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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Things could get very interesting in the West division of the Mid American Conference in 2014. This was clearly the stronger division last year…and will very likely be again. But the three “powers” are all in the awkward position of having to replace star quarterbacks!

*Northern Illinois must replace Chandler Harnish (offense #5 in yardage and #11 in scoring in 2013).

*Ball State must replace Keith Wenning (offense #15 in scoring, #19 in yardage, #12 in passing offense in 2013)

*Toledo must replace Terrance Owens (offense #39 in scoring and yardage in 2013)

The rest of the division (the “directional” schools from Michigan) are still so far off the pace that the big three will likely feature the champ again. But, getting a read on the race early will likely depend on spotting which new quarterback is fitting in best with his team’s system.

That’s the backdrop…as we continue our summer series of college football conference previews. Returning starter information is from the respected Athlon publication.


Mid American Conference “West”



2013 Record: 7-5

2013 Rankings: 39 on offense, 87 on defense

Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 10 on defense

Head Coach: Matt Campbell

Notebook: Many pundits are picking Toledo to win the division this year because of those 10 returning starters on defense…and because Terrance Owens wasn’t quite as big in the stats as either Harnish or Wenning. He’s slightly easier to replace! The new quarterback will be tested early in a special home game with Missouri which is followed by a road trip to Cincinnati. Unfortunately, a huge conference game with Ball State is the very next week. Look for a “sandwich spot” flat performance from Toledo at Cincy.


Northern Illinois

2013 Record: 12-2

2013 Rankings: 5 on offense, 78 on defense

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 5 on defense

Head Coach: Rod Carey

Notebook: Northern Illinois carried an undefeated record into the MAC title tilt. Then a 12-0 team (off an Orange Bowl bid) finished 12-2 because of losses to Bowling Green and Utah State. An astonishingly disappointing ending to the Harnish era. Is the team sliding in the wrong direction under now second-year coach Rod Carey? Having a lot of experience back on offense should help in an all-road September challenge of Northwestern, UNLV, and Arkansas. A brutal early November features Ball State and Toledo back-to-back over just six days.


Ball State

2013 Record: 10-3

2013 Rankings: 19 on offense, 77 on defense

Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

Head Coach: Pete Lembo

Notebook: The Cardinals (who Athlon calls the “Falcons” for some reason) lost more to graduation than the other two divisional powers, which is why most pundits have them sliding down to third. This system is such that a high impact quarterback could vault them to the top fairly easily. Be sure to monitor the road game at Iowa to get a sense of the new talent. Good sleeper potential with this unit based on the information we’re seeing.  


Central Michigan

2013 Record: 6-6

2013 Rankings: 108 on offense, 66 on defense

Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense

Head Coach: Dan Enos

Notebook: The Chippewas were only 6-6 because they play in the horrible MAC, and scheduled New Hampshire in early action. They were generally outclassed badly vs. quality (losing by 21, 21, and 20 to Toledo, Northern Illinois, and Ball State…in that order). They do have experience back at quarterback though…and a lot of other returning talent as you can see. We expect this team to dominate the weak links in the MAC at the very least. They’ll have a shot to compete with the “big three” if any of the new quarterbacks turns out to be in over his head.


Western Michigan

2013 Record: 1-11

2013 Rankings: 110 on offense, 85 on defense

Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 4 on defense

Head Coach: P. J. Fleck

Notebook: Last year was a disaster, with the only win coming by one point over a very bad Massachusetts team. The Broncos also lost a home game to Nicholls State! The good news is that recruiting reportedly went well. And, that should help fill in some slots on what’s already an experienced offense. The defense could be in real trouble, particularly against the powers.


Eastern Michigan

2013 Record: 2-10

2013 Rankings: 7 on offense, 5 on defense

Returning Starters: 109 on offense, 118 on defense

Head Coach: Chris Creighton

Notebook: Coach Creighton rises up from small-time college football for his first crack with the big boys. It may not be too much of a transition talent-wise because Eastern Michigan has been worse than many small college programs for years. It can’t get any worse than it’s been. Last year’s two wins were over helpless Western Michigan and Howard. Paycheck games at Florida and at Michigan State could lead to some early season injuries. At least expectations will be low for the new coach.

The MAC is always a league with great winning potential for handicappers. The handicapper with the best winning potential has always been JIM HURLEY! You can purchase game day baseball BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about baseball or early-bird football, call the office during normal business hours this week at 1-888-777-4155.

It’s back to baseball for a day here in the NOTEBOOK on Friday, as we preview a marquee series that’s important in the pennant races. Here’s a look at the full schedule through All-Star Tuesday…

Friday: MLB Series Preview…(either St. Louis/Milwaukee, Detroit/KC, or NYY/Baltimore)

Saturday: College Football…Sun Belt Preview

Sunday: College Football…Independents Preview (including Notre Dame)

Monday: NL Review at the All-Star Break

Tuesday: AL Review at the All-Star Break

College football previews will run on Wednesday-Thursday, and Saturday-Sunday because so many conferences have split divisions. We’ll take our first look at MAJOR conferences next week with the ACC midweek, then the Big 10 over the weekend.

Football will be here before you know it…and you can always get BIG, JUICY WINNERS in baseball every night from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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