Opening Week News, Notes & Picks Print E-mail
Written by Dave Ruthenberg   
Wednesday, August 29 2007
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ImageThe 2007 collegiate football season is finally here. No more talk about who impressed during spring, what players emerged during fall camp or what Toledo head coach Tom Amstutz suggests for pre-game meal preparation. Now it all counts. All of the hype, or hand-wringing, of the preseason will be a thing of the past as the MAC kicks things off with three games Thursday night and a total of twelve games over the next three days.

With the real thing at hand, we will soon know:

**If Ball State and Kent State, MAC Report Online's preseason favorites, are for real and whether signal callers Nate Davis and Julian Edelman are ready to take the next step for the Cardinals and Flashes, respectively.

**How will defending champion Central Michigan respond to new head coach Butch Jones?

**Can the MAC pull some marquee-quality upsets this season?

**Does Temple continue to struggle?

**Will Shane Montgomery have a comeback year for Miami and if not, could this be his swan song?

**Does the offseason point-shaving controversy follow Toledo into the season or can the Rockets put it behind them?

Those are just some of the intriguing storylines heading into this season and with kickoff at hand, the answers should not be far behind.

Stay tuned.

Big Crowds Await Season Openers
This may be the most watched opening weekend in MAC history. At least from a fans in the stands perspective.

Northern Illinois' home game at Chicago's Soldier Field against Iowa has been sold out for weeks with a capacity crowd of 61,500 anticipated for the Huskies' season opener against the Big Ten's Hawkeyes. The anticipated capacity crowd at Soldier Field would set the all-time record for MAC home attendance for a single game, far surpassing the current record of 36,852 set in 2001 at Toledo's Glass Bowl when the Rockets hosted Navy.

Speaking of the Rockets, Toledo is within a handful of tickets selling out the Glass Bowl for its season opening tilt against the Purdue Boilermakers and Ball State is hopeful of a large turnout for the debut of the renovated Scheumann Stadium when the Cards open up with a league tilt against Miami.

But, that is not to say that all of the MAC's home openers area attracting large crowds.

The first ever "Patriot Bowl" will take place as Akron hosts Army at Cleveland Browns Stadium (capacity: 73,079) on Saturday. Unfortunately, reports are that ticket sales are seriously lagging for this one and the Patriot Bowl may wind up being one of the more poorly attended games this weekend in the MAC.

Scheumann Debut
One of the more anticipated home openers has been the curtain lifter scheduled for Thursday night in
Muncie and not just because of the early impact of a conference matchup between the Cardinals and Miami RedHawks.


Ball State's Scheumann Stadium

Thursday night marks the debut of newly renovated Scheumann Stadium which has undergone a $13.7 million face-lift. While seating capacity has been retained at 22,500, numerous other upgrades have been made to the venerable facility such as: 

* Installation of FieldTurf replacing the natural grass surface

* A Four-level Media Center

* 184 Club Seats

A grassy knoll, "Family Seating" area in the North End Zone

"We wanted to wow fans when they enter Scheumann Stadium for the first time," Gary Cannaday, manager of campus construction told the Muncie Free Press. "Every idea and material that went into this project was intended to give everyone walking into the stadium the best experience possible."

The media will be given a sneak peek at the new
Media Center and MAC Report Online's Brian Golden will be on hand for a tour of the new facilities.

Also worth noting is that Morry Mannies will return for an incredible 52nd year as the radio "Voice of the Cardinals."

All-MACcess Package Returns
For the second straight season the MAC will be offering online access to live action. The "All-MACcess" package will include 49 football games that will be streamed live on the official website of the Mid-American Conference ( for a fee of $7.95 per game.

Through its partnership with XOS Communications, fans will also be able to watch games via the official websites of Akron, Central Michigan, Kent State, Toledo and Western Michigan.

Games available this weekend online will include Miami at Ball State on Thursday and Ohio's season opening tilt against Gardner-Webb on Saturday. For a complete listing of games that will be available this season, check out the All-MACcess schedule.

Rethinking The Deferral
It's become the standard way of opening a game. The team winning the opening coin toss usually defers to the second half in order to start on defense and then come out of the second half locker room on the receiving end of the kickoff in the hopes of seizing momentum. However, a new rule change has coaches rethinking that strategy.

