Mid-American Conference spring recap

Originally Published: May 4, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Akron Zips
2005 Schedule
9/10 at Purdue
9/17 at Middle Tennessee
9/24 Northern Illinois
10/1 Central Michigan
10/8 at Buffalo
10/15 at Miami (Ohio)
10/22 Army
10/29 at Bowling Green
11/5 at Ball State
11/15 Ohio
11/23 Kent State

2004 overall record:
6-5
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brett Biggs* (871 yds)
Passing: Charlie Frye (2,623 yds)
Receiving: Domenik Hixon* (882 yds)
Tackles: John Fuller (95)
Sacks: Chase Blackburn and Jay Rohr* (5 each)
Interceptions: Reggie Corner*, Dionte Henry* and Dwayne LeFall (2 each)

Spring Answers: Quarterback is still a bit of an unknown, but the Zips are pretty well set at the other skill positions. All-MAC selection Biggs should repeat that honor if the O-line shapes up, and redshirt freshman Dennis Kennedy was one of the pleasant surprises of the spring. He's a nice second option. ... At receiver, Hixon is a weapon both through the air and in the return game. The senior averaged 18 yards on punts and 25 on kick offs last season. As for the others, Montgomery is a steady performer, while redshirt freshman Brandon Williams is one to watch. ... In a secondary that returns all four starters but has struggled in recent years, West Virginia transfer Davonzo Tate Jr., and prep school arrival Brandon Anderson should be able to help right away at cornerback.

Fall Questions: How important was Frye to the Zips? He was a four-year starter, accounted for 70 percent of the offense last season and graduated to the NFL with 54 school records in his back pocket. That's pretty important. The daunting job of replacing him will likely fall on the shoulders of Pitt transfer Luke Getsy, who seems to have a good grasp of the West Coast offense and a slight edge over redshirt sophomore Jabari Arthur, who seems better fitted for receiver. ... Not only did Frye leave, but he took four starting linemen with him. The line wasn't anything special last season, but the group will take a leadership hit. This may allow a few true freshmen from a very solid recruiting class to get some early opportunities. ... It could be an offensive struggle for awhile, so the defense may need to carry Akron. This is the same unit that was ranked 10th in the MAC the last two years, lost its top three tacklers, has a depth problem on the D-line and an experience issue at linebacker. Another winning season might bring another conference coach of the year honor for J.D. Brookhart.

Ball State Cardinals
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Iowa
9/10 Bowling Green
9/17 at Auburn
10/1 at Boston College
10/8 at Western Michigan
10/15 Toledo
10/22 at Ohio
10/29 at Northern Illinois
11/5 Akron
11/12 at Eastern Michigan
11/19 Central Michigan

2004 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Adell Givens (963 yds)
Passing: Joey Lynch* (1,126 yds)
Receiving: Dante Ridgeway (1,399 yds)
Tackles: Justin Beriault (125)
Sacks: Blair Kramer* (4)
Interceptions: Beriault and David Gater* (1 each)

Spring Answers: If Lynch plays like he did this spring, he won't be sharing his job again. In 2004, he was up-and-down and split time with Cole Stinson. Under new quarterback coach Stan Parrish, who once coached Tom Brady and Brian Griese at Michigan, Lynch developed an excellent work ethic and came out of drills as the solid No. 1. ... FB Brad Sayler was a pleasant surprise. Depending on how the situation plays out, he might even get an opportunity at the tailback spot. ... The defensive front seven was wrecked with injuries, but a few players such as DE Temidayo Macarthy and LB Brad Seiss did emerge. Seiss was a fullback in '03, a part-time linebacker in '04 and will be a full-time linebacker in '05. ... Is one of the country's worst defenses the last couple years tinkering with the 3-4? The coaches are calling it a "4-3 with options," but it's clear there will be changes made to a unit that desperately needs them. ... Junior placekicker Brian Jackson was solid last season and it appeared his leg was even stronger this spring. In the team's final scrimmage, he booted two long field goals in awful conditions.

