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MAC preview: Who will be this year's Buffalo?

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Pete Fiutak

Pete Fiutak writes previews, predictions and prognostications for CollegeFootballNews.com.

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Like you, or anyone else saw Buffalo coming. The MAC was all about the West race last season, with Ball State, Central Michigan and Western Michigan all considered to be better than anyone in the East, but Buffalo was able to come though in the battle, came up with takeaway after takeaway in the MAC Championship, and turned out to be the surprise team of 2008. This year could be just as unpredictable, and just as wacky.
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Central Michigan and Western Michigan should be the league's two best teams, with Northern Illinois making a nice push, while the East should be up in the air once again. However, good luck trying to come up with the pecking order in the nation's most unpredictable conference. Based on returning players, schedule, timing, and expected talent level, Turner Gill's Buffalo squad should take a step back before coming up with a strong 2010, and Ball State will need at least another year to even think about getting back to where it was last season. But those two still have some nice pieces in place to come up with strong seasons again. Northern Illinois should be fully turned around after a disastrous 2007, Akron is opening up a new stadium with a nice team and a new attitude, and Kent State could be a wild-card with RB Eugene Jarvis and a decent decent. Throw in the five programs (Ball State, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Miami, and Toledo) with new coaching staffs, and the MAC has several teams that go into the season able to throw several wrenches into the mix. But even with all the uncertainty, it should once again be a year of the haves and have-nots. The West should once again be better, the East will be up for grabs, with all seven teams (Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, Miami, Ohio, and Temple) engaged in a weekly battle royal that should come down to the last week. The West is a bit more top-heavy, but it should be just as entertaining. Eastern Michigan will need at least a year to get among the living, but the offense should be dangerous and new head coach Ron English was a great get for the program. And EMU is the weak link in the chain. Toledo should be back to being Toledo, Ball State, faults and all, still has a top-shelf running back in MiQuale Lewis and a decent defense, NIU has a strong defense, Western Michigan has a strong offense, and Central Michigan, as long as Dan LeFevour stays healthy, should be even better than it was in the MAC title years. There will be more big non-conference upsets (like Toledo over Michigan and Bowling Green over Pitt from last year), there will be plenty of entertaining weeknight games to give the league more exposure, and the quality of play should be even better than last season.

Team that will surprise

Bowling Green: The team wasn't all that bad last season, and while the defense should be average and the running game needs work, and there's a new coaching staff taking over, this should grow into a good enough squad to win the mediocre East and get to Detroit. If QB Tyler Sheehan keeps improving, the Falcons could win the whole thing.

Team that will disappoint

Buffalo: Will the Bulls be able to force all the same big turnovers they did last year? Will the loss of a strong leader like Drew Willy at quarterback mean a step back? Yes and yes, but there won't be all the same breaks two years in a row (good luck getting another Hail Mary win like last year's classic against Temple), and the schedule is rough, getting Central Michigan and Western Michigan from the West. However, the Bulls have an NFL back in James Stark, exciting playmakers like Naaman Roosevelt, and three of the league road games are at Temple, Kent State, and Miami. They're all winnable.

Game of the Year

Central Michigan at Western Michigan, Oct. 17: It's not a stretch to consider this the MAC championship. The winner should be in the driver's seat, but WMU has a tougher schedule to deal with. CMU could probably lose this game and still go on to represent the West in the title game, while the Broncos might have to pull off the home win to have any reasonable chance of going to Detroit.

Five big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight

1. DT Andre Neblett, Temple
2. C Eddie Adamski, Northern Illinois
3. FS Brian Lainhart, Kent State
4. DE Frank Zombo, Central Michigan
5. DT Almondo Sewell, Jr., Akron

Coach on the hot seat

Doug Martin, Kent State: With so much coaching turnover last year, it was a slight miracle that Martin survived after going 19-39 in five years. Akron's J.D. Brookhart might have to come up with a winning season to save his job and Ohio's Frank Solich could use a big year, but it's Martin who has to show that things are pointed in the right direction to be around in 2010. There are decent pieces in place, but the team needs a little luck after failing to get many positive breaks over the last few seasons.

Five non-conference games MAC opponents had better take seriously

1. Central Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 12
2. Pitt at Buffalo, Sept. 12
3. Northern Illinois at Wisconsin, Sept. 5
4. Western Michigan at Michigan, Sept. 5
5. Central Michigan at Boston College, Oct. 31

Bold prediction

Coming up with the first-team All-MAC quarterback will turn out to be tougher than it appears to be at the moment. Of course Dan LeFevour is the star of the conference, right? The Central Michigan star has a loaded receiving corps to work with and should put up phenomenal numbers. However, Bowling Green's Tyler Sheehan should also be in for a big year, even if his passing numbers won't quite be up to LeFevour's snuff. Western Michigan's Tim Hiller could lead the conference in passing, but he needs to take the team to the MAC title game and he has to beat Central Michigan along the way. Throw in Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt, Akron's Chris Jacquemain, Toledo's Aaron Opelt, and Ohio's Boo Jackson, and the MAC has an excellent lot of quarterbacks.

Five best pro prospects

1. RB James Starks, Sr. Buffalo
2. WR/KR Antonio Brown, Jr. Central Michigan
3. SS Barry Church, Sr. Toledo
4. QB Dan LeFevour, Sr. Central Michigan
5. C Eddie Adamski, Sr. Northern Illinois

Five biggest shoes to fill

1. QB Kelly Page for Nate Davis, Ball State
2. DE Jake Coffman for Larry English, Northern Illinois
3. QB Zach Maynard for Drew Willy, Buffalo
4. DE Kenny Rowe for Louis Delmas, Western Michigan
5. RB Alex Allen for Dennis Kennedy, Akron
Tagged: Boston College, Temple, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Toledo, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Ball State, Akron, Ohio, Kent State, Oregon, Kansas State

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