It’s no secret that the 2020 college football season was a weird one, much like the entire year was for the world. However, one thing that did produce some real excitement is MAC football each week.
While the 2020 season didn’t allow for any of the conference’s menu to play more than eight games, and some played as little as three games, the 2021 season is going to feature a more traditional schedule in the MAC.
Here is your preview for everything you need to know about each Mac team heading into the 2021 season, which is close to just a month away.
The Ohio Bobcats have been one of the most consistent programs in the conference over the last several years, but how they respond after the retirement of head coach Frank Solich in July is a real question surrounding the Bobcats. Taking over for Solich is assistant Tim Albin in what is expected to be a wide-open eastern division.
Returning to lead the offense is two quarterback sin Kurtis Rourke and Armani Rogers. De’Monte Tuggle is also back as one of the conference’s best wide receivers. The Bobcats also return three starters on the offensive line and added Virginia Tech transfer T.J. Jackson to play left tackle.
On defense, Ohio is coming off a season in which they finished in the top-four in the top four of the MAC in scoring defense in each of the last seven seasons. Ohio held their opponents to just 16.7 points a game in 2020, and they return most of their two-deep across the board.
The Miami Redhawks are one of the teams that only played three games last season, but head coach Chuck Martin is still leading Miami. The Redhawks went to the MAC Championship game in 2019, and many of those players are still on the roster in 2021.
On offense, Miami averaged just short of six yards per play, and they return the necessary pieces that could keep the offense performing at a high level. Brett Gabbert is back at QB for Miami and could potentially be an All-MAC player this season.
Defensively, Miami returns nine starters from last season, and it’s a group that led the MAC in rush defense last season. The linebacker is one of the best in the conference. Kameron Butler anchors the defensive line with his 2.5 sacks last season.
Lance Leipold’s departure for Kansas this offseason throws a wrench into what was turning into one of the best stories in college football annually. Buffalo is one of the worst programs historically, but Leipold turned them into one of the best programs in the MAC.
On offense, quarterback Kyle Vantrease is a quality starter with an impressive level of accuracy. Jaret Patterson was one of the best running backs in college football last season, but he is gone, so now it’s time for Kevin Marks Jr. to lead the rushing attack.
Buffalo had the best defense in the conference last season and allowed the fewest yards per play in the conference each of the last two seasons. Taylor Riggins is back after missing last season with an injury. Riggins had 8.5 sacks in 2019.
No team sums up the term “Maction” better than Sean Lewis’ Kent State Golden Flashes. Lewis runs one of the most prolific offenses in the conference, and that gives the Golden Flashes an opportunity to compete for an Eastern Divison Championship in 2021.
Quarterback Dustin Crum led the Kent State offense last season to nearly 50 points a game and over seven yards a play. Crum is back and has many of his favorite targets back, along with Syracuse transfer Nykeim Johnson. The offensive line returns five starters.
What has the potential to hold Kent State back in 2021 is its defense. Defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman is looking to improve a defense that gave up more yards per rush than anyone else in the conference and gave up a sky-high 38 points a game.
Tom Arth is entering his third season leading the Zips, and after a combined record of 1-17 in his first two seasons, Arth is looking to lead Akron to a potential breakout season in 2021.
Zach Gibson and Kato Nelson are expected to battle it out for the quarterback job whale running back Teon Dollard hopes to be reinstated to the team from his suspension. The floor for the offense is higher simply because all five starters from the offensive line are back.
On defense, Akron needs to improve. The Zips gave up 41.3 points a game and 7.6 yards per play last season, but with linebacker Bubba Arslanian and defensive back A.J. Watts back for another season, the Zips could be poised to make a sizeable jump on the defensive side of the ball.
Bowling Green went winless last season, and none of their games were particularly close. The Falcons were outscored 225-57 last season, and while they played with a younger roster that allowed freshmen and sophomores to get reps, it’s hard to see Bowling Green taking significant steps this season.
One bright side, running back Terion Steward is back after rushing for just under eight yards a carry last season. Quarterback Matt McDonald struggled last season after a weird offseason that didn’t allow for traditional preparation. His development this season is key.
