August 15, 2010

Temple, NIU aim to end CMU's MAC reign

MORE: All-conference team | Unit rankings | Expert predictions

Central Michigan has been the closet thing to a dynasty in the MAC the past 10 seasons. But is the Chippewas' run of dominance in peril with the hiring of their third coach in the past five seasons?

The program's run of dominance began in 2004, when Brian Kelly arrived. He was 19-16 in three seasons, winning the MAC crown in 2006 before leaving to coach Cincinnati.

Butch Jones then was hired off West Virginia's staff and kept the ball rolling the past three seasons, forging a 27-13 record. Jones guided the Chippewas to MAC championships in 2007 and '09 and took CMU to bowls in each of his three seasons before following Kelly's lead and leaving to take the Cincinnati job after last season.

Enter Dan Enos, a Michigan State assistant the past four seasons, who has a lot to try to maintain:

CMU is the only current MAC school to play in four bowls in a row.

CMU won its seventh MAC crown in 2009, giving the Chips the most conference titles since joining the league in 1975.

CMU finished No. 23 in The Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the coaches' poll, marking the first time in school history that the Chippewas finished in the top 25.

Central Michigan has registered a winning record in each of the past five seasons, the longest active streak in the MAC. The most recent league program to post a winning record for at least six straight seasons was Northern Illinois, which posted seven winning seasons in a row from 2000-06.

Finding new quarterbacks is another MAC storyline, putting Enos under even more scrutiny as he must replace star quarterback Dan LeFevour. Also gone are Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Bowling Green's Tyler Sheehan; those were the league's top three passers in 2009. In addition, Toledo loses Aaron Opelt, another quality quarterback.

That means it should be a wide-open MAC race.

THE PLAYERS

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Temple RB Bernard Pierce. He burst onto the scene last year as a true freshman, running for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is a big, physical runner who has a second gear to turn the corner and go the distance. He's a legit star.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Temple E Adrian Robinson. He is back after earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors; he led the league with 13 sacks. Robinson often commands double-teams, which creates opportunities for his fellow linemen.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Temple QB Chester Stewart. Stewart, a junior, started four times and threw for 514 yards and three scores in 2009. Senior Vaughn Charlton started the other 10 games, but he has been moved to tight end and is expected to start. Temple again will have a powerful rushing attack and a physical, aggressive defense. But if the Owls want to be the top team in the MAC, the passing game must get better. Last season, Temple's passing attack ranked No. 12 in the MAC (146.5 ypg).

DEFENSIVE PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Central Michigan LB Nick Bellore. He ranked fifth in the MAC in tackles (9.4 per game), but he must adapt to a new coaching staff while also maintaining his productivity if Dan Enos hopes to have a successful debut.

BREAKOUT OFFENSIVE STAR: Northern Illinois RB Cameron Bell. He is a transfer from Iowa State, where he was a linebacker. But the 6-foot-2, 242-pound Bell now is running over people and reminds Huskies coach Jerry Kill of a big running back he coached at Southern Illinois -- a guy by the name of Brandon Jacobs, who's now with the New York Giants.

BREAKOUT DEFENSIVE STAR: Ohio SS Gerald Moore. As a redshirt freshman last season, Moore notched 68 tackles and picked off six passes, which tied for tops in the nation among freshmen. He should blossom into a star this season.

BEST OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER: Toledo WR James Green. Green, from Tallahassee (Fla.) Leon, is a four-star recruit who brings uncanny speed and athletic ability to the MAC.

BEST DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER: Central Michigan CB Anthony Hollis. A product of Grand Rapids (Mich.) CC, Hollis will be a key part of a rebuilt secondary that lost three starters.

THE COACHES

EAST

1. Temple [ Team Preview ]

2. Ohio [ Team Preview ]

3. Bowling Green [ Team Preview ]

4. Akron [ Team Preview ]

5. Kent State [ Team Preview ]

6. Miami [ Team Preview ]

7. Buffalo [ Team Preview ]

WEST

1. Northern Illinois [ Team Preview ]

2. Western Michigan [ Team Preview ]

3. Central Michigan [ Team Preview ]

4. Toledo [ Team Preview ]

5. Ball State [ Team Preview ]

6. Eastern Michigan [ Team Preview ]

COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Ball State's Stan Parrish. When Brady Hoke left for San Diego State in December 2009, Ball State opted to promote Parrish, who was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator, instead of doing a nationwide search. The Cardinals went from 12 wins in '08 to 2-10 last season, and the outlook for 2010 isn't rosy. All that momentum from 2008 is gone.

