Commentary

Breaking down the MAC East

Originally Published: May 12, 2008
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

Can Buffalo continue its climb in the MAC rankings? Will Temple find a running game? And will an experienced roster keep Bowling Green on top? Take a look at what questions were answered this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall in the MAC East.

Akron Zips

2008 Schedule

Aug. 30 @ Wisconsin
Sept. 6 @ Syracuse
Sept. 13 Ball State
Sept. 20 @ Army
Sept. 27 Cincinnati
Oct. 4 @ Kent State
Oct. 11 Bowling Green
Oct. 18 @ Eastern Michigan
Nov. 5 Toledo
Nov. 13 Buffalo
Nov. 22 @ Ohio
Nov. 28 @ Temple


2007 overall record:
4-8

2007 conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 8, defense: 4, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Chris Jacquemain, RB Bryan Williams, WR Stephon Fuqua, LT Chris Kemme, DE Almondo Sewell, LB Kevin Grant, FS Andre Jones
Key losses
WR Jabari Arthur, C Mike Schepp, CB Reggie Corner, LB Brion Stokes, S John Mackey, CB Davanzo Tate
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Bryan Williams* (728 yds)
Passing: Chris Jacquemain* (1,623 yds)
Receiving: Jabari Arthur (1,171 yds)
Tackles: Brion Stokes (90)
Sacks: Brion Stokes (5.5)
Interceptions: Reggie Corner (7)

Spring answers

1. Taking the lead: Carlton Jackson's transfer to Morgan State allowed Chris Jacquemain to take hold of the starting quarterback spot this spring. Jacquemain, who started most of last year, turned in a solid spring while being pushed by redshirt freshman Matt Rodgers. Despite a three-interception clunker in the spring game, Jacquemain enters training camp as the man to beat. "Jacquemain set the pace as the starter all spring, but Matt pushed him the whole way," coach J.D. Brookhart said.

2. New surroundings: It's rare when a coach moves his leading rusher across the line of scrimmage, but Brookhart had little choice after losing essentially the entire starting secondary. Running back Bryan Williams went from hunted to hunter this spring, switching to strong safety. Williams quickly adapted to his new position, collecting a team-high 11 tackles and a sack in the spring game.

3. Bring the Bain: No longer buried on Iowa's depth chart, nose tackle Ryan Bain performed like a starter this spring with his new team. The transfer is expected to step in for departing senior Nate Robinson on Akron's line. The 305-pound Bain capped a strong spring with a sack in the Blue-Gold game. "Bain has been really good," Brookhart said.

Fall questions

1. Targets needed: Wide receiver tops Brookhart's list of concerns heading into training camp after Akron lost star Jabari Arthur, who caught 10 of the team's 15 touchdown passes last season. How desperate is the situation at wideout? Brookhart moved his only returning starter in the secondary, safety Andre Jones, to receiver this spring. Jones will continue to compete with Alphonso Owen, Stephon Fuqua, West Virginia transfer Jeremy Bruce, junior college standout Deryn Bowser and several others for playing time.

2. Backfield blues: After moving leading rusher Williams to defense, the Zips are looking to replenish at running back. Senior Dennis Kennedy impressed the coaches in the spring game, piling up 117 yards and two touchdowns on only 16 carries. Kennedy will compete with fellow reserve Alex Allen, who had a team-high seven rushing touchdowns last season, as well as University of Miami transfer Andrew Johnson.

3. Ailing line: Injuries thinned the offensive line this spring as left guard Zack Anderson, left tackle Corey Woods and right guard Mike Ward all missed practice time. The Zips need all three projected starters healthy for the fall as they try to reload up front. With only one starter gone from last year's team, the line could be Akron's strength in 2008.