In our tour across the MAC there was nearly universal thought to the idea of starting the first half on offense for the winner of the coin toss. Why? Well, this season the NCAA has moved kickoffs from the 35-yard line to the 30-yard line. While five yards may not seem to make a huge difference, consider that last season there were fewer touchbacks than in preceding years and with the kicking tee moved back even further this year, average starting field position will increase and so will the likelihood of long returns.

It's certainly at least food for thought for the coaches. Whether we actually see a change in strategy play out will be another matter though as there are no greater creatures of habit than college football coaches.


Okay, enough of the preliminaries, here we go, kicking off another season of games. We even throw in our fearless predictions just for laughs.

Thursday, August 30
Kent State (6-6, 2006) at Iowa State (4-8, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Jack Trice Stadium
Iowa State leads 4-0 (Last meeting: Iowa State 44, Kent State 7 in 1982).
Outlook: Kent State is picked by many to win the MAC East this season and a win in Ames, IA would go a long way toward justifying such lofty expectations. The Flashes come off of a season that saw them place second in the MAC in total defense and third in offense behind the play of Davey O'Brien Award candidate, QB Julian Edelman who accounted for over 2500 yards of offense and 17 touchdowns. The running game will be key here too as KSU's Eugene Jarvis has been hampered by injuries in the late stages of fall camp but is expected to play. Iowa State will be playing its first game under new head coach Gene Chizk who comes over from Texas. The Cyclones do possess a dangerous passing-receiving combo in senior quarterback Bret Meyer and senior WR Todd Blythe. Combined they have accounted for nearly 10,000 passing/receiving yards with Blythe holding an ISU career best mark of 26 touchdowns. Iowa State though was pushed around upfront last year and with the elusive Edelman at the helm for the Golden Flashes, Kent State could deliver the MAC its first victory over a BCS opponent on opening night.
Prediction: Kent State 27, Iowa State 20.

Miami (2-10, 2006) at Ball State (5-7, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Scheumann Stadium
Miami leads 15-9-1 (Last meeting: Ball State 20, Miami 17 in 2006).
Television: Comcast Local
Outlook: It's the only conference game on opening weekend and it should be a good one. Ball State, like Kent State, is predicted by some to finally end its long drought and contend for a MAC West title. Miami meanwhile is looking to rebound from one of its worst seasons in recent history. Quarterback play will be key here. Ball State QB Nate Davis, named to both the Davey O'Brien and Manning Award watch lists, comes into his sophomore season with high expectations after throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 18 TD's. Davis also has possibly the MAC's premier TD catching TE in Darius Hill at his disposal. Hill paced MAC TE's in 2006 with 10 TD's. Miami also has a solid QB in senior Mike Kokal and welcomes back Brandon Murphy who is finally back to full health after an injury riddled 2006 campaign for the former 1,000 yard rusher. The real question is whether Ball State has stepped up its defense and can stop the run this season.
Prediction: Ball State 31, Miami 23.

Buffalo (2-10, 2006) at (16)Rutgers (11-2, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Rutgers Stadium
Rutgers Leads 4-1 (Last meeting: Rutgers 17, Buffalo 3).
Television: ESPN Plus

A tough draw for the Bulls to start the 2007 season. Rutgers is coming off its most successful season in school history, finishing 11-2 and claiming its first-ever bowl victory. Buffalo meanwhile continues to build toward respectability in head coach Turner Gill's second year at the helm of the Bulls' program. The Bulls return experience at QB with senior Drew Willy returning along with leading ground gainer James Starks. Also back after missing most of last season due to injuries is 2005's leading WR Brett Hamlin. The Bulls though will be hard pressed to keep the Scarlet Knights off the scoreboard with Heisman candidate RB Ray Rice leading the way for a potent Scarlet Knights offense. Rice is the second ranked career active rusher in the NCAA entering this season behind Michigan's Mike Hart and has recorded back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons after putting up 1,794 yards rushing in 2006.
Prediction: Rutgers 38, Buffalo 10.

