Football season is quickly approaching, and media outlets everywhere are releasing their preseason all-conference teams, attempting to prognosticate the players casual fans should watch out for when tuning in to view the various games on the collegiate football schedule.
Here at Hustle Belt, we haven't done an all-conference team in a good while; per our records, our last attempt at such a list in the preseason was 2013.
We figured with more professional talent coming out of the MAC in recent years due to the proliferation of weeknight #MACtion and social media, it would be a good idea to keep tabs on how those stories centered on the players in the MAC developed throughout the season.
Our All-Hustle Belt Preseason Team is an amalgamation of several major outlets’ all-MAC teams, combined with input from several members of our staff to create what is more or less a consensus big board of prospects.
We did make some additional changes other outlets did not include, however.
On our charts, we have separated defensive backs into cornerbacks and safeties, while also making distinctions between “edges”, defensive tackles and defensive ends in order to highlight more players and acknowledge the complexities of modern defenses. We have also added a third receiver slot (since many offenses employ default three-receiver sets) and a second tight end slot as well in an acknowledgement of changing offensive philosophies.
We also eliminated the “specialists” category, placing kickers and returners on the offensive teams and punters on the defensive team in order to acknowledge their importance to generating positive results on those sides of the ball-- and prevent the often unfair siloing of these players as “different” from more "standard" gridiron football positions.
With these changes in mind, we present to you the 2022 All-Hustle Belt Preseason First and Second Teams:
First Team Offense
|QB||Brett Gabbert||Miami (OH)|
|RB||Lew Nichols||Central Michigan|
|RB||Marquez Cooper||Kent State|
|WR||Dante Cephas||Kent State|
|WR||Trayvon Rudolph*||Northern Illinois|
|WR||Hassan Beydoun||Eastern Michigan|
|TE||Christian Sims||Bowling Green|
|TE||Joel Wilson||Central Michigan|
|OL||Sidy Sow||Eastern Michigan|
|OL||Nolan Potter||Northern Illinois|
|OL||Brian Dooley||Eastern Michigan|
|OL||Logan Zschernitz||Northern Illinois|
|OL||Dylan Deatherage||Western Michigan|
|K||John Richardson||Northern Illinois|
|RS||Trayvon Rudolph*||Northern Illinois|
Our First Team Offense is headlined by Central Michigan standout Lew Nichols, who became the first MAC player to lead the FBS in rushing yards since Garrett Wolfe in 2006.
Nichols was a preseason watchlist staple, most notably appearing on the Maxwell Award watchlist awarded to the best player in college football. Marquez Cooper, who also bolted for 1,200 rushing yards in 2021 is also a member of the Maxwell Award watchlist after leading Kent State’s high-powered rushing attack to a MAC Championship Game appearance.
Another notable watchlist sensation on the offense is Brett Gabbert, who enters the upcoming season as the only quarterback in the conference with prior All-MAC honors. Gabbert enters his fourth season as Miami (OH)’s starter after leading the RedHawks to a conference championship in 2019.
A pair of 1,000-yard wideouts, Dante Cephas and Hassan Beydoun, are included in the receivers on this First Team, while Northern Illinois’ breakout star Trayvon Rudolph — who posted a school record 309 yards in a single game last November — rounds them out. Rudolph recently suffered a season-ending knee injury which will prevent him from participating in 2022, however.
Reigning First Team All-MAC selection Christian Sims provides tight end representation on our First Team, along with Central Michigan’s Joel Wilson, who collected 367 yards and six touchdowns in a breakthrough 2021 campaign.
The offensive line is primarily composed of faces from Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois. Sidy Sow, Brian Dooley, Nolan Potter, and Logan Zschernitz are the only four 2021 All-MAC linemen returning to the league in 2022. Completing the trenches is Dylan Deatherage, Western Michigan’s star right guard who only committed one penalty and allowed one sack last year— and also has a first-team All-Name type of name.
John Richardson is a warranted selection for the kicker position after draining 6-of-7 field goals from 40-49 yards last year, in addition to a clutch time-expiring kick to defeat Ball State. Northern Illinois also claims the return specialist selection with 2021 Second Team All-MAC kick returner Trayvon Rudolph.
