The best and worst of the MAC

Originally Published: December 11, 2003
By Adam Rittenberg | Special to ESPN.com

A final team-by-team look at the MAC.

Akron
Hours after Akron's season finale, a 35-28 comeback win over Ohio, athletic director Mike Thomas made a forceful statement about the school's football program: mediocrity won't cut it. Thomas reassigned head football coach Lee Owens after the Zips finished 7-5, matching their highest win total since moving to Division I-A in 1987. Owens, who spent nine seasons as head coach, had posted his third winning campaign in five years. Thomas wasn't satisfied. He cited an inability to take advantage of an easy schedule as a main reason for Owens' removal. The Zips lost winnable games to Kent State and Wisconsin, and struggled to find consistency. QB Charlie Frye's gutsy performance (3,549 yards passing, 22 touchdowns) could not compensate for a schizophrenic defense that crumbled in the red zone (opponents scored 92 percent).

MVP: QB Charlie Frye. One week Frye showed up to a news conference on crutches; the next week he was leading the offense downfield. Owens regularly used the word "hero" to describe Frye, who posted the sixth-highest single-season passing total in league history. In only three seasons Frye has 8,426 passing yards. If Miami's Ben Roethlisberger jumps to the pros, Frye would headline the QB class of 2004.

Biggest Disappointment: The Zips' performance versus the best of the MAC East. Akron finished a distant third in the MAC East, one of the reasons Owens received the ax. Division elite Miami and Marshall combined to outscore the Zips 87-38 in two games this season. The RedHawks racked up 553 yards on the Zips, who generated only 47 rushing yards in a 45-20 loss. Marshall rushed 52 times for 374 yards against a paper thin defense that surrendered 4.7 yards a carry this season.

What's Next: Akron's next coach must immediately rally the older players, many of whom were stunned by Owens' firing. "This was something I wasn't even thinking about," Frye told the Akron Beacon Journal. "I have one more year left, and they're not taking that into consideration." Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Paul Winters is a strong candidate for the job who already has formed relationships with the current players. A strong nucleus has formed around Frye, LB Chase Blackburn and LB Diontre Earl. RB Bobby Hendry is a big loss, but Akron has the talent to be in the MAC East title mix next season.

Ball State
Coaches and players aim to "leave it all on the field." Ball State did that Oct. 25, crushing a talent-stocked Toledo squad 38-14 to reach .500 and remain within striking distance for the MAC West title. The problem? Ball State never got "it" back. First-year coach Brady Hoke saw his team implode in four consecutive losses. After beginning the season as one of the league's most disciplined teams, Ball State finished with a minus-3 turnover margin. WR Dante Ridgeway emerged as one of the league's best, surpassing the school's single-season receptions record by 22 catches. Hoke maintained a two-QB system throughout the year, but neither Andy Roesch nor Talmadge Hill showed the consistency their coach desired. Ball State's defense allowed 38 points or more in four of its final six games. "It wasn't very good," Hoke said of his team's finish. "You don't play to lose."

MVP: WR Dante Ridgeway. Ball State's pass-happy offense centered on Ridgeway, who set a school record with 1,075 receiving yards. His 10 touchdowns tied a school record and he had at least 90 yards in seven games this year. After playing in all 12 games as a freshman, Ridgeway emerged as one of the league's budding superstars. He leads an experienced receiving corps in 2004.

Biggest Disappointment: The turnovers tumble. Lacking a consistent running game, Ball State knew it had to throw the ball to succeed in 2003. Through the first six games Hill and Roesch threw only two interceptions. The mistakes began against Miami (Ohio), which picked off four passes in a 49-3 win over Ball State. Cardinals QBs ended up throwing 10 interceptions in their final six games.

What's Next: Before Ball State's final game Hoke described how much he'd learned in his first season. The former associate head coach at Michigan wants to see more intensity from his defense, which returns leading tackler Justin Beriault, a SS who switched over from LB before the season. Ridgeway leads a deep and receiving corps that will be working with a new QB in 2004.

