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Wednesday, January 6, 2010
A look back at the MAC's new coaches

By Graham Watson

Before the season started, I looked at each of the new coaches in the Mid-American Conference and how they’d fare this season. Now, I’m looking back to see how I did. A couple MAC coaches had some rough inaugural seasons while one thrived and took his team to a bowl game.

Here’s a look back at the MAC’s new coaches:

Stan Parrish
Despite being an early MAC favorite, Ball State finished 5-3 in the conference.
BALL STATE

Coach: Stan Parrish

Previous school and position: Ball State, offensive coordinator

Head coaching experience: None

Ball State’s 2008 record: 12-2, 8-0 MAC

Returning players: Offense 4, defense 7

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Ball State will not be 12-2 again. Just forget about that right now. It probably won’t be undefeated in conference play either. But it will be a player in the race for the MAC West title. I really like Ball State’s defense. Sean Baker is one of my favorite players because I like the way he reads the game. He could easily lead the conference in interceptions.

The Cardinals have the luxury of three easy games -- North Texas, New Hampshire and Army -- to begin the season before travelling to Auburn to end non-conference play. It’s a nice 3-1 start for a team that will be looking for some confidence.

In fact, the bulk of the schedule sets up nicely for Ball State to have a pretty good record heading into the final month of the season. The Cardinals open conference play against Toledo, travel to Temple, host Bowling Green, travel to Eastern Michigan and then play Ohio at home to end October.

Then the season begins. The Cardinals end the year against Northern Illinois, Central Michigan and Western Michigan. All midweek games and against opponents that are going to be fighting for both bowl slots and the MAC West title.

So while the Cardinals’ record might be pretty good heading into November, those three games will be the telltale sign of how far the team has progressed in Parrish’s first season.

My prediction: 8-4, 5-3 MAC

What really happened: What we all realized early in the season was that quarterback Kelly Page was not Nate Davis and the Cardinals were not even close to the team that almost went undefeated in 2008. Ball State lost its first seven games, but started to come around in the latter half of the season and showed some progress despite some major injuries. While the Cardinals finished with two wins and appeared to take a step backward, it will probably be better for the experience.

The end result: 2-10, 2-6 MAC


Dave Clawson
Clawson motivated his team to finish with a winning record and a bowl game appearance.
BOWLING GREEN

Coach: Dave Clawson

Previous school and position: Tennessee, offensive coordinator

Head coaching experience: Fordham 1999-2004, Richmond 2004-07

Bowling Green’s 2008 record: 6-6, 4-4 MAC

Returning players: Offense 7, defense 4

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Every year, at least for the past few years, the MAC East has been wide open. And during the last few years Bowling Green has either shared the division title been right in the thick of it. Even last year, Bowling Green finished tied for second in the East and was a win over Buffalo away from playing in the MAC title game. So, the desire to be a contender in the MAC is there. It’s a matter of learning a new system and putting it all together.

The Falcons don’t have an easy schedule. It opens against a talented Troy team, which is favored to with the Sun Belt, and then travels to Missouri and Marshall before coming home to face Boise State. That’s likely going to be a 1-3 start, perhaps 2-2 because they get Troy at home.

Conference play opens against Ohio and then a road game at Kent State, both winnable games. Then the Falcons hit a tough stretch at Ball State, against Central Michigan and at Buffalo. The Falcons haven’t played Central since 2006, haven’t played Ball State since 2005 and Buffalo edged them ultimately for the title last year.

Then Bowling Green drops into another winnable set of games at Miami (Ohio), and at home against Akron and Toledo.

My prediction: 6-6, 5-3 MAC

What really happened: Bowling Green had a tougher schedule to begin the season than many anticipated and it resulted in a 1-4 start. But once receiver Freddie Barnes and quarterback Tyler Sheehan started to hit their stride, the Falcons started to be more competitive and finish games. When the bye week hit, coach Dave Clawson told his team that it needed to win its final four games to make a bowl and it did. Bowling Green became the only non-AQ team with a new head coach to finish the regular season with a winning record.

The end result: 7-6, 6-2 MAC


Ron English
Eastern Michigan was only one of two FBS teams to go winless.
EASTERN MICHIGAN

Coach: Ron English

Previous school and position: Louisville, defensive coordinator

Head coaching experience: None

Eastern Michigan’s 2008 record: 3-9, 2-6 MAC

Returning players: Offense 8, defense 8

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: The Eagles have an offense that rivals any in the conference and most of the key players –- Andy Schmitt, Jacory Stone, Terrence Blevins –- return. The problem is that almost every team in the MAC has a great offense and EMU’s isn’t consistent enough to outscore its opponents.

