What to watch in the MAC in 2020
Second year coaches
Central Michigan's Jim McElwain leads a group of three head coaches entering their second seasons in the MAC. McElwain was by far the most successful in 2019, leading the Chippewas to a 8-6 overall record and a MAC West division title. The Chippewas will have to replace QB Quinton Dormady and TE Tony Poljan, among others, but expectations are entering year two.
Bowling Green's Scot Loeffler and Northern Illinois's Thomas Hammock were not as successful. Loeffler's team went 3-9, but did defeat rival Toledo for the first time in nine years. He is known for working with some great quarterbacks and designing high-scoring offenses, and the Falcons will need more of that this season. Meanwhile, Hammock's team had their first losing season since 2016. Both coaches need to show improvements this season.
Can Western Michigan rebound?
I have a feeling I'm going to be listing this one every year until it becomes too redundant. It wasn't that long ago that the Broncos were considered an elite Group of Five team and going toe-to-toe with many Power Five teams. However, since PJ Fleck took the Minnesota job, things have fallen off a bit in Kalamazoo. Three straight seasons with six losses could not have been what they had in mind. This season, they may have enough defensive talent to compete in the West, but the offense has to replace too many players.
Is Miami (OH) good enough to repeat?
The RedHawks won the MAC East at 7-5, defeated Central Michigan in the championship game, and lost their bowl game to Louisiana to finish 8-6. That's not running away with a title by any means. They have several players returning, including sophomore QB Brett Gabbert, and may get some extra help from a few transfers, but their are too many inconsistencies here to fully expect a repeat.
Does Ball State have a defense?
Last year's Cardinal offense was the best in the MAC behind the arm of QB Drew Plitt. With Plitt and other returning, there is a good chance that will be the case again in 2020. Unfortunately, the defense did not help last year. Ball State's defense was 9th out of 12 MAC defenses-- giving up 377 yards and 31.4 points per game. The 2019 defense was definitely a factor in a 5-7 season, but an improved unit could go a long way in 2020.
Where is Buffalo in the title chase?
The Bulls have one of the nation's best running backs in Jarret Patterson, who is complemented nicely by QB Kyle Vantrease and WRs Antonio Nunn and Daniel Lee in the passing game. Last year, the Bulls averaged 31.5 points per game and had the conference's number one defense, yet they did not make it to the conference championship. Much of that defense is back this season, so expect Buffalo to be in this race if the offense can have a similar performance.
How early do title favorites emerge?
After how close it was last year and knowing that the winners didn't have impressive records or even win by that wide of a margin, this race will probably take a while to take shape. Very few teams played their way out of it in 2019, and those who did should be improved. Of course, you should always keep an eye on last year's division winners, but there are others who will be in play.
Five MAC teams will have new quarterbacks this year. Kaleb Eleby is the favorite to take over for John Wassink at Central Michigan. Boston College transfer Matt McDonald will be the guy for Bowling Green, while freshman Kurtis Rourke replaces his brother Nathan at Ohio. Eastern Michigan has decided to go with junior Preston Hutchinson, and Central Michigan turns to freshman Daniel Richardson. Overall, the conference will be missing three of its top five passers from 2019.
There are seven returning starting QBs in the MAC, led by the aforementioned Plitt and Northern Illinois's Ross Bowers. Vantrease is back at Buffalo, and dual-threat Kato Nelson leads Akron. Miami's Brett Gabbert, Toledo's Eli Peters, and Kent State's Dustin Crum round out the group.
Tommy Doyle- OL, Miami (OH)
Danny Godlevske- OL, Miami (OH)
Emmanuel Rugamba- CB, Miami (OH)