What to watch in the MAC this spring

February, 16, 2010
2/16/10
11:00
AM ET
Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each team in the MAC heading into the spring:

Akron Zips

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" New head coach Rob Ianello takes over an Akron squad that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005. The Zips struggled last year averaging 19.25 points per game on offense and gave up 28.75 points per game on defense. This spring's goal will be to find playmakers to bring both sides of the ball on par with the rest of the league.

" The Zips had a running back by committee system last year, but none of their backs had more than 250 yards. Two of the team’s top three rushers are gone and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. Ianello signed five tailbacks in his first class.

" The defense struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as the Zips finished with 11 sacks. Opponents scored touchdowns on 66 percent of opportunities inside the red zone. Shoring up the defensive line and the linebackers will be an emphasis this spring.

Ball State Cardinals

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" Sophomore quarterback Kelly Page tries to regain the starting role after missing the second half of the season with thumb surgery. The Cardinals were winless with him in the lineup, but he improved as the season progressed. Redshirt freshman Aaron Mershman will vie for the role in the spring before highly-touted recruit Keith Wenning joins the competition in the fall.

" Running back MiQuale Lewis and tight end Madaris Grant are both awaiting word from the NCAA about a possible sixth season. Both are team leaders and are the top players at their respective positions.

" Losing defensive coordinator Doug Graber is a blow to the Cardinals. Although he was only with the team for a season, the defense was one of the team's bright spots and got better as the season progressed. The Cardinals have yet to name a replacement.

Bowling Green Falcons

Spring practice starts: March 19

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

" Replacing quarterback Tyler Sheehan will be one of the biggest chores since he took 95 percent of the snaps for the past three seasons. Aaron Pankratz was the backup last year and the leader heading into spring. But redshirt Matt Schiltz, walk-on Kellen Pagel and December enrollee Caleb Watkins will all be in the mix.

" Freddie Barnes was the Falcons best offensive weapon and it will be hard to find a replacement. Overall, the Falcons lose three of their top five receivers, and one of those returning is running back Wille Geter.

" Rebuilding the defense will be a priority after losing seven players, including the entire line backers corps and three-fourths of the secondary. There is a lot of young talent waiting, it is just a matter of gelling during spring ball.

Buffalo Bulls

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" Losing quarterback Zach Maynard, who decided to transfer last month, hurt their offense. He would have been the starter heading into the season, but now sophomore Jerry Davis and redshirt freshman Alex Dennison will duke it out this spring before two freshmen arrive in August.

" The Bulls have to replace top receivers Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin and have several candidates to do so. Juniors Terrell Jackson, Marcus Rivers and Ed Young, and redshirt freshmen Fred Lee and Alex Neutz will compete for playing time.

" New head coach Jeff Quinn is going to install a more wide-open offensive system at Buffalo, however finding the right guys to play it will be a challenge. There are athletes remaining at Buffalo, but the loss of players such as Maynard and Roosevelt will make the transition slower.

Central Michigan Chippewas

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" Dan LeFevour's importance to this offense cannot be overstated and finding his replacement will be tough this spring. Ryan Radcliff and Derek Rifenbury will be the top two competitors for the starting position, but Kyle Smith and A.J. Westendorp also will compete.

" Junior running back Bryan Schroeder left the team earlier this week leaving the Chippewas searching for a new top rusher. Schroeder rushed for 559 yards and five touchdowns. Tim Phillips, Paris Cotton, Carl Volny will get an opportunity to be the premier back and signee Ben Brown will challenge in August.

" New head coach Dan Enos has big shoes to fill taking over for Butch Jones. Central Michigan won the conference title three of the past four years, but needs to replace several key players including LeFevour, receivers Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson, and defensive end Frank Zombo.

Eastern Michigan Eagles

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

" Eastern Michigan was one of two teams in the FBS to finish without a win. While it was a disappointing result, especially with new coach Ron English coming in with so much promise, the Eagles are confident they can turn it around. They used a lot of young players last year and the experience should help as they move into the 2010 season.

" The year was over for the Eagles when they lost senior quarterback Andy Schmitt to a season-ending injury. Freshman Alex Gillett did the best he could, but managed only 763 passing yards and three touchdowns. Gillett and Devontae Payne will compete for the job in the spring after Kyle MacMahon, transferred to Grand Valley State.

" Shockingly, Eastern Michigan ranked first in the country in pass defense with just 150.50 yards allowed per game. All but one of the four members of the secondary returns in 2010, but the Eagles do lose Chris May, who had six interceptions last season.

Kent State Golden Flashes

Spring practice starts: April 5

Spring game: April 30

What to watch:

" The defense was the bright spot for the Golden Flashes last season allowing just 22.42 points per game. Kent State lost just four starters on that side of the ball and four of the six early signees play defense.

" Finding a quarterback should be interesting this spring. Spencer Keith, who played well as a true freshman last year, separated his shoulder late in the season and is questionable for spring ball. Giorgio Morgan, who Keith replaced, will try to get his starting spot back.