[Editor’s note: Trayvon Rudolph was selected for the roster prior to the announcement of his torn ACL, as the All-Hustle teams were finalized two days beforehand.]
First Team Defense
|DL||Karl Brooks||Bowling Green|
|EDGE||Jose Ramirez||Eastern Michigan|
|LB||Corvin Moment||Western Michigan|
|LB||Darren Anders||Bowling Green|
|DB||CJ Brown||Northern Illinois|
|DB||Davon Ferguson||Bowling Green|
|SAF||Jordan Anderson||Bowling Green|
|SAF||Matthew Salopek||Miami (OH)|
|P||Luke Elzinga||Central Michigan|
The First Team Defense is a versatile mix, with the majority of the conference represented. Perhaps the strongest position group in the MAC is linebacker, where Butkus/Nagurski/Bednarik watchlist members James Patterson and Darren Anders anchor the unit. Corvin Moment finds himself as the third first-team linebacker after finishing second on the Broncos in total tackles (68), and third in tackles for loss (14) and sacks (3.5).
Northern Illinois strong safety C.J. Brown was one of the MAC’s most unlikely stars last season, but he secured First Team All-MAC status with 107 tackles as a freshman stepping up for the injured Devin Lafayette. Bowling Green’s top 10 passing defense also garners recognition on our First Team with free safety Jordan Anderson and cornerback Davon Ferguson as worthy selections. Two other honorees join the secondary — Miami’s lone returning All-MAC defender Matthew Salopek and Akron playmaker Charles Amankwaa, who corralled three interceptions and deflected nine passes in 2021.
Run cloggers and sack enthusiasts Daymond Williams (6.5 sacks, 10.5 TFLs), Karl Brooks (7.5 sacks, 12.5 TFLs), and Desjuan Johnson (4.5 sacks, 12.5 TFLs) fill the defensive line spots after productive 2021 seasons. Occupying the nearby edge rusher positions are longtime Toledo pass rusher Jamal Hines, who registered 9.5 sacks and eight pass deflections a year ago, and Eastern Michigan defensive end Jose Ramirez, who racked up 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles as an employee at The Factory.
And never forget about the punter. For the final opening on our All-Hustle Belt First Team, Central Michigan punter Luke Elzinga is a worthy claimant after ranking first in the conference in punting yards as a redshirt freshman.
Second Team Offense
|QB||Daniel Richardson||Central Michigan|
|RB||Sean Tyler||Western Michigan|
|RB||Harrison Waylee||Northern Illinois|
|WR||Mac Hippenhammer||Miami (OH)|
|WR||Corey Crooms||Western Michigan|
|TE||Jack Coldiron||Miami (OH)|
|OL||Jacob Gideon||Western Michigan|
|OL||Marques Cox||Northern Illinois|
|OL||Rusty Feth||Miami (OH)|
|K||Andrew Glass||Kent State|
|RS||Ron Cook Jr.||Buffalo|
Highlighting the Second Team offense are the running backs, specifically Western Michigan’s Sean Tyler and Northern Illinois’ Harrison Waylee.
Tyler was a dynamo in 2021, amassing 1,150 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as the complementary back to La’Darius Jefferson. Waylee was well on the way to a 1,000-yard rushing season before an injury sidelined him for the second half of the season, so he’ll look to revert to that pace in 2022 after picking up 574 yards and four touchdowns.
Helming the Second Team at QB is the emergent Daniel Richardson of Central Michigan. Richardson took over the starting duties against NIU after supplanting then-starter Jacob Sirmon during an inspiring comeback against FIU in Week 4. Richardson strung together two stretches of at least four weeks where he did not turn the ball over, while also completing 64 percent of his passes, making him a dangerously efficient weapon for the Chippewa offense.
Two of the three receivers on the Second Team are secondary targets from 2021 looking to emerge as primary options this fall. Mac Hippenhammer will slot in as the replacement for Jack Sorenson at Miami after picking up 48 receptions for 786 yards and five touchdowns. Corey Crooms is a breakout candidate for the powerful Western Michigan offense — in place of second round NFL Draft selection Skyy Moore — after accumulating 768 yards and six touchdowns on 44 receptions. Quian Williams, a former Eastern Michigan product, completes the receiver depth after posting with 64 receptions and 835 yards as Buffalo’s No. 1 receiving option.
