If it's midweek football it must mean that the MAC season is heating up. Halfway through the conference campaign, divisional races remain up for grabs and top performers across the MAC are starting to emerge.
Northern Illinois - Getting It Done with Defense
Early Award Candidates
With the conference season reaching the half-way point we thought that this would be a good time to look at some of the leading candidates, in our own humble opinion, for some of the post-season awards.
So who has had a standout season thus far?
Here is a look at our top two on offense, defense and special teams and some players to watch as the season heads into the homestretch.
Tim Hiller, QB, Western Michigan. It would be had to argue against Hiller at this point based upon the rather phenomenal numbers he has posted in leading the Broncos (6-2, 4-1 MAC) to bowl eligibility with a month still left in the season. Hiller has passed for 25 touchdowns which ranks third nationally while tossing only five interceptions. The junior signal-caller has had several multiple touchdown games this season and tops the MAC, and ranks tenth nationally, in total offense (318.4 ypg), and also sits atop the MAC passing charts averaging 314.6 yards passing per game. Hiller's 2,517 yards passing is 700 yards more than the next highest total (Nate Davis) in the MAC.
|WMU QB Tim Hiller
|CMU DE Frank Zombo
|Akron KR Bryan Williams
MiQuale Lewis, RB, Ball State. Entering the season the buzz around the Ball State program was usually about the Cardinals' passing attack but this season the Cardinals have been able to offer an equally lethal rushing attack. Junior tailback MiQuale Lewis, coming off an injury that prematurely ended his 2007 season, has been far and away the MAC's top running back in 2008. Lewis is the only tailback in the MAC to post double digits in rushing scores (13) as well as the only player averaging better than 100 yards rushing, putting up an average of 130.6 yards per game which ranks seventh nationally. Lewis is also only 86 yards away from 1,000 yards on the season. Lewis' rushing has helped take some of the load off the passing game, making Ball State a multi-dimensional offensive threat.
Keeping an eye on: Nate Davis, QB, Ball State; Drew Willy, QB, Buffalo; Jamarko Simmons, WR, Western Michigan; Naaman Roosevelt, WR, Buffalo; Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan; Dennis Kennedy, RB, Akron; Julian Edelman, QB, Kent State.
Frank Zombo, DE, Central Michigan. Who would have thought that at this point, or really at any point this season, that we would have a member of the Central Michigan defense listed here? But senior defensive end Frank Zombo is certainly one of the leading contenders for postseason defensive honors based on his season to this point. Zombo has been a disruptive force for the Chips' defense. He leads the MAC with 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss already this season and has been an important part of a defensive line that has limited the Chips' last three opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. The Chips are still giving up plenty of yards through the air but in the trenches there has been no more dynamic defensive force so far this season than Zombo.
Joey Hudson, LB, Miami. Last season Miami LB Clayton Mullins claimed the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year honors. Could another Miami LB make it two straight for the RedHawks? Quite possibly. Senior LB Joey Hudson has been having another solid season for a Miami squad that has had plenty of offensive issues this season but whose defense has battled to keep the RedHawks in most contests. Hudson currently ranks second in the MAC in total tackles (74) and tackles per game (10.6), is fourth in tackles for loss (7.5) and has forced two fumbles this season.
Keeping an eye on: Larry English, DE, Northern Illinois; Nick Bellore, LB, Central Michigan; Daniel Holtzclaw, LB, Eastern Michigan; Derek Burrell, LB, Kent State; Junior Galette, DE, Temple; Sean Baker, DB, Ball State; Diyral Briggs, DE, Bowling Green; Miguel Graham, DB, Akron.
Special Teams MVP
Antonio Brown, PR, Central Michigan. So what does Antonio Brown, who set a freshman record last season for all-purpose yards, do for an encore? Well so far Brown tops the nation in punt returns, averaging 24.3 yards per return and has recorded a 75-yard touchdown as well. Brown's average is nearly double that of the MAC's second-leading punt return specialist (Delano Green, Temple - 13.5 yards).
Bryan Williams, KR, Akron. For the second straight season, Williams is among the nation's leaders in kick returns. Last season Williams averaged 31.9 yards per return. So far this season Williams has topped that performance by averaging 32.3 yards per return which is good not only for the top spot in the MAC but fourth in the nation. Williams is the only player in the conference averaging better than thirty yards per return.
Keeping an eye on: Brandon West, KR, Western Michigan; Jake Richardson, P, Miami; Travis Shelton, KR, Temple; Nate Parseghian, PK, Miami; Chris Miller, P, Ball State.
Next week we take a look at the leading contenders for Coach of the Year.
MAC National TV Update
Recently the MAC announced its lineup of nationally televised ESPN games for the month of November.
