Nov 22, 2011; Athens, OH, USA; Miami Redhawks wide receiver Chris Givens (17) is tackled by Ohio Bobcats cornerback Travis Carrie (18) and cornerback Omar Leftwich (4) at Peden Stadium. (Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE)
Time to look at the 2012 MAC football season. We're going to preview the conference unit by unit, ranking the teams one through 13 at every position and facet we can think of. Today: the secondary.
This was an absolute nightmare to put together.
Trying to sort out 4-5 players for each team and then somehow ranking that quartet or quintet 1-13 - along with trying to add sabermetric ideologies into the process such as how often their opponent threw the ball, how much the front seven helped in making pass coverage better, etc., all went into determining their rankings. I did not spell those out at all properly with stats but they were merely stored away mentally.
I look forward to everybody telling me I'm full of crap.
1. Ohio - Ohio's ball-hawking secondary is the team's strength and they return three starters from last season - cornerback Travis Carrie, a second-team All-MAC selection in 2011 (four interceptions, 13 pass breakups, 16 passes defend), strong safety Josh Kristoff (53 tackles, one INT) and free safety Gerald Moore (one INT). Sophomore cornerback Larenzo Fisher (19 tackles) and junior Omar Leftwich (38 tackles, 1 INT) are fighting for the other corner spot. If we're going by name alone, Leftwich is the easy winner. This group knows how to win, and they're a big reason why the Bobcats were picked to win the MAC.
2. Miami - Is it really fair for Miami to have a pair of players as talented as junior first-team all-MAC player Dayonne Nunley (58 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3 INTs, 13 pass breakups) and strong safety Pat Hinkel (70 tackles, one INT)? No, it isn't. Senior D.J. Brown (30 tackles) returns at the other corner and the great unknown at strong safety with Brison Burris or Malcolm Chester. Because we look at these groups as a whole, that leaves them slightly behind Ohio.
Miami's pass defense was 24th nationally last season at 195.2 yards per game.
3. Northern Illinois - You don't luck* your way into a Mid-American Conference title without having the players in position to capitalize on opponent's mistakes. NIU has five experienced defensive backs returning in corners Rashaan Melvin (24 tackles, three INTs), Jhony Faustin (70 tackles) and Demetrius Stone, and safeties Jimmie Ward (100 tackles) and Dechane Durante (57 tackles).
*I kid because I love, Huskie fans.
4. Bowling Green - If a team has someone in their defensive secondary named BooBoo Gates, you're automatically in the top-five - signed, sealed and delivered. Like NIU, Bowling Green has five returning starters, and with the interesting caveat that none are seniors: corners Cameron Truss and DeVon McKoy, and safeties Rylan Ward (47 tackles, one INT), Gates (73 tackles, two INTs) and Aaron Foster.
5. Central Michigan - Safety Jahleel Addae was named after former "Family Matters" star Jaleel White. You can't tell me otherwise. Teams didn't dare throw his way for the fear of saying, "Did I do that?" OK, I'm done. But Addae did tie for the MAC lead in interceptions with four and picked up 107 tackles on the side. Fellow safety Avery Cunningham, CMU's second-leading tackler last year with 79, also returns. Lorenzo White also returns as a starter at corner.
6. Western Michigan - Hey Phil, did you forget that the Broncos gave up 697 yards to Northern Illinois and a whopping 804 to Toledo last season? No, no, I didn't, so this is probably a bit over the top, but looking strictly at the four starters that make up the defensive backfield, there's some talent led by junior cornerback Lewis Toler (43 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss) and junior safety Demetrius Pettway (57 tackles, two INTs). After picking off five passes in 2010, Toler had zero in 2011 as quarterbacks avoided Toler like the plague.
7. Toledo - No more Desmond Marrow could spell trouble, but senior Jermaine Robinson (55 tackles, 2 INT) is more than capable of taking over a leadership role at safety. It's the other three spots that push Toledo down this list a bit. Safety Mark Singer was injured all of last season, and two new corners come on in Keith Suggs (seven tackles) and either Kishon Wilcher (28 tackles) or Byron Best (18 tackles).
8. Kent State - The Golden Flashes return third-team all-MAC junior safety Luke Wollet (65 tackles, 4 INTs) and senior cornerbacks Sidney Saulter and Norman Wolfe. There's a small part of me that thinks I highly undervalued this group as the defense was ranked 21st nationally in yards allowed and seventh in turnover margin. Don't know how much that came courtesy of the defensive backfield, but they're probably worthy of higher consideration.
9. Eastern Michigan - Eastern Michigan has two DBs on the third-team All-MAC squad, and one of them, junior Marlon Pollard (54 tackles, one INT, seven pass breakups) returns. He's joined at corner by another returning starter in Marcell Rose (56 tackles, one INT). Trivia: Pollard is a UCLA transfer.
10. Ball State - It's going to be nearly impossible to replace what Sean Baker, a first team All-MAC player in 2011 and second-teamer in 2010, did at safety. He's Ball State's all-time interception leader and those types of players don't come around too often. Who's going to fill that role? Sophomore Chris Calloway (six tackles in nine game in 201)) or freshman Chris Pauling appear to be the front-runners. Sophomore Brian Jones (33 tackles) is the favorite at the other safety spot.
Ball State is blessed to have both of its starting corners back in junior Jeff Garrett (66 tackles, one interception, six pass breakups) and senior Jason Pinkston (32 tackles, one interception), a third-team all-MAC selection last year in 2011.
11. UMass - The UMass secondary's slogan: "We're better than Buffalo and Akron!" Safety Darren Thellen (68 tackles, 5 INTs) is the beast that runs rampant in this secondary. Two other starters return in junior corner Antoine Tharpe (31 tackles) and safety Ed Saint-Vil (35 tackles).
12. Buffalo - The Bulls have four perfectly average defensive backs - none are spectacular but none are drastically bad, either. Unfortunately for the Bulls, every team ahead of them has at least one elite DB. Three starters return in cornerbacks Cortney Lester (34 tackles, two INTs) and Najja Johnson (31 tackles, 15 pass breakups, one INT), and safety Isaac Baugh (18 tackles).
13. Akron - There's not a whole lot to write about home here - two returning starter in senior Emmanuel Lartey (21 tackles) and sophomore safety Johnny Robinson (38 tackles). Safeties Anthony Holmes (35 tackles) and Josh Richmond (27 tackles) must step up. Akron's defense was 39th nationally in passing defense, shockingly enough. I stand by my ranking.