As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and independents — will pan out by year’s end.
Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.
Here are our predictions for the Mid-American Conference:
Ben Kercheval’s MAC champion: Toledo
John Taylor’s MAC champion: Toledo
The MAC has been absolutely atrocious in bowl games recently, which is what many use as a measuring stick for a conference’s strength. To climb their way out of the Division 1 FBS cellar, the MAC’s higher-ranked teams are going to have to — and I’m paraphrasing a certain YouTube video here — “put the conference on their back!”.
Miami of Ohio is the pick of the MAC media poll to win the East in its first year under former Michigan State assistant Don Treadwell, but I’m going with Ohio University, which has been seemingly in the mix of things year in and year out since Frank Solich took over as coach. Al Golden is gone from Temple, but he left that program far better than he found it, which should make life for Steve Addazio a little easier in his first year. Beyond the top three, the MAC East is anybody’s guess.
With Jerry Kill moving on from Northern Illinois to Minnesota, and Central Michigan still in a rebuilding process, the time is now for Toledo to make it back to Detroit for the MAC championship game and represent the West Division. Tim Beckman has really done a nice job with the Rockets, and while the West is the more top-heavy division, Toledo returns a ton of starters on both sides of the ball.
With the exception of Conference USA, there might not be a conference in college football with more parity in its top half than the MAC. You could make a case for any of three teams in the East division and would get nary an argument from me. The same holds true for the West.
In the former division, it appears likely that half of the conference championship game will come from defending champ Miami of Ohio, Ohio or Temple. While the RedHawks changed coaches after the biggest one-year turnaround in college football history — 1-11 in 2009, 9-4 last year — they’re in Treadwell’s capable hands. The Owls will also have a first-year head coach in Addazio, but he too fell into a very good situation thanks to the building efforts of Al Golden, who’s now at Miami (Fla.). The Bobcats will return seven starters on offense, but just two on defense, which could be the biggest hurdle to a conference crown.
On the West side of the ledger, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan all have the talent to challenge for the top spot in the division, but with all due respect to the latter two schools, Beckman is building something pretty special with the Rockets and, when all the conference dust settles, the Toledo school will be facing another in-state school, Miami, in the conference title game. Maybe. Possibly.