At first glance, the East could be a one team race. There are quite a few teams that could be good, but Miami is the only one that I am certain about.
#1 Miami University RedHawks
After a horrible start, the RedHawks rattled off 6 straight wins to finish the 2016 regular season. There is no better indication that a coach has control of a locker room than watching a team lose 6 in a row and rally to finish the season on such a roll.
They were stout on defense, and return 8 starters. All three linebackers return to a team that led the MAC in total defense, only giving up 334 yards per contest.
The offense returns 9, including quarterback Gus Ragland. The team was 6-1 with Ragland starting, and the one loss was a close bowl loss to Mississippi State.
#2 Akron Zips
This might seem like a stretch for a team that finished 5-7, and it very well could be. I am basing this on Warren Ball. The guy is a beast. A big reason why Akron wasn’t very good last year was because they couldn’t run the football. Offensively they weren’t consistent, and the defense was on the field entirely too long.
Ball should be a huge help to Thomas Woodson and company on offense. I fully expect their offense to be one of the most complete in the MAC.
With that help, Chuck Amato and company could turn around the defense, and the Zips might be really good in 2017.
Blair Brown and Tarell Basham are on to the NFL. That’s a lot to replace on defense. Greg Windham graduated, but the offense returns Papi White and Dorian Brown.
I am on the fence about this team. On the one hand, I could see them building off their MAC East championship, and being really good. On the other, I could see them taking a step back, especially on defense, and being a middle of the road team. So that’s where I put them, right at 3.
I fully expect the Falcons to be better than they were last season. The problem is that they stunk last season.
On offense, sophomore quarterback James Morgan looks like a star in the making. Josh Cleveland and Donovan Wilson are both capable backs, and Scott Miller is a fantastic receiver. I fully expect the offense to perform.
My questions are more on the defensive side of the ball, where they lost Austin Valdez to transfer. They gave up 38.3 points a game last season, and there isn’t really any indication that they will improve significantly. They did look good the last two games of the year, but that was against Kent State and Buffalo.
The good news is that the Bulls return a boat load of starters. The bad news is that they weren’t very good last season. They return three linebackers that are very talented, but they could not stop the run as a team. In an East division that could be loaded on offense, that could spell bad news.
Their crossover games are WMU who returns two fantastic backs, Ball State who might have the best back in the league, and NIU who always loves to run the football.
There is nothing that leads me to believe the Golden Flashes will be anything other than a 3-9 team, until it happens. So if it happens, gloat all you want, Kent State fans, I am just not a believer this early in the preseason.