August 14, 2008

MAC unit rankings: Chippewas have firepower

MORE: 2008 MAC Preview | Dienhart: Buzz around CMU QB LeFevour picking up

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELDS
1. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
It all starts with quarterback Dan LeFevour, a two-time All-MAC first-team pick and the league's 2007 offensive player of the year. Tailbacks Justin Hoskins and Ontario Sneed combined to run for 1,150 yards and 16 TDs in 2007.
2. BALL STATE
Quarterback Nate Davis is a big play waiting to happen, equally capable of beating foes with his arm or his feet. Diminutive tailback MiQuale Lewis (5-6/185) is looking to regain his form after suffering a knee injury last September.
3. KENT STATE
This unit will be strength. Running back Eugene Jarvis is the nation's leading returning rusher (1,669 yards) and Andre Flowers will provide a great complement. Coaches need to settle on a quarterback after four were used last season because of injury.
4. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Quarterback Dan Nicholson is a decent passer with savvy and a quick release, but he must be over offseason shoulder surgery. Tailback Justin Anderson is tough, strong and durable, rumbling for more than 1,200 yards last season. Montell Clanton is back after injury ruined his 2007 season, giving NIU a great duo of backs.
5. BOWLING GREEN
Lots of talent but no superstars in a versatile group of running backs led by Anthony Turner. Tyler Sheehan is a veteran, strong-armed quarterback.
6. BUFFALO
Drew Willy has improved over the course of the past two seasons and just needs to be more consistent. There are two capable running backs, headed by 1,000-yard rusher James Starks.
7. TOLEDO
The Rockets are set under center with Aaron Opelt, who continues to blossom for an explosive offense. Staffers feel running back DaJuane Collins can adequately replace standout Jalen Parmele.
8. WESTERN MICHIGAN
There's a good 1-2 punch at running back with the quickness of Brandon West and the strength of Glenis Thompson. And running back Kirk Elsworth is versatile. Quarterback Tim Hiller must become more consistent.
9. EASTERN MICHIGAN
Quarterback Andy Schmitt is an underrated force with a good arm and nifty feet. There is a trio of tailbacks capable of emerging as the feature back with Pierre Walker gone.
10. TEMPLE
It's vital quarterback Adam DiMichele is over a broken tibia that cut short his 2007 season. At running back, Vaughn Charlton could be the man. Former wide receiver Marquise Liverpool could be a revelation.
11. MIAMI
This is much to prove, as running back looks like a weak spot. Quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh is coming off an average season, and don't be shocked if touted redshirt freshman Clay Belton eventually takes over.
12. AKRON
Quarterback Chris Jacquemain is a veteran hand who needs to take the next step in his development as a playmaker. If not, youngster Matt Rodgers may take over. There is a corps of exciting backs, including Dennis Kennedy, Alex Allen and Miami transfer Andrew Johnson.
13. OHIO
The quarterback spot has potential but remains unsettled with Theo Scott and touted junior college transfer Boo Jackson competing. A slew of running backs will try to replace 1,000-yard rusher Kalvin McRae. It can't be done.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
1. BALL STATE
Tight end Darius Hill and wide receiver Dante Love, who combined to catch 165 passes and 21 TDs last season, form a deadly duo. Each will play on Sundays. It would help if one more wide receiver emerged as a 30-catch guy.
2. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Bryan Anderson and Antonio Brown each had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season. Five of the top seven receivers are back, and wide receivers Kito Poblah and Jean Pitts could have breakout years.
3. WESTERN MICHIGAN
There's talent led by wide receiver Jamarko Simmons and tight end Branden Ledbetter, who is deadly over the middle and on third downs.
4. BOWLING GREEN
All the key players are back at the team's deepest position. Freddie Barnes is the leader of the group. His 82 catches last season were third-most in school history. Corey Partridge catches just about everything.
5. TOLEDO
Stephen Williams is a rangy target who can be dominating. Nick Moore is another dependable option in a strong passing attack. Each could be an All-MAC selection.
6. OHIO
The Bobcats return four of their top six pass-catchers, including second-team All-MAC tight end Andrew Mooney. He set a school record with nine touchdown receptions in 2007.
7. BUFFALO
Naaman Roosevelt, a former quarterback, is a steady target who always gets open. But a down-field threat is needed to open up defenses.
8. TEMPLE
Jason Harper led the Owls in rushing last year but now is a wide receiver. He'll help 2007 All-MAC wideout Bruce Francis, an explosive option, be even better. Dy'Onne Crudup is another to watch.