The month kicks off with an election night telecast, bringing relief to those who may be experiencing election-year fatigue, as the November 4 Miami at Buffalo contest will be broadcast on ESPN2. (That's the good news. The bad news? It will be one of those incredibly annoying "Interactive Tuesday" telecasts featuring scrolling messages at the top of the screen, endless "instant polls" and inane comments from fans. In other words, the game will likely be mere background noise as ESPN pushes its BCS programming.)
The next night, November 5, will feature two MAC games being nationally televised when undefeated Ball State hosts Northern Illinois at 8:00 pm on ESPN2 while Toledo at Akron will be an 8:00 pm broadcast on ESPNU that night as well.
Also worth noting is that Western Michigan's November 8 game against Illinois at Ford Field will be picked up by ESPN Plus. That game is slated for a noon kickoff.
The rest of the November slate of ESPN MAC telecasts currently shapes as follows:
Wednesday November 12: Central Michigan at Northern Illinois, 7:00 pm (ESPN2)
Thursday, November 13: Buffalo at Akron, 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Wednesday, November 19: Ball State at Central Michigan, 7:00 pm (ESPN2)
Tuesday, November 25: Navy at Northern Illinois, 7:00 pm (ESPN2)
Friday, November 28: Ohio at Miami, 12:30 pm (ESPNU)
Friday, November 28: Bowling Green at Toledo, 3:30 pm (ESPN Classic)
Okay, enough of the preliminaries, let's take a look at this week's MAC games:
Saturday, October 25
Central Michigan (5-2, 4-0 MAC) at Toledo (2-5, 1-2 MAC), Noon
Site: Glass Bowl
Series: Toledo leads 17-16-1. Last meeting: Central Michigan 52, Toledo 31 in 2007.
Television: MAC Game of the Week/ESPN Plus
Outlook:Could this be a trap game for Central Michigan after an emotional 38-28 win last week over rival Western Michigan? The Chippewas come into the Glass Bowl with their perfect MAC record intact after dispatching Western Michigan but the big question around Mt. Pleasant is whether QB Dan LeFevour will play. Head coach Butch Jones is keeping that information pretty close to his vest but one thing we saw was that senior QB Brian Brunner is more than capable of filling in after passing for 346 yards last week so either way the Chips still offer a formidable offensive challenge. But the most intriguing development coming out of last week's win was the emergence of true freshman RB Bryan Schroeder who rushed for 106 yards, the first CMU RB this season to hit the century mark. If the Chips have found a steady contributor in Schroeder it adds a scary dimension to an offense that already possesses possibly the top 1-2 receiving tandem in the MAC in Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson.Toledo meanwhile has lost three straight at home and have given up an average of 40.3 points in those three losses. The Rockets are coming home after a 38-7 loss on the road at Northern Illinois last week as their 13-10 win over Michigan two weeks ago is becoming a distant memory in a hurry. Rockets' QB Aaron Opelt left last week's game with an injury but reports are that he will be back in the lineup Saturday. Toledo's offense features two running backs currently listed in the top ten in the MAC with DaJuane Collins averaging 77.2 yards per game and Morgan Williams 52 yards per game. However the Rockets only posted 80 yards rushing against NIU last week and will be facing a CMU defense that has held its last four opponents to an average of 84 yards per game. The flipside? Teams are still scorching CMU's secondary to the tune of 288.6 yards per contestTrap game? Bah! This is a veteran group of Chippewas and CMU is playing its best football of the season. Toledo is reeling with four losses in its last five games, a defense that is being lit up regularly and an offense that is struggling to just get first downs.
Prediction: Central Michigan 38, Toledo 21.
Eastern Michigan (2-6, 1-3 MAC) at (20) Ball State (7-0, 3-0 MAC), Noon
Site: Scheumann Stadium
Series: Ball State leads 27-20-2. Last meeting: Ball State 38, Eastern Michigan 16 in 2007.
Outlook: The visiting Eastern Michigan Eagles come into Muncie after a heart-breaking 42-35 loss to Akron last week. The Eagles' last three games have been decided by a total of 14 points. Injuries have begun to take a toll on EMU which has seen eleven starters miss at least four or more games this season with the latest injury including the season-ending loss of DB Ryan Downard who went out with a fractured arm on the first series last week against Akron. Among the walking wounded has been QB Andy Schmitt who is nursing knee and shoulder injuries but the junior signal caller had one of his best games last week, passing for 258 yards and three touchdowns. The rushing attack saw the re-emergence of Terrence Blevins who had been quiet over the past several weeks. Blevins rushed for 91 yards and is second in the MAC with nine rushing touchdowns while WR Jacory Stone has had game-highs in receiving in seven contests this season. But the problems for the Eagles lie in two glaring areas: EMU is giving up an alarming 233.2 yards rushing per game which includes over 300 yards in each of the last two contests. The other area of concern? EMU has been outscored 62-0 in the first quarter over the last seven gamesBall State RB MiQuale Lewis is likely salivating at the prospect of facing EMU's rush defense. The junior tailback is setting the MAC ablaze, averaging 130.6 yards per game and his thirteen rushing touchdowns are far and away tops in the conference. Lewis' rushing has provided the perfect complement to QB Nate Davis and the Ball State passing attack which have combined to give Ball State the conference's top squad in scoring offense (37.4 ppg), total offense (455.6 ypg), red-zone offense and even third down conversions. If those numbers aren't impressive enough, consider Ball State's defense which this season ranks second in the MAC in scoring defense (15.6 ppg) and first in pass defense efficiency. Did we also mention that the Cardinals are the least penalized team in the MAC and have surrendered the fewest sacks this season in the MAC as well (six sacks in seven games)? The Cardinals' march toward perfection continues.