Fall Questions: There are several. The team was hit hard by the loss of TB Adell Givens, who was dismissed from the team in February because of academic issues. Is Charles Wynn durable enough to carry the load? The fifth-year senior had never made it through a spring healthy until this one – and depth is an issue. ... The Cardinals also have to replace WR Ridgeway, who left early for the NFL after finishing as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award last fall. Bryan Williamson is back, but it's fair to say a go-to guy has not risen from the pack. ... It's also fair to say the offensive line is just not very good at this point. The group added some weight this offseason, but simply has to get better on the field. ... Improvement is also needed from new free safety David Gater. The starting job is his with the graduation of Beriault, but the fifth-year senior didn't exactly inspire confidence with his performance this spring. And can the secondary grab more than two interceptions this year? Some decent talent is there, so there's no excuse for that to happen again. ... Who is replacing all-MAC first team punter Reggie Hodges? It looks like the Cards will have to rely on a true freshman in the fall. ... It's debatable whether this team can make it through the first month still alive. BSU travels to Iowa, Auburn and Boston College and opens its conference season with Bowling Green. For a team with so many question marks, that has to be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

Bowling Green Falcons
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Wisconsin
9/10 at Ball State
9/21 at Boise State
10/1 Temple
10/8 Ohio
10/15 at Buffalo
10/22 Western Michigan
10/29 Akron
11/5 at Kent State
11/15 at Miami (Ohio)
11/22 Toledo


2004 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: P.J. Pope* (1,098 yds)
Passing: Omar Jacobs* (4,002 yds)
Receiving: Charles Sharon* (1,070 yds)
Tackles: Jovon Burkes (91)
Sacks: Devon Parks* and Matt Leininger* (4 each)
Interceptions: Keon Newson (6)

Spring Answers: If you enjoyed watching the Falcons last season, you'll want to check back this fall. There's no reason to believe the offense won't be even better this season. As if he needed to prove himself, the sensational Jacobs (41 TD/4 INT in '04) went out and threw for 441 yards and six touchdowns in the spring game. While freshmen Corey Patridge and Luke Alexander caught five of those scores, they're still buried on the depth chart. Because even with the loss of Cole Magner, BG is as stacked as ever, with Sharon and Steve Sanders leading the way. ... Then there is Pope, who looks headed for his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season if the line can fill a few holes on the right side. ... Losing Burkes and Daniel Sayles to graduation, Bowling Green needed a couple spring answers at linebacker. It got at least one in the form of Terrel White. Mainly a special teams contributor in the past, the junior was an absolute monster hitter during the scrimmages.

Fall Questions: For the offense to completely hit on all cylinders, it needs to know three O-line starters can be adequately replaced. It looks like junior John Lanning has the tools to fill the big shoes of four-year starter Scott Mruczkowski at center, but the projected starters at both right guard and right tackle are relatively unproven. ... Defensively, the Falcons lose four all-MAC performers, including a big-play magnet in Newson. While depth on the D-line is an issue, the No. 1 priority on this side of the ball is finding two replacement safeties. The returning corners could also stand to improve a bit, even though they were somewhat unfairly given a bad wrap considering BG's tendency to jump out to a huge lead led teams to pass and pass often. ... For the first time since 2000, Shane Suisham will not be kicking for Bowling Green. With the NCAA record-holder for career extra points (226) gone, in steps the relatively green Joe Timchenko. Although he is a senior, he's attempted only one field goal in his career.

Buffalo Bulls
2005 Schedule
9/1 at Connecticut
9/10 at Syracuse
9/17 Rutgers
10/1 at Western Michigan
10/8 Akron
10/15 Bowling Green
10/22 at Toledo
10/29 Ohio
11/5 at Miami (Ohio)
11/12 at Kent State
11/19 Eastern Michigan

2004 overall record:
2-9
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Steven King* (445 yds)
Passing: P.J. Piskorik (616 yds)
Receiving: Matt Knueven (415 yds)
Tackles: J.J. Gibson (113)
Sacks: Aaron Sanders* (6.5)
Interceptions: James Evans* (4)

Spring Answers: When King dislocated his elbow early on, others stepped in at running back and apparently impressed the man with the whistle. Pleased with the Dave Dawson-led group, longtime coach Jim Hofher thinks with King healthy his backs are as talented as anyone's in the Mid-American. ... In fact, the group is so deep that Aaron Leeper, a former MAC Freshman of the Year at running back, is now in the secondary. If he can come back from missing all of last year recovering from shoulder surgery (the second of his career), Leeper will push for a starting job at cornerback. ... It was hard to tell which sophomore defensive end had a better spring. James Judges capped a coming-out party by recording four sacks in the final scrimmage, but Andre Smith was equally effective and might have more raw ability than any UB defender in more than a decade. Either way, it's a good sign for a defensive line that was already the strength of the team.