Bowling Green
A win at Purdue propelled Bowling Green into one of the best seasons in school history. First-year coach Gregg Brandon built on the success of his predecessor, Urban Meyer, as the Falcons claimed the MAC West division title and their first bowl berth since 1992. Built around star QB Josh Harris, an aggressive and athletic defense and several no-name WRs, Bowling Green surged into the Top 25. The Falcons reached their peak Oct. 25 in a nationally televised meeting with Northern Illinois. Harris tallied 527 all-purpose yards as Bowling Green crushed Northern's BCS hopes with a 34-18 win. Bowling Green had five all-conference players, including CB Janssen Patton, who led the league with seven interceptions. Harris finished the regular-season with 3,167 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. MVP: QB Josh Harris. Harris lived up to the lofty expectations with a strong senior campaign. He was second on the team with 679 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, and averaged 56.6 rushing yards per game. Needing a win against Toledo to claim the division title, Bowling Green turned to Harris, who rushed for 75 yards and caught a 48-yard touchdown. He led the MAC with 320.5 all-purpose yards per game.

Biggest Disappointment: The Miami (Ohio) game. Ten days after trouncing Northern Illinois, Bowling Green was back on national television against MAC East leader Miami (Ohio). Harris struggled against the league's top defense and Miami came away with a 33-10 victory. A win would have given Bowling Green a chance to be the first MAC West team in seven years to go unbeaten in league play.

What's Next: Bowling Green suffers several significant losses (Harris, Patton, LB Mitch Hewitt), but Meyer and Brandon have built a winning tradition. WR Charles Sharon leads one of the nation's most underrated receiving corps, and RB P.J. Pope returns after tallying 960 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season. Bowling Green's defense allowed just 19.2 points a game and will be led by LB Jovon Burkes and DE Devon Parks in 2004.

Buffalo
Another season of growing pains resulted in another 1-11 record for Buffalo. The Bulls snapped their nation-worst 18-game losing streak with a come-from-behind win over Ohio, but they appeared overmatched in most of their games. Coach Jim Hofher had to swap QBs midway through the season after starter Randall Secky stumbled out of the gate. Junior P.J. Piskorik battled injuries and inexperience as Buffalo's offense scored a league-low 14.8 points per game. The Bulls ranked 115th out of 117 Division I-A teams in total offense and scored only 93 points in the first half all season. Buffalo had strong spurts on defense and PK Dallas Pelz was sensational, but the Bulls could keep pace with disciplined offenses like Northern Illinois (40 points), Miami (49 points) and Toledo (56 points). RB Dave Dawson emerged as Buffalo's best ballcarrier, but neither Piskorik nor Secky established a consistent passing game.

MVP: S Mark Graham. One of few senior leaders on Buffalo's roster, Graham led the team in tackles (84), sacks (3) and fumble recoveries (3). Graham was the only Bulls player selected to an all-conference team. He racked up 57 solo stops before missing the final two games with an injury. Graham leaves as the school's all-time leader in passes defended (37) and had 12 interceptions in his career.

Biggest Disappointment: Buffalo's stretch run. Buffalo's Oct. 25 win over Ohio, its first in 18 games, could have sparked a strong finish in an otherwise forgettable season. Rather than sustaining the momentum, however, the Bulls dropped their final three games to close out their second consecutive one-win season. Buffalo plastered a season-high 29 points on Toledo, but allowed a whopping 59 points to Bruce Gradkowski and Co.

What's Next: Youth is no longer an excuse for Hofher and the Bulls, who return a hoard of starters next season. Hofher doesn't anticipate any of his RBs to emerge as stars, but Dawson and Aaron Leeper have the talent to be consistent performers in the MAC. WR Matt Knueven had a strong season, and Piskorik and Secky showed signs of promise. Another lopsided record could spell doom for Hofher, who has just five wins in three seasons. "We didn't expect a 1-11 season," Buffalo athletic director Bill Maher told the Buffalo News. "No one coming into this year assumed Jim was going to be winning a (Mid-American Conference) championship but we certainly wanted to see continued progress, and from that standpoint it's a disappointment and it's a disappointment to Jim Hofher, too."

Central Michigan
An inability to finish games hamstrung Central Michigan, which finished last in the MAC West at 1-7. The Chippewas blew big leads against Northern Illinois and Akron, and surrendered 30 points or more in their final six games. "Any time you win, it's because you finish," Chippewas coach Mike DeBord said. "You look at today's football, no matter what level, it's all about finishing the game. It hurt us that we don't finish games off better than we are, and that goes back to making plays." Central Michigan's offense couldn't recover from the early season loss of QB Jeff Perry. The Chippewas never found a rhythm behind backup Derrick Vickers and finished ninth in the league in scoring. Freshman RB Jerry Seymour emerged as one of the league's top newcomers. Seymour rushed for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns. Central Michigan's defense featured several superstars (James King, Dan Bazuin) but struggled to play as a unit.

