Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Five Questions: MAC

In our penultimate preseason questionnaire, we examine the Mid-American Conference.

1. Is Western Michigan due for a regression or can they build on last season’s breakout?
Not to toot my own oboe, but I made a post a few months back on teams that ‘surge’ in their second year under a new regime. Western Michigan certainly surged in 2014. After a feckless (see what I did there?) 1-11 start to his coaching career. PJ Fleck guided the Broncos to the cusp of a MAC West title and 8-5 overall record. The skill position guys on the team are young and with additional offseason seasoning, could lead the Broncos to their conference title since 1988. However, the MAC West has been owned by Northern Illinois as of late and is the tougher division, with Toledo, Ball State, and Central Michigan all enjoying varying degrees of success over the past few years. Can the Broncos continue to climb or will the Plexiglass Principle rear its ugly head and tamper expectations in Kalamazoo?

2.Does Pete Lembo finally leave Ball State?
Quietly, Pete Lembo enters his fifth season coaching the Cardinals. I never thought he would last this long. After success at both Lehigh and Elon in the FCS ranks, Lembo guided Ball State to consecutive bowl appearances in 2012 and 2013. I figured he would be scooped up by some woebegone major college program following the 2012 season and then certainly after 2013. He was not, and that is great news for Ball State fans. Although the Cardinals dipped to 5-7 last season, they still managed a .500 record in the MAC for the fourth straight year which exceeded any historical precedent for a ‘down’ year. If Lembo coaxes another bowl appearance out of Ball State, will he still be around to coach the team in 2016, or will a Power 5 school like Illinois, Iowa State, Purdue, Vanderbilt, or Virginia pry him away?

3. Can Lance Leipold take Buffalo to the top of the MAC?
In the offseason, I also wrote about Buffalo’s hire of Lance Leipold from Wisconsin-Watergate Whitewater. Leipold enjoyed success at the Division III level unrivaled by any outside of an obsessed player’s Dynasty Mode in NCAA Football. Can Leipold continue his success at the FBS level or was his achievement a function of the Eagles moreso than any great coaching acumen on his part? I for one believe he is stepping into a great situation, and while he may lose more games in 2015 than he has in the past five years, a division title is certainly on the table.

4. Is there any hope for Eastern Michigan and Miami?
Last season both the Eagles and Redhawks brought in new coaches with successful resumes. Chris Creighton and Chuck Martin had great success at lower levels as head coaches. However, at their new schools, it was basically business as usual. Eastern Michigan won two games, something that has happened four other times in the new millennium. Miami also won two games, a mark they have hit two other times since Ben Roethlisberger matriculated. It’s easier to make a move in the MAC, than say the SEC West, but I don’t have the stones to predict breakthroughs for either team this season. That being said, I will wholeheartedly support one should it occur.

5. Can the MAC East win some games against the MAC West?
Over the past seven years, the MAC West has dominated the MAC East in intra-divisional play.
Aside from an outlier 2009 when the East actually won the season series, teams from the West have beaten teams from the east by a more than 2-1 margin. If we break this down even further by team, it’s clear every team in the West save from the traditional pushover has dominated in their games against the East.
Despite this overwhelming failure, the East has managed to win three of the past seven MAC Championship Games. However, each victory was an upset and the West has actually been favored in the last ten title games.

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