Bowling Green Falcons

2008 Schedule

Aug. 30 @ Pittsburgh
Sept. 6 Minnesota
Sept. 13 @ Boise State
Sept. 27 @ Wyoming
Oct. 4 Eastern Michigan
Oct. 11 @ Akron
Oct. 18 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 25 @ Northern Illinois
Nov. 1 Kent State
Nov. 8 @ Ohio
Nov. 21 Buffalo
Nov. 28 @ Toledo


2007 overall record:
8-5

2007 conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, defense: 9, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Tyler Sheehan, RB Anthony Turner, WR Freddie Barnes, WR Corey Partridge, DE Diyral Briggs, LB Erique Dozier, S P.J. Mahone, PK Sinisa Vrvilo
Key losses
C Kory Lichtensteiger, LT Drew Nystrom, RT Kevin Huelsman, LB Loren Hargrove
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Turner* (519 yds)
Passing: Tyler Sheehan* (3,264 yds)
Receiving: Freddie Barnes* (962 yds)
Tackles: Erique Dozier* (112)
Sacks: Diyral Briggs* (5)
Interceptions: P.J. Mahone* (7)

Spring answers

1. Briggs sizzles: The defense dominated the offense throughout spring practice, and end Diyral Briggs made sure the spring game would be no different. Briggs, a first-team All-MAC selection last season, had five sacks, nine tackles and a pass breakup in the spring game as the offense managed only 10 points. "It feels great just coming out here seeing the [first-teamers], [second-teamers] and [third-teamers] on our defense being able to hold their own," Briggs told The Toledo Blade.

2. Center of attention: Bowling Green has established a tradition of producing superstar centers with complex surnames. First came Scott Mruczkowski, then Kory Lichtensteiger. Who's next in line? Ben Bojicic. Go figure. Bojicic affirmed himself as the starting center this spring, drawing comparisons to both Mruczkowski and Lichtensteiger. The difference is Bojicic can play multiple line positions and could start elsewhere this fall. Brandon Curtis also practiced at center this spring.

3. Big hitter: All four starters return in the secondary, which should be among the league's best this fall. Safety P.J. Mahone reaffirmed that point this spring with a hard-hitting performance. After tying for fourth nationally in interceptions per game last fall, Mahone turned his attention to physical play this spring, sparing few ball carriers. "He's a young man that plays the defensive back position with a linebacker mentality," secondary coach Adam Gonzaga told The Toledo Blade.

Fall questions

1. Running men: The picture at running back remains cloudy heading into the summer. Willie Geter leapfrogged Anthony Turner for the top spot on the depth chart this spring, but the entire rushing attack struggled in the spring game, heightening concerns for the season. Geter gained 6.1 yards a carry last season, but Turner, who received just one carry in the spring game, shouldered the majority of the load. Chris Bullock also will be in the mix.

2. Neck and neck: Several offensive line spots remain undecided, but the best position battle is at right tackle. Converted guard Jeff Fink pushed projected starter Tyler Donahue throughout the spring and figures to do so well into training camp. Fink's spring performance coupled with continued improvement this summer likely will earn him a starting spot at either tackle or guard.

3. Linebacker limbo: Despite the return of leading tackler Erique Dozier, the linebacker position will be closely watched throughout the summer. John Haneline missed spring practice with an injury, and projected starter Glen Stanley was dismissed because of academic reasons. The Falcons need Haneline healthy for training camp as well as contributions from converted safeties Jerett Sanderson and Calvin Marshall.

Buffalo Bulls

2008 Schedule

Aug. 28 UTEP
Sept. 6 @ Pittsburgh
Sept. 13 Temple
Sept. 20 @ Missouri
Sept. 27 @ Central Michigan
Oct. 11 Western Michigan
Oct. 18 Army
Oct. 28 @ Ohio
Nov. 4 Miami (Ohio)
Nov. 13 @ Akron
Nov. 21 @ Bowling Green
Nov. 28 Kent State


