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 

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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.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA 
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Two days later, Jim Harbaugh still lobbing barbs toward Mark Dantonio

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No. 5 Michigan beat Michigan State 21-7 on Saturday in a game that, thanks to a weather delay, lasted close to five hours. But the grudge between the Wolverines and Spartans well before the game and continues well after.

We all saw Michigan linebacker Devin Bush tear at the Spartans’ midfield logo, but Wolverines players and staffers exited the game accusing Michigan State players of clothes lining Michigan defensive lineman Lawrence Marshall and ripping the headphones out of defensive back Lavert Hill‘s ears during the Spartan Walk.

Jim Harbaugh said the alleged acts were “bush league” and Mark Dantonio responded in kind.

On Monday, Harbaugh fired back directly at Dantonio.

“I’ll go one step further and use Coach Dantonio’s words from a few years back,” Harbaugh said, via ESPN.com. “‘It’s not a product of the team, but their program.’ Again, that’s using his words. That could’ve been an unfortunate deal. I’m proud of our guys for keeping their cool.”

This now marks the second time in three trips to East Lansing that’s ended with hurt feelings on one side or the other, to put it mildly. Michigan players drove a stake into the Spartan Stadium turf in 2014; the Spartans got the last laugh in that game, beating Michigan 35-11 as part of a run of eight wins in 10 games that ended Saturday.

Sam Ehlinger working his way back into lineup for No. 6 Texas

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After the most well-timed bye week of all time, No. 6 Texas is back on the practice field to prepare for a trip to Oklahoma State on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger left the team’s previous outing, a 23-17 win over Baylor, during the first drive with what was later diagnosed as a Grade 1 AC sprain in his throwing shoulder.

Ehlinger began throwing again over the weekend, and Texas head coach Tom Herman on Monday outlined the club’s plan to work its starting quarterback back into the lineup.

“I think he’s scheduled to do 25 or 30 (throws) with a regular football today,” Herman said. “He was out there at practice yesterday, doing everything in the run game, all the handoffs and run game checks and reads. Being very cautious with how we accelerate his throwing. There’s a protocol, if you will, for overhead throwers with AC sprains that we want to make sure we adhere to as aggressively as possible while making sure we don’t have any major setbacks that could be lingering.”

Texas does not practice on Mondays, so any real update as to Ehlinger’s availability for Saturday will have to wait until Tuesday. Ehlinger will throw 25 full-padded throws on Tuesday with the aim of “ratcheting” it up to 50 later in the week, Herman said. A normal practice day calls for 75 to 80 throws.

“Barring any setbacks from (a) pain standpoint or if we see something mechanically that’s just not right, we’ve got to make some decisions,” Herman said. “Probably won’t know anything as far as game status until Thursday, I would imagine.”

Herman said if Ehlinger feels healthy, he will start.

If Ehlinger does not start, Texas will go with backup Shane Buechele. A junior, Buechele is among the most experienced backups in the country. He started all 12 games as a true freshman in 2016 and threw for 1,405 yards and seven touchdowns in on-again/off-again duty last season. Against Baylor, his only action thus far this season, Buechele completed 20-of-34 throws for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

In six games plus one drive, Ehlinger is completing 65.7 percent of his throws for 1,534 yards (7.4 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. His ongoing streak of 168 passes without an interception is a school record. Crucially, Ehlinger has also run 76 times for 230 yards and six touchdowns, including 72 yards and three scores against No. 8 Oklahoma on Oct. 6. Herman said Ehlinger’s health and willingness to be a factor in the run game will be a data point in Texas’s decision this week.

TCU QB Shawn Robinson to have season-ending shoulder surgery

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It has been a rough morning for TCU football news. On top of news of an arrest of wide receiver KaVontae Turpin (who has now been suspended by TCU) on Sunday comes injury news that will impact the quarterback position for the rest of the season.

Shawn Robinson, who had been TCU’s starting quarterback this season, will see his season come to a premature ending after head coach Gary Patterson announced he will be undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. Michael Collins, a transfer from Penn who stepped in to provide a spark on offense on Saturday against the Sooners, will take over as the starting for the Horned Frogs moving forward.

Robinson, a sophomore, played in all seven games for TCU up to this point in the season, in which he passed for 1,334 yards and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions. He also rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Prior to being taken out of the Oklahoma game on Saturday, Robinson had completed just three of eight passes for 21 yards. Robinson started against Oklahoma, although Robinson appeared to have injured his shoulder in a previous game against Iowa State.

Collins came into the game in the second quarter and quickly led TCU to an offensive flurry before halftime, but the magic seemingly ran out in the second half as Oklahoma pulled away from the Horned Frogs in the Big 12 contest. Collins ended the day completing seven of 17 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

With Robinson unavailable and Collins taking over as the team’s starter, senior Grayson Muehlstein will be the new backup option for TCU. Muehlstein has appeared in two games this season, completing one of three pass attempts for 11 yards. He has appeared in just seven games for TCU during his college career.

TCU also has former four-star recruit Justin Rogers on the roster. The freshman has not seen any game action this season and the new redshirt rule could allow for the possibility of seeing what he can do in a total of four games without sacrificing a year of eligibility. But his status remains questionable according to recent updates offered by Patterson. Rogers was limited in training camp and has yet to be completely cleared by medical staff members as he is coming off a torn ACL from the season opener of his senior year of high school football last year.

Oklahoma State wearing Barry Sanders era uniforms vs. Texas

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Throwback uniforms have been all the rage lately, and Oklahoma State is getting in on the fun this weekend. With their big game coming up against the Texas Longhorns, the Cowboys will be suiting up in a look inspired by the 1988 Heisman Trophy season of legendary running back Barry Sanders.

Oklahoma State is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Oklahoma State team that went 10-2 and featured Sanders on his run to the Heisman Trophy. Sanders, who won the only Heisman Trophy in Oklahoma State history, rushed for 2,850 yards and 44 touchdowns. He and members of the “War Pigs” offensive line are grand marshalls for Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade this coming weekend.

The uniform, as expected, is perfect and should absolutely be given more opportunities to be worn by Oklahoma State. The uniforms will also include a patch commemorating the anniversary of Sanders’ Heisman Trophy season.

At 1-3 in the Big 12, Oklahoma State needs to go on a big winning streak and hope for some help if the Cowboys are going to play for the Big 12 championship. The Longhorns are sitting on top of the Big 12 standings with a conference record of 4-0.