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 face of the team. The field general. The. Guy. Who. Throws It Far. The quarterbacks.
There was a lot of uncertainty in the last two seasons in terms of MAC quarterback depth. But depth is always a pendulum that swings across levels of experience. We're at a point where we can say the conference is stacked, yet again, at the position. Only two schools will feature a quarterback that has not been a starter in the past, and many of them are starting for their third year, and two players who might be starting for a fourth season — although they're nowhere near the top. It's gonna be a good year for them all.
1. Western Michigan — Most good arguments point to Alex Carder being not only the top QB in the conference, but also the best NFL prospect out of the MAC at any position. Carder led the MAC in passing touchdowns with 31 and was fifth in passer rating. He's mobile enough, running the ball 128 times but only getting 2.11 yards per carry. This will be his third season of starting and it oughta be a dandy. Additionally, Tyler VanTubbergen is arguably the MAC's top backup quarterback and could easily start on a handful of other MAC teams.
2. Miami — You may not love Zac Dysert, but you at least love the IDEA of Zac Dysert. Entering his four year as a starter, if Dysert throws for another 3,513 yards like he did in 2011, he'll be second all time in the MAC in passing yards to Dan LeFevour. Should he, for any reason, miss time, Austin Boucher will be just fine, since he did fill in for Dysert in the MAC Championship game.
3. Toledo — Quite possibly the exception to the rule of the two-quarterback system. I've never seen it work anywhere else, but Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens both have strengths and weaknesses to be used in different situations. Austin Dantin is a nice mobile quarterback with an accurate arm. Terrance Owens is the lefty, a more traditional pocket-passer who can run for an occasional first down but is mostly there for the strong, deep pass. It's not the only reason they are favored to win the MAC West — I don't think they will — but their depth and strength at quarterback will be what carries this otherwise nascent offense to the finish line.
4. OHIO — Tyler Tettleton went from an unknown quantity last year to top five in a year. A division title and bowl win will do that for you. But the Bobcats have never had a top-line passer. Tettleton threw for 3,302 yards last year, third in the MAC, but it shattered the single-season mark for OHIO by almost 1,000 yards. The previous record was Theo Scott with 2,369. Tettleton had that by the second quarter of the 10th game. One season in the books (plus some minor mop-up experience in 2009) and he's already seventh all time in Bobcats history in career passing yards — and third in touchdown passes. They also like the versatile Derrius Vick as a backup quarterback, just one of six players to come from Nebraska.
5. Bowling Green — I'm putting the team that has Matt Schilz fifth, and I don't know if that's right. I don't think I can slide Radcliff, Wenning or a new NIU quarterback above him but ... Matt Schilz fifth? Is he a top five MAC quarterback? I pause to ask, and that's a strange question for a guy in his fourth year in the Dave Clawson machine. I look at his numbers and think, whoa, he's not very accurate. What could be going on? The system is pass-intensive, and I just don't ever look at him as a guy that's going to blow you away. He'll win you games, but ... top five MAC quarterback? Sure, it's fifth, and perhaps a de-facto fifth place. The backup for BG is unknown — could be Matt Johnson or Malik Stokes — but Schilz is the only returner with experience.
6. Central Michigan — Sometimes legacy is about timing. When Ryan Radcliff's time in Central Michigan is over after this season, he will always be known as "the guy that quarterbacked CMU after Dan LeFevour" and following a school's best QB ever is always a tough calling. Radcliff has just six career wins over two seasons, and in recent history CMU was enjoying eight, 10, 12 wins a year. But in terms of quarterbacks, Radcliff is serviceable and while he was fourth in passing yards, his completion percentage and QB rating ranks near the bottom. He'll also finish second in most CMU passing categories behind LeFevour. A.J. Westendorp is his backup; if he doesn't see much playing time, that's OK. He has a 3.96 GPA as a biomedical science major.
7. Northern Illinois — Losing Chandler Harnish is a drag. Jordan Lynch, at least to me, is an unknown quantity. We know he's a junior. We know he can run. We even know from his handful of plays last year that, yes, he has an accurate arm. He could blow everybody away and finish top five in passing. I have no doubt he'll lead the MAC in quarterback rushing yards but to become the starter, there will be a transitional period. Redshirt freshman Matt McIntosh was listed as the third string backup last year and he's another dual threat guy.
8. Ball State — This one's tough to gauge, but eighth seems about right. Keith Wenning finished strong last year, throwing at least two touchdowns in each of the last five games, and that was after going three straight games without a single one. He's not a deep threat (just 6.2 yards per completion) although his 63.9 completion percentage was a more respectable sixth in the MAC. His backup, Kelly Page (remember him?) is still around, having started nine games in his career but none since 2010.
9. Eastern Michigan — Yes, Alex Gillett has played substantial time entering his fourth year and he's ranked this low. He passed it about 16 times a game and also led that deep running back team in carries with about 14 attempts per game. With Harnish gone, Gillett is now the most accomplished running quarterback, and with his passing numbers improved, it's safe to say he's decent at both disciplines. His backup, sophomore Tyler Benz, is mobile but more of a pocket passer.
10. Kent State — It might be Spencer Keith, it might be David Fisher. We're saying this about a player who's accrued over 6,000 passing yards over three seasons, but Keith might not be the starter. Fisher is a transfer from Palomar Community College and also spent a season with Nevada. Head coach Darrell Hazell said at Media Day that August 19 is the day he'll announce the starter.
11. UMass — I put Kellen Pagel this high because he knows he's the starter and he's been the starter before. He's also a former MAC quarterback, having transferred from Bowling Green, and I'm going to keep mentioning this every time I can because it's so freaking bizarre. Brandon Hill will back him up, and he started three games last year.
12. Akron — The comforting news is there's no position battle. Stephen A. Austin senior transfer Dalton Williams is the starter for the Zips. Clayton Moore and Patrick Nicely have both transferred so this is going to be all Dalton, all the time. Williams didn't start at SFA so I'm not sure how he'll stack up against the rest, but it'll be a steep learning curve and Williams' role is merely to get through the season as painless as possible. Kyle Pohl is a redshirt freshman and my guess to be the backup, since the rest of the QBs are true freshmen.
13. Buffalo — Last year, graduate transfer Chazz Anderson was entirely their best option, but now they face the reality that a proven starter remains absent on the team. Not to say it can't happen, and the saving grace is two players do have starting experience. Alex Zordich got some reps in 2010, as did Jerry Davis — but you might remember that season was a hot mess for the Bulls at the position. Joe Licata is also a redshirt freshman they like. It's probably a safe bet to say that all three will play this year. I am wondering if they shouldn't just have Branden Oliver run the single wing.