Early MAC East Preview
Joe Nelson
Posted: 2018-07-11

The MAC produced the top Group of Five squad two years ago before the conference had a less distinguished campaign in 2017 led by Toledo's league title. The Rockets along with the rest of the MAC other than Ohio had a disappointing bowl season however.

The MAC frequently deals with coaching turnover but 11 of 12 head coaches from last season return as with some stability league-wide the conference could deliver notable performances to get back on the map in 2018. Several returning quarterbacks are also back in action as the East could close the recent gap with the West this season. Here is a look at the six schools fighting for MAC East supremacy in 2018.

Ohio: Frank Solich is the dean of the MAC entering season #14 in Athens and the Bobcats turned in a 41-6 bowl blowout for the lone postseason victory for the conference last season. Ohio has turned in three straight winning seasons but fell short of the division title last season after losing narrowly in the final two regular season games on the road. Ohio has posted a winning home record in nine straight seasons and the biggest tests in the MAC East should be at home this season with the Bobcats likely favored to go 6-0 at Peden Stadium. The road slate features some challenges with two of the better West squads on the schedule as well as playing up in two non-conference tests in September. The offense should be the strength of the team after averaging 39 points per game last season and featuring returning talent at every position but a Bobcats program known for steady defense under Solich could step backwards this season to open up the division race.

Buffalo: The Bulls improved by four wins last season to reach 6-6 but despite winning the final three games of the season to become bowl eligible, Buffalo did not get an invitation. Buffalo has three difficult non-conference games in September as making a bowl breakthrough won't be easy in 2018. Tyree Jackson has a chance to be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference while the top four rushers from last season return for Lance Leipold's fourth season with the program. The defense isn't likely to be among the top MAC units and Buffalo has a tough MAC West draw along with facing Ohio on the road late in the season. Buffalo is a threat in this race with a quality offensive line and this was a team that didn't lose a single game by more than 10 points last season, including a pair of one-point losses in MAC play plus a seven-overtime loss vs. Western Michigan. The Bulls weren't far away from a big breakthrough last season and should be considered a MAC contender.

Miami, OH: The Redhawks finished the 2016 season with six straight wins to go from 0-6 into a bowl game where they almost upset Mississippi State. Expectations were high to start last season but Miami suffered a disappointing 5-7 season despite outscoring and out-gaining its opposition. Quarterback Gus Ragland missed some time last season and could be one of the top players in the conference if he can complete an entire season after missing a lot of games the past two years. Miami has one of the most experienced teams in the conference and the Redhawks will get to host Ohio in conference play for a big opportunity to move up. The road slate in the MAC is challenging including a game at Northern Illinois while also drawing Western Michigan from the West for one of the more challenging MAC schedules overall. Add in four difficult non-conference games and Miami isn't a lock for the postseason even if it won't be a surprise if the Redhawks are among the top division finishers.

Akron: The Zips delivered a surprise division title last season with a pair of late season wins over the top contenders in the division. A blowout bowl loss followed up a double-digit defeat in the MAC title game however as Akron felt like an overachiever reaching seven wins. On the season Akron was soundly defeated in the scoring and yardage statistics although a tough non-conference schedule was a significant factor. Akron won three MAC games by three or fewer points and chances are a few results will flip in 2018. Akron draws three of the best teams from the MAC West while taking on seven road games overall in the 2018 schedule. The defense has a chance to improve but a lot of the production from last season's offense has departed and a decline in wins for Terry Bowden's seventh season with the Zips looks likely.

Bowling Green: The Falcons have gone from three straight MAC title game appearances to picking up only five MAC wins the past two seasons combined. Pressure could be elevated for Mike Jinks in his third season at Bowling Green and this year's roster has a chance to show improvement. Bowling Green had a number of narrow defeats last season but a defense that surrendered 507 yards per game must make major strides to get the Falcons back on the MAC radar. Carl Pelini comes in as a high profile defensive coordinator and he has some experience to work with but the offense still might be a year away from regaining its past production levels from earlier in the decade. Bowling Green does have a few favorable home opportunities after going winless in five home dates last season but three power conference non-conference tests will take a toll on the overall numbers.

Kent State: The only coaching change in the MAC comes at Kent State after five straight losing seasons, Sean Lewis takes over for Paul Haynes. Injuries have taken a toll on this program in recent seasons but this program will get a boost with Lewis being a long-time assistant to Dino Babers who had a lot of success in the MAC at Bowling Green. This will be a major scheme transition but a few notable transfers and decent returning experience could help the cause though the schedule is a beast with seven road games and some of the top MAC teams visiting Kent as there are few clear opportunities for wins ahead.

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