Fall Questions: If any Bulls fan – other than a middle-aged man by the name of Hofher – claims to know for sure who will start the season opener at UConn, that person is almost certainly lying. The only two with a hint of experience in the system didn't even participate this spring. Chris Moore was out with a shoulder injury, while Datwan Hemingway sat out to focus on academics. Both will be back to battle juco transfer Tony Paoli and Toledo transfer Stewart Sampsel in August. ... Whoever wins the job needs some receiving options to emerge quickly. Terrance Breaux is serviceable, but he doesn't have much help now that Knueven is gone. ... The Buffalo secondary was actually quite good last season, but a replacement needs to be found for leading tackler J.J. Gibson at free safety. Judging by the spring, it looked like it's between Sherwan Saaty and Kareem Byrom. ... The program has needed some leadership for awhile and this is a huge senior class. All spring, team members talked about how inspired they were from the UB basketball team's surprising run to the cusp of the NCAA tournament. Are they now ready to make a statement of their own?

Central Michigan Chippewas
2005 Schedule
9/2 Indiana
9/10 at Miami (Ohio)
9/17 at Penn State
9/24 Eastern Michigan
10/1 at Akron
10/8 at Army
10/15 Ohio
10/29 Toledo
11/5 Northern Illinois
11/12 at Western Michigan
11/19 at Ball State

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jerry Seymour* (1,284 yds)
Passing: Kent Smith* (2,284 yds)
Receiving: Damien Linson* (574 yds)
Tackles: Thomas Keith* (95)
Sacks: James King (4)
Interceptions: 4 players with 1 each

Spring Answers: The staff is still hoping Smith gains a little more confidence in himself at quarterback, but don't have much to complain about after last year's breakout performance. They're also happy with backup Brian Brunner, a redshirt freshman with a strong arm and a quick release. He made more strides this spring than just about anyone on the team. ... The Chippewas apparently aren't worried about replacing four-year starter and all-MAC right tackle Adam Kieft. Coach Brian Kelly believes he has a budding star in Andrew Hartline. The redshirt freshman went up against DE Dan Bazuin this spring and more than held his own. ... Don't get the wrong idea about Bazuin, though. Often dominated by much bigger tackles in the past, the junior dropped his body fat and gained approximately 10 pounds of muscle. He'll spend plenty of time in the other team's backfield this fall. ... Two position moves that made a positive impact: Marlin Maxwell from corner to safety and Isaac Brown from safety to outside linebacker to replace King.

Fall Questions: Will Seymour return? He was suspended indefinitely in late March after being charged with criminal contempt, a charge he later pleaded no contest to. This is a guy who has rushed for more than 2,400 yards in his first two seasons, finishing in the top two of the MAC in all-purpose yards each year. It's likely he'll return, but the distraction wasn't welcome. ... Since it operates out of the shotgun nearly every down, CMU simply has to find an adequate center to replace three-year starter Eric Ghiaciuc, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Bengals. A trio of candidates will battle it out in August. ... The young secondary gave up way too many big plays last season. Raeshon Ball and Ronnie Jackson aren't true freshmen anymore. It's time for some of the long passes to be broken up. ... Can the Chippewas begin the fall with a bang? Sure, Indiana is no powerhouse. But the Hoosiers are the first Big Ten team to ever travel to Mt. Pleasant, and a CMU win would do wonders for a program that is making a slow climb moving toward respectability (at least until the Seymour mess). Keep in mind this a team that was just 10 points away from being bowl-eligible last season.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
2005 Schedule
9/1 at Cincinnati
9/10 La.-Lafayette
9/17 at Michigan
9/24 at Central Michigan
10/1 Kent State
10/8 at Toledo
10/15 at Northern Illinois
10/22 Miami (Ohio)
11/5 Western Michigan
11/12 Ball State
11/19 at Buffalo