Tristian Brank leads the second string of tight ends after ranking third on the Zips in receiving yards and touchdowns. Jack Coldiron looks to be in a prime position for a Miami offense which relies on heavy tight end utilization after averaging over 18 yards per reception in 2021, while also serving as a good in-line blocker.
Our Second Team offensive line features center Jacob Gideon, the lone MAC representative on the Rimington Trophy watchlist. Joining Gideon are interior linemen Rusty Feth and Tyler Long, who have started in the trenches at Miami and Toledo for quite some time. Northern Illinois left tackle Marques Cox is a worthy o-line selection after anchoring the FBS’s second ranked pass protection in 2021. The Huskies ranked first in the MAC in fewest sacks allowed, while Buffalo checked in at second. To recognize the Bulls’ stout offensive line play, the interchangeable guard/tackle Gabe Wallace maintains the fifth spot.
Two special teamers are represented in this group, similar to the First Team Offense. Kent State kicker Andrew Glass qualifies after finishing a steady 12-of-14 between 30-39 yards as a freshman, and 2021 Third Team All-MAC kick returner Ron Cook Jr. earns the nod as the return specialist.
Second Team Defense
|DL||John Wesley Whiteside||Central Michigan|
|DL||Jacques Bristol||Central Michigan|
|DL||Braden Fiske||Western Michigan|
|EDGE||Thomas Incoom||Central Michigan|
|LB||Brandon Martin||Ball State|
|DB||Montre Miller||Kent State|
|DB||Dorian Jackson||Western Michigan|
|DB||Donte Kent||Central Michigan|
|SAF||Dean Clark||Kent State|
|P||Nick Mihalic||Western Michigan|
The Second Team defense is dominated by Chippewas, with four of the 13 positions occupied by players in Maroon and Gold. Three of those Chips are key pieces of the defensive line, as John Wesley Whiteside, Jacques Bristol, and Thomas Incoom anchor the second line.
Whiteside was an unexpected star in 2021 after transferring in from Austin Peay, finishing with 22 tackles for 7.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, while also picking up two pass breakups. The neighboring Bristol (36 tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles in 2021) has been a stalwart nose tackle since his true freshman season in Mount Pleasant. Incoom, a former Division II star, made a name for himself in 2021 on the edge with 28 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and six QB hits. With more reps due to several departures in the offseason, those numbers could amplify in 2022.
Braden Fiske accrued an impressive up 42 tackles for a nose tackle, including seven tackles for loss and four sacks in 2021, and he occupies the other DL spot for his contributions. Buffalo defensive end Max Michel also secures a Second Team spot after garnering four sacks and three forced fumbles on one of the nation’s top 20 sack generating units.
It was an impossible task to narrow it down to just three linebackers for the Second Team, as the talent pool remains loaded in the MAC. Two of the three linebackers are their school’s only selection to the All-Hustle Belt Teams, with tackling machine Bryce Houston (104 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks) representing Ohio and former MAC Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Martin representing Ball State after missing most of 2021 with injury. The other backer rounding out the list is Toledo’s Dyontae Johnson, who finished 2021 with 86 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, and two sacks.
The secondary featured a slew of intriguing selections as well, with a trio of cornerbacks who were effective in one-on-one situations.
Montre Miller had four interceptions and also committed the most important pass breakup of the 2021 season, deflecting Miami’s game-winning pass attempt in Week 13 to seal the MAC East title for Kent State. Dorian Jackson is a Jim Thorpe Award watchlister after solidifying himself as one of the best shutdown corners in the MAC with two interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Donte Kent was fed to the fire as a redshirt freshman, and after taking his lumps in coverage over the first half of the season, he tightened up and finished 2021 as a premier cover corner, being named to the FWAA Freshman All-American Team after a campaign with 55 tackles, a game-winning interception and 14 pass breakups.
Manufacturing the safety tandem is Toledo’s Maxen Hook (96 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3 pass breakups) and Kent State’s Dean Clark, who registered 116 tackles to lead the team for the second consecutive season.
For the final spot, Nick Mihalic pulled double-duty as a kicker and punter for Western Michigan, but still managed one of the better punting campaigns in the MAC, averaging 43 yards per punt on 45 attempts.