Prediction: Ball State 45, Eastern Michigan 17.
Kent State (1-6, 0-3 MAC) at Miami (2-5, 1-2 MAC), 3:30 pm
Site: Yager Stadium
Series: Miami leads 44-11. Last meeting: Miami 20, Kent State 13 in 2007.
Outlook:The Golden Flashes have lost thirteen of their last fourteen games and are currently riding a six-game road losing streak. Kent State though did receive a bit of a boost in its last game against Ohio two weeks ago with the return of last season's top rusher Eugene Jarvis who should be even healthier after the Flashes' bye week. Without a healthy Jarvis the Flashes have had to rely nearly solely on the play of dual-threat QB Julian Edelman who is averaging 89 yards rushing per game (3rd in the MAC) and is fifth in the league, averaging 235 yards of total offense per game. But defensive breakdowns, special teams errors and assorted miscues have marked Kent State's season thus far. The Flashes are giving up an average of 30.4 points per game, are giving up 185 yards rushing per contest and are dead last in the MAC in turnover margin, having turned the ball over 17 times so far this season. Special teams? The Flashes have connected on 3-7 FG attempts and have even missed three PAT efforts this season and rank last in KO returns, averaging 15.3 yardsMiami meanwhile suddenly finds itself back in the MAC East race, one-half game behind Akron after downing Bowling Green 27-20 last week. Redshirt freshman QB Clay Belton replaced Dan Raudabaugh as the starter last week and while his stats were not impressive, he did not turn the ball over and connected with Chris Givens on a 53-yard TD pass, the first aerial score for Miami since Sept 20 against Cincinnati. The RedHawks also got a 127 yard rushing effort from freshman JR Taylor who spelled injured starter Thomas Merriweather whose status is uncertain for this week's game. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, the RedHawks' defense ranks second in the MAC, giving up only 326.6 yards per game with LB Joey Hudson having a solid season, ranking second in the MAC in tackles. Can Miami maintain its momentum from its upset over Bowling Green? The RedHawks and Flashes have been two of the more disappointing teams so far this season. This one won't be pretty either way. Miami ranks12th in the MAC in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game. Kent State is 11th, averaging 20.7 points per game.
Prediction: Miami 24, Kent State 19.
Bowling Green (3-4, 1-2 MAC) at Northern Illinois (4-3, 3-1 MAC), 4:00 pm
Site: Huskie Stadium
Series: Bowling Green leads 10-5. Last meeting: Northern Illinois 34, Bowling Green 17 in 2004.
Television: CSN Chicago
Outlook:Bowling Green hits the road where the Falcons appear to be much more comfortable playing this season than at home. BG is 0-3 at home but 3-1 on the road. However this road trip involves a clash with the MAC's toughest defense. Northern Illinois is giving up only, are you ready for this, 13.7 points per game this season which is not just tops in the MAC but also 13th nationally. NIU's staunch defense has allowed only two offensive touchdowns over its past five games; has allowed the fewest first downs, leads the MAC in preventing teams from converting on third down while allowing opposition offenses to cross the goal line a league-low six times in thirteen red-zone opportunities (also a league low). But the Huskies offense has also been chipping in thank you. QB Chandler Harnish returned as the starter last week for the first time since early in the season and tossed three TD's on 12-16 passing with WR Marcus Perez hauling in two TD's while the running game has been sparked by Me'Co Brown but NIU's running back depth was on display in last week's win with Chad Spann rushing for 82 yards and a pair of TDs in the Huskies' 38-7 win over Toledo last weekBowling Green is coming off a 27-20 loss at home to Miami and have lost two of their last three games. The Falcons have been one of the more mercurial teams in the MAC, experiencing more ups and downs than a high-rise elevator. BG have also been hurt by a red-zone defense that is last in the MAC with teams a perfect 24-24 inside BG's twenty-yard line this season, including 19 touchdowns. On offense however the Falcons still air it out and present one of the more difficult to defend schemes with not just QB Tyler Sheehan but Anthony Turner or Freddie Barnes (when healthy) apt to take snaps under center. But can the Falcons' multiple sets offset the Huskies' brick-wall defense? The MAC West is 10-1 against teams from the MAC East this seasonmake it 11-1 after Saturday.
Prediction: Northern Illinois 27, Bowling Green 17.