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January 19, 2011
MAC: A good year, bright future
It was a record-setting season in one respect for the Mid-American Conference. The league sent four teams to bowls for a third consecutive season, the first time that has happened in conference history.
Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo and Miami were the league's bowl representatives. The Huskies have become the bellwether program, making four postseason appearances in the past five seasons and five in the past seven.
And the future is bright, as 11 of the 13 MAC programs started either a freshman or sophomore at quarterback. Ohio senior Boo Jackson and Northern Illinois junior Chandler Harnish were the exceptions. Despite that youth under center, the MAC still had six teams that were bowl eligible and five programs that won at least eight games, the first time that has happened since 2003.
The conference also was notable for coaching turnover at the end of the season.
Jerry Kill left Northern Illinois for Minnesota, Al Golden departed Temple for Miami and Mike Haywood left Miami (Ohio) for Pittsburgh before losing his job there following his arrest on domestic violence. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren takes over at NIU, Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is the new leader at Temple and Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell is the new man at Miami.
Some other coaches didn't leave on their own. Ball State fired Stan Parrish and replaced him with Elon coach Pete Lembo, while Kent State canned Doug Martin and tabbed Ohio State wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell.
Biggest surprise: Miami. Nobody predicted a MAC title for the RedHawks, who went 1-11 in 2009. But Miami notched the best turnaround in college football with a nine-win improvement en route to finishing 10-4, winning the MAC title game and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The RedHawks became the first school in NCAA history to follow a double-digit loss season with a double-digit win season. Miami's bowl appearance was the school's first since 2004.
Biggest disappointment: Central Michigan. The Chippewas were supposed to contend for the West title, but instead slumped to a 3-9 mark under first-year coach Dan Enos after Butch Jones left to coach Cincinnati. That ended a run of four bowls in a row for CMU, which couldn't compensate for the losses of QB Dan LeFevour and WRs Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson.
Best postseason performance: Northern Illinois. The Huskies rolled Fresno State 40-17 in the Humanitarian Bowl despite playing for interim coach Tom Matukewicz after Kill had left for the Minnesota job. Harnish, RB Chad Spann and DE Jake Coffman led the way. Harnish was the best of all, passing for a season-high 300 yards and running for 72 to earn MVP honors. It was NIU's school-record 11th win.
Worst postseason performance: Ohio. The Bobcats were dominated by Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, yielding 602 yards in a 48-21 loss. Troy dominated on the ground, running for 220 yards to Ohio's 99. Jackson did his part, throwing for 209 yards and three touchdowns. But it wasn't enough for Frank Solich's squad.
Underclassmen leaving early: Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson.
Next season's breakout offensive player: Western Michigan RB Tevin Drake. Give him a full spring to learn the package and a full camp, and he may be the best back in the MAC. Drake, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound sophomore, ran for 100 yards in a game twice, finishing with 405 yards rushing in seven games.
Next season's breakout defensive player: Kent State DE Richard Gray. He arrived on campus as a decorated recruit, earning MVP honors for the Pennsylvania team in the 2010 Big 33 Classic. He sat out last season as an academic casualty but turned heads in two-a-days and has a bright future teaming with T Roosevelt Nix, who was the MAC's defensive player of the year as a true freshman this season.
Player most on the spot next season: Central Michigan LB Armond Staten. He started nine games and made 78 tackles last season. Next season, he will have to fill a void left by All-MAC first-teamers Nick Bellore and Matt Berning. The coaching staff felt Staten may have had the best overall season of any defensive player.
Next season's conference champions: Miami and Toledo. Miami, the defending East Division champ, welcomes back eight starters on offense and nine on defense for Treadwell. The RedHawks are loaded with momentum, coming off the biggest turnaround in college football. Zac Dysert will be one of the league's top quarterbacks. The RedHawks will be pushed by Temple in the East. Toledo, which finished second in the West this season, returns nine starters on both sides of the ball. WR Eric Page is a star, while Adonis Thomas may be the top running back in the MAC. The defense will be led by LB Dan Molls and E T.J. Fatinikun. Toledo will be pushed in the West by Northern Illinois.
National title contenders: None. This is the MAC, for crying out loud!