BEST COACHING STAFF: Northern Illinois. Jerry Kill may be the top coach in the league; he has rebuilt the Huskies into a strong program in just two seasons in DeKalb. He has good coordinators in Tracy Claeys (defense) and Matt Limegrover (offense). And it was a coup to woo Jim Zebrowski from Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater as quarterback coach.

BEST OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bowling Green's Warren Ruggiero. In his first year, he oversaw the No. 1 passing attack in the MAC. He also played a big role in Freddie Barnes setting the NCAA record for receptions with 155.

BEST DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Temple's Mark D'Onofrio. A former NFL linebacker and Penn State teammate of Owls coach Al Golden, D'Onofrio saw eight of his players earn All-MAC honors last season. He runs an aggressive scheme that takes advantage of his players' athletic ability.

THE OTHER STUFF

Northern Illinois at Iowa State, Sept. 2

Arizona at Toledo, Sept. 3

Connecticut at Temple, Sept. 18

Northern Illinois at Illinois, Sept. 18

Idaho at Western Michigan, Oct. 2

Temple at Northern Illinois, Oct. 9

Toledo at Boise State, Oct. 9

Central Michigan at No. Illinois, Oct. 23

No. Illinois at Western Michigan, Oct. 30

Ohio at Temple, Nov. 16

TEAM THAT WILL SURPRISE: Kent State. Entering his seventh season, Doug Martin is the longest-tenured MAC coach, but he may need to earn a bowl bid to keep his job. There's plenty of talent on hand for the Golden Flashes to make their first postseason appearance since a loss in the 1972 Tangerine Bowl, when Don James was coach. Kent State returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. The Golden Flashes also should get a boost from the return of RB Eugene Jarvis, a 5-foot-5 speedster who was granted a sixth season of eligibility.

TEAM THAT WILL DISAPPOINT: Central Michigan. We talked earlier about the task facing Enos. LeFevour was such a huge part of the offense. Plus, CMU will be looking for two new starting wide receivers and six new starters on defense. The schedule isn't kind. Three of the first four games are on the road, including a trip to Temple. There also are road games against Northern Illinois in league play and Navy and Virginia Tech in non-conference action.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Temple at Northern Illinois, Oct. 9. This looks as if it could be a preview of the MAC title game. The defenses will decide this game. NIU has 10 starters back from the MAC's No. 1 defense in 2009. The Owls have seven starters back from the MAC's No. 2 defense, and D'Onofrio is one of the sport's rising coaching stars.

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE: Temple. Things open with three home games. That's good. But one is against Villanova, the defending FCS champs who toppled Temple last season. Another is against UConn. After that come three road games in succession, including trips to Penn State and Northern Illinois.

EASIEST SCHEDULE: Akron. The new staff has a chance for success. There are three games against Big Six schools, but a visit from Syracuse and trips to Indiana and Kentucky aren't that scary. There also is a visit from FCS member Gardner-Webb. And Northern Illinois and Western Michigan have to visit Akron.

FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
QBSpencer Keith, Kent State (6-3/215, Soph.)
RBBernard Pierce, Temple (6-0/218, Soph.)
RBChad Spann, Northern Illinois (5-9/198, Sr.)
WRRobert Arnheim, Western Michigan (6-2/198, Jr.)
WREric Page, Toledo (5-10/171, Soph.)
WRArmand Robinson, Miami (6-1/200, Sr.)
TDarius Morris, Temple (6-4/315, Sr.)
TAnthony Parker, Western Michigan (6-4/326, Jr.)
GJeff Maddux, Central Michigan (6-5/315, Sr.)
GColin Madison, Temple (6-4/323, Sr.)
CBen Bojicic, Bowling Green (6-5/294, Jr.)
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
EAdrian Robinson, Temple (6-2/250, Jr.)
TSean Murnane, Central Michigan (6-1/266, Sr.)
ERobert Eddins, Ball State (6-3/242, Sr.)
LBNick Bellore, Central Michigan (6-1/241, Sr.)
LBNoah Keller, Ohio (6-1/231, Sr.)
LBCobrani Mixon, Kent State (6-1/240, Sr.)
LBBrian Wagner, Akron (6-2/220, Soph.)
CBDomonic Cook, Buffalo (5-8/186, Sr.)
CBChris Smith, Northern Illinois (5-10/186, Sr.)
FSBrian Lainhart, Kent State (6-1/207, Sr.)
SSSean Baker, Ball State (6-1/204, Jr.)
FIRST TEAM SPECIALISTS
KMatt Weller, Ohio (6-0/201, Soph.)
PMatt Rinehart, Kent State (5-9/171, Jr.)
KRJames Nixon, Temple (6-1/185, Jr.)
PRLaVon Brazill, Ohio (5-11/189, Sr.)

