Northern Illinois

MAC Preview: The Crystal Ball Run staff makes their conference championship picks


(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)

After a fun-filled week of #MACtion, which saw us discuss the league’s newest coaches, biggest games, toughest schedules and best players, it is now time for our staff to make their picks on who will ultimately win this league.

(Also, for our staff picks on the American Conference please click here)


Allen Kenney’s Take: Northern Illinois breezed through the MAC last season en route to the BCS. Although the Huskies return plenty of contributors from 2012, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, I doubt a repeat is in the cards.

I'm casting my lot with Bowling Green. Dave Clawson's team brings back 19 starters from last year's 8-5 club. The Falcons probably play the best defense in the conference, and they were competitive in their two conference losses to Toledo and Kent State.

The biggest concern with BGSU is veteran quarterback Matt Schilz, who has to find a way to cut down on his turnovers in his fourth year as a starter. Luckily the Falcons' D is stout enough to where Schilz won't have to make a ton of plays to win games against other MAC foes.

Champ: Bowling Green over Northern Illinois
MVP: Dri Archer, Toledo
Coach of the Year: Dave Clawson, Bowling Green

Dave Singleton’s Take: Last year, Northern Illinois and Kent State played an overtime thriller in the conference title game, with the Huskies coming out on top of the Golden Flashes 44-37, sending the Huskies-a school from the MAC!-to a BCS bowl game.
 
Of course, both teams wound up losing their head coaches to jobs at schools in the automatic qualifying conferences. Such is life on the fringes of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
 
Kent State and Northern Illinois return a lot of talent from their division winning squads, but there are other teams with talent as well. Bowling Green and Toledo should both challenge for the top spots in the league. I expect Kent State to repeat as East Division champions, while Toledo takes the West after winning the head to head matchup with the Huskies this season.

Champ: Toledo over Kent State
MVP: Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Coach of the Year: Matt Campbell, Toledo

Aaron Torres’ Take: For the sake of having a little bit of fun, I'm going to go WAY off the grid in the East and take MY Buffalo Bulls to win the division (please note that when they're 1-7 in late October they will no longer be "mine.")

In all seriousness, in putting together the All-Conference teams I was stunned at how much returning talent this team has specifically has on the defensive side of the ball, to go along with quarterback Alex Zordich, leading rusher Branden Oliver and leading receiver Alex Neutz. Add in the fact that the Bulls were actually good down the stretch last year (they finished 3-1 to close 2012) and were close in a number of other games (they lost three games by a touchdown or less) and I think they're due for a big jump in wins.

Meanwhile in the West I'm going to agree with Dave and take Toledo. I'm not sold on Northern Illinois' promotion of Rod Carey to the head coaching spot (as explained in my coaches piece earlier this week) and think with the return of David Fluellen at running back and Bernard Reedy on offense, this offense will be damn near impossible to stop.

Give me Toledo over Buffalo in a thrilling MAC Championship Game.

Champ: Toledo over Buffalo
MVP: Dri Archer, Kent State
Coach of the Year: Jeff Quinn, Buffalo

Andy Coppens’ Take: In doing research for our week long preview I was also amazed by all the returning talent, but across the board. This is a very deep and very dangerous "mid-major" conference and there could be some very surprising results coming in September for a few of the "big schools" out there.

That said, inside the conference I think there are some big time questions about the two teams that went at it in the most entertaining of all MAC championship games – Northern Illinois and Kent State – but with Jordan Lynch still behind center the Huskies are going to be just fine.

For me, it's hard to deny the talent across the board for NIU and the coaching change didn't seem to affect them that much in taking FSU deep into the Orange Bowl, so give me the Huskies in the West.

As for the East, I think Kent State will struggle a bit without Darrell Hazel at the helm, and I'm a huge fan of what Bowling Green does defensively and while it's an offense heave conference I have a feeling a team with the best defense is a likely division challenger. So, give me the Falcons in the East.

Championship: Northern Illinois over Bowling Green
MVP: Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Coach of the Year: Dave Clawson, Bowling Green

Kevin McGuire’s Take: Let’s not over think this. In the MAC, if you have a quarterback who can do it all for you, then you are going to be in pretty good shape in the fall. Northern Illinois has the best at his position back for an encore performance and I am not sure there is enough defense in the conference to slow him down enough. I fully expect Jordan Lynch to once again be a one-man offensive machine even with defenses trying to lock down on him a bit tighter this season. If he stays healthy, I think Northern Illinois gets back to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game out of the West Division.

As for the East, I am going to hop on this Bowling Green bandwagon. I love the amount of talent they bring back from what was one of the more improved teams in 2012 and if they can get by Toledo (they get a bye week before hosting Toledo), then I like their chances to get back to Detroit for the first time since 2003. I don't think we are looking at another BCS busting season for the MAC, but I know I'll keep tuning in to as much of this conference as possible.

Champ: Northern Illinois over Bowling Green
MVP: Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Coach of the Year: Dave Clawson, Bowling Green

Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

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