Behind Kareem Hunt running the ball, look out. The Rockets are going to be gutted up front, losing all five starters, but the skill players should shine with QB Logan Woodside returning to hand off to Hunt and Terry Swanson – the ground game will work. Justin Olack is gone off the receiving corps, but leading targets Alonzo Russell and Corey Jones are back.
The defense can’t help but be stronger with all four starters back up front, along with all of the key backups. Ray Bush is gone from the linebacking corps, and Junior Sylvestre will be sorely missed, but Zach Quinn is back. Safety Jordan Haden is the lone loss in the porous secondary, but DeJuan Rogers is ready to take over. At least there’s experience to help improve the D. Sensational PK Jeremiah Detmer is done, but P Nick Ellis is back – he has to be better after averaging under 37 yards per kick.
2. Northern Illinois
The Huskies survived the loss of Jordan Lynch and won the MAC championship, and now it has a title-winning quarterback in Drew Hare to work around. Three starters are gone off the O line, though, and backs Cameron Stingily and Akeem Daniels have to be replaced. Making matters worse, Da’Ron Brown is gone from the receiving corps along with tight end Luke Eakes, but there are more than enough weapons back to make the passing game go.
The defense that had to rebuild comes back relatively loaded with just three starters gone. Free safety Dechane Durante is the biggest loss, but strong safety Marlon Moore and linebacker Rasheen Lemon are outstanding ball-hawkers who should be all-star leaders. End Perez Ford should be the team’s best returning pass rushing threat. Losing punter Tyler Wedel is offset by getting back kicker Christian Hagan.
3. Ball State
Can the Cardinals get their passing mojo back? Ozzie Mann is back at quarterback and most of the top targets return with Jordan Williams, KeVonn Mabon and Chris Shillings forming one of the MAC’s better receiving corps. All five starters are back up front, but with Jahwan Edwards gone, it’ll be Horactio Banks and Teddy Williamson as the diminutive rushing tandem.
Three starters are back on the defensive front, including the tackle tandem of Darnell Smith and Keenan Noel, and all three starting linebackers return including leading tacklers Zack Ryan and Ben Ingle. The secondary loses stalwarts Brian Jones and Eric Patterson, but they missed time late in the year allowing a few young options to see time – the secondary only loses SS Gilbert St. Louis off the final two-deep. Losing PK Scott Secor stinks – he hit 25-of-30 field goals – but P Kyle Schmidt is back after averaging 42 yards per kick.
4. Western Michigan
After a shockingly great step ahead for P.J. Fleck’s program from 2013 to 2014, there’s a chance for even bigger things if two starters up front can be replaced. RB Jarvion Franklin will be a true sophomore after coming up with his breakout campaign, and QB Zach Terrell returns along with Corey Davis, Daniel Braverman and every receiver or tight end who caught a pass.
The defense has far bigger concerns with three of the top tacklers gone from the secondary. However, leading tackler Grant DePalma is back at middle linebacker, and everyone returns on the line except for big NT Richard Ash. The defensive backfield has a good one to build around in FS Rontavious Atkins. PK Andrew Halderman and P J Schroeder are back.
5. Central Michigan
There was a reason the program had a breakthrough season – there was a ton of experience returning. The cupboard won’t be bare even with Dan Enos leaving and John Bonamego coming in, but WR Titus Davis was a special playmaker and RB Thomas Rawls was outstanding when he got his chances. Saylor Lavallii, Martez Walker and Devon Spalding can handle the work in the backfield. Three starters return up front, and QB Cooper Rush should be a statistical machine.
LB Justin Cherocci was a heart-and-soul type who’ll be missed in the middle, and three starters are gone in the five-man secondary, but there’s hope up front with ends Joe Ostman and Blake Serpa returning to a strong-looking D line. Cherocci led the team in tackles, but the next three are back, while the return of Serpa is a big deal for the pass rush. P Ron Coluzzi and PK Brian Eavey are back.
6. Eastern Michigan
The program is way overdue to start producing, and it has just enough experience to hope for an improvement on offense with Reginald Bell and Brogan Roback returning at quarterback and with receivers Dustin Creel and Darius Jackson returning. Losing TE Tyreese Russell is a problem, and not having the backfield tandem of Ryan Brumfield and Bronson Hill hurts, but Bell led the team in rushing and Jackson is the leading returning running back, even though he was used as a receiver. Three starters are gone on the line.
Leading tackler, LB Great Ibe, leads a veteran defense with four of the top five tacklers returning. Pat O’Conner is one of the MAC’s best interior pass rushers, leading a line with three starters returning, and the linebacking corps should be solid with everyone back. The secondary is the one concern with safeties Kevin Johnson and Pudge Cotton gone, but corners DaQuan Pace and Willie Creear back. PK Dylan Mulder returns after hitting 8-of-12 field goals, and Austin Barnes is ready to step in at punter, replacing Owen Dubiel, after averaging 44.6 yards on 22 punts.
2015 Pre-Preseason MAC West Rankings
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