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Sherrell* (854 yds)
Passing: Matt Bohnet* (2,807 yds)
Receiving: Eric Deslauriers* (1,257 yds)
Tackles: Kevin Harrison (146)
Sacks: Harrison (4.5)
Interceptions: Rontrell Woodruff* (3)

Spring Answers: The Eagles didn't dare mess with the spread. It obviously worked to near perfection in '04. In his first season as a starter, all Bohnet did was pick up the system and finish sixth in the country in total offense (294 ypg). Deslauriers caught 84 passes and ranked fourth in the country in receiving yards (114 pg). Why bother with that? ... To fill one of the two vacancies at defensive tackle, starting TE Jason Jones switched to the other side of the ball and seemed to fit in well this spring. So did his replacement, Ken Bohnet. He was actually his brother's backup last fall, but the coaches decided he was too valuable an athlete to keep on the bench. ... Speaking of valuable, junior Andrew Wellock is not only the placekicker and the punter, but he does one really, really well. He nailed 21-of-23 of his field goal attempts last season and won a trip to Orlando as one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award.

Fall Questions: Can Sherrell, a rock at tailback the last two years, take care of business in the classroom? The senior sat out this spring, and if he doesn't graduate by August, he's seen his last game as an Eagle. That's not expected to happen, and EMU better hope it doesn't. The job would likely fall to senior Nelson Drew, who rushed for all of 79 yards last season. ... Big question marks are still scattered all over the defense. This is a unit that gave up 470 yards and a MAC-high 42 points per game. At linebacker, the Eagles lose two starters and have no one even close to matching the talents of Harrison, who was the second-leading tackler in America last season. A free safety replacement for Jerry Gaines is also up in the air. ... The program hasn't finished above .500 in the MAC in a decade, so last season's 4-4 finish was a nice start to the Jeff Genyk tenure. Now can the Eagles take the next step or will Year Two be back to normal in Ypsilanti?

Kent State Golden Flashes
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Michigan State
9/10 SE Missouri State
9/17 Miami (Ohio)
9/24 at Ohio
10/1 at Eastern Michigan
10/15 at Navy
10/22 Northern Illinois
10/29 at Western Michigan
11/5 Bowling Green
11/12 Buffalo
11/23 at Akron

2004 overall record:
5-6
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Joshua Cribbs (1,151 yds)
Passing: Cribbs (2,215 yds)
Receiving: Darrell Dowery (712 yds)
Tackles: Eric Mahl (96)
Sacks: Justin Parrish* (14)
Interceptions: Usama Young* and Abram Elam (3 each)

Spring Answers: Seeing that no player on the current roster rushed for more than 100 yards last season, the opportunity at tailback is there for the taking and junior Luke Tillman looks ready to claim it. From the TE/H-back position, he returned to running back this spring and was a pleasant surprise. So was sophomore Joe Drager, who returned from a knee injury that kept him out all of last season. ... Parrish, a sack machine last year with a school-record 14, returns to lead an experienced front seven that led the way for the MAC's top-ranked defense in '04. KSU will miss Mahl manning the middle at linebacker, but should be OK with starting defensive end Bruce Rice moving back there. ... In a secondary that snared a conference-high 15 interceptions last season, keep an eye on sophomore Jack Williams. He was a part-time starter at corner last year and is primed for a breakout year. By all accounts, the defense took a minimal amount of hits and is primed for another big season.

Fall Questions: The offense is another story. Who will replace Cribbs, the all-MAC, all-everything quarterback? He not only led the Flashes in both passing and rushing last year, but is also the MAC's all-time leader in rushing yards among quarterbacks. Although he won't be running much, juco transfer Michael Machen, a former Alabama reserve and Atlanta Braves' farmhand, has made a favorable impression on the coaches. He is still unproven at this level, though. ... For Machen to be successful, a go-to receiving weapon has to emerge in place of Dowery. You listening, Derrick Bush? Tyrell McElroy? Cameron Bobb? It's a fairly deep group, but no one really stands out at this point. ... Will place-kicker Travis Mayle hit at a 74 percent rate like his first two seasons or make less than half his kicks like last season? ... Can momentum remain after nine months? The Flashes sure hope so after ending the season on a four-game winning streak, the program's longest since 1976. A season-opening win in East Lansing is unlikely, but Kent gets to prove whether it's really on the right track two weeks later when it hosts conference power Miami.