The Eagles should open the season with a win over Army, but then they have tough road games against Northwestern and Michigan. It’s easily a 1-2 start, though they could steal the game at Michigan. The Eagles open conference against a deep and experienced Temple team that has a couple quarterbacks that can spread the ball around. The next game at Central Michigan could be ugly especially since the Chippewas will be looking for revenge for last season.

The Eagles could split their games against Kent State and Ball State before travelling to Arkansas for a mid-season non-conference loss. They come home to play Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, two teams that will contenders in the MAC West, and end the season on the road against Toledo and Akron teams that can be beaten.

Wins are going to be hard to come by with this schedule, but the Eagles should be a little better than they were a year ago.

My prediction: 4-8, 3-5 MAC

What really happened: I’ll admit that 4-8 was a little optimistic, but when starting quarterback Andy Schmitt went down with a season-ending injury, it became nearly impossible. Eastern Michigan spent the year learning new coaches, a new system, and a bunch of new players and stumbled to a winless season -- one of only two teams in the FBS not to win a game this year. But confidence English can turn the program around remains high.

The end result: 0-12, 0-8 MAC


Mike Haywood
Even though Haywood's team finished 1-11, the RedHawks started to play better later in the season.
MIAMI (OHIO)

Coach: Mike Haywood

Previous school and position: Notre Dame, offensive coordinator

Head coaching experience: None

Eastern Michigan’s 2008 record: 2-10, 1-7 MAC

Returning players: Offense 8, defense 5

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Haywood might have drawn the short straw of all the new MAC coaches. Unlike some of the other schools, Miami doesn’t have a name playmaker to build the team around. Raudabaugh could be that guy, but he’s not right now. Defensively, linebacker Caleb Bostic could be that guy, but he’s not there yet either.

This is an uphill climb. No doubt about it. The good thing is that Haywood is a big enough name that he can bring in some players to help turn the program around, but it’s going to take time especially with the brutal schedule it faces this year.

The RedHawks open the year with Kentucky and Boise State before dropping into conference play against Western Michigan and Kent State. That’s easily an 0-4 start especially with Kent State’s running game and Miami’s lack of running defense. Then the RedHawks go back into non-conference play against Cincinnati and Northwestern before playing Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo to end October. The RedHawks finish the year at Temple and then at home against Bowling Green and Buffalo.

This year could easily be a repeat of 2008.

My prediction: 2-10, 2-6 MAC

What really happened:This season was the uphill climb I predicted, but Miami-Ohio did start to get better as the season progressed. Quarterback Zac Dysert will be good for the RedHawks once coach Mike Haywood gets some players around him. Dysert had a tremendous second half of the season and was one of the team's lone bright spots. Despite the record, Miami has a pretty good upside and could be a player in the MAC in the next couple years.

The end result: 1-11, 1-7 MAC


Tim Beckman
Toledo started the year with a lot of talent, but Beckman could not get the Rockets to a bowl game.
TOLEDO

Coach: Tim Beckman

Previous school and position: Oklahoma State, defensive coordinator

Head coaching experience: None

Eastern Michigan’s 2008 record: 3-9, 2-6 MAC

Returning players: Offense 9, defense 9

Likelihood of pulling off a winning season: Of all the new MAC coaches, Beckman probably inherited the best and most underrated team available. Don’t be fooled by Toledo’s record or stats last season. There are good players on this team, they just needed a little bit of direction, which I believe Beckman can bring.

With that said, this season could go either way. Toledo hasn’t had a winning season since 2005, but it does have the personnel to turn that around.

The schedule could be challenging. The Rockets’ non-conference schedule consists of Purdue, Colorado, Ohio State and Florida International. I’m a big believer in Florida International, so I’m calling that a loss. I think Toledo could perhaps pick off Colorado at home.

It has a tough stretch to open conference play –- at Ball State, then at home against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois –- but then gets Temple and Miami. The Rockets end the schedule with another tough stretch against Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green.

Although the schedule is tough, I think Toledo can be one of the surprise teams of the season.

My prediction: 6-6, 5-3 MAC

What really happened: Toledo was one of the more disappointing MAC teams this season because coach Tim Beckman inherited a lot of talent, including a senior quarterback and receiver, and could not get much out of either of them through the duration of the year. The win against Colorado was a great win for the program, but a loss to Miami-Ohio cost the Rockets a potential bowl game. Four of the Rockets' seven losses were to teams in bowl games, but the others were to teams with losing records.

The end result: 5-7, 3-5 MAC