9. MIAMI
A weakness last year is now a strength. There's a litany of sure-handed pass catchers with speed. And there is a trio of fifth-year senior tight ends.
10. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Nothing flashy here, but Britt Davis and Matt Simon are reliable options who move the chains.
11. KENT STATE
Improvement is needed, as the Flashes finished last in the MAC in passing. Of course, part of that was that quarterback was a revolving door. One big addition to the group will be tight end Jameson Konz, who moved from linebacker in the spring and is the best athlete on the team.
12. EASTERN MICHIGAN
This group is long on potential, but Jacory Stone is a proven commodity. DeAnthony White is another dependable target. Keep an eye on junior college tight end Kyle Pollock.
13. AKRON
The staff is wringing its hands, looking for targets with Jabari Arthur gone. Swift and athletic Andre Jones, an ex-defensive back, may be the answer.
OFFENSIVE LINES
1. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Four starters are back, including tackles Andrew Hartline and Greg Wojt. Guard Joe McMahon - an Iowa State transfer - is the front-runner to fill the only opening, and the coaches really like him.
2. TEMPLE
The staff is optimistic with four starters back. Only a new guard is needed. Center Alex Derenthal is underrated nationally.
3. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Big, tough, strong, physical those traits often describe the Huskies' line. It will be no different this season, with four starters back. Tackle Jon Brost is a tough guy.
4. BUFFALO
The Bulls' skill-position talent should have room to work behind a veteran line that has four starters back. And depth is good, too.
5. BALL STATE
This is an underrated and underappreciated crew led by tackle Robert Brewster and center Dan Gerberry.
6. KENT STATE
Tackle Augustus Parrish will anchor what otherwise will be a young group. Pass protection will be a key.
7. MIAMI
This unit looks solid. Three of five starters are back, led by third-team all-league guard Dave DiFranco. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman guard Brandon Brooks, who could be a future star.
8. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Problems could crop up if youngsters such as projected left tackle Anthony Parker, a redshirt freshman, struggle.
9. OHIO
This group returns three of five starters but will have to replace the right side.
10. BOWLING GREEN
Trouble looms in what is the team's biggest area of concern. A new center and two new tackles will be broken in.
11. AKRON
The unit needs an answer at center. Otherwise, the group is set with four starters back. Tackle Chris Kemme is one to watch.
12. TOLEDO
Start worrying. If the big guys can't protect, it could ruin quarterback Aaron Opelt's confidence. The interior returns intact, but there are two new tackles. Redshirt freshman Mike VanDerMeulen gets the tough job of replacing standout tackle John Greco.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN
The left side of the line looks strong, paced by tackle T.J. Lang and guard Andy Fretz. But the other spots need to develop quickly.
DEFENSIVE LINES
1. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Fifth-year seniors tackle Nick Varcadipane, end Greg Marshall and end Zach Davidson make this a veteran crew that should dominate for one of the MAC's top defenses.
2. TEMPLE
This is a rugged three-man front that returns all three starters. It's also the strength of an underrated defense. Nose tackle Andre Neblett will play in the NFL. End Leyon Azubuike is another standout.
3. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
This will be a strength in DeKalb, with three starters back. Don't be shocked if end Larry English earns some All-America mention.
4. MIAMI
This group looks good with three starters returning from a line that paced the MAC in sacks. Ends Joe Coniglio and Travis Craven are the stars.
5. BOWLING GREEN
The starting four should be solid, but it's iffy after that with Orlando Barrow and Jacob Hardwick removed from the team. First-team All-MAC end Diyral Briggs must set the tone.
6. BUFFALO
With three starters back, there's potential for this group to be salty against the run for a program that's improving fast.
7. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
End Frank Zombo has the potential to be one of the best ends in the league, but CMU struggled to get pressure on the quarterback last season.
8. OHIO
This could be the Bobcats' deepest position. Two-time All-MAC end Jameson Hartke is the leader.
9. KENT STATE
The emergence of Monte Simmons at end in the spring solidified this group, which can go two-deep at every position.
10. AKRON
The line may come together if Iowa transfer Ryan Bain is a cog at tackle inside. He'll be aided by two returning starters, including rising star Almondo Sewell at end, giving the Zips hope to be tough vs. the run.
11. TOLEDO
There are many worries here for a unit that breaks in three new starters and got run over in 2007. Tackle Maurice Hill could be a breakout player for a defense that generated just nine sacks last year.