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Ohio State
9/10 Central Michigan
9/17 at Kent State
9/28 Cincinnati
10/5 at Northern Illinois
10/15 Akron
10/22 at Eastern Michigan
10/29 at Temple
11/5 Buffalo
11/15 Bowling Green
11/21 at Ohio

2004 overall record:
8-5
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Luke Clemens (899 yds)
Passing: Josh Betts* (3,495 yds)
Receiving: Ryne Robinson* (932 yds)
Tackles:
Matt Pusateri (97)
Sacks: Marcus Johnson* (7.5)
Interceptions: Darrell Hunter* and Pusateri (2 each)

Spring Answers: Martin Nance was limited and Robinson was off with the baseball team, but it's clear the wide receiver position is not a worry. Nance is actually way ahead of schedule after his season-ending injury and everyone already knows what Robinson can do, both as a receiver and as the MAC's all-time leading punt returner. Josh Williams is ready for a breakout year on the interior, while further down the depth chart freshman Sean McVay, a former option quarterback, proved he can be one of those good after-the-catch guys that can come in handy. ... The RedHawks aren't at all worried about losing their starting center. Senior Todd Londot, a three-year starter on the line, will simply move back to his old position in the middle, while Charlie Nordren will slide over to tackle from his guard spot. The same is true for Dave DeFranco, who will take over Londot's spot after moving over from tight end. ... MU isn't completely sure what it wants to do at defensive tackle, but everything else on the defensive front seven is set, including a stout group of senior linebackers. In the secondary, Hunter will shift from field corner to boundary corner to replace Alphonso Hodge. Hunter ran a 4.32 40-time in the spring, making him the fastest player in school history.

Fall Questions: Just who is going to run the ball, provided that's still an option in the RedHawk offense? Miami loses its top two rushers and only Brandon Murphy (5-8, 185) returns with any game experience. He's tiny, though, and won't be able to carry a full load. Sophomores Akim Lannaman and Jimmy Calhoun are quick and significantly bigger, but neither could stay healthy enough this spring to do anything worth noting. ... During his first year in place of the legendary Ben Roethlisberger, Betts didn't give Miami fans much reason to complain. The coaches, however, quietly voiced their concerns to him about occasional lapses in judgment and a slower-than-anticipated ability to recognize defenses. If he can shore up those two areas his senior season, Betts can become a legend in his own right. ... The Hawks lost a four-year starter at punter and in his place steps redshirt freshman Jacob Richardson, who couldn't seem to find any consistency in the spring. ... Can this team hold onto its spot atop the East Division now that Bowling Green has joined the neighborhood? Miami is one of the most veteran teams in the country with a projected 15 senior starters, 14 of which started last season. Will it translate to a third straight trip to the MAC Championship?

Northern Illinois Huskies
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Michigan
9/10 at Northwestern
9/17 Tennessee Tech
9/24 at Akron
10/5 Miami (Ohio)
10/15 Eastern Michigan
10/22 at Kent State
10/29 Ball State
11/5 at Central Michigan
11/16 at Toledo
11/22 Western Michigan

2004 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Garrett Wolfe* (1,656 yds)
Passing: Josh Haldi (1,384 yds)
Receiving: Dan Sheldon (936 yds)
Tackles: Brian Atkinson (110)
Sacks: Ken West* (8)
Interceptions: Lionel Hickenbottom (5)

Spring Answers: Wolfe and A.J. Harris were limited with minor shoulder injuries this spring, but did it really matter? They are the leading returning duo in the country in terms of rushing yards. In fact, after what they saw this spring, the Huskies feel they can go a mind-boggling six-deep in the running game. Two former Wisconsin players of the year, Adrian Davis and Cas Prime, will team up with Montrell Clanton and Foster Chambers in one incredible backfield. ... NIU loses Sheldon at receiver, but the coaches feel OK after the emergence of junior Jarret Carter, speedy soph Marcus Perez and darkhorse redshirt freshman Greg Turner, who coach Joe Novak has compared favorably to P.J. Fleck. ... The best news of the spring was senior guard Ben Lueck receiving a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. He'll anchor what should be one of the best offensive lines in the MAC. That group includes junior tackle Doug Free, who is so unusually athletic that his teammates call him Doug "Freak." ... There are no All-Americans and it might be a tad undersized, but the defensive line goes two-deep at all four positions and should make life tough for opposing O-lines. The NIU quarterbacks were sacked 11 times in the spring game.

