Crystal Ball Run will be previewing each conference for the 2013 season with week-by-week coverage. Today we continue our 2013 conference previews with a look at the MAC.
The MAC has become sort of a cult favorite in the college football world. Some would call it a lifestyle choice, while others might call it an obsession. Either way, the MAC has given college football fans everywhere something to watch during the week and rewarding those of us who commit to watching college football during the week with highlights that may be overshadowed on Saturdays. Last season the dedicated fans of the conference were rewarded by seeing Northern Illinois bring #MACtion to the BCS. Will the conference be able to duplicate that BCS formula in 2013 as Northern Illinois looks to capture a third consecutive conference championship? Or will another MAC program rise to the occasion and prevent the Huskies from being the first three-peat conference champion since Marshall won four straight titles between 1997 and 2000?
2012 In Review
The 2012 season will be one to remember for the MAC for years to come. The season started off with Ohio opening eyes with an upset win against Penn State in Beaver Stadium, continued with Toledo handing Cincinnati their first loss of the year just a week before a potential battle of unbeatens in the Big East, and ended with Northern Illinois making an improbable appearance in a BCS bowl game, the first time a MAC team entered the BCS fray.
The conference historically known for its quarterbacks had plenty to offer. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch was the conference's top offensive player after leading the conference in pass efficiency and leading the MAC in rushing with 1,815 yards and tying for the conference lead with 19 rushing touchdowns. He also passed for over 3,000 yards and tied for the conference lead with 25 touchdown passes. Zac Dysert at Miami was one of the top arms in the conference, passing for 3,483 yards and 25 touchdowns. On the ground the conference had a good share of play makers doing their jobs as well. Kent State's Dri Archer averaged nine yards per carry and rushed for 16 touchdowns and was one of the conference's top kick returners, averaging 36.9 yards per kickoff return and returning three kicks for touchdowns. Many people do not pay close attention to defense in the MAC, but those who do know all about Chris Jones at Bowling Green (MAC-leading 12 sacks in 2012) and Dan Molls at Toledo (86 solo tackles, 166 total tackles), just to name a couple.
Throughout the course of the season the MAC had four teams crack the top 25 polls. Ohio was the first to do so in mid-October after getting off to a good start, but an upset at Miami would remove them from the BCS Buster running. Toledo had their moment but was quickly replaced by Kent State and Northern Illinois. The 2012 season marked the most MAC teams to crack a top 25 poll in a single season since three were in the 2003 AP Top 25 polls.
No Realignment Issues Here
While we continue to see some changes in conference membership take effect in 2013 and again in 2014, the MAC will move forward without any changes in conference membership this fall and for the near future. Temple left the MAC as a football-only member in 2012 to join the Big East, leading to some slight division reshuffling for the MAC, but there are no changes to take note of in 2013.
Head Coaching Changes
As is usually the case in the MAC, successful coaches will be hired away by bigger, and more well-funded athletic programs. Such was the case this past year, with Northern Illinois losing their head coach to an ACC program and Kent State losing their guy to a Big Ten school. Only one coach needed to be replaced by the school's own choosing, while the rest of the conference appears to be somewhat stable as far as coaching continuity is concerned.
Kent State: Darrell Hazell was hired by Purdue. He is replaced by former Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Hynes.
Northern Illinois: Dave Doeren was hired by North Carolina State. He is replaced by offensive coordinator Rod Carey, who coached the Huskies in the Orange Bowl.
Western Michigan: Bill Cubit was fired. He is replaced by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers coach P.J. Fleck.
Finally, a BCS Buster
It was bound to happen one of these years, and the 2012 season came through with the MAC's first entrant to the BCS party. Northern Illinois grabbed an automatic spot in the BCS games by winning the conference championship and cracking the BCS Top 16 as the highest non-AQ conference champion. They were aided by a November loss by Boise State and their MAC championship game victory over Kent State as well as losses by Texas and Michigan late in the season. However they got there, it was a moment to be cherished by the entire MAC community as Northern Illinois joined previous BCS busters from the WAC (Boise State, Hawaii) and the Mountain West Conference (Utah, TCU).
The bar has been set high for the MAC and the goal is out there for the entire conference to ensure the MAC gets to participate in at least one more BCS game before the new playoff model begins to be used. The MAC will have more competition for a spot at the new postseason table with The American joining the mix along with Conference USA, Sun Belt and Mountain West.
The MAC in Bowl Games
It was a rough postseason for the MAC overall. The conference finished with a bowl record of 2-5 and each division winner took a loss in their respective bowl games. Northern Illinois was no match for ACC champion Florida State in the Orange Bowl, losing 31-10. MAC East champ Kent State was clipped by Sun Belt champion Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, 17-13. Bowling Green lost to San Jose State in the Military Bowl (29-20), Ball State lost to Central Florida in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl (38-17) and Toledo had a rough outing in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl with injuries to key players hampering the Rockets from the start, with Utah State taking clear advantage (41-15). The conference's postseason highlights were provided by Ohio's victory over Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl (45-14) and Central Michigan topping Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Bowl (24-21).
Biggest Win in 2012
No. 19 Northern Illinois 44, No. 18 Kent State 37: It should go without saying that the game that placed a team from the MAC in to the BCS should probably be considered the biggest win of the season. It was history-making of course, but it was also a downright entertaining game consisting of everything we expect from a MAC game. We had a couple of lead changes, a furious rally in the fourth quarter, and overtime to determine which MAC program would represent the conference in a BCS bowl game. Oh, and Jordan Lynch was pretty good.
Honorable Mention: Ohio 24, Penn State 14. Ohio started the season off looking like the conference's best bet to make a BCS run by coming back with a strong second half to upset Penn State.
Biggest Loss in 2012
Kent State 14, Kentucky 47: Sure, the MAC ended up getting a spot in the BCS, but that never stopped the critics from pointing out all of the negatives about the conference's level of competition. One of the biggest downfalls for the MAC in 2012 was Kent State's blowout loss on the road at Kentucky. Kent State went on to win the division championship and a spot in the MAC championship game, but when a division champion loses by 33 points to a 2-10 team, that generally does not bode well for any argument about conference depth or strength. It was the only time all season Kentucky recorded more than 455 yards of total offense (539 yards).
Dishonorable Mention: Northern Illinois 17, Iowa 18. The conference champs opened the season in Chicago against what would turn out to be a four-win Iowa team.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports.