P.J. Fleck is set for stardom in the Big Ten Conference with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Bowling Green State Falcons 9-4 (6-2)
Ohio Bobcats 7-5 (4-4)
Akron Zips 4-8 (3-5)
Buffalo Bulls 4-8 (2-6)
Miami (Ohio) Redhawks 3-9 (2-6)
Kent State Golden Flashes 2-10 (0-8)
Western Michigan Broncos 12-1 (8-0)
Northern Illinois Huskies 11-1 (7-1)
Central Michigan Chippewas 8-4 (5-3)
Toledo Rockets 8-4 (5-3)
Ball State Cardinals 2-10 (1-7)
Eastern Michigan Eagles 3-9 (1-7)
Mid-American Conference Championship Game-Ford Field-Detroit, Michigan
Bowling Green vs. Western Michigan
Conference Champion: Western Michigan
Coach of the Year: P.J. Fleck-Western Michigan
Offensive Player of the Year: Zach Terrell-Western Michigan
Defensive Player of the Year: Shawun Lurry-Defensive Back-Northern Illinois
2015 was another splendid year on the gridiron for the Mid-American Conference. Seven teams made bowl games while the Toledo Rockets scored a road upset victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks of the Southeastern Conference and the Bowling Green State Falcons were victorious against the Maryland Terrapins of the Big Ten Conference. The success of the MAC saw Dino Babers leave the Bowling Green State Falcons to become the head football coach of the Syracuse Orange, and Matt Campbell left Toledo to take over the Iowa State Cyclones program.
As the 2016 college football season is set to begin, the Mid-American Conference will once again be a 12-member football conference after the Massachusetts Minutemen are now a football independent which shouldn’t in any way shape or form take away from what has gone on in this conference in recent years.
Although that Babers has left Bowling Green, there is still talent there in the form of senior running back Fred Coppet. Led by senior left tackle Jacob Bennett, the Falcons have a veteran offensive line that will allow senior quarterback James Knapke to get his feet wet under center.
Bowling Green was ranked 86th in total defense last year, but they have a strong linebacking core which consists of senior outside linebackers James Sanford and Trenton Greene, along with junior middle linebacker Austin Valdez. Senior cornerback Alfonso Mack has a nose for the football as he had 6 interceptions last year and he definitely has a future in the National Football League. Senior defensive end Terrence Bush could be a problem for Falcons opponents coming off of the edge as Mike Jinks who is entering his first year as Bowling Green’s head football coach has a team that is definitely worthy of winning the Mid-American Conference.
Frank Solich is set to begin his 11th year as the head football coach of the Ohio Bobcats and all that he has done there is win, but he and his program have gone under the radar. However will Solich’s coaching ability alone be enough to allow Ohio to hang with Bowling Green in the race to win the Eastern Division of the Mid-American Conference?
The Western Division of the Mid-American Conference will be a war of attrition as it is home to some conference heavyweights. The Northern Illinois Huskies have dominated this division in recent years, but there should be a push this year from the Western Michigan Broncos, while Toledo and the Central Michigan Chippewas will be laying in the weeds.
Last year there was a four-way tie atop the Western Division between Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Toledo, and Central Michigan, but who will reign supreme here in 2016?
P.J. Fleck is set begin his fourth year as the head football coach at Western Michigan and he has a squad that is worthy of winning the Mid-American Conference, while he could get some attention if head coaching positions open up with bigger programs. Western Michigan senior quarterback Zach Terrell has to potential to be the MAC Offensive Player of the Year. And aside from Terrell, there is a plethora of talent at the skill positions for the Broncos that includes sophomore Jamauri Bogan, along with senior wide receiver Corey Davis. Defensively junior cornerback Darius Phillips and junior outside linebacker Caleb Bailey could both be All-MAC performers as Fleck arguably has the most talented team in the conference.
Northern Illinois heads into the 2016 college football season looking to rebound after their first six-loss season since 2009. As the Huskies look improve here in 2016 under head football coach Rod Carey, it will begin with their ability to run the football which has been a staple at Northern Illinois. The three-headed monster of senior quarterback Drew Hare, along with senior running back Joel Bouagnon and junior running back Jordan Huff will look to dictate the pace as they will be running behind an offensive line that features three seniors which includes senior left tackle Levon Myers.