Eric Lewis is taking over a defense that struggled last season. The Falcons gave up 45 points a game and over 6.5 yards per play, but they do return six starters.
Toledo and Ball State are expected to be the favorites in the Western Division, and really it’s a toss-up between the two programs as to who is the favorite atop the MAC in 2021.
Toledo is searching for a new quarterback, but if they are able to find the right guy to lead the option, they could be poised to return to the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2017. Running back Bryant Koback is one of the best running backs in the conference, and the team has some talented wide receivers to go along with all five starters on the offensive line returning in 2021.
Defensively, Toledo took a major step forward in 2020. They gave up 5.4 yards per play in 2020, and they limited teams to just 24.3 points per game, which was an improvement by eight points. All of the main contributors are back for another season in Ohio, and they also added defensive lineman Judge Culpepper to bolster the pass rush.
Ball State upset Buffalo in the MAC Championship last season to win their first conference championship since 1996. Ball State then beat San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl to conclude their season.
Receivers Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler are two of the best wide receivers in the conference for quarterback Drew Plitt to target on a regular basis this season. The Cardinals offense put up 34 points a game last season, and all five of the starters return to the offensive line.
On defense, Ball State ranked fourth in the conference last season against the run and led the conference with 17 takeaways. Replicating that takeaway success that the defense had last season is a major question, but if they are able to force turnovers again, this could be one of the best defenses in the conferences.
Tim Lester has led Western Michigan to four straight seasons of .500 or better since the departure of PJ Fleck for Minnesota. While the Broncos haven’t made it to the conference championship game, this season might create some opportunities for that.
Quarterback Kaleb Eleby is one of the best group of five quarterbacks in the country, and he leads an offense that is prolific in its scoring output. All three of the Bronco’s top rushers are back in 2021 for an offense that put up more than 41 points a game.
On defense, Western Michigan returns many of their key players from last season, but the defense does need to improve this season if the Broncos are going to get Lester to his first conference championship. The defense did record 19 sacks last season and allowed just 5.6 yards per play, so they do have a good foundation to build off of.
Central Michigan won the MAC in 2019, but they struggled to a 3-3 record in 2020 under former Florida head coach Jim McElwain.
The key for Central Michigan in 2021 is the play of their quarterback Jacob Sirmon. Sirmon is a transfer from Washington. He played in just one game last season and completed one pass for nine yards and rushed for five yards on two carries. Sirmon does have Central Michigan’s top four wide receivers returning as targets, so if Sirmon can turn into an average QB, he could lead Central Michigan to a surprise season.
Central Michigan brings back 10 starters from last season. A year ago, Central Michigan gave up 5.9 yards per play, and with linebacker Troy Brown back, this is a group that could potentially take a big step forward from the 30.2 points per game than they allowed last season.
Eastern Michigan is one of the more difficult schools to win at in college football because both Michigan and Michigan State do a great job of recruiting the state, but the Eagles have made it to three bowl games in the last five seasons under head coach Chris Creighton.
The offense is the strength of this team, with quarterback Preston Hutchingson and transfer Ben Bryant competing for the starting job this season. James Madison transfer Jawon Hamilton joins a rushing attack that ranked 12th in the conference last season.
Defensively, Eastern Michigan returns linebacker Terry Myrick and defensive back Noski LaFleur and defensive end Turan Rush. Those three are all solid players at all three levels of the defense. The problem is that this is a group that allowed 36 points a game and over six yards a play last season.
Again, everything about 2020 was weird, and particularly weird was seeing Northern Illinois go 0-6 last season. Head coach Thomas Hammock is expected to play a bunch of young talent again this season, but the good news is that many of those players contributed last season.
Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi brings a former Big Ten quarterback to an offense that features Harrison Waylee and Western Illinois transfer Clint Ratkovich. Tyrice Richie had 53 receptions last season for the Huskies. Lombardi has four starters returning on the offensive line to protect him.
Last year, Northern Illinois played several freshmen on the defensive side of the ball last season, and with corner Jordan Gandy back linebackers Lance Deveaux and Kyle Pugh, this is a group that could be poised to make a major jump this season.