MACtion is upon us friends. While we're giving you a comprehensive rundown as to who to watch for when the season rolls around, there are plenty of players who did not crack our top 50 who are poised to have breakout seasons. Hustle Belt contributors have collaborated to give you a player to watch for on each team in the MAC. Yes, even UMass.
Akron: WR, Fransohn Bickley, Sophomore
Akron's breakout player this year will be sophomore receiver Fransohn Bickley. You might do a double take when you see him listed at 5 foot 6, 138 pounds, but don't let his size fool you. The taller receivers will draw the defenses away, while the speedster Bickley finds some room for big plays.
Bickley made some noise in his freshman season with 39 catches and 407 yards, and should play an even bigger role as he develops more of a rapport with Kyle Pohl in their second year together. The Zips will find many ways to get Bickley the ball. You'll see him in the backfield, out of the slot, on screens, punt returns, kick returns, and whatever else it takes to get him the ball in space. -Matt Eliason
Ball State: WR, KeVonn Mabon, Redshirt Sophomore
In order to have another dominant season through the air, Ball State needs to have another wide receiver besides Jordan Williams to step up and make some plays. KeVonn Mabon could be the receiver that the Cardinals need.
Unfortunately, Mabon was only able to play in three games last year because he suffered a season ending injury. He still put up some decent numbers in those games, considering that Ball State had Willie Snead IV, Jordan Williams, and Jamill Smith playing beside him. Most notably, against Army Mabon reeled in 72 yards on four receptions. With Snead and Smith now gone, Mabon has an excellent opportunity to make a name for himself, and help strengthen the Cardinals receiving corps. -Nick Lowe
Bowling Green: DB, Brian Sutton, Senior
Is it cheating to call a senior who has played in 38 games across the last three seasons a "breakout" player? Well, I'm doing it anyway. With Ted Ouellet gone, and the career of Boo Boo Gates up in smoke, there's plenty of turnover amongst the playmakers on the defensive side of the ball as the season approaches.
Ryland Ward and D.J. Lynch are getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. I'll go a little bit off the beaten trail though and advise you to keep an eye on Brian Sutton. We love to throw the ball around in the MAC, and with Lynch underneath and Ward over the top, Sutton will be challenged and have every opportunity to make big plays. He closed out last season with his fourth straight game with eight or more tackles. Expect that momentum to roll into 2014. -Keith Scheessele
Buffalo: LB, Jarret Franklin, Sophomore
With Khalil Mack gone, Buffalo will need to have someone take his spot. It looks as if the next best outside linebacker is Jarrett Franklin. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore, only has one year of collegiate experience, but he looks extremely promising.
Last year against Ohio, he had eight total tackles, five of which were solo. Sure, this was his career high, but it just shows what he is capable of. What's so great about Franklin is he's only a sophomore. If he has the breakout year that I know he can, who knows how much he can develop and improve throughout the rest of his collegiate career. There will be some big shoes to fill, but Franklin is on track to make a positive impact on the Bulls defense. -Nick Lowe
Central Michigan: DB, Kevin King, Redshirt Senior
Chances are, if you bleed maroon and gold, you probably know who Kevin King is already. King is a redshirt senior who's been quite the special teams demon for the Chippewas since he first donned a CMU uniform. His early claim to fame is probably blocking a punt against Michigan State in his first season, but he's been a productive member of the special teams unit, as well as a part-time defensive back, ever since.
That all changed in 2013. Granted, he spent the first part of the season in his usual role, and even missed a couple of games due to injury, but he took over for incumbent "Stud" (that's a hybrid nickel/linebacker, in case you were wondering) Jarrett Chapman with 3½ games to go, and had an outstanding finish during the Chips 3-1 stretch. King made 29 of his 33 tackles, and all four of his tackles for loss during that span.
This season, with Avery Cunningham off to the NFL, King should be in line for a starting spot, whether he stays at the the Stud and Chapman replaces Cunningham, or the opposite. If King's spring performance is anything to go by, he should finally be a starter in his senior year. -Al Burke
Eastern Michigan: LB, Hunter Matt, Junior
Nobody enjoys playing the game more than this kid does. He's not a kid that has gotten the hype that Mack did last or Sylvestre is getting this year, but a big year from him this year will give him some hype when he is a senior. He's earned his early playing time, he even took a fumble recovery to the house against Penn State last year. -Alex Alvarado
Kent State: DT, Nate Terhune, Redshirt Junior
Want to see some of the plaudits Nate Terhune has received in his three-year Kent State career (he's a redshirt junior) so far? Just have a look at his school bio. How about "toughest guy in college football", courtesy of NFL.com? Terhune broke his ankle against LSU in game three last season, yet was back in the lineup a mere four weeks later against Ball State. He's also ranked on number eight on CBS' "Top Freaks in College Football". Of course, in this case when they say ‘freak', they mean athletic marvel, not a cast member of "Hemlock Grove." Last, but certainly not least, Terhune was named to the venerable Phil Steele's preseason all-MAC team.
Why has a guy who has started just six game in his career made such a name for himself already?