2007 overall record:
5-7

2007 conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 10, defense: 8, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Drew Willy, RB James Starks, WR Naaman Roosevelt, WR Ernest Jackson, RG Jeff Niedermier, SS Davonte Shannon, FS Mike Newton
Key losses
C Jamey Richard, DE Trevor Scott, LB Kareem Byrom, LB Larry Hutchinson
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: James Starks* (1,103 yds)
Passing: Drew Willy* (2,572 yds)
Receiving: Naaman Roosevelt* (766 yds)
Tackles: Davonte Shannon* (123)
Sacks: Trevor Scott (10)
Interceptions: Mike Newton* (4)

Spring answers

1. Front and center: The Bulls entered the spring needing to fill only one hole on their starting offense. They succeeded by finding a replacement for All-MAC center Jamey Richard in senior Chris Lauzze. The team's long snapper last season, Lauzze secured the starting job ahead of redshirt freshman Josh Violanti.

2. Stacking backs: James Starks returns after a 1,100-yard rushing season, but the Bulls spent the spring trying to build depth behind him. Brandon Thermilus stepped up in the spring game with 91 yards on 12 carries, including a 16-yard touchdown scamper. Thermilus has an edge over Mario Henry heading into the summer.

3. Business as usual: With 18 returning starters, coaches spent much of their time this spring evaluating reserves. But Turner Gill and his staff had to be encouraged by the play of cornerstones like quarterback Drew Willy. The senior completed 16 of 22 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Top wideouts Naaman Roosevelt and Ernest Jackson also were effective.

Fall questions

1. Linebackers in demand: The Bulls lost a pair of All-MAC linebackers in Kareem Byrom and Larry Hutchinson, and they struggled to find replacements this spring. Gill called the competition wide open and said nothing would be settled until weeks before the season. He will be looking to Larry Grant, who missed spring ball with an injury, as well as seven incoming linebacker recruits. Linebackers Jerry Housey and Raphael Akobundu were the top two tacklers in the spring game.

2. Backup needed: Willy is primed for a strong senior season, but Buffalo needs to build depth behind him in preseason camp. Cory Jorgensen completed just 7 of 17 passes with an interception in the spring game, and fellow reserve Ed Young didn't fare much better, with 5-for-15 passing. Three incoming quarterbacks will join the competition to back up Willy this summer.

3. End game: The interior line is solid, but the Bulls must replenish their pass rush after losing All-MAC end Trevor Scott, who had 10 sacks last season. Chris Callahan and Orlando Toussaint finished the spring neck and neck for a starting spot, while returning starter Mike Thompson will need to hold off Gordon DuBois and several contenders in training camp. "We have a lot of guys to pick from," Gill said.

Kent State Golden Flashes

2008 Schedule

Aug. 30 Boston College
Sept. 6 @ Iowa State
Sept. 13 Delaware State
Sept. 20 @ Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 27 @ Ball State
Oct. 4 Akron
Oct. 11 Ohio
Oct. 25 @ Miami (Ohio)
Nov. 1 @ Bowling Green
Nov. 12 Temple
Nov. 18 Northern Illinois
Nov. 28 @ Buffalo


2007 overall record:
3-9

2007 conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 7, defense: 8, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Julian Edelman, RB Eugene Jarvis, LT Augustus Parrish, LB Derek Burrell, CB Rico Murray, DE Kevin Hogan
Key losses
LG Shawn Donaldson, DE Colin Ferrell, CB Jack Williams, SS Fritz Jacques
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Eugene Jarvis* (1,669)
Passing: Julian Edelman* (1,318)
Receiving: Eugene Jarvis* (306)
Tackles: Derek Burrell* (112)
Sacks: Kevin Hogan* and Colin Ferrell (5)
Interceptions: Jack Williams (3)

Spring answers

1. No debate: Kent State addressed its uncertainty under center this spring by removing all contact restrictions from the quarterbacks. But at the final scrimmage, Julian Edelman stood on the sideline, having earned his way back into the protection program. Edelman reaffirmed himself as the starter after competing with Giorgio Morgan throughout spring practice. After an injury-plagued 2007 season, Edelman hopes to find the form he showed two years ago. "He's proven he's back, and he's playing really well," coach Doug Martin told the Akron Beacon Journal. "He's making plays, not only with his legs but with his arm, too. And he was getting more and more accurate as the spring went on."

