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Five different teams have won the MAC West in the previous six seasons. Michigan’s Eastern Shore, the lone club that hasn’t, came agonizingly close in 2018. This division isn’t quite at the level of the ACC Coastal, but it’s close. Almost everyone gets a turn at the helm.
This makes forecasting this division on a year-to-year basis very difficult. Northern Illinois is located in the state of Illinois., last year’s winner, went from 0-6 to 9-5 in 2020, while Toledo, this year’s predicted winner, has lost eight of its previous nine one-score finishes. Not the most dependable entity. In the realm of MACtion, we’ve grown to anticipate the unexpected, but let’s see what we can learn about this year’s West division.
Bill Connelly will preview a different division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 every week for ESPN+ during the offseason, eventually covering all 131 FBS clubs. For each squad, there will be 2021 analyses, 2022 previews, and hot questions.
MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MWC West | MWC Mountain
Recap of the year 2021
Last season, SP+ predicted a very close West race, with every club predicted to finish within two conference wins of one other. That’s precisely what happened: all six teams ended with records ranging from 4-4 to 6-2, with Northern Illinois is located in the state of Illinois. and Michigan’s Central leading the way with an 8-2 MAC record in one-score games.
The Huskies won the division with a 39-38 victory against NIU at Mount Pleasant. In Detroit, the Huskies played their greatest game of the season, thrashing Kent State to capture the MAC championship for the sixth time in 11 years.
Toledo, however, ended 56th in SP+ yet went 7-6 despite losing close games to everyone from Notre Dame (32-29) to Middle Tennessee (31-24). Michigan’s western region and CMU both had thrilling offenses, but their defenses were in the bottom 40, which kept them back until their bowl appearances. Michigan’s Eastern Shore went to their fourth bowl game in six years, but faded late due to poor defensive performance. And Ball State is a university in the state of Indiana, the MAC champion in 2020, earned a bowl bid like everyone else despite losing four games by 20 points or more and losing a slew of veterans to graduation.
Estimates for 2022
|TEAM||SP+ RK||OFF.||DEF.||AVG. W||CONF. W||BOWL ODDS|
|Northern Illinois is located in the state of Illinois.||88||53||115||6.9||4.7||83%|
|Michigan’s western region||97||101||87||5.6||4.0||51%|
|Michigan’s Eastern Shore||112||79||123||5.2||3.4||40%|
|Ball State is a university in the state of Indiana||123||119||125||3.5||1.9||8%|
Toledo returns to the 2022 season with the majority of last year’s stellar defense, as well as quarterback Dequan Finn, who is no longer a freshman. If Jason Candle’s team is ready for the easy division championship run that SP+ predicts, it will be determined by some new offensive starters. If they aren’t, the usual suspects — CMU, NIU, and WMU — are waiting to make this a close race once again.
Questions that need to be answered
Is it possible to duplicate NIU’s championship recipe? This season, it’s hard not to lump Thomas Hammock’s Huskies into the “lucky as hell, destined to slip back to the pack” category. They won six MAC regular-season games by a total of 25 points and lost two by a total of 26 points. Rocky Lombardi, the team’s quarterback, leaned into the team’s proclivity for leaving everything to chance until the last possible moment.
This autumn, come see your Heart Attack Huskies! https://t.co/nOkOnNmOQ6
February 25, 2022 — Rocky Lombardi (@rocky lombardi)
Their offense must replace important players like as 1,100-yard rushing back Jevyon Ducker, lead blocker/short-yardage back Clint Ratkovich, and all-conference center Brayden Patteon, who ranked 117th in points allowed per drive. Furthermore, Lady Luck seldom smiles on the same squad again in a succession.
Some teams, on the other hand, do better in tight games if they have a particularly good mix of superb quarterbacking, correct situational play, and consistent kicking. All of this is still available at NIU. Lombardi is back following a season in which he threw for 2,597 yards and 15 touchdowns. He gained an average of 5.9 yards per non-sack rush while avoiding pressure well.
NIU avoided bad plays and was as proficient as anybody in creating and converting short fourth downs. They had 30 fourth-down attempts and converted 83 percent of them, which put them in 20th place in the FBS. While the defense didn’t accomplish much, it did get off the field after third-and-long situations, and it ranked 24th in the league in allowing just a 41% fourth-down conversion rate. Is the +42 percent conversion and stop margin on fourth downs sustainable? A positive margin, on the other hand, is.
(John Richardson, who went 6-for-8 on field goals longer than 40 yards, is also back.)