MVP: RB Jerry Seymour. Seymour lifted the team on his 5-foot-6 frame this season. In just nine games the freshman surpassed 1,000 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He averaged 5.8 yards a carry and reached triple digits in seven games. Seymour also served as a kick returner and tallied 330 yards on 16 runbacks.

Biggest Disappointment: The Northern Illinois game. Central Michigan had nationally ranked Northern Illinois on the ropes in an Oct. 11 game. The Chippewas held a 17-3 halftime edge and senior RB Terrence Jackson had dominated a depleted Huskies defense. But Central Michigan came out flat after halftime, surrendering three touchdowns in less than eight minutes. The Chippewas were no match for Northern Illinois RB Michael Turner, who racked up 199 yards. Central Michigan fell 40-24 to remain winless in league play. What's Next: With just 12 wins in four years, Chippewas coach Mike DeBord must make strides next year in order to save his job. DeBord should get even more production from RB Jerry Seymour, who emerged as a superstar this year. Perry likely will return to the starting QB spot, while the defense features Bazuin, one of the league's best young defenders.

Central Florida
If there ever were a season to forget, this was it for Central Florida. The team faltered on and off the field, and posted its worst record (3-9) since joining Division I-A in 1996. Mike Kruczek's 19 years at Central Florida came to an end when the head coach was fired with two games remaining. Kruczek's departure occurred in the midst of a rash of suspensions. Eight players were suspended for various violations, including star QB Ryan Schneider. The scene on game days wasn't much prettier. Central Florida finished last in the nation in turnover margin with an average of minus-1.83 per game. A young defense showed glimpses of promise, but struggled with penalties and generated few big plays.

MVP: LB Antoine Poe. An impressive season ended on a scary note for Poe, who injured his neck making a hit in last Friday's season finale with Miami (Ohio). Poe could not stand until Sunday but was moved out of the ICU at Orlando Regional Medical Center. The junior led Central Florida with 16 tackles for loss and three sacks. He ranked third on the team with 111 tackles and intercepted two passes.

Biggest Disappointment: Eight Central Florida players were suspended in the season's waning weeks, wiping out any hopes of turnaround. Several players were upperclassmen, including fifth-year seniors Schneider and Dwight Perkins. Head coach Mike Kruczek appeared to lose control midway through the disappointing campaign and paid the price for his team's lack of discipline.

What's Next: The Georgia O'Leary era. O'Leary is a proven winner and the only question about him is what took so long for him to get a head-coaching gig back in college. A good recruiter and better coach, he should have an immediate impact on Central Florida.

Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan's tumultuous season ended on a good note, as interim coach Al Lavan led the team to wins in two of its final three games. The dismissal of head coach Jeff Woodruff three weeks before season's end shocked players, but Lavan re-focused the squad in time to salvage a 3-9 season. A season-ending injury to starting QB Jeff Crooks rattled the Eagles' offense, which relied solely on RB Anthony Sherrell, who finished second in the league with 127.6 yards a game. Eastern Michigan mustered only 17.1 points a game while a young defense surrendered 35.7 points per game. The Eagles' most satisfying moment occurred on Senior Day, when Sherrell (230 yards, four touchdowns) led the team to a 38-14 win over Ball State. LB David Lusky recorded 14 tackles and an interception as Eastern Michigan avoided the MAC West division cellar.

MVP: RB Anthony Sherrell. Eastern Michigan's QB struggles pushed Sherrell into the spotlight and the junior responded. He'll be the league's top returning rusher next season after tallying 1,531 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2003. Sherrell accounted for 12 of Eastern Michigan's 15 rushing touchdowns and his rushing total is more than 100 yards higher than the team's net total. He also led the team in receptions (44) and scoring (78 points).

Biggest Disappointment: Losing to Central Michigan. Eastern Michigan hardly put up a fight in its main rivalry game, falling 38-10 to the Chippewas in Mount Pleasant. Eastern Michigan took a 10-0 lead on Central Michigan but did not score in the final 44 minutes. The game was coach Jeff Woodruff's last, but the Eagles went on to win their next two games.

