Central Michigan Life – Vosburg: MAC West is anything but clear in 2021
With one month into the 75th Mid-American Conference season, the 12 teams gathered at Ford Field on Tuesday for MAC Football Media Day.
After talking to six coaches, I feel like I understood what the 2021 season could look like in the MAC West division. With no player losing their eligibility for this season, it is perhaps the most competitive and unique college football season of all time.
Here are my thoughts on the MAC West:
Scenario to follow: which quarterback gets the keys to the team?
The Chippewas are expected to finish fourth in the preseason polls, but the team views the prediction as outside noise. The squad includes Troy Hairston II and Troy Brown, two of the best defensive players in the conference who anchor solid defense. Kalil Pimpleton is perhaps the most dynamic player in the conference and is accompanied by a 1-2 punch with Kobe Lewis and Lew Nichols III.
If CMU can improve on their dismal 28.2-thirds percentage, stay healthy, and find a response in the quarterback, I don’t see why this team won’t play at Ford Field in December.
“I think we have some really talented guys, but we have to put those pieces together and make them whole,” said head coach Jim McElwain. “It’s really the development of our young players that will push us to the top.
Scenario ahead: Can the Cardinals claim a second straight title?
Returning from 20 starters from their 2020 MAC Championship squad, the Cardinals are the pre-season favorites to win the MAC West again. For Mike Neu and the team, it’s considered a piece of paper.
With Drew Plitt back in quarterback behind the same five offensive linemen as in 2020, the Cardinals’ powerful offense will need to be matched by a defense that allowed the most passing yards in the conference last season, but who found a way to force timely turnovers.
The Cardinals will be a problem again in the West, but can they repeat their 2020 success?
“We have players who have had good days here and players who have had bad days,” Neu said. “The only thing that is consistent (with the team) is that they all know how difficult it is to get to the top, make sure that every day we are involved in the process and make sure that we have our best stuff each and every day. “
Scenario ahead: Can the Eagles win close games?
The Eagles are coached by Chris Chreighton for his eighth season. While he has had a rocky start, he has guided EMU close to a record 0.500 in the past five years.
Creighton knows the Eagles are a hungry team that is missing just one thing. For me, that’s a compliment to quarterback Preston Hutchinson, who made up 77% of EMU’s offensive yards in 2020.
If there’s a sleeper in this conference, it could honestly be the Eagles, who have lost 24 games in one possession since 2016. However, I see another 7-6 season with a bowl game for EMU.
“You have to have the chemistry and the culture to win a championship, but it’s also x’s and o’s,” Creighton said. “You have to be talented, you have to play very hard and consistently well. We have to understand what this little thing is that is going to put us on the brink. “
Scenario to watch: Can the Huskies improve from week to week?
After a MAC championship season in 2018, NIU has won just five games under third-year head coach Thomas Hammock, including a 0-6 campaign last season. The main goal of the Huskies, according to Hammock, is to win games and mature throughout the season. Having scared Western Michigan and Ball State last season, I understand that this team still has room for improvement.
The Huskies return 19 starters, but the quarterback is the Huskies’ biggest question mark this season. In a conference with little or no turnover, this may be the worst question mark to have.
I don’t expect much from NIU, but they are a team that will be much better in November than in September.
“We want to win football games, and I think that’s a realistic expectation,” Hammock said. “I think our players are expecting that and we will work hard to meet those expectations.”
Scenario to watch: who wins the quarterback battle?
The Rockets enter 2021 with a quarterback showdown between Carter Bradley and former CMU clerk Dequan Finn. Whoever wins the battle will get the keys to an offense that returns nine starters with a winning pedigree that is Toledo.
What do I mean by earning a pedigree? Toledo’s last losing season came in 2009, a 5-7 campaign that occurred when Lady Gaga started to dominate radio.
Toledo will be a player to watch in MAC West, especially after going 4-2 after dropping three points to WMU and Ball State.
“We have a veteran squad, and when that happens we’ll have expectations based on the excitement of the offseason based on the nature of the beast,” said head coach Jason Candle. “It’s something we welcome and look forward to every year. We have high expectations at Toledo, and this is something that will never change, no matter who the coach is.
Scenario to watch: Can the Broncos capture the MAC West, or will they let it slip … again
Kalamazoo’s school was on the cusp of winning the MAC West Championships for the past two seasons, but handed them out each time in the final week of the season. As well as cleaning up their red zone defense, fifth-year head coach Tim Lester knows the heat is on to shatter the glass ceiling and play Ford Field for a conference title in December.
Broncos quarterback Kaleb Eleby, my pick to win MAC offensive player of the year, who threw 18 touchdowns for just a pair of interceptions in 2020. If WMU can keep throwing the ball, his offense will lie near the top of the conference. .
WMU will be a contender in the west, but whether they win any major games in November will define its 2021 campaign.
“We just have to keep growing,” Lester said. “That’s what we really focused on, is making sure we get better. I thought we were better last year than we were (in 2019), a lot of good things have happened to us to position us in a MAC Championship game, but we have to finish it.