2. Masterful move: With plenty of capable bodies at linebacker, Martin shifted two-year starter Jameson Konz to tight end this spring. Just weeks into practice, Martin admitted he wished Konz had made the transition a year earlier. Konz's speed and strength provides Edelman another weapon in the passing game, which ranked 111th nationally and loses starting tight end Tom Sitko. "His natural position is on the offensive side of the ball," Martin said of Konz. "You watch the way he catches the ball and runs routes and makes plays on offense, that is where he belongs."

3. Flowers power: The Flashes boast the MAC's best running back in Eugene Jarvis, but they built much-needed depth behind him this spring. Sophomore Andre Flowers was among the team's spring standouts, winning the award for most improved offensive player. Flowers, who had 279 rushing yards on 64 carries last season, should be able to spell Jarvis at times this fall. He had two touchdown runs in the final spring scrimmage.

Fall questions

1. Secondary first: The defensive backs will be in the spotlight before the season after losing interceptions leader Jack Williams and starting safety Fritz Jacques. Cornerback Rico Murray is the only proven commodity, but the other three spots should feature plenty of competition. Martin signed six defensive backs in February to add to the mix.

2. Backup bonanza: Though Edelman reclaimed the starting quarterback job this spring, the battle behind him will spill into training camp. Morgan looked like the front-runner after appearing in two games as a true freshman last fall, but junior Anthony Magazu made a strong push toward the end of the spring after undergoing offseason elbow surgery. Martin wants to play two quarterbacks this season, so choosing a backup will be vital this summer.

3. Passing fancy: Konz's emergence at tight end doesn't completely solve a lack of reliable pass-catching options. Kent State can't afford to have a running back (Jarvis) become its leading receiver for another season, so more options are necessary. Starter Phil Garner is back, but the Flashes need more contributions from a group that includes Shawn Bayes, Mark Woodson and Alan Vanderink.

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks

2008 Schedule

Aug. 28 Vanderbilt
Sept. 6 @ Michigan
Sept. 13 Charleston Southern
Sept. 20 @ Cincinnati
Oct. 4 Temple
Oct. 11 @ Northern Illinois
Oct. 18 @ Bowling Green
Oct. 25 Kent State
Nov. 4 @ Buffalo
Nov. 11 Ball State
Nov. 21 @ Toledo
Nov. 28 Ohio


2007 overall record:
6-7

2007 conference record:
5-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, defense: 9, kicker/punter: 2


Top returners
WR Eugene Harris, G Dave DiFranco, LB Clayton Mullins, LB Joey Hudson, DE Joe Coniglio, P Jake Richardson
Key losses
RB Brandon Murphy, C Steve Meister, LT Charlie Norden, CB Jerrid Gaines, DE Craig Mester
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Cory Jones (483)
Passing: Daniel Raudabaugh* (2,431)
Receiving: Dustin Woods* (603)
Tackles: Clayton Mullins* (143)
Sacks: Joe Coniglio* (6.5)
Interceptions: Jeff Thompson* (3)

Spring answers

1. Back in action: Injuries forced a rotation at running back last season, as Cory Jones and Austin Sykes filled in for Brandon Murphy. All three players are gone, and Thomas Merriweather made a strong push this season to become the top back in the fall. Coach Shane Montgomery called Merriweather "the clear-cut No. 1" and praised the sophomore's size and speed. Though the defense dominated the spring game, Merriweather still managed 57 rushing yards on 11 carries.

