Early look at the MAC bowl picture

In my second installment of bowling predictions, we look at the Mid-American Conference, which announced last month that it would have five bowl agreements for the first time in its 64-year history.

The deal calls for three primary bowls and two secondary agreements. The Little Caesars Bowl will have the MAC’s top selection this year and the GMAC and Roady’s Humanitarian Bowls will have the next two picks. The Papajohns.com Bowl and the Dallas Football Classic will be the alternate games should the guaranteed teams not fill their spots in 2010.

Here’s a look at where I see the MAC’s bowl bids going:

Count on it

Temple: Last year’s nine-win season was not an aberration. The Owls are on a major upswing and with several players from last year’s team returning, should be able to repeat their performance from a year ago. Last year, the running game carried the team, but look for a more diverse offense to put them in the hunt for a MAC title.

Northern Illinois: The Huskies are the favorite to win the MAC West this year and some might be picking them to win it all. The offense is going to be pretty dynamic this year and if the defense can fill in some of the holes left by players such as Jake Coffman, then the Huskies could be spending a lot of time in Detroit.

Ohio: No one’s really talking about the defending MAC East champs and perhaps that’s because the Bobcats lost their starting quarterback and top receiver, but they return a lot of players from a defense that was one of the best scoring defenses in the country and have a transfer quarterback and former starter that could help diversify the offense.

Kent State: The Golden Flashes are a darkhorse here since they haven’t been to a bowl game since 1972, but I like the team Doug Martin has put together especially with Eugene Jarvis returning to help bolster the rushing offense and provide much-needed leadership. I think this is the year the Golden Flashes break the streak.

Most likely

Toledo: To me, there was no bigger disappointment in the MAC last year than the Rockets. They had a veteran team and started the season with a big win over Colorado, but lost four of their final five down the stretch. The schedule isn’t easy, but there are some key home games that could edge the Rockets to six wins and a possible at-large berth.

Outside shot

Central Michigan: It’s hard to put the defending champs out to pasture, but the Chippewas lost a lot of offensive firepower and defensive leadership. Quarterback Dan LeFevour was the face of the program and losing him, two of the top receivers and the top running back will be tough to overcome in the first year with a new coaching staff.

Western Michigan: Western Michigan had a disappointing 2009 and with top players such as Brandon West and Tim Hiller gone, I’m not sure whether the team has the experience to rebound in a year. What puts the Broncos in this category is that the schedule isn’t that bad. They can go 2-2 in nonconference play and they have home games against NIU, Kent and Toledo, three teams I think will be at the top of their respective divisions.

Better luck next year

Akron: The Zips were 3-9 last year and are breaking in an entirely new coaching staff in 2010. There’s some talent there, but there’s also a lot of youth and inexperience not to mention a new system. Akron will turn around, it just won’t be this year.

Bowling Green: The Falcons have a chance to be decent this year if they can put the pieces together by the time the season begins. Yes, star quarterback Tyler Sheehan and receiver Freddie Barnes are gone, but there was a lot of injured offense that never saw the field a year ago. However, with five of the team’s first seven games on the road, it’s going to be tough to get bowl eligible.

Buffalo: The transfer of Zach Maynard coupled by the graduation of top offensive players Naaman Roosevelt, Brett Hamlin, Jesse Rack and James Starks will make for a tough transition year for the Bulls. New coach Jeff Quinn is trying to install a spread system and a multiple defense and both will take time.

Miami: I think Zac Dysert could be one of the best quarterbacks in the MAC, but he doesn’t have the supporting cast to make that happen just yet. The RedHawks will be a better team than they were a year ago, but with just five home games it’s going to be very tough to turn things this year.

Ball State: It’s great that MiQuale Lewis got another year and I think he’ll once again be one of the top backs in the league, but the rest of the team is woefully bad and it’s going to take some work to get it back to where it was in 2008. Ball State will be better than a 2-10 team, especially with SE Missouri State and Liberty to open the season, but I think it’s going to be hard to get to six wins.

Eastern Michigan: Let’s talk baby steps for the Eagles this year. The focus should not be on going to a bowl, but rather just winning a game. EMU is a team that’s undermanned and in need of something positive. A bowl game might come at some point, but it’s a long way down the road.