You like being ahead of the game, right? Of course you do, you're reading a Mid-American Conference preview and your diploma isn't signed by Akron head honcho Dr. Luis M. Proenza.
|It's not out of the question to expect 35 TD tosses from LeFevour. (Getty Images)|
Ah yes. That's what Central Michigan newbie coach Butch Jones is banking on. Boy, oh Boise, what those blue-turf players did to mid-major expectations. Now everybody wants in on the fun.
"Every coach uses the Boise State analogy," said Jones, who returns to Mt. Pleasant after a two-year stint coaching -- unbeknownst to Mountaineers QB Pat White -- West Virginia's wide receivers. "They're no different then anyone else. Why can't it be a Mid-American school? Why can't it be Central Michigan? Boise State's a great model."
Why can't it be Central Michigan? That's easy. At Kansas, September 1. At Purdue, September 15. At Clemson, October 20. The Chippewas will lose at least one of those games. Bye-bye, BCS.
But other than a tough non-conference schedule, the stars are aligned for a Central Michigan MAC run. Their first-year head coach is inheriting a MAC champion squad that's as stout as they'll ever be on defense and locked and loaded on offense.
From Chad Pennington to Ben Roethlisberger to Bruce Gradkowski, if there's one thing the MAC pumps out with semi-regularity, it's serviceable to great pro quarterbacks. Central Michigan hasn't contributed much to that pipeline -- until now.
|4. Miami (OH)|
|5. Bowling Green|
|1. Central Michigan|
|2. Western Michigan|
|4. Northern Illinois|
|5. Ball State|
|6. Eastern Michigan|
|Team to beat:|
|Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan|
|Larry English, Northern Illinois|
|Coach of the year:|
|Frank Solich, Ohio|
Enter Dan LeFevour, pronounced Le-Fever (enter your more cowbell joke here), the quarterback who's likely to pop up every once in a while on College GameDay this year.
Here's what to tell people at the tailgate who want to know more about the gun-slinger: He has pro size (6-foot-3), is a little too eager to scramble, and broke Chippewas' school records with 3,031 yards passing and 26 touchdowns. Chippewas' school records aren't worth much, granted, but he's just a sophomore.
He'll be a household star (if your household makes its livelihood on MAC football), but let's let his coach play the standard "aw shucks, please overlook our young star" card when asked about his meal ticket.
"Dan has a lot of area for growth," Jones said. "He's an extremely humble individual, very passionate, very competitive. He puts more pressure and more expectations on himself then anyone can put on him. The great thing is we have him for three more years."
By "growth," Jones must be referring to his young quarterback's tendency to force throws and take some unneeded risks. If he cuts those out, LeFevour should improve the Chippewas' offense, which led the league last year at 29.7 points per game. And before Jones knows it, he may not be there for another three years.
The team lost big left tackle Joe Staley to the NFL (49ers), but its line is mature (only juniors and seniors), its running back, Ontario Sneed, savvy and its receivers big and fast. Wideout Bryan Anderson (6-5) caught 73 balls for 867 yards last season.
The Chippewas will face in-conference challenges from Frank Solich's hungry Ohio Bobcats (keep your eyes on running back Kalvin McRae) squad and intrastate rival Western Michigan (darn good defense).
Typical top-of-the-heap schools like Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) and Toledo will be formidable foes, but all are rebuilding and are for a large part, the reason why the MAC is more mid than major these days.
So it's Central Michigan's time to shine and be the little team that can for one of college football's peskiest conferences.
"Our whole team is focused on this year," LeFevour says. "We have a lot of good players returning. It's going to be that much harder the second time around."
Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan: When Brian Brunner suffered a concussion in last year's opener against Boston College, then-frosh QB LeFevour stepped in and almost led the team past the Eagles. Since then, Dan's been the man. He's the league's marquee QB and his sights are set on 3,500 yards and 30 TDs. With games against Kansas, Purdue and Army, all of which have strong aversions to defending the pass, LeFevour could further entrench his name next to Pennington, Leftwich and Roethlisberger in the MAC record books.
Larry English, Northern Illinois: Assuming his knee injury is fully healed following spring surgery, he's going to be terrorizing the beejeezus out of the MAC's stable of inexperienced and inadequate quarterbacks. He had 12 sacks last season. The talent around him on defense has improved. That should mean more sacks. If that logic works out, he'll be thinking NFL Draft next April.
Predicted order of finish (Eastern)
1. Ohio: Big 12 castoff Frank Solich is in year three with the Bobcats. If he wants to get out of Athens and back into the national spotlight, he needs another bowl-game run here. It should happen.
|Frank Solich needs to make bigger strides at Ohio this season. (AP)|
3. Kent State: The defense was stingy, the offense was spotty and the special teams were horrible. The defense should still be stingy, the offense should be consistent with a more mature Julian Edelman at QB and the special teams, well, they can only improve after finishing second worst in punting and 93rd in returning.
4. Miami (Ohio): Third-year coach Shane Montgomery oversaw last year's disappointing 2-10 record as the team lost five games by seven points or fewer. If the offensive line stays healthy and gives Mike Kokal time to throw and Brandon Murphy room to run, Miami will score points and sneak up on the East.
5. Bowling Green: With a second-half meltdown, including a loss to Temple last season, the best thing the Falcons had going for them was watching former coach Urban Meyer capture a national title. With road games at Minnesota, Michigan State and Boston College, it's another rough one for Bowling Green. It does host Temple in a late September in a revenge showdown.
6. Temple: College football's whipping boy officially joins the MAC. New coach Al Golden will have his guys come to play each week, but it will take a few seasons for the talent (seriously) he's brought in to mature. Three wins would be nice.
7. Buffalo: Turner Gill's construction job with the Bulls continues. It should be another painful, maybe two-win season, at Buffalo. The bright spot is running back James Starks.
Predicted order of finish (Western)
|Akron needs a new offensive line to open holes for Dennis Kennedy. (US Presswire)|
2. Western Michigan: The Broncos' defense led the nation in sacks last season. That trend should continue. If the offense comes together with either senior Thomas Peregrin or sophomore Tim Hiller, things could get spicy on Nov. 6 when the Broncos host the Chippewas.
3. Toledo: The Rockets posted their first losing season in 12 years. That probably won't happen again thanks to running back Jalen Parmele and tight end Chris Hopkins. If Toledo Tom Amstutz gets himself a quarterback out of Aaron Opelt or Clint Cochran, it may not just be a Michigan battle for first in the West.
4. Northern Illinois: All-American running back Garrett Wolfe is gone and the offense won't be nearly as dynamic. But the defense will keep the Huskies in every game. If Dan Nicholson develops into a serviceable quarterback, these dogs won't simply roll over every Saturday.
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5. Ball State: Quarterback Nate Davis will put up a lot of yards, but the defense will give up more yards. That recipe means fun games to watch, few wins.
6. Eastern Michigan: Playmaking linebacker Dan Holtzclaw should rack up a bunch of tackles -- he and the defensive unit will be on the field, alot.