Everybody loves some #HOTTAKES, and in no sport is a great bold prediction more greatly appreciated than in football at any level. The Mid-American Conference in particular is a great collection of teams to watch, as the saying “any given game” applies on a seemingly weekly basis.
Here are my top five boldest predictions for the 2015 MAC football season.
5. Reginald Bell Jr. will lead EMU to a four-win season
Last year, Bell finished with 1,859 yards of total offense, 13 total touchdowns, and 6 interceptions as a true freshman that started only eight games, showing great promise under center in Chris Creighton’s offense. Bell was a dynamic dual-threat quarterback that could single-handedly keep the Eagles in games at certain points in the season.
Two games especially stand out: his 409 passing yards, three passing touchdown performance at Ball State, and a 209 rushing yard, four touchdown (three rushing) thrashing of the Buffalo Bulls. Bell has embraced his position as a leader in Yspi, and Coach Creighton will most likely trust him with more of the offense this season.
The defense returns seven starters and looks to be tough to contend with in the front seven. The schedule is tough, but surely the team will improve thanks to consistency. I predict four wins for the Eagles this season, including wins vs. Army, Miami, UMass, and Ball State.
4. Kareem Hunt will run for 2,000 yards this season
Kareem Hunt out of Toledo is primed for another great season.
Hunt only played 10 of Toledo’s 13 games last season, and still finished third in the nation with 1,631 yards on 205 carries, despite playing the fewest games and having the least amount of carries by a wide margin of anyone else in the top 10. 2014’s number one Melvin Gordon has moved on to the NFL, and if Hunt stays healthy, should chase Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine for the nation’s best rusher title.
Looking at Toledo’s schedule, they run into the same Arkansas State team that Hunt ran ramshackle over for 300+ yards and four touchdowns, and into five teams that ranked 99th and lower in rushing defense, including Iowa State, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Massachusetts, and Bowling Green. Oh, and FCS-level Stony Brook.
3. PJ Fleck will leave for a Power Five job at the end of the season
In three seasons, WMU has gone from MAC after-thought to a trendy dark horse pick to win it all. (Pun intended.) In 2013, the Broncos went a disastrous 1-11. The next year, they were in the driver’s seat in the MAC West until a fatal loss to the Northern Illinois Huskies, finishing the year 8-5, a seven win turnaround for a team that was not expected to go anywhere.
Fleck has also been the most dominant recruiter in the MAC by a mile since he was hired in 2013, and already has a class of 20 commits for 2016, with many of those commits choosing WMU over P5 programs. If Western has a year on par or better than 2014, Fleck will be seriously considered for a legion of Power Five jobs. Fleck’s youth, enthusiasm, and recruiting ability alone would make him a viable candidate; his results and tactical decision-making make him a valuable one.
The buyout will most likely cost a lot for the team that hires him, but a team desperate to re-brand or to rediscover their lost tradition will surely shell out the money to grab him form Kalamazoo. I predict that he will take over Sonny Duke’s job at Cal-Berkley or Paul Rhoads’ at Iowa State.
2. Ball State’s James Gilbert will win MAC Freshman of the Year
Just who is James Gilbert? Why, he’s the future MAC FOTY, of course.
Gilbert enters the Ball State program at the perfect time, as future BSU Hall-Of-Famer Jahwan Edwards has graduated, and Horatio Banks tragically suffered a career-ending knee injury in the offseason. Gilbert was highly recruited out of high school, rated a three-star running back by 247Sports, and had committed to Western Mihcigan before reneging and giving Pete Lembo his signature.
Gilbert will have to beat out incumbents Darian Greene and Teddy Williamson for the position. However, if he can get some reps, he could overtake those two as a main contributor on offense; Gilbert was one of the most productive backs in Indiana HS history, amassing 4,817 yards in his career, and is known as a cutter with great acceleration and a tendency to shed tackles. It certainly helps that Ball State returns a line of all seniors with over 140 starts combined. All the pieces are in place; at 5’10” 190 lbs., Gilbert could be the next coming of Jarvion Franklin.
1. BGSU will not win the MAC-East
This is a nuclear hot take, and not a hot take that a lot of people are putting out there.
Bowling Green is regarded as a team that will run away with the MAC with virtually no challenge. However, there is something being very much overlooked about this Falcons squad. Their defense only returns two starters, and star corner Nick Johnson (72 tackles, five interceptions last season) was recently suspended indefinitely by the team due to a legal issue surrounding an assault charge.
The defense is in the process of changing defensive coordinators for the second time in just as many years, with nine vacancies to fill. For a defense that ranked 115th in the nation last season, this spells a down year if Matt Johnson, fresh off a hip injury that sidelined him all of 2014, can’t produce up to expectation.
It ultimately doesn’t matter how much you score; it’s about how much you allow the other team to score. Ohio has a strong defense and a favorable schedule, Akron has a lot of transfers that could make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball, and Kent State returns key contributors that will surely cause chaos in the MAC-East.