Friday, August 31
Navy (9-4, 2006) at
Temple (1-11, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Lincoln Financial Field
Temple Leads 4-3 (Last meeting: Navy 42, Temple 6 in 2006).
Television: ESPNU
Outlook: Temple begins play this season as full-fledged member of the MAC but first must deal with a potent Navy squad in its home opener. The Owls, under second-year head coach Al Golden, are young at several key positions with freshman holding down starting roles at six spots. QB Adam DiMichele returns as the starting signal caller this season but the Owls are hurting at RB with very little experience in the backfield which could make for a long outing for DiMichele. The most exciting player on the field though is likely to be the Owls' WR/KR Travis Shelton who averaged nearly 200 all purpose yards per game last season and should have plenty of KR opportunities. Navy meanwhile led the nation in rushing in 2006 and returns RB's Adam Ballard and Reggie Campbell who combined for just under 1500 yards and 8 touchdowns. Temple was the nation's worst in stopping the run in 2006, allowing 243.5 yards rushing per game. Noteworthy: Navy is already guaranteed a bowl game if it can manage six victories as the Poinsettia Bowl has struck a deal with the Middies. Navy is 4-0 all-time at Lincoln Financial Field.
Prediction: Navy 42,
Temple 17.
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Saturday, September 1
Iowa (6-7, 2006) at Northern Illinois (7-6, 2006), 3:30 pm ET
Site: Soldier Field
Iowa leads 6-0 (Last meeting: Iowa 21, Northern Illinois 14 in 2006).
Television: ESPNU
Outlook: Northern Illinois opens the season before a sell-out crowd at Soldier Field in its "home" opener against Iowa and will be doing so without a clear starter at RB. Montel Clanton will get the starting nod but the Huskies will likely rotate Clanton along with Justin Anderson and walk-on freshman Chad Spann. None of the three have extensive game experience so it will fall to QB Dan Nicholson to call a smart game. Nicholson threw for 648 yards, five TD's and six picks last season but has some solid targets in Britt Davis and Marcus Perez at his disposal. If NIU is going to entertain serious hopes of an upset, the defense, its strong suit, will need to come up strong. An injury concern is LB Tim McCarthy who will be a game time decision as McCarthy is dealing with a staph infection. Iowa returns 14 starters from last year's disappointing squad which lost six of its last seven games in 2006. The Huskies' run defense will be key in stopping Iowa's Albert Young who has rushed for over 2,000 yards over the past two seasons and Damian Sims who had 981 all-purpose yards in 2006. Noteworthy: Iowa is 0-5 over the last two years in games decided by three or fewer points. Unfortunately for NIU, the Huskies are in a rebuilding mode and expecting the rebuilding Huskies to claim an upset may be a bit much at this early stage but if its close, don't count out NIU with PK Chris Nendick being one of the top placekickers in the MAC.
Iowa 28, Northern Illinois 16.

Western Michigan (8-5, 2006) at (3) West Virginia (11-2, 2006), 3:30 pm ET 
Site: Mountaineer Field
West Virginia Leads 1-0 (Last meeting: West Virginia 34, Western Michigan 6 in 1996).
Television: ESPN Plus
Outlook: Talk about your tough opening week draws...Western Michigan travels to third-ranked West Virginia in the season opener for both squads. The Broncos, picked by the media to win the MAC this season, will start 2005 MAC Freshman of the Year Tim Hiller at quarterback. Hiller sat out last season after suffering a serious knee injury in the 2005 season finale. Hiller put up impressive numbers as a freshman but also had future NFL performers Greg Jennings and Tony Schefler catching passes during a season in which Hiller passed for 1,334 yards, 20 TD's and only three interceptions. There will also be a new starting tailback for WMU as Brandon West, who rushed for 633 yards last season, has been given the starting nod over last season's starter, and 1,000 yard performer, Mark Bonds. But don't think that the Broncos area completely lacking experience, especially on defense where the Broncos secondary led the nation in interceptions in 2006 with 24 picks. But it will be the defensive front and linebacking corps that will likely be the keys as WMU will need to find a way to slow down Heisman Trophy candidate, Steve Slaton. Slaton rushed for 1,744 yards and 16 TD's in 2006. Also presenting a dual-threat is WV QB Pat White who passed for 13 touchdowns but also rushed for 18 scores. However if there was an Achilles Heel for the Mountaineers last season it showed in their last six games when they surrendered an average of 32 points and 314 yards passing and finished the season ranked 109th against the pass.
West Virginia 45, Western Michigan 27.