Fall Questions: For the first time in seven years, NIU has a quarterback controversy. So just who will replace Haldi? Junior Phil Horvath seems to be the safe choice -- he did, after all, direct a win over Bowling Green in '04 -- but the competition is far from over. The coaches still feel they need more of a playmaker and haven't ruled out the intriguing redshirt freshmen, Britt Davis and Dan Nicholson. Sophomore Zach Ullrich is also still in the mix. Novak said he'll narrow it down to two by mid-August and might not decide on No. 1 until the week of the Michigan opener. ... Linebacker is still somewhat of a mystery after losing the invaluable Atkinson. Javan Lee is the only returning starter and position converts like T.J. Griffin (from TB) and Shedrick Mossman (from QB) will see plenty of time. ... Replacing All-MAC free safety Lionel Hickenbottom is going to be an August battle between Mark Reiter and Dustin Utschig, two guys who have primarily been special teams contributors in the past. The secondary as a whole is not that deep and will count on several redshirt and true freshmen in the fall. ... The graduation of Jason Gallagher leaves the Huskies with a question at punter. Either sophomore walk-on Jason Baez or incoming freshman Andy Dittbenner will need to answer the call during fall practice.

Ohio Bobcats
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Northwestern
9/10 Pittsburgh
9/17 at Virginia Tech
9/24 Kent State
10/8 at Bowling Green
10/15 at Central Michigan
10/22 Ball State
10/29 at Buffalo
11/4 Toledo
11/15 at Akron
11/21 Miami (Ohio)

2004 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
2-6

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kalvin McRae* (559 yds)
Passing: Ryan Hawk (1,585 yds)
Receiving: Scott Mayle* (583 yds)
Tackles: Matt Muncy* (78)
Sacks: Muncy* (5)
Interceptions: T.J. Wright* (3)

Spring Answers: The biggest improvement Ohio made was hiring coach Frank Solich. Getting the former Nebraska coach to come to Athens fired up the team's players, as well as the fan base of this somewhat stagnant MAC program. It can't hurt recruiting efforts, either. ... QB Austin Everson, who saw considerable action in 2004, established himself as the man under center this spring. He needs to get rid of the ball a little quicker, but he seems comfortable in the team's offense. ... Although the new staff is switching the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3, that's no slight to the linebackers. In fact, they are probably the team's No. 1 strength. All four starters are back, led by the fierce-as-ever Muncy. ... Punter wasn't an issue last year and it didn't become one this spring. Last fall, Matthew Miller placed 20 inside the 20 and still averaged more than 42 yards a punt. He's a nice weapon to have around.

Fall Questions: The Bobcats want to increase production from the running game, but Solich wasn't pleased with the blocking from his backs or the way they danced around in the backfield. It looks like this will be a group effort, since no one really distinguished himself in the spring. If one does emerge, it'll most likely be Kalvin McRae. ... Questions also need to be answered on the line if the offense is going to better its conference-low 20 points a game from last year. The group lost three starters, but does return some experience because of past injury problems. ... Both safeties were vacated by graduation and both remain vacated after this spring. A host of young and unproven hopefuls will battle it out in August.

Toledo Rockets
2005 Schedule
9/1 Western Illinois
9/10 Western Michigan
9/17 at Temple
9/27 at Fresno State
10/8 Eastern Michigan
10/15 at Ball State
10/22 Buffalo
10/29 at Central Michigan
11/4 at Ohio
11/16 Northern Illinois
11/22 at Bowling Green

2004 overall record:
9-4
Conference record:
7-1

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Scooter McDougle* (620 yds)
Passing: Bruce Gradkowski* (3,518 yds)
Receiving: Lance Moore (1,189 yds)
Tackles: Patrick Body (113)
Sacks: Mike Alston* (5)
Interceptions: Nigel Morris* and Keon Jackson* (3 each)

