Welcome to the latest edition of the Tuesday countdown. Every Tuesday, all the way up until the start of the season when Northern Illinois travels to Wisconsin for a 6 p.m. game on Sept. 5, we'll be counting down some aspect of college football.
Today, we’ll take a look at the single biggest concern for each team in the MAC. The countdown will run in order of importance (least concerning to most) and by division. We’ll start in the East.
Miami (Ohio): How do they rebound?
Also considered: Struggles on offense, replacing two high-caliber linebackers
Everyone knows it’s a rebuilding season in Oxford. New coach Mike Haywood has his hands full with a team that doesn’t have a whole lot to get excited about. The RedHawks are coming off a 2-10 season and while most don’t expect that record to improve by much, Haywood’s job is to get his players to believe in his system. If that doesn’t happen right away, this could be an even longer season that most expect.
Kent State: Will the kicking game settle down?
Also considered: Holes at wide receiver, does a red zone defense exist here?
Kent State had a lot of problems last season and still need playmakers on both sides of the ball, but there is no excuse for a poor kicking game. Nate Reed is 27-of-41 on field goals in his career and regressed last season. Punter Matt Rinehart also had two punts blocked last season. Two missed field goals and two missed extra points cost the Golden Flashes the Ohio game last season.
Temple: Who leads this offense?
Also considered: Can bad luck continue? Can they win close games?
Adam DiMichele was a quality starter for three years for the Owls. Vaughn Charlton and Chester Stewart have the physical tools, but can they produce like DiMichele? If they can’t, a team that’s been snakebiiten (two OT losses, a loss on a Hail Mary and two additional losses by a combined seven points last season) won’t feel good about itself and won’t win games.
Akron: Can they stay healthy on defense?
Also considered: Replacing RB Dennis Kennedy, QB Chris Jacquemain’s consistency
Last season, I listed nose tackle Ryan Bain as one of the top newcomers to watch in the MAC. He missed the season because the NCAA suspended him for testing positive for a banned substance and, on top of that, he’s been hurt seemingly since he stepped foot on campus. Five defensive linemen were injured in the first three games. In the 3-3-5 system Akron runs, injured defensive linemen are devastating.
Bowling Green: Who provides pressure up front?
Also considered: Adjusting to a new coach/scheme, replacing the right side of the offensive line
Bowling Green was pretty good on defense last season, ranking in the top five in the conference in scoring defense, passing defense and rushing defense. All but three of those starters are gone. The Falcons return both of their safeties, but replace an entire defensive line. The projected starting defensive line has the combined experience of eight starts.
Buffalo: Will luck run out?
Also considered: Replacing QB Drew Willy, Finding three new starters on the offensive line
Buffalo had a lot of games that could have gone either way in 2008. The Bulls beat Temple on a Hail Mary touchdown and won two East games on the road in overtime to advance to the MAC title game. Despite being outgained by 202 yards, the Bulls forced roughly 43 fumbles to win the conference championship and beat Ball State. The Bulls were good last season, but no team can repeat that amount of good luck.
Ohio: Can the QB timeshare work?
Also considered: Will the offensive line be healthy? Defensive depth
The old adage is that when you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. We’ll see how the combination of Boo Jackson and Theo Scott works. Scott did well before suffering an injury last season. Jackson threw for 2,355 yards in his absence. Ohio coach Frank Solich has to make this work, because he has a team talented enough to win the division.
That’s the East. Let’s take a look at the West:
Eastern Michigan: Can the Eagles stop anyone?
Also considered: Will the non-conference schedule be too much?
Ron English inherited a mess on defense at Eastern Michigan. The Eagles couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t stop the pass and couldn’t keep teams out of the end zone. Even a marginal improvement on defense will keep Eastern Michigan in a few more games this season. Eight returning starters might help that.
Toledo: Location, location, location (field position)
Also considered: Easing pressure on WR Stephen Williams, rebuilding the front seven
When it came to kickoff coverage last season, the Rockets gave away field position like it was their job, with a net average of 34.2 yards a kick. Only Eastern Michgan was worse. Toledo had a total of 74 punt return yards on the season. Giving away field position and not taking it back are cardinal sins in football. A lot of teams took advantage of this against the Rockets last season.
Western Michigan: Can the pass defense actually get worse?
Also considered: Tim Hiller’s health, replacing Jamarko Simmons
Louis Delmas was a fantastic safety and I think he’ll be a good one in the NFL, but Western Michigan’s pass defense last year was nothing to brag about. The Broncos gave up 254.8 passing yards a game and three members of the secondary were at least second team all-MAC players. With an inexperienced group now in the secondary, it’s hard to say those numbers will improve.
Northern Illinois: Any playmakers in the passing game?
Also considered: Depth at cornerback, depth on the offensive line
I’ve mentioned this stat before, but of the returning wide receivers, Landon Cox had the most receptions last season with 16. Five senior wideouts are gone. Nate Palmer was spectacular for the first two games last season before disappearing. With the wide receivers the coaching staff recruited, there is a lot of competition now at that position. The Huskies need at least two wideouts to step up and give NIU some legitimate threats in the passing game. If that doesn’t happen, expect to see the same offense as last season.
Ball State: Replacing offensive firepower
Also considered: Can Stan Parrish be the man? How will the linebackers gel?
Ball State set records across the board on the offensive side of the ball last season. It won’t be topped with all that the Cardinals lose, but how far will they drop? Running back MiQuale Lewis, one of the top five players in the MAC, returns. Quarterback Kelly Page will be the key.
Central Michigan: Who eases the pressure on LeFevour?
Also considered: Is the schedule too tough? Does the bowl loss stick with the Chips?
Quarterback Dan LeFevour is a great runner. No one denies this. But Central Michigan can’t just expect to make it to the MAC title game if LeFevour is the only running threat. Sophomore running back Bryan Schroeder ran for 208 yards last season. Tripling that will ease the pressure on LeFevour and gives him a better chance to stay healthy for the entire season.
So that’s it for this countdown. What do you think? What are your concerns?