Eastern Michigan (1-11, 2006) at Pittsburgh (6-6, 2006), 6:00 pm ET
Site: Memorial Stadium
Pittsburgh Leads 1-0 (Last meeting: Pittsburgh 66, Eastern Michigan 30 in 1995).
Outlook: Eastern Michigan travels to Pitt looking to erase the bad memories of a 2006 season that saw the Eagles lose six games by eight or fewer points. The Eagles will turn to QB Andy Schmitt in their spread offensive scheme that sputtered badly last year, averaging only 13.9 points per game. Injuries decimated the Eagles last season who should show improvement with a healthy, dual-threat Schmitt and a running attack that has more depth this year thanks to the return of Pierre Walker and the potential emergence of freshman TB Dewayne Priest. The Eagles though lose their top two WRs from last season. Defensively EMU has shown the ability to bend but not break which kept EMU in close contests throughout the season and will rely on LB Daniel Holtzclaw and DT Jason Jones to turn in another solid season. Pittsburgh meanwhile has had a rocky offseason, losing its top receiver, Derek Kinder to a torn ACL, TB Kevin Collier to a fractured wrist, defensive back Elijah Fields to suspension and prize freshman quarterback Pat Bostick has missed most of camp due to "personal reasons." Pitt has also shown a tendency to struggle against teams running the spread offense, surrendering 641 yards to West Virginia last season. That is not to equate EMU with WV but with their offseason issues and a suspect defense, this game could be closer than most people anticipate.
Pittsburgh 33, Eastern Michigan 14.

Central Michigan (10-4, 2006) at Kansas (6-6, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Memorial Stadium
Series: First Meeting
The defending MAC champion Chippewas make their debut under new head coach Butch Jones in Lawrence, KS against the Jayhawks. This will be the fifth straight season that
Central Michigan opens against a BCS opponent. The Chips return record-shattering MAC Freshman of the Year QB Dan LeFevour, recently named to the Davey O'Brien and Manning Award watch lists, who passed for over 3,000 yards and 26 TDs in 2006. LeFevour is joined by fellow record-shattering wide receiver Bryan Anderson who hauled in a school record 73 receptions as a redshirt freshman in 2006; and junior running back, and recent Doak Walker Award nominee, Ontario Sneed who rushed for 764 yards and recorded 11 total touchdowns last season for the high-powered Chips who will run a hurry-up version of the spread offense under Jones. The Chips also bring back depth on defense, including LB Red Keith who tallied 127 tackles last season and enters this season as the NCAA's career returning leader with 326 tackles total. Kansas returns 14 starters from last season's squad and, although they boast preseason All-American Aqib Talib in the secondary, were scorched last year by passing offenses, finishing dead last in passing defense in the NCAA. Kansas is breaking in a new starting QB in sophomore Todd Reesing and has yet to settle on a replacement for last year's Big 12 rushing leader, Jon Comish. The Jayhawks dropped a 37-31 OT decision last year at Toledo and could very well drop another one to MAC opposition this season.
Central Michigan 31, Kansas 28.

Army (3-9, 2006) at
Akron (5-7, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Series: Army Leads 3-0 (Last meeting: Army 20,
Akron 0 in 2005).
Television: ESPN Plus
Outlook: Akron and Army clash in the inaugural edition of the Patriot Bowl at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Zips are coming off of a disappointing defense of their 2005 MAC title, finishing 5-7 in 2006, and will be guided on offense in the opener by sophomore QB Chris Jacquemain, getting his first collegiate start. Likely to get his number called quite a bit in the season opener for the Zips will be RB Dennis Kennedy. The junior rushed for 914 yards in 2006. The Zips also bring back their top receiver from last season in senior Jabari Arthur. The Zips' defense figures, at least in the early stretch of the season, to be their strong suit behind returning starters at LB in Kevin Grant and Brion Stokes who combined for 166 tackles last season while their secondary also boasts top returning tackler John Mackey. Army is making its debut under new head coach Stan Brock and will be guided by senior quarterback David Pevoto who threw for 1,012 yards, six TD's and 14 picks in eight games last season. The Scarlet Knights dropped their last five games of 2006, prompting the resignation of head coach Bobby Ross. Army allowed 198.9 yards rushing per game in 2006, 115th in the NCAA and are in a serious rebuilding mode, including a near complete turnover on the offensive line. The Cadets however do return top rusher, Wesley McMahand who rushed for 654 yards last season. Don't expect much scoring here but this is the type of non-conference game the MAC and the Zips have to win to gain traction nationally.
Akron 17, Army 13.