What's Next: Northwestern running backs coach Jeff Genyk was hired Monday as Eastern Michigan's head coach. Genyk brought Northwestern assistants Jay Peterson and Howard Feggins as his coordinators. The new boss likely will serve as a mentor for Sherrell, who will be featured in Eastern Michigan's offense. Lusky, a senior captain, is a major loss on defense, but sack leader Matt Kudu returns.

Kent State
Kent State's program is at its best in recent years, which isn't saying much considering the Flashes posted only 14 wins from 1991-2000. Nonetheless, Kent State's 5-7 mark in 2003 earned coach Dean Pees a contract extension through 2006. The Flashes battled through a rough October to finish .500 in league play and set up a breakout season in 2004. This season Kent State's fate hinged on QB Joshua Cribbs, who battled ankle injuries but still finished as the league's top rushing quarterback with 707 yards and 14 touchdowns. Days after the season ended Pees stepped down as the team's defensive coordinator after watching the Flashes slip to 12th in the league in scoring defense (33 ppg). LB Eric Mahl minimized the damage for Kent State, which still ranked last in the league in pass defense (260.5 ypg).

MVP: QB Joshua Cribbs. After recovering from an ankle injury Cribbs was a one-man show on offense for Kent State's final three games. He tallied 1,136 yards of total offense in that span. Cribbs has racked up seven career "double-doubles" with at least 100 yards rushing and passing in a game. While injured Cribbs improved his passing and threw for 2,424 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Biggest Disappointment: October. After a dramatic win over rival Akron to open the season, Kent State stumbled through a winless October. The Flashes squandered winnable games against Connecticut and Miami (Ohio) and slipped to the bottom of the MAC East. Kent State rebounded from the dreary month by winning two of its final three games, but could finish no better than .500 in league play.

What's Next: Joshua Cribbs is back -- enough said. If Cribbs can stay healthy, Kent State could win eight or nine games next season. Although Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Frye are better passers, Cribbs is the league's most athletic and dangerous offensive player. The Flashes' defense can only improve and leading tackler Eric Mahl returns for his senior season. Freshmen RBs Elijah Brooks and Kevin Beverly earned valuable experience this year and should be bigger factors in 2004.

Marshall
For most teams, 8-4 is a respectable season. Not for Marshall After all, the Herd entered the season having won six consecutive league titles. Marshall never found consistency on offense, largely because of nagging injuries to QB Stan Hill and RB Butchie Wallace. Although the Herd missed the postseason for the first time since 1997, coach Bob Pruett and his players regard 2003 as a year of growth. Miami (Ohio) was the superior team in the MAC East while Marshall seemed to find its identity halfway through the season. With Wallace ailing and Hill sidelined, RB Earl Charles became the focal point on offense. Charles finished with 1,039 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Backup QB Graham Gochneaur filled in well for Hill, and the Herd defense led the league against the pass (177.4 ypg).

MVP: RB Earl Charles. Injuries to Hill, Wallace and star wideout Darius Watts demanded increased production from Charles. The junior eclipsed 100 rushing yards in four of his final six games and scored nine of his 12 touchdowns. Behind Charles Marshall finished second in the league in rushing at 196.3 yards per game.

Biggest Disappointment: The Miami (Ohio) loss. Despite a turbulent season Marshall had a shot at its seventh consecutive division title when it faced Miami on Nov. 12 in Oxford. The torch was passed, however, as Miami (Ohio) pounded the Herd 49-6. RedHawks QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 207 yards in the first half and finished with 282 passing yards. Miami held Marshall's offense to just 184 yards in the game.

What's Next: QB Stan Hill returns from knee surgery to lead a team that survived a stern character check in 2003. With Wallace graduating, Charles takes over the starting RB position and is primed for another 1,000-yard season. Marshall's defensive line will be even better with the return of DT Jamus Martin and DEs Jonathan Goddard and Marcus Hairston. WR Darius Watts and LB Gladstone Coke are major losses, but younger players like WR Hiram Moore will quickly fill the gaps.

