a league filled with crummy directional schools and mediocre athletes. Ask Kansas State if it shares that sentiment. Or Purdue, Maryland, Pittsbugh, Colorado State, Louisville and Iowa State. All were MAC victims last season.

    Whether the conference can do it again remains to be seen, but the league has put itself in position to register another blockbuster upset. Miami (Ohio) visits Michigan. Marshall travels to Ohio State and Georgia on consecutive weekends. Bowling Green will be at Oklahoma. Central Florida and Akron both pay their respects to Joe Paterno in Happy Valley. Northern Illinois gives Maryland a chance to even the score.

    Oh, and Toledo, provided it can get past road games at Minnesota and Kansas to start the season, could very well be undefeated and in the Top 15 entering November. Quietly, the Rockets have crept up to MAC-daddy status, displacing Marshall as the team to beat.

    Current Missouri coach Gary Pinkel orchestrated the turnaround, and longtime assistant Tom Amstutz has kept the program operating at a high level, winning at least eight games in each of his three seasons. In all, the Rockets are 37-12 over the past four years, the sixth-best record in the nation during that span.

    Returning arguably the league's top quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and offensive lineman, Toledo has an opportunity to field the country's most prolific attack. Junior quarterback Bruce Gradkowski completed 71.2 percent of his passes in his first year, throwing for a school-record 29 touchdowns. The Rockets run a virtually unstoppable spread offense, peppering in draws and short passes to top back Trinity Dawson with downfield strikes to Nick Moore and Steve Odom, who combined for 165 catches and over 2,000 yards last season.

    With four national television appearances this season, Toledo is the best bet to register within the national consciousness, which is good news for the league given the pending departure of Marshall and UCF to Conference USA.

    Their chief competition in the West figures to be Northern Illinois, which was unfairly snubbed by the bowls despite a 10-2 record last season and a nearly season-long residence in the national rankings. The Huskies return QB Josh Haldi for his senior year; his 18-6 record as starter is something to behold considering the school was 20-46 in the six seasons before he took over.

    In the East, Marshall fields a strong team as it looks to end its MAC run with a championship, something it failed to win last season for the first time since joining the conference in 1997.

    Miami (Ohio) ended the Thundering Herd's run and returns 17 starters from a team that was unbeaten in league play, finished 13-1 and owns the nation's longest winning streak (13). Roethlisberger is a substantial missing piece, but if understudy Josh Betts does his part, the RedHawks will again be a force.

    UCF, essentially starting over under George O'Leary, has enough in place to be a dangerous spoiler but is still a couple of years away from serious contention.


    1. Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks' defense was overshadowed by Roethlisberger and Co. last year but held opponents to 10 points or fewer on four occasions, helped the team finish third nationally in turnover margin and did its best work in a 45-6 defeat of Marshall. Nine starters return.

    2. Marshall: Stan Hill is no Byron Leftwich but proved to be more than serviceable under center and may have a pro future himself. With Josh Davis back for a run at a couple of NCAA receiving records, the Herd promise to be explosive.

    3. UCF: O'Leary has invigorated the Golden Knights, but holes up front and at linebacker make immediate success unlikely. Not to worry though; Orlando will soon have a big winner to support.

    4. Akron: Charlie Frye might be the best quarterback you've never heard of, but there is little else in Zip-land. Unless you count a really porous defense that promises to give new coach J.D. Brookhart a fair share of headaches.

    5. Kent State: QB Joshua Cribbs has his legal problems behind him but missed out on valuable preparation time dealing with the courts. Still, he's by far the best the Golden Flashes have and should make new coach Doug Martin's offense go.

    6. Ohio: The Bobcats infamous triple-option attack is gone, replaced by a dropback passing attack. At the very least, it should make the team's games longer.

    7. Buffalo: The Bulls are making progress, albeit slowly. Two victories are probably their ceiling, but hey, it would be one more than last year.


    1. Toledo: For all the skill on the offensive side of the ball, senior tackle Nick Kaczur has the best pro future. A likely first-rounder, expect him to earn All-MAC honors for the fourth consecutive year.

    2. Northern Illinois: Whoever replaces Turner will have a strong offensive line to run behind, ensuring that the Huskies will still be able to employ their physical football and out-tough opponents.

    3. Bowling Green: Josh Harris' ability to run Gregg Brandon's multi-faceted attack made the Falcons great. With him gone, they won't be averaging 500 yards per game. The schedule doesn't help either, with trips to Oklahoma, Northern Illinois and Toledo.