12. BALL STATE
There's lots of work to do for a unit that lost three starters and often gets rag-dolled. It's hoped end Brandon Crawford, a 31-year-old ex-Marine, is an anchor for the Cardinals.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN
There are concerns here for the Eagles. Coaches need tackle Josh Hunt and end Spenser Smith to lead the way with star Jason Jones and Eric Young gone. Jones was an NFL draft pick.
LINEBACKERS
1. MIAMI
This is a corps without peer in the MAC and is led by reigning league defensive player of the year Clayton Mullins. Joe Hudson is a two-time all-conference pick. Staffers feel Caleb Bostic may be the best of the bunch. Oh, and depth is outstanding, too.
2. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Dustin Duclo, Boston McCornell and Austin Pritchard are a solid trio. They fly to the ball.
3. TEMPLE
Athletic ability abounds for a unit that helped give the Owls the most improved defense in the nation in 2007. Elijah Joseph and Amara Kamara are ones to watch.
4. BOWLING GREEN
With all three starters back, this should be one of the MAC's best units. Erique Dozier, John Haneline and Jerrett Sanderson, a converted safety, are the starters.
5. OHIO
The Bobcats are deep, led by Michael Brown and Lee Renfro. Brown was Ohio's second-leading tackler a year ago.
6. KENT STATE
The Golden Flashes may have all-league candidates at each spot in Cobrani Mixon, Cedrick Maxwell and Derek Burrell. Depth is good, too.
7. BALL STATE
This unit has potential with returning starters Kenny Meeks and Bryant Haines. Haines paced the team in tackles last season and is a leader, but he must avoid injuries that dog him.
8. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
There's a lack of athletic ability and proven options for a group that may suffer growing pains. Josh Allen is a keeper, though.
9. AKRON
Kevin Grant is all man in the middle, making tackles from sideline to sideline. But he needs help. Will Grant get it?
10. TOLEDO
New faces need to make this unit better. Archie Donald is back after missing 2007 because of academics. Keith Forestal is the lone returning starter.
11. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
There is reason for concern. Nick Bellore had 102 tackles as a true freshman, but the Chippewas must replace All-MAC first-teamers Red Keith and Ike Brown.
12. BUFFALO
This is the area that's the biggest concern on a still-developing defense. Don't be shocked if newcomers figure in for a unit that still suffers from a lack of bulk.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN
Daniel Holtzclaw is a tackling machine who is a good cornerstone for a defense that usually gets run over. This has to stop if the Eagles hope to improve.
SECONDARIES
1. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Check this out seniors Londen Fryar, E.J. Biggers, Louis Delmas and C.J. Wilson have combined for 25 career picks. Fryar and Delmas are future pros.
2. TEMPLE
The Owls led the MAC in total defense and pass defense last season. Credit this crew. Cornerback Dominique Harris is a star. Free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and cornerback Jamal Schulters also are back.
3. BOWLING GREEN
All four starters return from a unit that finished third in the MAC in pass defense. The stars are All-MAC performers cornerback Antonio Smith and strong safety P.J. Mahone.
4. MIAMI
This is a solid group with three starters back strong safety Robbie Wilson, corner Jeff Thompson and free safety Jordan Gafford.
5. BUFFALO
Youth was served last season, but the Bulls will reap the dividends of those growing pains. Strong safety Davonte Shannon was a freshman sensation in 2007. There's plenty of experience at cornerback.
6. TOLEDO
This group has the chance to excel if a rebuilt front seven develops. Strong safety Barry Church is an NFL talent, while corner Desmond Marrow is someone to watch.
7. OHIO
The Bobcats return three of four starters in corners Mark Parson and Julian Posey and strong safety Mike Mitchell. The trio combined for 17 pass breakups last season, and Mitchell was the third-leading tackler on the team.
8. EASTERN MICHIGAN
All four starters are back, so staffers expect improved play. Free safety Ryan Downard is the star, making six interceptions and notching 43 tackles. Depth is decent, too.
9. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
There are several proven and capable options at cornerback, headed by Chase Carter. He's a quarterback for the defense.
10. KENT STATE
There is work to do. Rico Murray needs to assume Jack Williams' role as a shut-down corner. The rest of the starters are athletic but young.
11. BALL STATE
The cornerback duo of B.J. Hill and Trey Lewis is solid. Hill made 77 stops last season and paced the club with five picks.
12. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
This unit is a work-in-progress after being shuffled in the spring. Cornerback Josh Gordy is the lone sure thing.
13. AKRON
This unit was burned often last fall, allowing 24 TD passes. Bryan Williams, a former all-league running back, may be a surprise at strong safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS
1. MIAMI
Every vital cog is back, including the holder and snapper. Punter Jacob Richardson is one of the nation's best, but the kicking needs to become steadier. Return men Eugene Harris and Jamal Rogers are big-play threats.
2. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Antonio Brown was an All-MAC return man last season. Andrew Aguila is a decent kicker with a strong leg. The coaches are high on new punter Brett Hartmann.
3. BOWLING GREEN
This may be the Falcons' best set of special teams in years. Kicker Sinisa Vrvilo and punter Nick Iovinelli are back. Roger Williams is one of the nation's most underrated return men.
4. AKRON
Bryan Williams and Andre Jones are big plays waiting to happen in the return game. More good news: The punter (John Stec) and kicker (Igor Iveljic) are back.
5. BALL STATE
While the kicking is a work-in-progress, there's no doubt that Chris Miller is one of the nation's top punters.
6. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Everyone's fingers are crossed as the Broncos break in a new punter and a new kicker. This could prove costly.
7. TEMPLE
There's good athletic ability for the coverage and return games. Kicker Jake Brownell is decent but lacks oomph. Jeff Wathne is back to punt.
8. OHIO
The Bobcats look to replace first-team All-MAC kicker Michael Braunstein. Ohio returns punter Matt Schulte but will need to replace long-snapper Ryan Senser, who was signed as a free agent by the New Orleans Saints.
9. TOLEDO
There will be a new punter, but the Rockets will be bolstered by the return of kicker Alex Steigerwald - one of the MAC's best. He was 13 of 13 on field-goal attempts last season. The return and coverage teams need to improve.
10. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
All of the keys pieces are back except for one: kicker Joe Nendick. Too bad, because he was one of the best in the nation.
11. BUFFALO
A.J. Principe looks to take the next step as a kicker after a solid debut last season. The punting spot is still developing. Naaman Roosevelt is a threat on punt returns.
12. KENT STATE
Nate Reed is one of the MAC's better kickers. The punting is iffy, and freshmen may be needed. The return game should be solid.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN
Zach Johnson kicks and punts. A lack of athletic ability hinders coverage teams.
COACHING STAFFS
1. WESTERN MICHIGAN
Bill Cubit never gets enough respect. New defensive coordinator Steve Morrison and tight ends coach Jake Moreland have been with him all three years in Kalamazoo.
2. BOWLING GREEN
Standout coach Gregg Brandon returns all but one of his assistants (Mick McCall left for Northwestern to be offensive coordinator). Troy Rothenbuhler (passing) and Matt Campbell (running) will split coordinator duties. Jim Hofher coach at Buffalo from 2001-05 came on board as quarterbacks coach.
3. CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Butch Jones is one of the nation's hot coaches. He kept his staff intact, which hasn't happened in Mount Pleasant in more than a decade. And the staff has lots of ties to the university, either as former players or assistants under previous head coaches.
4. MIAMI
Shane Montgomery is good, having won two East titles in his three seasons. But he has an overall losing record. Defensive coordinator Jay Hood oversaw a unit that led the conference in most categories in 2007.
5. BALL STATE
Brady Hoke may not be long for Muncie. Last season, he led the program to its first bowl since 1996. Offensive coordinator Stan Parrish is a master at developing quarterbacks.
6. OHIO
The Bobcats lost one staffer - defensive line coach Carl Pelini left to become the defensive coordinator for brother Bo at Nebraska. Steve Stanard takes over after being a defensive coordinator the past eight years five at Colorado State and three at New Mexico State before that.
7. TEMPLE
Al Golden is a looming force who slowly is putting his stamp on the program. Credit defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio for building the best defense you've never heard of.
8. TOLEDO
Tom Amstutz seems to have lost his magic touch. Chris Hedden takes over as offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator Tim Rose needs to fix the defense.
9. BUFFALO
Turner Gill continues to grow into this job and may be destined for bigger things if he keeps making the Bulls better. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Williams does a great job maximizing the talent he has.
10. AKRON
J.D. Brookhart is a smart, savvy coach. His cause is being bolstered by some of the best facilities in the MAC.
11. NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Jerry Kill takes over for Joe Novak, bringing impressive credentials from I-AA Southern Illinois. Kill should thrive for a program that has good resources.
12. KENT STATE
Continuity is good, and this staff has it. The group enters its third season together with a combined 38 years of experience at Kent State.
13. EASTERN MICHIGAN
Jeff Genyk is a cerebral tactician who almost always has lesser talent.

MORE: 2008 MAC Preview | Dienhart: Buzz around CMU QB LeFevour picking up

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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