Offensive backfields

1. Northern Illinois: There are numerous options at quarterback, including incumbent Chandler Harnish. RB Chad Spann, the Huskies' 1,000-yard rusher from a year ago, returns. And NIU boasts a pair of transfers who could make an impact: Jasmin Hopkins, who gained more yards than any junior college running back in the country last season, and Cameron Bell, a transfer from Iowa State.

2. Toledo

3. Kent State

4. Ball State

5. Temple

6. Buffalo

7. Ohio

8. Miami

9. Eastern Michigan

10. Western Michigan

11. Akron

12. Bowling Green

13. Central Michigan

Receivers

1. Western Michigan: The Broncos return their top five receivers; each had at least 32 catches last season.

2. Toledo

3. Miami

4. Ohio

5. Ball State

6. Kent State

7. Temple

8. Akron

9. Central Michigan

10. Northern Illinois

11. Eastern Michigan

12. Bowling Green

13. Buffalo

Offensive line

1. Temple: The unit is deep and averages 320 pounds. The right side of the line is the strength, as G Colin Madison and T Darius Morris earned first-team All-MAC honors last season.

2. Western Michigan

3. Toledo

4. Central Michigan

5. Ball State

6. Northern Illinois

7. Buffalo

8. Kent State

9. Ohio

10. Miami

11. Bowling Green

12. Akron

13. Eastern Michigan

Defensive line

1. Temple: The unit helped the Owls lead the league in rush defense (107. 6 ypg). E Adrian Robinson is back after earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Muhammad Wilkerson will be one of the top tackles in the MAC.

2. Ohio

3. Northern Illinois

4. Akron

5. Kent State

6. Central Michigan

7. Ball State

8. Western Michigan

9. Bowling Green

10. Buffalo

11. Toledo

12. Miami

13. Eastern Michigan

Linebackers

1. Central Michigan: The new staff will continue to run a 4-3 scheme. And the strength will be senior LBs Nick Bellore and Matt Berning, who each had over 100 tackles last season.

2. Kent State

3. Northern Illinois

4. Temple

5. Ball State

6. Buffalo

7. Ohio

8. Western Michigan

9. Akron

10. Miami

11. Bowling Green

12. Toledo

13. Eastern Michigan

Secondary

1. Buffalo: This veteran unit is paced by FS Davonte Shannon and CB Domonic Cook, both four-year starters whose savvy and technique will help as the Bulls adjust to a 3-4 base.

2. Kent State

3. Temple

4. Northern Illinois

5. Miami

6. Ball State

7. Western Michigan

8. Ohio

9. Toledo

10. Eastern Michigan

11. Bowling Green

12. Central Michigan

13. Akron

Special teams

1. Ohio: K Matt Weller has a booming leg, nailing two kicks from beyond 50 yards last season, when he was 21-of-29 overall. LaVon Brazill ran back three punts for touchdowns last season en route to averaging 13.5 yards per return.

2. Western Michigan

3. Kent State

4. Temple

5. Ball State

6. Northern Illinois

7. Toledo

8. Bowling Green

9. Central Michigan

10. Akron

11. Miami

12. Buffalo

13. Eastern Michigan

Coaching staffs

1. Northern Illinois: Jerry Kill went 1-10 in his first season at FCS member Southern Illinois in 2001 but went 12-2 in his last season at SIU in 2007. Now, he's working his magic in DeKalb, taking NIU to bowls in each of his first two seasons. And the best is yet to come.

2. Temple

2. Ohio

4. Western Michigan

5. Bowling Green

6. Kent State

7. Toledo

8. Ball State

9. Miami

10. Eastern Michigan

11. Buffalo

12. Akron

13. Central Michigan

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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