Dave Doeren

CFT predicts: the MAC

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It’s MACtion time, you guys! For as little attention as the MAC gets nationally, the conference hosted some of the most exciting games last year. Toldeo was involved in both, losing to Northern Illinois 63-60 before turning around and beating Western Michigan 66-63 the following week.

Can the MAC produce the same types of games this year? Maybe not. Or, the conference can just hire Gus Johnson to call every game to make it seem more exciting.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the MAC should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

East Division 

1. Ohio (last season: 10-4; won Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) 
The Bobcats are one of those deceptively good teams. Penn State is only a slight favorite for the Sept. 1 season opener against Ohio and the other OU can realistically make that an interesting game. Ohio almost won the MAC last year and are the class of an otherwise down East division.

2. Miami (last season: 4-8) 
The Redhawks struggled in their first season under Don Treadwell, but they do have one of the better — if not the best — quarterback in the league in Zac Dysert. He needs help, though; Miami had the nation’s worst rushing attack last year.

3. Bowling Green (last season: 5-7)
Dave Clawson needs to get this team back to bowl eligibility or he could be out by the end of the year. The first month or so will be tough for the Falcons, but Bowling Green could rack up some wins in the second half of the season.

4. Kent State (last season: 5-7) 
The Golden Flashes couldn’t do anything productive on offense last year. Based on that, it might not be a great thing that Kent State returns eight offensive starters from a year ago. The defense wasn’t terrible last year and returns six starters of their own.

5. Buffalo (last season: 3-9) 
There’ll be no circling of the wagon for the Bulls (yeah, I know) this year. For a MAC program, the schedule is difficult and Buffalo returns only 13 starters from a year ago.

6. Akron (last season: 1-11) 
Terry Bowden makes his anticipated (is that the right word?) return to FBS football by taking over a program that flat-out stunk last season. Can the Zips get back on the winning side of things in 2012? No, but it’ll be good to have a Bowden back in the coaching ranks. Maybe.

7. UMass (last season: 5-6 in FCS) 
Massachusetts begins its FBS journey in one of the easiest divisions in college football outside the SEC East (Kidding, y’all! Sort of.), but the Minutemen will have a hard time adjusting. Former Notre Dame assistant Charley Molnar will make his head coaching debut.

West Division

1. Northern Illinois (last season: 11-3; won GoDaddy.com Bowl) 
Chandler Harnish, better known in the NFL as Mr. Irrelevant, is gone and takes with him practically all of Northern Illinois’ offensive production. In all, NIU returns only 13 starters, but Dave Doeren gets it done with a program that’s going to consistently contend for division titles.

2. Ball State (last season: 6-6) 
Pete Lembo is an under-the-radar coach that will land a bigger job sooner or later. Lembo took the Cardinals to a .500 record a year ago and should be able to improve on that with the core of last year’s team returning.

3. Western Michigan (last season: 7-6; lost Little Caesar’s Bowl) 
The Broncos had one of the best passing offenses in 2011 and returning is quarterback Alex Carder. The problem for Western Michigan is that they play four of its final six games on the road.

4. Toldeo (last season: 9-4; won Military Bowl) 
Toledo lost its coach Tim Beckman to Illinois, but Beckman leaves the program in great shape — for the future. Losing speedy receiver Eric Page hurts the offense and the Rockets don’t return many starters. 2012 will be a cold splash of reality for Toledo.

5. Eastern Michigan (last season: 6-6) 
Eastern Michigan has made strides under coach Ron English after recording just two wins in his first two years. The Eagles can run the ball — they ranked in the top 15 nationally in that category last year — and return their two best rushers.

6. Central Michigan (last season: 3-9) 
No Butch Jones, no Dan Lefevour. Central Michigan has fallen greatly since those two appeared together just a few years ago. Ryan Radcliff has improved at quarterback, but there’s not much else to get excited about.

CFT’s MAC champion: Ohio 


Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA 
Mountain West
Sun Belt

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.