Purdue (8-6, 2006) at
Toledo (5-7, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Glass Bowl
Toledo Leads 2-1 (Last meeting: Toledo 36, Purdue 22 in 1997).
Television: ESPNU
Outlook: Toledo welcomes Purdue to the Glass Bowl and will start sophomore Aaron Opelt at quarterback but the Rockets also expect to see junior Clint Cochran under center as the Rockets continue to sort out their quarterback situation. Last season Opelt started six games as a true freshman and passed for 875 yards and six touchdowns. With some uncertainty at QB, expect to see senior RB and All-MAC returnee, Jalen Parmele, get plenty of work. Parmele recorded 1,131 yards rushing last season and will be facing a Boilermakers defense that allowed 191 yards rushing per game last season, ranking 114th nationally. The Rockets will also need a solid game out of All-MAC TE Chris Hopkins to steady their offense. Not to be overlooked however will be the contribution of another All-MAC returnee, sophomore DB Barry Church who may be the most exciting player on the field Saturday night. It will be a tall order for Toledo against Purdue which returns 20 starters from last season's squad including WR Dorien Bryant who led the Big Ten with 76.3 yards receiving per game in 2006. Purdue QB Curtis Painter recorded two 400-yard passing games last season, against Ball State and Northwestern, and set the Big Ten single-season passing yardage record last season, throwing for 3,985 yards. Noteworthy; The last time these two played, it was Joe Tiller's debut as head coach of the Boilers as Purdue was upset by the Rockets 36-22. Expect plenty of fireworks but the Boilermakers may be just a bit too much for the Rockets to handle.

Prediction: Purdue 38,
Toledo 26.

Bowling Green (4-8, 2006) at Minnesota (6-7, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
Series: First Meeting
Bowling Green finished the 2006 campaign on a five-game losing streak and head coach Gregg Brandon has turned the reigns of the offense over to sophomore Tyler Sheehan who had a strong enough spring and fall camp to usurp the starting role from last year's starter Anthony Turner. Brandon intends to restore BG's passing prowess, which was sorely lacking last season and sees the strong armed sophomore as the Falcons' best chance at accomplishing that task. Last season the Falcons led the MAC in rushing more out of necessity due to a lackluster passing attack. If Sheehan can reconnect with the BG's WR's, most notably Corey Partridge (the MAC's top returning WR with 658 yards receiving), it would serve to take some of the pressure off sophomore TB Chris Bullock who rushed for 769 yards in his freshman season. Youth is still the watchword for BG though as two-thirds of its roster consist of first or second year players. Minnesota brings back a powerful running attack behind TB Amir Pinnix who rushed for 1,272 yards and 10 TD's last season but, like Bowling Green, will be breaking in a new signal caller but new head coach Tim Brewster has not announced who will be starting for the Gophers. Redshirt freshman Adam Weber and junior Tony Mortensen are both expected to see action. Overall Minnesota returns 17 starters, including returning sack leader Willie VanDeSteeg at DE. Minnesota is 10-2 in home openers over the past twelve seasons and has won 19 of its last 20 non-conference games.
Minnesota 35, Bowling Green 24.

Gardner-Webb (6-5, 2006) at Ohio (9-5, 2006), 7:00 pm ET
Site: Peden Stadium
Series: First Meeting
Television: WSFJ
Outlook: The defending MAC East champion Ohio Bobcats open the season against the Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb who play in the Big South Conference. This will be the first-ever matchup for Gardner-Webb against a FBS school. The Bobcats are led by All-MAC TB Kalvin McRae, a Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Award preseason nominee. McRae rushed for 1,252 yards and 15 TD's last season, becoming the first Bobcat in thirty years to record back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. McRae also enters this season as the third leading career rusher in the NCAA with 2,964 career rushing yards. With the graduation of Austen Everson, Ohio will start former Illinois transfer Brad Bower at QB but also expects to give playing time to JUCO transfer Theo Scott. The Bobcats do return depth on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the defensive line with the return of All-MAC performers Landon Cohen and Jameson Hartke along with All-MAC candidate, DE Ernie Hodge. Ohio likely has far too much talent for Gardner-Webb to keep it close unless head coach Frank Solich reigns in the Bobcats early.
Ohio 31. Gardner-Webb 3.

On Tap
The schedule for the week ahead: 

Saturday, September 8
Akron at Ohio State, Noon
Ball State at Eastern Michigan, Noon
Bowling Green at Michigan State, Noon
Miami at Minnesota, Noon
Buffalo at Temple, 1:00 pm
Kent State at Kentucky, 6:00 pm
Ohio at Louisiana-Lafayette, 6:00 pm
Southern Illinois at Northern Illinois, 6:30 pm
Toledo at Central Michigan, 7:00 pm

Last Updated ( Sunday, September 09 2007 )
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