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My Preseason Rankings of the MAC West for the 2017 Football Season

We have to start somewhere

MAC Championship - Bowling Green v Northern Illinois Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

We at Hustle Belt just finished up our inductions into the Hustle Hall of Fame, so now it’s time to start shifting focus to football. The Mid-American conference will hold their media day toward the end of the month. That will begin a full on immersion into our favorite brand of football. The power rankings and all the other fun preseason stuff will follow close behind.

So this weekend I decided to start refreshing my memory on the prior season and to take a cursory look at the upcoming season. Then I decided to rank the teams because that’s what we do. These rankings are based on the same criteria most preseason rankings are based on. History, including last season, and big names returning, especially at key positions like quarterback and running back. Faith in coaches also plays a huge role.

This particular list isn’t a power rankings. It’s just my first look at how I think the teams will finish in the West. On Thursday, I’ll break out my rankings for the East.

West Division

#1 Toledo Rockets

The Jason Candle led Rockets finished 9-4 last season and a few of those losses were extremely close. They return quarterback Logan Woodside, who led the country with 45 touchdown passes. Cody Thompson, who caught 64 balls for 1269 yards, also returns.

The offense was one of the most prolific in the country, and there is little doubt that they will be productive on that side of the ball. Like all schools, they do have to replace some great players, but return 6 starters. One of the non-starters is a former second team MAC running back, Terry Swanson.

The question, at least for me, comes on the defensive side of the ball. While they were solid most of the time, they were capable of being gashed up the middle. Ja’Wuan Woodley returns, as does 6 other starters The problem is that they are going to be without Treyvon Hester, John Stepec, and DeJuan Rogers. All three were fantastic players.

For that reason, I don’t think they are going to have a New Years 6 type of season, but I do believe they will contend for the MAC West and overall MAC crown.

#2 Eastern Michigan Eagles

Chris Creighton had things rolling last season, at least by Eastern Michigan standards. There is no reason to think that the momentum will not continue into 2017. The Eagles return 8 starters on each side of the ball, including quarterback Brogan Roback. In fact, they return all their top skill position people. The question mark for the offense will be on the line, where they need to replace 3 starters, including Cole Gardner and Andrew Wylie, second and third team All-MAC, respectively.

On defense, they lose defensive end Pat O’Connor, who was an absolute animal when he could stay on the field. Another key loss is Mike Brown, who started 35 games on the defensive line. DaQuan Pace in the backfield is also a big loss, but with 8 starters returning, the defense should still be a strength of the team.

Their non-conference schedule is interesting. They get Rutgers, Army, and Kentucky. All three could go either way, along with what should be a win against Charlotte. Their conference schedule is pretty tough, with crossover games against Ohio, Miami, and Bowling Green.

Maybe I am still hyped about one of the best seasons in EMU history, which is sad to say since they were 7-6, but I have a feeling about this team. They want to win with toughness, and last season could be the type of season that gets everyone on the same page and onto bigger and better things.

#3 Western Michigan Broncos

I stuck them right in the middle, because I have no idea where to put them. They lost coach Fleck, and there is really no way to account for how much his loss will affect the team. He changed the entire culture of the program, but there will be no rowing of the boat this season so I really have no idea what to expect.

I know they lost some great players on offense, including a heady quarterback and one of the best receivers to ever play the game. I am not going underestimate the loss of Taylor Moton, who is now with the Carolina Panthers after having been selected in the second round. However, I also know they return a couple of monster running backs in Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan.

On defense, they have some quality players coming back, including Robert Spillane and Justin Tranquil. The question on both sides of the ball, however, is how it’s all going to come together under new head coach Tim Lester.

#4 Northern Illinois Huskies

If coach Rod Carey knows who the starting quarterback is going to be, he isn’t telling us. This article from the Daily Chronicle gives us a nice idea on how the three way competition is going. The other nugget I got from the article is that he was very pleased with how spring practice went. I am not accustomed to Northern Illinois having a season like they did last year, and I fully expect them to be back to contender status.

Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Since they weren’t in competition last season, they really didn’t pop into my head until the 4th spot. Since this is the first list, I am going to keep them here.

They host Boston College week one at 9:30 on Friday, September 1st. That’s one of the games circled early on my calendar. An impressive showing in that game, and I’ll start to believe again.

#5 Central Michigan Chippewas

I am a big fan of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” Central Michigan got an all time classic win against a highly regarded Oklahoma State team. The play was a miracle, and also had a nice little dose of controversy. It gave us much joy to watch the Cowboys and their fans whine all season long, and we, of course, took some shots at them.

Unfortunately, it seemed like that game took the wind out of the sails of the Chippewas. They limped into a 6-6 record, and lost their bowl game 55-10.

I probably have EMU too high because of momentum and the feel good nature of their season, and that could also extend to CMU and the bad taste the second half of their season left. Plus Cooper Rush is gone.

#6 Ball State Cardinals

Ball State wasn’t as bad as their record indicated. They lost some heart breakers last season. The losses piled up, however, including 7 of their last 8. An even bigger losing statistic is the 14 starters they lose, including 2 specialists.

The good news is that the Cardinals return James Gilbert at running back, and Riley Neal at quarterback.

Like every team on this list three and below, nothing would really surprise me out of the Cardinals this season. I could see them pulling up the rear again, or I could see them being a high flying offense that shocks some people.

If you want to get mad online about this list, I understand. However, I didn’t really put a whole lot of thought and analysis into it. It’s basically just a knee jerk reaction to the realization that college football is right around the corner. Both Hustle Belt and I will have plenty more lists going into the season for you to lose your temper over.