    4. Western Michigan: Rutgers transfer Ryan Cubit is expected to emerge as the team's starting QB and will have an impressive stable of receivers to throw to in Gary Darnell's pass-happy attack.

    5. Eastern Michigan: Anthony Sherrell rushed for nearly 1,600 yards in 2003 and will again be the workhorse for the Eagles. Unfortunately, he gets little help.

    6. Ball State: Second-year coach Brady Hoke has brought in a new offensive coordinator, but the only QB on the roster with any experience has thrown just three passes and there's even a possibility one of two true freshmen will start.

    7. Central Michigan: The Chippewas do return a host of starters, but that's not exactly great news; the team beat just one I-A opponent last year.

Related Topics


  • DJRamFan
    Bowling Green's Jacobs the next QB in line
    by DJRamFan
    By Tony Mejia
    CBS Staff Writer
    Tell Tony your opinion!

    Record-setting Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a near-perfect run through his rookie season in the NFL, with every completed pass and victory elevating the Mid-American Conference's reputation. Although Marshall has defected from the league, both Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich cut their teeth against MAC competition.

    MAC East
    Predicted Finish
    1. Bowling Green
    2. Miami (Ohio)
    3. Ohio
    4. Arkron
    5. Kent State
    6. Buffalo
    MAC West
    Predicted Finish
    1. Toledo
    2. Northern Illinois
    3. Eastern Michigan
    4. Western Michigan
    5. Central Michigan
    6. Ball State
    Off. player of year:
    Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green
    Def. player of year:
    Justin Parrish, Kent State
    Coach of the year:
    Gregg Brandon, Bowling Green
    Very soon, Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs will join them in carrying the flag for the league at the next level. At 6-feet-4 and packing a powerful, accurate arm, he's projected a first-round pick whenever he turns pro. There is considerable buzz surrounding him after a sophomore season in which he threw for over 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Even if he does leave early, the junior's aim -- while people whisper his name as a dark-horse Heisman candidate -- is to lead the Falcons to a conference championship. Everything else is secondary.

    "We've challenged him," said Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon. "How many championships has he won? Can he do that? Can he lead a team to a championship? That is what he has got to get done for us."

    Bowling Green switches divisions this season -- with Marshall and Central Florida gone -- and has immediately been installed as the East favorite over two-time reigning champ Miami. While some might have expected the program to take a tumble once Urban Meyer left for Utah, the Falcons have remained a power under former assistant Brandon, accumulating a 20-6 mark in his two seasons. They still run the same complex offense that made Meyer a household name, and based on Jacobs' production, do so just as efficiently.

    Omar Jacobs celebrated last year's bowl victory with coach Gregg Brandon. (Provided to SportsLine)
    In fact, Bowling Green has the potential to accomplish what Meyer's Utah team did last year, bullying its way into the BCS. Senior tailbacks P.J. Pope and B.J. Lane and receivers Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders rejoin Jacobs on an offense that produced over 500 yards a game, second in the nation. The Falcons could be an unruly guest in visits to Wisconsin and Boise State in the season's first month. If they are able to escape unscathed,...
    -08-09-2005, 12:08 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Changes Multiply With D-II Football Set To Start
    by DJRamFan
    By Brad Dopke

    Those in BCS circles would have you believe that the college football season kicks off in Washington, D.C., on August 28 when Southern Cal and Virginia Tech hook up. However, purists know that many Division II teams will be kicking off the Thursday prior to the big boys.

    Still, the real story before the start of the season is in the happenings off the field. Not only will D-II continue its push toward regionalization by increasing the number of playoff participants from 16 to 24, but there is also interest in some regions to reduce the maximum allowed scholarship equivalencies from 36 to a number as low as 24 per year. Any change in equivalencies could come as early as the 2005 NCAA Convention.

    As scholarship money is limited at the Division II level, it just may provide the impetus for more schools to step up to Division I. Gone are North and South Dakota State from the NCC to join Cal-Davis and Northern Colorado in Division I, with Winston-Salem State making public its desire to move up as well. Also missing from the D-II landscape is one time power New Haven, which decided to drop the sport for financial reasons.