Miami (Ohio)
Iowa must be feeling pretty good about itself these days. The Hawkeyes crushed Miami (Ohio) 21-3 and picked off four Ben Roethlisberger passes, effectively ending the junior's Heisman Trophy campaign before it started. Following the Iowa setback Miami (Ohio) won 11 consecutive games, the first time it had done so since 1972-73. Nationally televised wins over Bowling Green and Marshall gave Miami its first-ever MAC East title and its first bowl berth since 1986. Roethlisberger showed his pro potential by shattering all the school passing records and tallying 29 touchdown passes this year. Cal Murray and Mike Smith spurred an efficient ground game, while Miami's defense became one of the nation's stingiest. Led by Terna Nande and Matt Pusateri, Miami allowed a league-low 98.7 rushing yards per game. Miami led the league in scoring defense and total defense, and tied for first in turnover margin.

MVP: QB Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger displayed the poise and strength that will carry him to the pros in the near future. The junior led the league with 3,670 yards passing and a 159.01 passer efficiency rating. Roethlisberger ranked fifth nationally with 24.58 completions per game and threw for 200 yards or more in every regular-season game.

Biggest Disappointment: Does there have to be one? Miami earned the label as the best non-BCS team by performing consistently and efficiently throughout the season. The RedHawks had few weaknesses and easily unseeded Marshall as the MAC East's king. Penalties hampered Miami throughout the season (59.1 ypg, 13th in the league) but Roethlisberger and the defense always found a way to pull out wins.

What's Next: Roethlisberger is ready for the pros, but could choose to remain at Miami for his senior season. If he does, an already potent offense will become even more dangerous next season. The RedHawks return leading receivers Martin Nance and Michael Larkin, as well as Smith at RB. Miami's defense will feature LBs Nande and John Busing, who had a team-high five interceptions this year.

Northern Illinois
Dramatic wins over Maryland and Alabama catapulted Northern Illinois into the national spotlight this season. Pro prospect RB Michael Turner and colorful WR P.J. Fleck became household names as the Huskies came in No. 10 in the initial BCS rankings. Northern Illinois slipped up in MAC West division play, however, dropping games to Bowling Green and Toledo. Despite 10 wins and a steady top-30 ranking, Northern Illinois couldn't capture one of the league's two allotted bowl spots. Injuries depleted the league's best run defense, as star MLB Nick Duffy and DE Jason Frank went down midway through the season. Northern Illinois also lost star WR/PR Dan Sheldon, who dislocated his elbow and had season-ending surgery. Bowling Green and Toledo combined to score 83 points against the Huskies, who slipped to fifth in the league in total defense.

MVP: RB Michael Turner. The nation's leading returning rusher ranked second nationally this season with 137.3 yards per game and 14 touchdowns. Turner finished his collegiate career with 21 100-yard games. He holds virtually every Northern Illinois career rushing record and ranks 13th on the NCAA's all-time rushing list with 4,941 yards.

Biggest Disappointment: The Toledo loss. Northern Illinois held hopes of a MAC West title and a bowl berth when it headed to Toledo on Nov. 15. The Huskies fell behind early but rallied to within 28-24 in the third quarter. Northern Illinois forced Toledo into a 3rd-and-33, but QB Bruce Gradkowski found a wide-open TE Andrew Clarke for a 60-yard touchdown. Northern Illinois never recovered and saw the league title slip away.

What's Next: The Huskies lose RB Michael Turner, PK Steve Azar, WR P.J. Fleck and several top defenders next season. Backup RB A.J. Harris proved himself in 2003, and QB Josh Haldi returns to lead the offense. Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak has nabbed some of Chicago's top talent and likely will see the program's recent success continue next year. LB Brian Atkinson, who finished as the team's top tackler, leads a talented defense that displayed its toughness early in the 2003 season.

Ohio
Ohio had three times as many knee surgeries as wins in a hard-luck 2003 season. The Bobcats played most of the year without starting QB Fred Ray, who suffered a painful shoulder injury against Northern Illinois. Ohio's tricky defense kept it in several games, but things always seemed to fall apart in the second half. The Bobcats blew leads against Northern Illinois, Kent State and Akron to fall to 2-10. Backup QBs Ryan Hawk and Austen Everson gained experience in Ohio's fast-paced offense, which became more pass-oriented in 2003 with the emergence of WR Scott Mayle. Sophomore FB Brad Young had a strong second half and SS Rob Stover led the league's No. 4 defense.

MVP: SS Rob Stover. A converted LB, Stover was the nucleus for a defense besieged by injuries in 2003. The junior tied for the team lead in sacks (4), recorded two interceptions and broke up seven passes. He finished second on the team with 93 tackles (58 solo). Behind Stover Ohio ranked fourth in the league against the run, allowing 149.4 yards per game.