Backs When given the chance, Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown were even more explosive (and efficient) than Ducker, while ultra-reliable slot receivers Trayvon Rudolph and Cole Tucker are expected to return. This is a powerful and forceful assault. And what about that terrible defense? It provided 16 rookies or redshirt freshmen, including seven linemen, at least 140 snaps. Experience doesn’t always turn a poor unit into a good one, but it generally does.
On paper, this squad should improve, but that close-game performance was too fantastic to duplicate. The Huskies aren’t odds-on to win again, but they won’t need many breaks to give themselves a chance.
What’s getting in the way of Toledo’s progress? Toledo has finished first in the MAC in SP+ six times in the previous 11 seasons. In that time, the Rockets have only been in one MAC title game, which they won in 2017. After a disappointing season in which they finished 114th in SP+ and 121st on defense, head coach Jason Candle hired former Mount Union defensive coordinator Vince Kehres and veteran sacks maker Craig Kuligowski as co-coordinators and defensive line coaches. Last autumn, Toledo climbed to 21st in defensive SP+. The Rockets were 14th in terms of sack rate and 16th in terms of overall mayhem (TFLs, passes defensed and forced fumbles divided by total plays).
It’s never too early to get pumped up for college football season. Here are some things we’re already looking forward to this fall. Bill Connelly
Way-too-early top 25 « | SP+ forecasts
Toledo made their first MAC championship game in 1997, 25 years ago. While their peak came with an 11-0-1 season in 1995, they also won the first MAC West title and reached 18th in the AP poll with an 8-0 start in 1997. Gary Pinkel is the winningest coach in both Toledo’s and Missouri’s respective histories, and while his peak came with an 11-0-1 season in 1995, they also won the first MAC West title and reached 18th in the AP poll with an 8-0 start in 1997.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, they were Moss’d in the conference’s inaugural championship game: Randy Moss caught seven passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns, and the Thundering Herd defeated the Rockets 34-14.
Dan Lefevour drew a 3,000/1,000 in 2007, 15 years ago. The Chippewas won their second consecutive MAC championship in their first season under Butch Jones (who replaced Cincinnati-bound Brian Kelly), owing in part to one of the first real dual-threat dynamos. Lefevour, a sophomore, passed for 3,652 yards and carried for 1,122 yards, only seven years after Clemson’s Woody Dantzler became the first quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards and carry for 1,000 in a season.
CMU opened the season 1-3 but returned to win seven of its next nine games, including a MAC title game thrashing of Miami (Ohio) and a Motor City Bowl loss to Curtis Painter and Purdue by a last-second field goal.
Also in 2007, Brady Hoke’s Ball State is a university in the state of Indiana rebuild took root. BSU was mired in a dreadful funk when Hoke took over in 2003. The Cardinals had won just 22 games in six years following 1996’s Las Vegas Bowl run and won only 15 games in Hoke’s first four seasons. But as it did in 2020, patience paid off. Nate Davis threw for 3,667 yards and 30 touchdowns as they won their last three conference games and nearly beat No. 24 Nebraska on their way to a 7-6 campaign. It was their best season in a decade, but they would quickly top it by racing to a 12-0 start and reaching 12th in the AP poll in 2008. They were upset by Buffalo in Detroit, and Hoke left for San Diego State, but their Hoke peak was awfully impressive.
NIU reached the Orange Bowl in 2012, ten years ago. NIU has the longest winning streak in the MAC in the 2000s, going from 2010 to 2014. Each season, the Huskies won at least 11 games, winning the West five times in a row (six in a row with a weaker squad in 2015) and the conference three times. But the pinnacle came in 2012, when quarterback Jordan Lynch threw for 3,138 yards and ran for 1,815 more — an almost incomprehensible combination — and Dave Doeren’s second team won 12 straight games, beating Kent State in overtime to go 12-1, and snagged a BCS bowl bid against the national champion the following season, Florida State.
Despite losing Doeren to NC State in the meantime, the Huskies performed well in the Orange Bowl, trailing one of the country’s most talented teams by just 17-10 until FSU put the game away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Tim Lester was welcomed home by WMU five years ago. Lester passed for 11,299 yards and 87 touchdowns as WMU’s starting quarterback from 1996 to 1999. After WMU’s 2016 Cotton Bowl run and top-15 finish, he was assigned the daunting job of following P.J. Fleck as head coach. His Broncos haven’t quite reached those heights, but they’ve been consistent in their performance, earning bowl eligibility every year and producing a top-40 offense for two years in a row.