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 meat of the game -the running backs.
There is always a balance to be struck when ranking the running game. Several aspects have to be weighed in this process:
- How good is the primary starter (if there is one)?
- How deep and/or talented is the group playing behind him on the chart?
- How deep and/or talented is the offensive line playing in front of him?
We shall try to address all of that as we run down where this season's MAC competitors stand toting the
1. Buffalo - Branden Oliver is, by a very wide margin, the most talented and experienced running back in the conference. He crushed all kinds of school records last season including his 1,395 rushing yards, and with one of the conference's best lines in front of him, he might even get a bit better. The players behind him are certainly talented if not experienced, so it's hard to say what may happen if Oliver's durability suddenly wavers, but the Bulls are tops for now.
2. Bowling Green - Anthon Samuel is, for lack of a better term, legit. He most likely would have cleared 1,000 yards last season had he not missed two games, and he deserved to be Freshman Player of the year. This year he and all the depth behind him is back (Hopgood, martin, etc) and a healthy year could mean a big year for the Falcons' running game - y'know, as long as this talented offensive line does their job.
3. Eastern Michigan - The two-headed monster of Javominique Sherreene returns. Last season's fill-in (the Other Dominique) Dominique White finished his degree and has sought to transfer away for his senior year - to make parenting a little easier perhaps. None of the three (Javonti Greene and the Dominiques) played a full season last year, but they put together 1,835 yards -on top of the 736 that QB Alex Gillett added in to lead the team. If the two returnees can both stay healthy (plus their deep group), they'll probably top last season, where the Eagles ran for 200+ yards seven times and 300+ four times. Experienced depth is a great thing.
4. Ball State - Last season Ball State had a good squad, they just couldn't quite stay healthy (only nine games forBarrington Scott). Last year's 1,156 yards is probably the production floor for Scott and Jawahn Edwards if both play a full season, and injury created a bit of depth with Dwayne Donigan as well. Don't forget about Tennessee transfer Toney Williams, the wildcard in all of this.
5. Ohio - On the downside, Donte Harden and his 986 yards graduated. On the upside, just about everyone else returns in terms of both running backs and offensive line, and they add a couple of young talents in Kyle Hammonds and Daz'mond Patterson. Given that information, this running game lost it's #1 from last year but is probably deeper and more talented than the year before.
6. Kent State - Last year wasn't a great year for Kent running the ball, but they doubled their running game output (154 vs 75 ypg) over the last five games after Hazell played O-Line Roullette. Two of their top three (Trayion Durham and Anthony Meray) return, and Dri Archer will also try to make a difference (4.3 40 speed, but took until now to get academically eligible). If last season's final five games was a true indicator of the running game's abilities, they might just get hot and become a top-three running game.
7. Akron - I'm going to take a big risk here. Jawon Chisolm is, like Anthon Samuel or Branden Oliver, a bonafide talent at running back. He was Akron's lone consistent offensive threat last season and played the second half of the season at less than 100% health - and still just missed a 1,000 yard season. The offensive line and the offensive system at large are both changing drastically, which balances out Chisolm's individual skill and the depth behind him. If the team gels early enough and he stays healthy, he has an outside shot at challenging Oliver for the conference rushing title - but that's a really big if.
8. Northern Illinois - I guess we'll find out just how good a recruiter Dave Doeren is this season. The Huskies are deep and experienced, but their top two RB's returning from last season totaled 511 yards. The second leading returning rusher is quarterback Jordan Lynch, and we all know how much he played behind Harnish. This season will tell us if NIU has talented depth, or just a number of warm bodies.
9. Western Michigan - Their top three rushers last season finished with a little over 1,000 yards (and that includes QB Alex Carder at #3 on that list). Tevin Drake is talented for sure, and both he and Brian Fields return this season, but it's hard to say yet if Fields has been limited by playing time or by ability, and Drake got benched at one point last season because his pass blocking was so bad. You can't play in a pass heavy system when you can't help keep your (very talented) QB safe, no matter how well you run the ball when you get it.
10. Central Michigan - Last year's Chippewa squad was a mess. Paris Cotton and Zurlon TIpton couldn't stay healthy, and Anthony Garland was good but didn't play much - the three combined for 1157 yards. This year Cotton is out, but if Tipton can stay healthy he and Garland will certainly improve on last season, especially given the experienced line they will have to run behind.
11. Toledo - Gone are the 1742 yards worth of Adonis Thomas and Morgan WIlliams. David Fluellen returns and is joined by a fairly talented JUCO transfer Jamaal Jackson, but the deep group beyond that has very little experience (about as much combined as Fluellen has himself). The offensive line is also hitting the reset button, which could mean less than great results for the Rockets this season.
12. Massachusetts - The Minutemen are not only shifting up to FBS, but will do so while trying to replace Jonathan Hernandez (2,607 yards 09-11). The most experienced returnee is Michael COx, a transfer from Michigan - behind him the original returning group is a pair of guys who saw a total of 70 carries last season. This might be a rough year for the Minutemen if Cox isn't something special, but who knows if the returnees were limited by ability or by Hernandez.
13. Miami - The RedHawks' leading rushers last season were a converted LB (Erik Finklea) who finished with 328 yards and a fullback (Justin Semmes) who gained 170. That's the definition of ugly. Their depth hasn't changed much (Chrishawn Dupuy moved to defense, and a bunch of untested freshmen take his place) but it can't be too much worse than last year.