    At a time when financial support for football is getting more difficult to come by, a push to reduce overall costs for the sport may have the numbers to get scholarship reductions pushed past the powerbrokers that vetoed such a fate just a few years back. Now back to the field of play. Members of the four regions have been set, and each region is allotted six playoff participants. Truly surprising was that the Championships Committee decided to remove one of the Division's most powerful conferences (the GLIAC) from the Northeast Region to an already difficult Northwest Region. That means the PSAC, WVIAC and non-scholarship Northeast Ten already come out as big winners. Part I takes a look at the Northeast and Southeast regions.


    With regionalization establishing the PSAC as a leader in Division II, the conference comes loaded with quality and growing teams. Things should really be hot in the West Division where Shippensburg returns a good chunk from what was a successful title contender. This year the Raiders would like to topple Lou Tepper's Edinboro Scots from their title perch. Still, Shipps will have its hands full as Indiana looks to be in the title chase. With six picks in the Northeast Region, expect two of these three teams to make it to the playoffs.

    In the PSAC East things may not be as torrid on the national scene, but both Bloomsburg and West Chester will field quality teams that should be in the hunt for the divisional title. Right behind both contenders will be East Stroudsburg. Although Mansfield may lack the overall punch necessary to top them all, the Mountaineers may have the nation's best performer in running back Earnest "Poohbear" McNeal....
    -08-26-2004, 12:20 PM
  • DJRamFan
    Pac-10 preview: Former power Washington begins rebuilding
    by DJRamFan
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    Something to do over beers as the season draws near: Put together a list of the top 10 football factories. You know, the schools that get their very identity from football excellence.

    Most likely Washington will be in there somewhere.

    Predicted Finish
    1. Southern Cal
    2. Arizona State
    3. California
    4. Washington State
    5. UCLA
    6. Oregon
    7. Oregon State
    8. Arizona
    8. Washington
    8. Stanford
    Off. player of year:
    Reggie Bush, USC
    Def. player of year:
    Spencer Havner, UCLA
    Coach of the year:
    Pete Carroll, USC
    What happened to this once-proud program could fill a courtroom. In fact, it has. The unfortunate Rick Neuheisel saga dragged U-Dub down to a point that Tyrone Willingham became the program's third coach in 18 months.

    The top story in the Pac-10 is Southern California chasing its third consecutive national championship. Right below it might be the plight of Washington. When was the last time the Huskies were picked last in the preseason as they were by media earlier this month?

    Not surprising, really, when Washington finished 1-10 and winless in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1973 last season. But, still, Washington? The school of Don James, great quarterbacks, Rose Bowls?

    Fortunately, the Huskies lucked out when Willingham was available. They won't be down for long in a conference that -- pre-USC dynasty -- was fluid (Washington won 11 games as recently as 2000). With less than two months to recruit after being fired, Willingham assembled a serviceable (if small at 13 players) recruiting class.

    Tyrone Willingham is in Seattle to turn around a Washington program that went 1-10 in 2004. (AP)
    The Huskies won't be going to any Rose Bowls anytime soon. The fact that four quarterbacks are still in the mix says something about the existing talent. Athletic Isaiah Stanback is thought to be the frontrunner after completing only 34 percent of his passes last year.

    But the Huskies will be better because they can't get any worse. Defensive coordinator Kent Baer assembled the nation's best defense against the run last year at Notre Dame. The entire front seven return, which, in this case, could be as bad as it is optimistic.

    The coaching changes, the Neuheisel distraction, the Keith Gilbertson disaster -- it all had a cumulative effect. Washington committed a staggering 42 turnovers last year. That's the second-most in I-A this decade (only Army in 2003 had more).

    The climb back begins with the luck of the former Irish. Willingham needed a job and Washington provided the opening...
    -08-17-2005, 07:42 PM
  • RamsFan16
    Ranking the coaches - Big Ten
    by RamsFan16
    Ranking the coaches - Big Ten
    Analyzing the coaching situations in each conference

    By Richard Cirminiello

    Best Coach – Kirk Ferentz, Iowa and Jim Tressel, Ohio State – Ferentz and Tressel are two of the game’s best teachers and a pair of coaches that have elevated their programs to new heights in the last five years. Ferentz is a steady leader and a Bill Belichick disciple, who’s quickly earning a reputation as one of the five college coaches in America. Absolutely no one does a better job of taking average high school players and molding them into NFL-ready athletes. Tressel’s five-year record in Columbus speaks for itself. He’s already 50-13 with three Fiesta Bowl victories, one national championship and a 4-1 mark against rival Michigan. He’s brought the swagger back to Ohio State that had been waning in the two years before his arrival.

