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MAC Football Preview


Football: MAC looks to return to New Year’s Six Bowl

Trevor Colgan / For The Post

Since 2014, when the College Football Playoff was first introduced and thus the New Year’s Six bowl games were grouped together, the Mid-American Conference has had one team play in one of those bowls — last season’s was the Western Michigan team that played in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

The Broncos went undefeated last season under fiery coach P.J. Fleck. Fleck is now coaching at Minnesota.

This season Western Michigan will have to play without its two best players from last season, wide receiver and all-time FBS receiving yards leader Corey Davis and quarterback Zach Terrell. They also will have to play without the lighting rod of a coach in Fleck, who turned a struggling program around. Instead, they will play under new coach Tim Lester.

Lester was a four-year starting quarterback at WMU and has previously served as a quarterbacks coach for the Broncos. He also has previous head-coaching experience at the Division II level. His previous coaching job before taking the job at WMU was quarterbacks coach at Purdue.

The Broncos will have a good shot of winning the division in back-to-back seasons, but the favorite to take their spot in Detroit is Toledo.

The Rockets will return Logan Woodside, who has promises to be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and are a veteran team in total.

Northern Illinois also has an outside chance to return to Detroit for the seventh time in the last eight years but will require some luck with injuries — something they struggled with last season.

So with three teams poised to win the MAC West, the answer is much clearer in the East Division.

Non-Conference Football

Carl Fonticella | FILE

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Marques Grimes celebrates with his teammates after Ohio beat Akron 9-3 to clinch the MAC East title to book Ohio's ticket to Detroit for the MAC Championship game against Western Michigan.

Last season, Ohio won the East.

It was a season in which the division-deciding game between Ohio and Akron ended 9-3. Miami started 0-6 and had a shot near the end of the year to win the division, as well.

So, can the Bobcats, who have lost some key players on both sides of the ball, return to the MAC Championship game for the second straight season?

The East looks as if it will be a tight competition again this season.

Bowling Green, who had won the East the previous three years, is in its second season under coach Mike Jinks, who did not have college head coaching experience before. The Falcons have some experience on the offensive side of the ball, but the question will be whether that is enough to overtake some of the stronger teams in the division.

Akron was on the doorstep of the division title last season, even though the Zips finished 5-7. A ton of injuries after a strong start led to the Zips failure to make a bowl game. Coach Terry Bowden has brought in some transfers from Power Five schools and will hope that they can help the Zips return to the MAC Championship Game for the first time since 2005.

Last season started as expected for Miami. The RedHawks began the season 0-6, as most expected them to struggle.

However, no one expected them to do what they did in the second half of the season. They won their next six games and made a bowl game. That finish propelled the RedHawks to a second-place finish in the East.

Teams that are very close in talent-level should create an interesting finish for the division title. It seems, as always, the teams that stay relatively healthy will be at the top.

After the conference title game, the question will then become: will the MAC return a team to the New Year’s Six bowl games?

The highest ranked Group of Five conference champion receives that honor, and by precedent, the MAC will have a tough road.

Last season, it took WMU going undefeated, and some luck, by way of the next closest G5 team losing its conference title game, to be selected by the College Football Playoff Committee.

With no sure favorite this season like the Broncos were last season, it seems like another conference will send its champion to the New Year’s Six Bowl Games.

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Development by: Taylor Johnston / Digital Production Editor

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