" Tailback Eugene Jarvis was granted a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Jarvis missed almost all of the 2009 season after suffering a kidney injury. Jarvis is one of the best backs in the MAC and could provide the spark the Golden Flashes need to become a player in the conference.

Miami-Ohio RedHawks

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 10

What to watch:

" One of the things coach Mike Haywood said his team needed to do this offseason was get faster and stronger. When Haywood took over the program, most of his players failed the fitness test. He’s expecting better results this year and he’s brought in speed from Texas to help foster more competition.

" Sophomore quarterback Zac Dysert was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal season. Dysert started the final nine games of the year and threw for 2,611 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 61.6 percent of his passes. He’ll be the anchor to build the 2010 team around.

" The RedHawks need to identify some playmakers this spring. They were last in the country in both kickoff and punt returns and 119th in rushing. Dysert can’t do it by himself. Haywood and his staff need to find some athletes to help make them competitive.

Northern Illinois Huskies

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" Chandler Harnish should be the starting quarterback in 2010, but that will depend on his right knee. Harnish battled knee problems this year and is a question mark for spring ball. A.J. Hill, DeMarcus Grady, Jordan Lynch and junior college transfer Casey Weston will be fighting for playing time as well.

" The Northern Illinois running back situation is crowded. Chad Spann returns as the starter, but then Me'co Brown, Ricky Crider, Cameron Bell, Jasmin Hopkins and Antione Kirkland are all in the mix. Brown shared duties with Spann a year ago, but family problems and injuries limited his role late in the year.

" The Huskies will be looking for offensive linemen to replace center Eddie Adamski and guard Jason Onyebuagu, who were integral in making the running game the best in the conference and in the country.

Ohio Bobcats

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

" Senior quarterback Boo Jackson will be back for another season after receiving a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, but he likely will not participate in spring ball. That leaves the door open for junior Phillip Bates, who transferred from Iowa State and sat out last season. Bates will have the whole spring to prove himself as a starter.

" Replacing star receiver Taylor Price will be tough, but senior LaVon Brazill has the ability to fill that role. Brazill was the second-leading receiver in 2009 and the top kick returner. He’ll be the premier target while players such as Terrence McCrae and Steven Goulet complement the receiver corps.

" Finding some consistency in the running game will be key. Leading rusher Chris Garrett is gone as is dual-threat quarterback Theo Scott. Vince Davidson will be the top returning rusher and he’ll need to show this spring that he can handle the starting role.

Temple Owls

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" Building on the momentum of 2009 will be a theme this spring. The Owls notched their first winning season since 1990 and went to their first bowl game since 1979. Coach Al Golden has talent and his team is starting to see a reward for all of their hard work through losing seasons.

" Running back Bernard Pierce was the star in 2009 and will be the star in 2010. He should be ready for spring ball after suffering a shoulder injury late in the season. Sophomore Matt Brown, who played in Pierce’s absence, will make the Owls a two-back threat in 2010.

" While the running game was impressive, the Owls passing game fell flat. Both Chester Stewart and Vaughn Charlton return at quarterback and finding a good rapport with their receivers this spring will be important to diversify a one-dimensional offense.

Toledo Rockets

Spring practice starts: March 17

Spring game: April 16

What to watch:

" The Rockets, who were a disappointing 5-7 last season, had seven members of the 2010 class enroll early for immediate help. Included in that group is cornerback Taikwon Page, who will add experience to a sophomore-laden cornerback corps, and receiver James Green, who could emerge as the Rockets go-to receiver.

" The quarterback position is wide open this spring with sophomore Austin Dantin as the front-runner because he played a lot as a true freshman. But junior Alex Pettee and redshirt freshman Terrance Owens will challenge for the starting role.

" Running back is another spot up for grabs for the Rockets. Juniors Morgan Williams, Adonis Thomas and Jake Walker are in a three-way competition, but redshirt freshman Darius Reeves could surprise this spring.

Western Michigan Broncos

Spring practice starts: March 18

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

" One of the biggest concerns for the Broncos heading into spring football is at long snapper. Tom Harrington has been the Broncos long snapper for the past four seasons and now they’ll have to replace him. This could affect the Broncos special teams, which weren’t all that great last year.

" Quarterback Tim Hiller, who started for the Broncos the past three years, is gone and leaves the team with a position battle this spring. Senior Drew Burdi is the most experienced, but junior Alex Carder finished the season working as the No. 2 quarterback. Redshirt freshman Tyler VanTubbergen also will have a chance to compete.

" The Broncos must replace running back Brandon West, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Aaron Winchester is the heir apparent, but the Broncos might need to go to a committee approach to make up for the loss in production.

Graham Watson | email

College Football
Watson joined ESPN.com in 2008 after four seasons covering the Missouri Tigers and the Big 12 Conference for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She also covered college football recruiting for the Dallas Morning News.

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