Maybe he's earned it. After taking a redshirt his first year on campus as a 230 pound defensive end, Terhune made a name for himself as a reserve, making 15 tackles, breaking up a pass and showing his athletic skills with a 31-yard run on a fake punt against Bowling Green.
Terhune broke through into the starting lineup into 2013 and was off to a decent start before his broken ankle sent him to the trainer's bench. Of course, he was back within a month, and he finished strong, starting the final three games. For the season, Terhune made 16 tackles, seven of those in opponents backfields, and two sacks. Against Ohio in the final game of the season, roughly two months after breaking his ankle, Terhune ran 61 yards for a touchdown on another fake punt, hurdling a potential tackler along the way.
Now, with superstar Roosevelt Nix off to the NFL, the Golden Flashes have a vacancy for a talented defensive tackle who can knife through an offensive line and blow up plays in the backfield. Anybody willing to go up against Terhune for that job? --Al Burke
Massachusetts: LB, Shane Huber, Sophomore
Now I know I should be saying Blake Frohnapfel, or Tajae Sharpe, or Lorenzo Woodley, since the whole offense was terrible last year and should be better this year, but I'm zagging where others are zigging.
Shane Huber was the high profile recruit before Woodley became the high profile recruit. Injuries shortened his freshman year, but he's healthy now and in Mark Whipple's new 3-4 look, the linebacker position is key. With a full year of health, another off-season of development under his belt, and Whip's tutelage, expect Huber to be the stopper the UMass defense needs. --Jesse Allen
Miami: QB, Andrew Hendrix, Senior
Let's face it, Miami didn't have too hot of a season last year on either side of the ball. The RedHawks need a spark to really get the team going. Fortunately, they landed a huge pickup when Andrew Hendrix decided to transfer from Notre Dame to Miami. Hendrix will be a fifth year senior quarterback for the RedHawks this fall.
At Notre Dame, he threw for 360 yards and one touchdown through the air, and 229 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. His most notable game was against Stanford during the 2011 season, where he threw for 192 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 20 yards picking up another touchdown. Hendrix didn't get too much of an opportunity to shine for the Fighting Irish, so he has plenty of potential to breakout this year for the RedHawks. It will be difficult to completely turn Miami around in one season, but Hendrix is a key player that should get the team heading in the right direction. -Nick Lowe
Northern Illinois: CB, Marlon Moore, Junior
Whoever the Huskie quarterback is this fall will certainly be in contention for this title, but there is another player who is in a great position to have an outstanding year as well. Marlon Moore, a 5-foot-9 junior, has played cornerback for the Huskies the past two seasons. However, this fall he is moving to the safety position to help fill the hole left by Jimmie Ward's departure.
Moore has already demonstrated he can defend passes well—leading the team with 11 pass breakups last year—and tackle well in space. With him now at safety he'll have a much better chance to show his skills. I wouldn't be surprised if we see him match his output from the past two seasons (83 tackles and three interceptions) this year alone. --David Drury
Ohio: QB, Derrius Vick, Redshirt Junior
Considering Ohio will be without its starting quarterback of the last three years and its top two backs in terms of carries, much will be placed upon the shoulders of first-year starter Derrius Vick. There's no doubting Vick's explosiveness, and his dual-threat capabilities will likely be the dynamic that Ohio bases its entire offensive scheme off of.
Vick had little chance to take snaps in 2013, as the only serious time he saw on the field was against Austin Peay, whom he went 3 of 8 for 30 yards against (with 35 yards on the ground). He did start a game against Nicholls State in 2012 in which he put up impressive stats against the FCS school. He has shown flashes of his ability in various games, including the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. The newly-minted captain will be expected to lead the Ohio offense in 2014, and for the Bobcats' sake, their offensive success depends on his skills and leadership. --Kaleb Carter
Toledo: WR, Dwight Macon, Senior
You would expect me to pick Kareem Hunt since he had a nice season when David Fluellen was out with injuries last year. Or maybe even Alonzo Russell, with his great season behind Bernard Reedy last fall. But my breakout player for the Rockets this year is going to be Dwight Macon.
Last season Macon caugh 18 balls for 214 yards with three touchdowns. Macon will be fighting with Russell for targets in the offense this season; both are listed as the No.1 Wide Receiver in the preseason depth chart. With the defenses focusing on Hunt and Russell, Macon could be getting more wide open looks in the Rockets offense. Macon has also shown that he can throw the ball well as he is listed as the quarterback for the Wildcat formation. -Ian Davis
Western Michigan: LB, Devon Brant, Redshirt Junior
Brant would've been a solid pick to be a breakthrough player last season before suffering a season-ending injury just weeks before the season started. At 5 foot 10, 230 pounds, his size doesn't immediately pop out at you. But his quickness and nose to the ball are what makes him good.
Add the fact that he was redshirted last year, and you have a player that is not only hungry to get out and prove what he can do, but one that is smart enough to make reads on the fly and make smart plays. With the upperclassmen out of the way ahead of him, it's his time to shine. - Brandon Fitzsimons
So who's it going to be, sports fans? Did we get it right? One thing is for sure, in a conference that is as high flying as the MAC, there's going to be a lot of something. A lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns, a lot of interceptions, someone who was lying in the weeds last year will emerge as the next big name in MACtion.