2. Target practice: With so much uncertainty at quarterback, Miami needs as many reliable wide receivers as it can find. Several players emerged this spring, including sophomore Mitchell Anderson, who caught two touchdowns in an April 19 scrimmage. Classmate Armand Robinson continued to blossom, collecting five receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

3. More the merrier: Miami already boasts arguably the league's best linebacking corps with reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year Clayton Mullins and second-team All-MAC selection Joey Hudson. But injuries to Mullins, Hudson and fellow starter Caleb Bostic this spring cleared the path for new players to step up. Redshirt freshman Alex Kaufman did just that with a team-high 12 tackles in the spring game. Classmate Scott Madsen added eight stops.

Fall questions

1. Decision time: The spring didn't produce any answers at quarterback, because incumbent Daniel Raudabaugh couldn't separate from redshirt freshman Clay Belton. Both quarterbacks tossed interceptions in the spring game, though Belton fired a touchdown pass while Raudabaugh had one called back on a penalty. "Daniel is doing some good things, but he's got to continue to get consistent," Montgomery said. "Clay has made great strides throughout the spring and he needs more reps to build his confidence. The key is that we've got to continue to bring along the other elements to help them."

2. Playmaking problems: The lack of big plays throughout spring practice left Montgomery concerned heading into the summer. Miami had a touchdown called back on a penalty in the spring game and struggled to penetrate a defense that played without four starters. In addition to finding a starting quarterback, the RedHawks need more playmakers to emerge this summer.

3. Health watch: Despite strong performances from the reserves in the spring game, Miami needs all of its injured linebackers to be on the field for training camp. Four starters sat out the spring game with injuries, including all three linebackers. Mullins anchors what should be a dominant unit, so his health becomes a peak priority this summer.

Ohio Bobcats

2008 Schedule

Aug. 30 @ Wyoming
Sept. 6 @ Ohio State
Sept. 13 Central Michigan
Sept. 20 @ Northwestern
Sept. 27 Virginia Military
Oct. 4 @ Western Michigan
Oct. 11 @ Kent State
Oct. 21 @ Temple
Oct. 28 Buffalo
Nov. 8 Bowling Green
Nov. 22 Akron
Nov. 28 @ Miami (Ohio)


2007 overall record:
6-6

2007 conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 8, defense: 7, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
TE Andrew Mooney, WR Taylor Price DE Jameson Hartke, DE Kris Luchsinger, LB Taj Henley, SS Michael Mitchell
Key losses
RB Kalvin McRae, RG Matt Miller, DT Landon Cohen, FS Todd Koenig, PK Michael Braunstein
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kalvin McRae (1,434)
Passing: Brad Bower (1,766)
Receiving: Andrew Mooney* (498)
Tackles: Todd Koenig (96)
Sacks: Kris Luchsinger* (5)
Interceptions: Four players tied (2)

Spring answers

1. Quick study: Just weeks after arriving on campus, junior college transfer Boo Jackson shook up the quarterback competition with a strong performance in the spring game. Jackson outshined Theo Scott, completing 16 of 20 passes for 190 yards. No starter has been named, but Jackson is definitely in the mix entering the summer. "I've grown by leaps and bounds," Jackson said. "The first couple of days I was bobbling snaps and just looked like a freshman coming out of high school. Then, as the weeks progressed, I caught on very quick and I just feel comfortable now with the offense."

2. Brazill blossoms: The quarterback competition will continue this summer, but whoever wins the job will have a dynamic target in LaVon Brazill. After collecting only 16 receptions last season, Brazill turned heads this spring with a strong performance. He had three catches for 58 yards in the spring game, including a 36-yarder. "I've had some receivers that could compare to him," Jackson said, "but coming out here and seeing his speed and athleticism and how he catches the ball so smooth is something that I haven't seen before."

3. Fabulous Fletcher: Ohio has only one major hole in the secondary after losing leading tackler Todd Koenig, and sophomore Donovan Fletcher looks ready to step in at free safety. Fletcher capped a solid spring with two interceptions and a team-high seven tackles in the spring game. "I'm just trying to do what I can to get into the rotation," said Fletcher, who has yet to play a snap in a game.

