MAC Football Preview: East Division

By Frank Gogola

Sports editor Frank Gogola previews the MAC football landscape and gives his predictions for where each team will finish. Today he previews the MAC East Division. Check out Wednesday’s Northern Star for his MAC West Division preview.

1. Bowling Green Falcons (11-1, 8-0 MAC)

Last year: 10-4, 7-1 MAC; first in MAC East, MAC Champions

Head coach: Dino Babers

Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, six defense, two specialists)

Season outlook: The Falcons will be an offensive force to be reckoned with under first-year head coach Dino Babers. Quarterback Matt Johnson has a slew of weapons available, and the Falcons should be able to move the ball at will through the air and on the ground. The defense, which led the MAC in scoring defense (15.9 points allowed per game) and total defense (321.4 yards allowed per game), is young and could use a cushion from the offense as it gains its footing with two easy non-conference games to open the season.

2. Akron Zips (7-5, 6-2 MAC)

Last year: 5-7, 4-4 MAC; fourth in MAC East

Head coach: Terry Bowden

Returning starters: 15 (eight offense, five defense, two specialists)

Season outlook: Head coach Terry Bowden has the Akron program heading in the right direction, winning five games last season after winning only six games from 2009-2012. Similar to last season the Zips play a tough non-conference schedule that can help them weed out some problems prior to conference play. The Zips won four of their final five games to close the 2013 campaign after giving NIU one of its toughest home tests, dropping a 27-20 defensive slugfest to the Huskies in mid-October.

3. Buffalo Bulls (8-4, 5-3 MAC)

Last year: 8-5, 6-2 MAC; second in MAC East

Head coach: Jeff Quinn

Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, five defense, three specialists)

Season outlook: The loss of linebacker Khalil Mack, who was taken No. 5 in the NFL Draft, and running back Branden Oliver leaves big holes for the Bulls to fill. Offensively, quarterback Joe Licata could enter the stage as one of the MAC’s best quarterbacks after being overshadowed by big names like Jordan Lynch, Keith Wenning and Tyler Tettleton. Defensively, many of the key cogs from last year’s team that came one win away from capturing a MAC East title are gone, and the Bulls could struggle keeping teams off the board.

4. Ohio Bobcats (6-6, 4-4 MAC)

Last year: 7-6, 4-4 MAC; third in MAC East

Head coach: Frank Solich

Returning starters: 15 (three offense, eight defense, four speciliatsts)

Season outlook: The Bobcats have lost a ton of offensive talent, including quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship, and will need time to adapt to a new offensive core. Enter the defense, which should be a strength while the offensive tries to sort out its new baggage of potential playmakers. Solich has six winning seasons in his nine years as head coach of the Ohio Bobcats, but he may have to settle for a .500 season with a somewhat inexperienced group across the offensive board.

5. Kent State Golden Flashes (4-8, 2-6 MAC)

Last year: 4-8, 3-5 MAC; fifth in MAC East

Head coach: Paul Haynes

Returning starters: 15 (six offense, seven defense, two specialists)

Season outlook: The Golden Flashes were set back by injuries to key positions last year after making the 2012 MAC Championship Game. This season doesn’t look to be much better as players like running back/wide receiver Dri Archer, wide receiver Tyshone Goode and defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix were lost to graduation. Quarterback Colin Reardon proved he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the MAC last season, but the team as a whole still has a lot of room for improvement before it can get back to 2012 form.

6. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks (2-10, 1-7 MAC)

Last year: 0-12, 0-8 MAC; seventh in MAC East

Head coach: Chuck Martin

Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, seven defense, one specialist)

Season outlook: After finishing

winless for the first time since 1998, former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin was called upon to help bring the RedHawks back to relevance. Martin will attempt to once again build a winning tradition at Miami (Ohio) with a focus on offense, but change will certainly take time and won’t be happening any time soon. The RedHawks face a daunting schedule but get a few manageable home contests where they should be able to grab some wins.

7. Massachusetts Minutemen (0-12, 0-8 MAC)

Last year: 1-11, 1-7 MAC; sixth in MAC East

Head coach: Mark Whipple

Returning starters: 13 (seven offense, six defense, two specialists)

Season outlook: Massachusetts has won a grand total of two games since moving from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2011; its transition has been horrific, to say the least. First-year head coach Mark Whipple is beginning a long process of rebuilding the UMass program. The Minutemen are very green on both sides of the trenches, and neither side of the ball look too promising for the 2014 season. There are few, if any, wins on their schedule.