Wednesday, June 24, 2009

MAC Review: 2005-2008

In addition to the SDPI posts, another offseason interest of mine has been to look at how each IA conference has shaken out since 2005. I chose 2005 as the starting point because that was the year the ACC expanded to 12 teams, the Big East added 3 new members and booted Temple, Conference USA added a championship game, the Mountain West added TCU, the WAC looted the Sun Belt after several of its members joined Conference USA, and the Sun Belt added 2 independents from Florida (FAU and FIU). Since 2005, there has only been one change in any IA conference. That was the expansion of the MAC by a single team with the addition of Temple. Only two more conferences left to analyze, and only about 10 more weeks until kickoff :) This week we move to the nation's heartland, and take a look at the Big 10's little brother, the Mid-American Conference. First here are the cummlative MAC standings since 2005.Not surprisingly, the team with two league championships in the past four seasons is number one overall. Butch Jones, who took over at Central Michigan, following Brian Kelly's departure to Cincinnati prior to the Chippewas bowl game in 2006, has actually exceeded Kelly's winning percentage in conference play. Kelly went 12-4 in the MAC in 2005 and 2006 (15-9 if we include his first year in 2004). Butch has guided the Chippewas to a 12-3 conference record the past two seasons. That brings me to my next point. You'll notice six teams have played 32 conference games and six have played 31 (Temple has only played 8 as they joined before the 2007 season). The MAC thought it would be a great idea to have some teams play seven conference games in 2007 and others play eight because the addition of Temple gave the league 13 teams. The league counted only games against division opponents when determining the representatives in the 2007 MAC Championship Game. As Murphy could have predicted, the MAC East champion in 2007 (Miami) was actually a half game behind Bowling Green because they played only 7 league games (5-2) while the Falcons played 8 (6-2). Each team went 4-2 within the division (as did Buffalo). Both schools beat the Bulls and Miami beat Bowling Green so they were crowned division champs. The league corrected itself in 2008, having each school play 8 total conference games and making life easier on statisticians everywhere. Another interesting fact is that Bowling Green, despite owning the fourth best record overall and top record in the MAC East over the past four seasons, did not 'win' the division a single time. The Falcons, in a move they will probably wind up regretting, fired their coach, Gregg Brandon, after last season. It just seems like a stupid thing to do, firing a coach who consistently had the team in contention to win the division (tied for 1st in 2005, tied for 1st in 2006, tied for 2nd in 2008). No, he wasn't as good as his predecessor (you may know him) but he only had one losing season in six years and the Falcons participated in three bowl games under his watch.

Now here is each team's home record in conference play since 2005.Western Michigan and Temple!? are tied for the best home league mark since 2005. I'll give the nod to the Broncos since they have played twice as many games. The biggest discrepancy between home and road record belongs to the Temple Owls and Akron Zips. Temple is a robust 6-2 at home against MAC foes since joining the league in 2007, but only 2-6 on the road for a difference of four games. Akron is a solid 9-7 at home since 2005, but only 5-11 on the road. The most interesting home/road split probably belongs to Ball State. The Cardinals are a ho-hum 9-7 at home, but a league-best 13-2 on the road since 2005 (difference of 4.5 games).

Now here is how homefield advantage shakes out in the MAC (in conference play only) with respect to the nation at large (with rank out of the 11 IA conferences in parentheses).With the exception of 2007, the MAC has found itself in the bottom half of the nation in terms of the value of homefield advantage. Twice the conference's home teams have finished with losing records (2005 and 2008). Overall, homefield has meant next to nothing in the aggregate in terms of wins and losses within the league.

Next up is how each MAC team stacks up offensively for each season. This is the ranking of yards per game in conference play.If there is one thing that is constant in the MAC, its change. Outside of Central Michigan, which has finished either first or second in offense each of the past four seasons, no other team has been consistent. Temple has finished dead last in both of their seasons in the league, but every other full-time member has seen their fortune shift dramatically at least once. Toledo and Northern Illinois are the prime examples of this phenomenon. Toledo owned the league's best offense in 2005, drooped to eighth in 2006, rebounded to second in 2007, and fell back to second-to-last in 2008. Northern Illinois was third in 2005, tops in the league in 2006, fell to ninth in 2007, and then dropped one spot further to tenth in 2008. If you look at Ball State's numbers, its pretty easy to tell when Nate Davis became the starting quarterback.

And finally, here are the defensive rankings for each team. This is yards allowed per game in conference play. Change has been the story on defense as well. Here are just a few examples. Akron had the best defense in the league during their title-winning 2005 season. They dropped to the middle of the pack in 2006, and fell even further in 2007. Western Michigan and Ohio featured the two worst defenses in the league in 2005. They had the two best in 2006. Ball State and Buffalo had the two worst defenses in 2006. In 2007, they were both in the top five. Miami had the best defense in 2007. They had the third worst in 2008. Northern Illinois had the second worst defense in 2007. They had the league's best in 2008. What kind of shenanigans are in store for 2009? Will Eastern Michigan become the standard against which all MAC defenses are measured? Will Northern Illinois go back in the crapper? Stay tuned.

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