Fall questions

1. Uncertain under center: Coach Frank Solich gave Scott a slight edge in the quarterback competition coming out of the spring, but Jackson's late surge makes the race very much open. Ohio struggled in the passing game at times last season but needs an upgrade after losing standout running back Kalvin McRae. "That position is not decided," Solich said.

2. On the run: The quarterbacks will dominate the spotlight in training camp, but Ohio's situation at running back shouldn't be overlooked. McRae had 1,434 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns last season, a sizable chunk of production to replace. Chris Garrett performed well in the spring game with 74 rushing yards and a touchdown. He will compete with L.J. Flintall, Donte Harden and Vince Davidson for the top job.

3. Fortifying the front: The back half of the defense should be solid with safety Michael Mitchell, cornerback Julian Posey and linebacker Taj Henley, but there are some concerns up front. Ohio loses star defensive end Landon Cohen as well as nose guard Brett Sykes. Solich needs continued production from players like Alex Trouten, who had two sacks in an April 19 scrimmage.

Temple Owls

2008 Schedule

Aug. 29 @ Army
Sept. 6 Connecticut
Sept. 13 @ Buffalo
Sept. 20 @ Penn State
Sept. 27 Western Michigan
Oct. 4 @ Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 11 @ Central Michigan
Oct. 21 Ohio
Nov. 1 @ Navy
Nov. 12 @ Kent State
Nov. 22 Eastern Michigan
Nov. 28 Akron


2007 overall record:
4-8

2007 conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 10, defense: 11, kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
QB Adam DiMichele, C Alex Derenthal, WR Bruce Francis, NT Andre Neblett, SS Dominique Harris, CB Jamal Schulters
Key losses
FB Josh Bundy
2007 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jason Harper (586)
Passing: Adam DiMichele* (1,595)
Receiving: Bruce Francis* (731)
Tackles: Dominique Harris* (81)
Sacks: Andre Neblett* (7.5)
Interceptions: Dominique Harris* (3)

Spring answers

1. Building depth: As injured starter Adam DiMichele signaled in plays from the sideline, Vaughn Charlton proved himself as a reliable backup quarterback in the spring game. Charlton passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard strike to Bruce Francis. He also rushed for a touchdown.

2. Middle man: Coach Al Golden wanted to settle on a clear-cut middle linebacker this spring and seemed to find one in Alex Joseph. After finishing fourth on the team in tackles last season, Joseph, a special-teams standout, moved ahead of Omar McDonnaugh-Hales this spring. He tallied 11 tackles (one for loss) in the spring game to the lead the White squad. "Right now, that's his spot," Golden said.

3. Shuffling the deck: Golden wasn't afraid to move around his pieces this spring as he tries to jump-start the offense. Former running back Jason Harper, the team's leading rusher last season, spent time at wide receiver, catching three passes in the spring game. Marquise Liverpool, a wide receiver last season, was auditioned at running back. Lamar McPherson moved to fullback after playing outside linebacker last season.

Fall questions

1. Wait and see: The health of DiMichele becomes a chief concern in training camp after he missed spring practice while rehabbing the fractured tibia he sustained last season. DiMichele's recovery has gone smoothly so far, but how he readjusts to practice will be vital for an offense that returns 10 starters.

2. Special problem: After a sloppy performance in the spring game, the special-teams unit will become a greater priority this summer. Temple had a field-goal attempt and an extra-point attempt blocked. Evan Cooper returned the blocked extra-point attempt 89 yards. "We need to get more production from our punters and kickers," Golden said before spring ball.

3. Running on empty: Temple hopes a spring of experimenting at running back will produce strong results this summer. The Owls gained just 2.7 yards per carry last season and need a viable rushing attack to complement DiMichele. Players like Liverpool, McPherson, Joe Jones and junior college transfer Jared Williams will have opportunities to become the featured back. Temple generated just 51 total rushing yards in the spring game.

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.

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