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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 13, 2012 at 9:21 PM

A lot of your early season handicapping and TV watching is going to involve the Mid American East conference. Even if you don’t plan to follow this division or this league much during the bulk of the season, right out of the gate, you’ll see:

Division favorite, OHIO visits Penn State, in a game the media world will be all over because it’s the first Nittany Lions game since the Sandusky trial ended. Frank Solich and the Bobcats are going to be part of a news story, then will try to make news with an upset in Happy Valley.

Always feisty MIAMI OF OHIO begins its season in Columbus visiting Ohio State. That’s Urban Meyer’s debut as head coach for the Buckeyes. So, already, you’re seeing major Big Ten storylines of national interest involving the MAC.

Rebuilding BUFFALO opens at Georgia, against a Bulldogs team that many think could play a major role in shaping the BCS Championship race down in the SEC.

Respected BOWLING GREEN will start the year at the Swamp in Gainesville facing the Florida Gators. That’s a big upgrade from last year’s opening salvo against Idaho and Morgan State. Florida is hoping to climb back into the national spotlight after some surprising struggles.

So, as we continue our summer series of weekend college football conference previews, be sure you take plenty of notes. The MAC East (which runs today, ahead of a look at the MAC West that runs on Sunday) may include some live dogs that will make you money in that first week of the season…and some value favorites who will cash tickets down the road once conference action begins.

If you’re new to the site, we’ve scheduled run-throughs of the mid-majors on Saturdays and Sundays through the month of July. Please check the archives for last week’s reports on the WAC and Sun Belt. Up next week will be Conference USA. We’ll look at the major conferences in August as we build to the start of the regular season just as August turns to September.

 

MAC EAST

 

OHIO

Athlon Ranking: 59th

2011 Total Offense: 23rd

2011 Total Defense: 46th

Strength: Rush Offense (23rd)

Weakness: Rush/Pass Defense (52nd in both)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Frank Solich

Notebook: Last year’s Ohio team started pushing the tempo a bit, which is a stunner for a coach like Solich who prefers slow conservative football. But, he recognized that his talent was well suited to the challenge, and they responded in kind with a 6-2 record in league play and a bowl win over Utah State on the fabled blue turf in Boise. This year’s team returns quarterback Tyler Tettleton, which is the most important thing when you run an up-tempo offense. The general consensus is that the team will be better than last year, and the clear frontrunner to coast to at least a division crown if not a conference championship. Penn State better look out in that season opener.

 

BOWLING GREEN

Athlon Ranking: 94th

2011 Total Offense: 62nd

2011 Total Defense: 79th

Strength: Pass Offense (31st)

Weakness: Rush Defense (104th)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 9 on defense

Head Coach: Dave Clawson

Notebook: There are a lot of starters back from a team that rated better in the stats last year than they looked on the field. You see that offense and defense centered around 70th in the stat rankings. But, the Falcons were just 5-7 for the year and 3-5 in conference action. They dropped six of their last eight regular season games. Injuries were a problem last year. The fact that everyone should be healthy has led to higher expectations this year. Bowling Green is tabbed to be second best in the East…and could surpass that Athlon ranking of 94th if returning quarterback Matt Schilz has time to throw. They ranked 31st in pass offense last year even with offensive line injuries. We will be looking for spots to back Bowling Green at affordable prices against vulnerable pass defenses.

 

KENT STATE

Athlon Ranking: 97th

2011 Total Offense: 119th

2011 Total Defense: 21st

Strength: Pass Defense (26th)

Weakness: Pass Offense (110th)

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Darrell Hazell

Notebook: The Golden Flashes were just abysmal in the first half of last season, looking like doormats week after week. But, they finally got the hang of a new system after a bye week in October…and closed the campaign with four wins in five games. That’s a VERY good sign for another step forward this year. You have a lot of returning talent. You have an experienced quarterback in Spencer Keith (six of seven teams in this division return their quarterbacks). And, you have a team that gained confidence late the prior season once they got their footing. An easy opener against Towson could build their confidence before a Week Two date with Kentucky too. The ingredients are here for a fast start in 2012…faster than the market is anticipating.