Biggest Disappointment: The DeKalb disaster. Ohio came close to spoiling Northern Illinois' perfect season before falling 30-23 in overtime. The Bobcats held a seven-point lead with less than two minutes left but watched Northern Illinois march 80 yards for the game-tying touchdown. The Huskies scored first in overtime and stopped Ohio to secure their fifth win. The Bobcats lost QB Fred Ray for most of the season and would win only one game the rest of the way.

What's Next: Bobcats coach Brian Knorr is feeling the pressure after his second 10-loss campaign in three seasons in Athens. QB Ryan Hawk leads a more balanced Ohio offense that will feature Mayle and Young in 2004. Ohio's defense is disruptive when healthy, and LB Dennis Chukwuemeka could be one of the league's defensive stars. The Bobcats must find a way to finish games, after opponents out-scored them 159-88 after halftime this season.

Toledo
Toledo came up short of its third consecutive division title, but coach Tom Amstutz had plenty to smile about in 2003. The Rockets' boasted one of the nation's best offensive tandems in QB Bruce Gradkowski and WR Lance Moore. Gradkowski led the nation in completion percentage (71.2) while Moore was first in receptions per game (8.58). The league's most disciplined offense led Toledo to eight wins and a MAC West division title shot against Bowling Green. The Rockets defense ranked fifth in the league in scoring, while CB Brandon Hefflin picked off five passes. Toledo recorded a monumental win over then-No. 9 Pitt at the Glass Bowl, and ended Northern Illinois' division title hopes for the second consecutive year. The Rockets' best years lie ahead, with Gradkowski and Moore returning in 2004.

MVP: WR Lance Moore. Moore shares the honor with Gradkowski, who displayed incredible accuracy as a sophomore this year. Moore utilized his speed to haul in 103 receptions for 1,194 yards and nine touchdowns. The junior ranked second in the league with 99.5 yards per game and eclipsed 100 yards receiving in seven games.

Biggest Disappointment: Toledo couldn't stop QB Josh Harris and the Falcons, who claimed the MAC West division title with a 31-23 win in the teams' annual rivalry game. Gradkowski threw three touchdowns, but was an uncharacteristic 13 of 23 passing. Toledo recovered an onside kick to give itself a final chance to tie the score, but Bowling Green's defense wouldn't budge.

What's Next: The Rockets could not extend their division titles streak, but likely could start a new legacy next season. Gradkowski will lead the offense after displaying a maturity rarely seen in sophomores. Moore also returns and will be included among the nation's top corps of receivers. Leading tacklers Brock Dodrill and Anthony Jordan lead the defense, and All-American candidate Nick Kaczur anchors the offensive line.

Western Michigan
The Broncos boasted undoubtedly the league's best defender in DE Jason Babin, who led the league with 15 sacks this season. Western Michigan also had one of the top WRs (Greg Jennings) and two stud QBs (Chad Munson and Jon Drach). So why did the Broncos finish 5-7? As the MAC's elite progressed in 2003, the Broncos were left behind. Western Michigan's offensive line struggled to protect Munson, who lost his starting QB job after missing time because of injuries and disciplinary problems. The Broncos allowed 39 sacks, second most in the league. After starting league play 2-0, Western Michigan stumbled through a brutal stretch that featured Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Marshall. Babin was sensational, but the defense ranked 11th in the league (424.7 ypg).

MVP: DE Jason Babin. Backup QB Jon Drach is the sentimental choice, but Babin is a beast. The senior earned all-conference honors for the third consecutive season and was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. Babin led Western Michigan in sacks, tackles (115) and tackles for loss (33). He also tallied 23 quarterback hurries.

Biggest Disappointment: Coming off a hard-fought loss to Bowling Green, Western Michigan came out flat against Northern Illinois. The Broncos never had a chance against Michael Turner and the Huskies, who cruised to a 37-10 victory. The loss was Western Michigan's second in a backbreaking four-game slide.

What's Next: Western Michigan loses both QBs, several star linemen, RB Phil Reed and WR Kendrick Mosley to graduation. Jennings headlines a talented crop of skill players who will need to unite under a new QB, most likely sophomore Blayne Baggett. Sophomore RB Trovon Riley is a strong replacement for Reed, but Western Michigan's defense is unproven without Babin on the line.

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington (Ill.) Daily Herald.