    Most Underrated – Randy Walker, Northwestern – Realizing that all things in sports are relative, Walker has quietly done a very solid job at Northwestern, a school with a limited tradition of success on the gridiron. In a seven-year span, the ‘Cats have been surprisingly competitive in the Big Ten and have played in as many bowl games—three—as they had in the previous half century. Despite lacking the talent and depth of all other league programs, Walker’s been able to parlay a fine-tuned spread offense and an old-school work ethic that matches his own into a remarkable 14-10 Big Ten record over the last three years.

    Most Overrated – Glen Mason, Minnesota – Mason has done a nice job making Minnesota a perennial bowl team, but could we be giving him a little too much credit these days? The Gophers have long bulked up on weak out of conference opponents and have yet to get over the mediocrity hump the way Iowa has in recent years. In nine seasons under Mason, Minnesota is 29-7 in September and just 26-40 in October and November, when Texas State and Troy are no longer on the schedule. In some circles, Lloyd Carr is still living off Michigan’s 1997 National Championship. The Wolverines lose at least one game a year they shouldn’t and are too deep to drop three games a year like it’s a bodily function.

    Coach on the Hot Seat – Lloyd Carr, Michigan – Honest, this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to last year’s once-in-a-generation five-loss season. Of course, it didn’t help matters, but there’s been a growing discontent about Carr for years, stemming from six straight seasons of at least three losses, three consecutive bowl defeats and a 1-4 mark against Jim Tressel. Ask Tressel’s predecessor John Cooper how taking it on the chin in the Ohio State-Michigan series can impact job security. Across state, back-to-back five-win seasons, including last year’s second-half collapse, has knocked the bloom off John L. Smith’s rose. He needs to get Michigan State back into the post-season this year.

    -03-21-2006, 01:04 PM
  • DJRamFan
    SEC preview: Miles' task at LSU simple: Win 'em all
    by DJRamFan
    By Dennis Dodd
    CBS Senior Writer
    Tell Dennis your opinion!

    No pressure or anything, Les Miles, but it would be nice if you'd deliver an SEC title in your first season at LSU.

    OK, a national championship wouldn't hurt either.

    Predicted Finish
    1. Tennessee
    2. Florida
    3. Georgia
    4. South Carolina
    5. Kentucky
    6. Vanderbilt
    1. LSU
    2. Auburn
    3. Alabama
    4. Arkansas
    5. Mississippi
    6. Mississippi State
    Off. player of year:
    Chris Leak, Florida
    Def. player of year:
    Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee
    Coach of the year:
    Urban Meyer, Florida
    Like any coach jumping up a level, Miles wanted the fame, money and power that goes with coaching an SEC power. Now comes the reality. Nick Saban left Miles a load of talent.

    And Miles cannot screw it up. No pressure or anything, Les, but the expectations are through the roof.

    "I think I spoke on (a) Wednesday night and I got in the car," said the Tigers' new coach. "(A) guy talked about nine wins and then at the podium somebody mentioned 10 or 11, then a guy said, 'Well, you know 12 victories is probably just what we'd like, coach.'"

    Yeah, no pressure.

    Miles enters the House That Nick Built with the burden of Tiger Nation upon him. Being the first coach to lead Oklahoma State to three consecutive bowl games is one thing. Keeping Tiger Stadium rocking at an earthquake level is another.

    Saban wasn't the most media-friendly guy in the world, but he did deliver two SEC titles and a national championship. That will earn him a lifetime spot in LSU hearts.

    Saban recruited so well that the Tigers have averaged 10 victories the past four seasons. Seemingly the only way they can be dragged down this year is a still-questionable quarterback situation.

    Les Miles hits Baton Rouge after leading Oklahoma State to back-to-back upsets of then-No. 1 Oklahoma. (AP)
    Sophomore JaMarcus Russell has been slow to develop, but that doesn't mean he can't be this year's Jason Campbell. Besides, the Tigers are so loaded at defensive line, running back and receiver that it might not matter.

    Right now, it certainly doesn't matter to LSU fans. LSU was an overwhelming pick to win the SEC West by the media. Six players were picked on the preseason all-conference teams. The run started by Saban is unprecedented in LSU history. It's up to Miles (28-21 at Oklahoma State) not to screw it up.

    "The program is in great shape," he said. "There's arguably maybe no finer football program in the country being run."

    -08-24-2005, 07:00 PM