 

MIAMI OF OHIO

Athlon Ranking: 99th

2011 Total Offense: 75th

2011 Total Defense: 48th

Strength: Pass Offense (14th)

Weakness: Rush Offense (120th)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Don Treadwell

Notebook: There are reasons for optimism all over the MAC East this year…which means Athlon may have many of the teams at least 10-15 spots to low. Miami returns quarterback Zac Dysert on an offense that ranked 14th nationally last year in the passing game. Yes, they faced a weak schedule. But most mid-major offenses don’t even have that much going for them. The Redhawks went 4-8 last year overall, and 3-5 in the league despite losing late nailbiters to Temple and Western Michigan. This was almost a .500 team in 2011…which means they have a chance to catch people by surprise this year. A brutal September that includes visits to Ohio State and Boise State will leave a mark. If the team can use that to become “battle tested” rather than demoralized, we’re going to have a heckuva race in this division this year.

 

BUFFALO

Athlon Ranking: 111th

2011 Total Offense: 80th

2011 Total Defense: 63rd

Strength: Pass Defense (36th)

Weakness: (Rush Defense (86th)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Jeff Quinn

Notebook: Tough spot for the Bulls this year, as they’re the only team in the division not returning experience at the quarterback position. They went 3-8 last year, and one of the wins was over Stony Brook. Things are likely to get VERY ugly in the opener at Georgia…but there’s a chance to get settled in the second half of the season if a quarterback steps forward to lead the team. If not, last place is a very clear possibility. We’ll probably only consider Buffalo this year as home underdogs against visitors who are in lookahead or letdown spots.

 

AKRON

Athlon Ranking: 119th

2011 Total Offense: 115th

2011 Total Defense: 94th

Strength: Pass Defense (39th)

Weakness: Rush Defense (108th)

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 3 on defense

Head Coach: Terry Bowden

Notebook: Hey, Terry Bowden is back in the big time! He wasn’t even a very good TV announcer. But, he does have major conference experience…which can help when you’re climbing the ladder again from a spot in a smaller conference. He doesn’t have much to work with this year outside of returning quarterback Clayton Moore. The defense has to be rebuilt. We’re not expecting much at first. But, whenever there’s a head coach who’s motivated to save his reputation from earlier days, you often have a program that eventually gets some things accomplished. The most important thing about 2012 in Akron may be what it sets up for 2013.

 

MASSACHUSETTS

Athlon Ranking: 122nd

2011 Total Offense: not eligible for rankings

2011 Total Defense: not eligible for rankings

Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Head Coach: Charley Molnar

Notebook: We saw some new teams when we talked about the WAC a week ago today. Massachusetts has stepped up to join the MAC this year after going 5-6 in 2011 against the likes of Holy Cross, Villanova, and James Madison. Tough for basketball schools to win in football conferences! There is a lot of experience back at least…which will give the team a chance to compete. Assume the worst for now, particularly against a September schedule that includes Connecticut, Indiana, and Michigan. And, keep an eye out for midseason fatigue created by that physically demanding stretch for this undersized program.

That wraps up our look at the MAC East. Back with you tomorrow to look at Western Michigan, Toledo, and the rest of the MAC West. Now that you’re in a football frame of mind, you should be making your  plans for the coming season. If you have any questions we can help with, please call JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK at 1-800-323-4453. The earlier you sign up for the season, the more you save! Remember that early-bird NFL Preseason rates are available already for the annual “Dollars of August” preseason package right here at the website if you prefer to take care of business online.

Baseball is back from the All-Star Break, so be sure to check out the Saturday offerings. Games of interest include the LA Angels at the NY Yankees, Boston at Tampa Bay, Detroit at Baltimore, St. Louis at Cincinnati, and the NY Mets at Atlanta. Game day selections always go up a few hours before the first pitch.

Enjoy JIM HURLEY’S DIAMOND DELIGHTS in Saturday baseball, then come back with us Sunday for the rest of the MAC. Hey, with JIM HURLEY, MAC stands for MAKE ALL the CASH!

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