Grading My Preseason Predictions: MAC

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Growing up, baseball was always king to me. I always had an interest in college football because Michigan was actually good when I was growing up and the Lions were simply awful, but it never came close to dethroning baseball in terms of my fandom. I got cut from a Division III baseball team my freshman year in college and approached it more studiously and academically, analyzing pitch sequences and smaller nuances of the game that I didn’t pick up on in high school to appreciate it even more. Baseball is a ruthless chess match that gets lost in the shuffle of the slower pace of the game, but after I got cut, I loved the sport so much that I got a job working in Minor League Baseball.

Fast forward five years and baseball and I are just friends now. I’ve seen more baseball games than most people have in their lifetime, and college football has become an oasis for me in the unbearably lengthy desert of working in Minor League Baseball. Michigan winning a national title is a mirage in that same desert, but it doesn’t stop me from strapping on my sandals and sunglasses and start wading through the sand. College football has become my largest and most intense sports love, both because of the sport and narratives but also because it is a relief from the grind of baseball season.

Part of walking through this desert includes making completely useless garbage spreadsheets (I literally have a folder on my computer called “useless garbage”). Bill Connelly’s advanced S&P+ analytics and team-by-team season previews inspire lots of random pieces of content in my head that I eventually will formulate into random spreadsheets that sit in the useless garbage folder.

Part of this useless garbage this year was predicting a win-loss record for all 130 FBS teams. I knew some really well (I exactly predicted Michigan’s 10-3 record but predicted a loss to Wisconsin rather than a loss to Notre Dame) and I got some completely wrong (I thought Florida State was going to win 9 games). I knew very little about the Group of 5 teams, sometimes to the point where it was laughable and I owe the coach and the program an apology. So moving forward, I will be sharing my 2018 predictions (I know the season ended a long time ago but we’re about to be in the worst sports part of the year) for all 130 FBS teams, conference by conference.

#MACTION

Highlighted games are incorrect guesses. Open this in a new tab to see my predictions larger.

Admittedly I did not know much about the MAC going into the season. I hung in there and held a pretty devent average except for the Michigan directional schools.

Akron had one of the worst offenses in the country last year and it cost Terry Bowden his job. They did however take down Nebraska and Northwestern but couldn’t beat anyone else other than the miserable Kent State and CMU. Quite the resume. 2019 brings in Tom Arth at the helm, new to FBS coaching after stints at John Carroll and UT-Chattanooga.

Photo: Akron Athletics

Other than Brady Hoke, I don’t know much about what comes out of Ball State. In Year 3 under Mike Neu, there wasn’t much improvement to be found – they haven’t won back to back FBS games under him as head coach and it ‘t look like 2019 will be much better.

Bowling Green was the first team to fire their head coach in the 2018 season and then hired Scot Loeffler, who then hired Greg Robinson. The 126th ranked team in S&P+ will probably be at the same spot next year.

Buffalo loses a lot in 2019, namely Tyree Jackson (declared for the draft) and Anthony Johnson (run out of eligibility). Lance Leipold has done wonderful things up in Buffalo but 2019 will be a true test.

Central Michigan is the team that owes me the biggest apology. I pegged them at 6-6 and they were one of the worst teams in FBS last season (122nd S&P+). John Bonamego was let go after the season and replaced with Jim McElwain, an underwhelming but sensible hire who made good high school connections in his season as WR coach at Michigan. It’s a long road back, but McElwain has done well at the G5 level in the past.

Eastern had a brutal 2018 season, losing three straight games by three points each, but also beat Purdue in the rain on the road. Chris Creighton has worked magic with peanuts in Ypsi, but they capped the season with a heartbreaking loss to Georgia Southern in the Camelia Bowl. They have momentum in the MAC and with the rest of the conference completely rebuilding, they might be bowling again in 2019.

Kent State, 124th in S&P+, underwent a massive Year 0 under Sean Lewis, but showed some promise – they lost to Illinois by a touchdown and to Akron and Ohio by a single point each, so what was 2-10 could have been 5-7 with some different bounces. He was the youngest coach in FBS last season with a bright future and lots of enthusiasm.

I loved watching Miami of Ohio on the weeknight #MACTION games. Chuck Martin is a gambler and kept every game close no matter what (check out the highlights of their game against Army). I really wish they were picked to go to a bowl game last year (they finished 6-6 and were only a game out of the MAC East title because they beat Ohio at the end of the season) because they would have kept it close but what can you do. We’ll see how he regroups with a new quarterback in 2019.

Army vs Miami was one of the craziest finishes to a college football game this season. Photo: US Military Academy

NIU delivered one of the best performances of 2018 in the MAC Championship against Buffalo. Nearly incapable of moving the ball (117th Offensive S&P+ to 23rd Defensive S&P+) and down by 20 in the 4th quarter, Rod Carey somehow found a way to win the title by a single point…and then got blown out in the bowl game. Highlight of the year: beating BYU 7-6. Keep out for Sutton Smith in the draft.

Nathan Rourke completed less than 60% of his passes last year for Ohio but threw 23 TDs to 8 INTs in Frank Solich’s system last year. They are likely the MAC East favorites returning a lot of key pieces in Athens, where they had the 16th ranked offense in S&P+.

If NIU was the Michigan State of the MAC, then Toledo was Oklahoma State. Jason Candle managed to put up some serious points, and they return Eli Peters and Bryant Koback for 2019 – but they have to stop some points too. For a point of reference, they allowed 38 points to NIU. The same NIU that put up 7 on BYU.

I got a lot of WMU‘s games incorrect but they overall record was pretty close – a 7-6 campaign with your back-up quarterback isn’t terrible. LeVante Bellamy is a very talented running back who probably saw more work than he bargained for after Jon Wassink went down with an injury. They both return for 2019 and Tim Lester’s crew might be able to challenge NIU for the MAC West title.

The MAC is tough because you have lightning in a bottle teams like Ohio and Toledo, defensive stalwarts like Eastern Michigan and NIU, and then complete duds like Kent State and Central Michigan. I’ll have to do a lot more research before the 2019 predictions come in but my early guess is something along the lines of NIU or WMU vs Ohio or Toledo to win it all. There certainly won’t be another 13-0 dynamo like there was in Kalamazoo a few seasons ago, but the fact remains – do yourself a favor and watch some weeknight MACtion games on ESPN. They are delightful.

Header photo credit: Associated Press