Defensively for the Huskies, junior cornerback Shawun Lurry should be in the mix to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back after a 2015 campaign that saw him have 9 interceptions, while senior outside linebacker Sean Follard has the blend of being a strong pass rusher that can also drop back into coverage.
Central Michigan has not been a serious title contender since 2009, but as they are set to begin their second season under head football coach John Bonamego, there is potential for them to be a dark horse. Senior quarterback Cooper Rush has the potential to be a 4,000-yard passer this season and he could put the Central Michigan offense on his shoulders and carry them to the conference title game.
And although that Toledo was right there in 2015, it will take a Herculean effort from senior running back Kareem Hunt in 2016 if the Rockets are going to be able to leap frog the other contenders in the Western Division to make it to Detroit for the conference title game.
Games to watch in the Mid-American Conference are when Central Michigan hosts Western Michigan on October 1, the Western Michigan-Northern Illinois contest on October 8, and when Bowling Green travels to face the Huskies on November 1 as these games will have a huge bearing on who will win the conference here in 2016.
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com, Cfbstats.com
The Western Michigan Broncos have fielded a Division-I football team since 1962 and they’ve exclusively competed in the Mid-American Conference. The Broncos haven’t won the MAC since 1988 while they’ve also failed to reach the conference title game since 2000, but they are a program that is becoming a force to be reckoned within the conference. P.J. Fleck just completed his third year as the head football coach at Western Michigan and he brings with him infectious energy that could soon make him a big-time name on the college football scene.
Fleck played his college football for the Northern Illinois Huskies who are also in the Mid-American Conference. Fleck played wide receiver at Northern Illinois where he set single-season school records as a senior in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,028), and receiving touchdowns (6). After Fleck’s college eligibility ended, he went undrafted by the National Football League before signing with the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers primarily used Fleck on special teams before injuries ended his NFL career in 2006. But as one door closed for Fleck, another opened as he wanted to pursue a career in coaching.
In 2006, Fleck was a graduate assistant for the Ohio State Buckeyes where at learned at the feet of head football coach Jim Tressel. After one year at Ohio State, Fleck would return to his alma mater in 2007 as the wide receivers coach. After three years at Northern Illinois, Fleck would join the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the same capacity before returning to the National Football League in 2012 as the wide receivers coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Fleck would receive the opportunity of a lifetime in 2013 when he finally got to lead his own program when he was named as the head football coach at Western Michigan.
Things would start slow for Fleck as the Broncos went 1-11 in 2013 before they would turn things around as they went 8-5 in 2014 to become a contender in the Mid-American Conference.
This season Western Michigan began the season with a record of 1-3, but two of those losses came against Big Ten Conference powers in the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State. The Broncos would win their first five conference games as a trip to Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan and the Mid-American Conference Title Game appeared to be in the cards until they suffered consecutive losses to the Bowling Green State Falcons and Northern Illinois. Western Michigan would rebound to win their regular-season finale against the Toledo Rockets and in the process hurt their chances of making the conference title game. Then on Christmas Eve, the Broncos knocked off the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders 45-31 in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl for their first bowl win in school history. The Broncos finished 2015 with a record of 8-5 which also marked the first time since 2006 that they had consecutive winning seasons.
Western Michigan finished this college football season with the top offense in the Mid-American Conference while they are currently 17th in the nation in total offense. The Broncos offense also produced three, first-team All-MAC performers in senior offensive tackle Willie Beavers, along with junior wide receivers Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman. The Broncos also had the MAC Freshman of the Year in running back Jamauri Bogan who gained 1,051 yards on the ground. The Broncos have a ton of talent returning on the offensive side of the football which will make them an early favorite to win the MAC in 2016 which would also make Fleck an attractive name for some potential openings at bigger schools.
At the age of 35, Fleck looks like he could be a football player for Western Michigan and the passion that he had as a player is still with him. When Fleck takes the field with his team, he wears a shirt and a tie like Tressel did at Ohio State, but he is also known to put on a pair of cleats while he is one the sidelines, and if he could, he would go out on the field in order to catch a slant pass. Fleck is a native of Sugar Grove, Illinois and he embodies that region of the United States as he is scrappy and he is not going to take anything for granted. And after facing Western Michigan under Fleck, teams know that win or lose, they’ve been in a battle.
Like I previously stated, Fleck’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and it won’t be that long before more people around the college football world know about it as it will become very difficult to just keep it bottled up at Western Michigan.
Source: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com