Spring Answers: Holy Toledo, Gradkowski was reduced to throwing Nerf balls this spring?! Calm down, Rocket fans – they're just being cautious. Bruce Almighty had surgery on his broken hand, but will be fine come August. Maybe then the rest of America will wake up and realize what this guy is doing. Only a handful of D-I quarterbacks have ever completed 70 percent or more of their passes in a season. Gradkowski is the only one who's done it twice. ... How pleased was coach Tom Amstutz with his running backs? In his one-back set, he's taking a five-backs-by-committee approach. Amstutz will scrap the depth chart and play Trinity Dawson, Quinton Broussard, Jalen Parmele and Richard Davis, as well as McDougle, who was injured this spring but has already proven his worth. ... The Rockets have no worries about Body's replacement at free safety. Sophomore Tyrrell Herbert was groomed as the successor last year and did nothing this spring to disappoint.

Fall Questions: Will TE Andrew Clarke return? An all-MAC performer his junior year, Clarke was forced to sit out last fall because of problems with his hip. Still in rehab, his timetable for a return is not yet clear. Clarke has everything you'd want in a tight end, including great hands. ... With the loss of Moore, a pass-catching threat of his ability would be a huge help. WR Steve Odom is pretty close to a sure thing, but it gets somewhat dicey after him. The 6-foot-5 David Washington is an interesting possibility. ... Will the much-traveled Tim Rose turn around an inconsistent defense as its new coordinator? It appears the team is leaning toward a 3-4 setup, which better suits its personnel. Now a terror like Alston will be able to start on the outside. ... The real question remains the secondary, though. In 2004, Eastern Michigan was the only Mid-American team to give up more yards through the air. In the pass-happy MAC, that's never a good spot to be in. Nearly everyone returns, but the quality part has to be taken up a notch or two.

Western Michigan Broncos
2005 Schedule
9/3 at Virginia
9/10 at Toledo
9/17 Southern Illinois
9/24 at Temple
10/1 Buffalo
10/8 Ball State
10/22 at Bowling Green
10/29 Kent State
11/5 Eastern Michigan*
11/12 Central Michigan
11/22 at Northern Illinois
* -- at Detroit

2004 overall record:
1-10
Conference record:
0-8

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Trovon Riley* (691 yds)
Passing: Ryan Cubit* (1,887 yds)
Receiving: Greg Jennings* (1,092 yds)
Tackles: Mike Giorgianni (89)
Sacks: Ernest Osborne (6.5)
Interceptions: Scott Robinson (3)

Spring Answers: When former offensive coordinator Bill Kubit left Kalamazoo after the 1999 season, the Bronco offense pretty much went with him. Subsequently, the team's record went from 31-15 (1997-2000) to 15-31 (2001-04). Well, Kubit is back -- this time as head coach. He's brought back his experimental offense that uses trick plays and varied formations and thrives on putting the ball in the air. ... Ryan Cubit, the coach's son and a former Rutgers quarterback, will be in charge of that. The senior took over the job last year and threw for more than 300 yards in the spring game. He'll be a big benefactor in this new look. ... So will Jennings, already one of the best players in school history. Also a lethal return threat, the senior has an uncanny ability to go up in traffic and haul in passes, and his receiving numbers (74 catches, 11 TDs) might get even better in the new system. He leads a wealth of returnees who can catch the ball on a consistent basis, including All-MAC tight end Tony Scheffler.

Fall Questions: With the Broncos employing more of a two-back look, it's fair to say they're expecting a little more production out of their running game. Riley was OK, but needs to be better as a senior. And WMU's depth took a hit when backup Daniel Marks injured his leg in the spring. He's a likely no-go for this fall. ... It's safe to say the defense has nowhere to go but up – that's usually the case when you rank 116th out of 117 teams. With the exception of junior LB Paul Tithof and possibly a few others, everyone else is battling for a starting spot. Round One didn't decide much this spring. Round Two begins in August. ... That's also when the Broncos need to find some answers on special teams. No kicker or punter on the roster has any extensive game experience. Junior walk-on Nick Meyer did hit a 50-yarder at Illinois last year, but missed his three other attempts. It's safe to say both spots are wide open.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.