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The Most Underrated MAC Football Players of 2014

Some guys just don't get enough credit. These guys aren't always in the spotlight, but the contributions to their respective teams don't go unnoticed.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Akron: WR Zach D'Orazio

Akron receiver Zach D'Orazio has battled through numerous injuries to start his career. Two dislocated shoulders and a broken fibula later, D'Orazio looks to be the top receiving option for the zips.

D'Orazio has put together 57 receptions 764 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons. This looks to be the year D'Orazio breaks out and could double the numbers listed above.

-Jeremy Dugans

Ball State: RB Horacio Banks

This isn't a diss to Banks by any means. When Jahwan Edwards, probably the best running back in the MAC, is on your team, a lot of media attention is going to be shifted his way. And when your starting quarterback and top two wide receivers go onto the pros, the media wants to talk about replacing them, rather than drooling over this team's running back depth. Consider yourselves warned, other teams, when Edwards takes a breather for a few plays and you get burned by Banks, because you forgot to make a plan to stop this junior running back.

-Alex Alvarado

Bowling Green: DL Taylor Royster

Surprised as a major contributor on the D-line rotation of the MAC's best defense last year. He finished with six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Expected to be a leader on this year's Falcon defense.

-Randy Carpenter

Buffalo: DB Adam Redden

Last season it was hard for anyone not named Khalil Mack to get attention on Buffalo's defense. However Adam Redden At the same, a converted safety, became a dynamic threat as Tepper's "drop linebacker". His playmaking skills got him named the MAC defensive player of the week on two occasions. If Buffalo finds a pass rush in Jarrett Franklin then Redden can resume his role as the drop back who does nothing but make plays.

Last season he averaged 6.5 tackles a game and totaled 12.5 tackles for loss. He added to that 4.5 sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.

-Tim Riordan (Bull Run)

Central Michigan: DE Joe Ostman

Defensive end and special teams player. He was the only true freshman to see action in 2013. Joe hails from St. Ignace in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. U. P. power!

-Tom McElgunn

Eastern Michigan: DB Pudge Cotton

Once upon a time when people had respect for Ron English, Pudge Cotton was one of the best recruits in the 2011 class as a hard-hitting defensive back. Playing right away as a freshman, Cotton had good playing time, but a few early, minor injuries sidelined him from making too much noise in his first season. But for whatever reason, English just would not give him the playing time he deserved in the two seasons after that. And it's not that Cotton is a bad player, he's just lost in translation between a good player on a bad defense.

A new defense under Brad McCaslin gives Cotton a fresh start in his final season. He had ten tackles in the season finale against Central Michigan last year, and is very capable of being that big of a threat again.

-Alex Alvarado

Kent State: DE Nate Vance

There's no question the defensive line underperformed last season. Despite the presence of omnipotent tackle Roosevelt Nix and end Mark Fackler, the unit failed to get into the backfield on a regular basis, and opponents generally ran and passed at their leisure. Now, Nix and Fackler are gone, but a unit without any big names (unless you count Nate Terhune) could be better this season.

Expect Vance to be a big part of that. The senior saw his first action back in 2012, when he played sparingly in nine games and made four tackles. He finally got to start last season and did okay, making 46 tackles, but only 3.5 were for loss, all of which were sacks. Now, with a year as a starter under his belt, Vance could be ready to make a big leap forward. He's not big for a defensive end (230 pounds), or even a linebacker for that matter, but he's quick and smart and has flashed some ability to get after the quarterback. Vance is already an all-MAC academic; let's see if he can add all-MAC football to his honors list.

-Al Burke

UMass: LB Stanley Andre

Not many UMass players get respect. Actually, no UMass players get respect. Which makes this pick all the easier. While UMass' defense has had its issues, its mostly related to depth. With a deeper defense this year linebacker Stanley Andre's name will be known. While not the fastest or strongest defender, he has a nose for the ball and never gives up on a play. As a result, he easily cleared 100 tackles, and he will again this season. With a new look 3-4 defense, and more exotic blitzes coming, expect Andre to start compiling some sacks as well, making him a name QB's will want to forget.

-Jesse Allen

Miami: WR David Frazier

I guess when you're 0-12, everyone on your team is underrated, and Miami were just terrible on offense last season, averaging less than 10 points and 125 passing yards per game. While the receivers, Frazier and Dawan Scott, weren't great, they could at least point to the play at quarterback to get a hall pass. Scott is an established star, but Frazier could be ready to joining him.

After a decent freshman year, in which he caught 28 passes for 259, Frazier played in just 4 games in 2012, catching nine passes for 151 yards. Last season, he was suspended for the first four games, but played well over the last eight, catching 28 passes for 302 yards and a couple of TDs, despite the Redhawks' quarterback woes. The junior has had a strong spring, outplaying the other receivers, and looks could be poised for a big year with former Notre-Dame quarterback Andrew Hendrix at the helm.

-Al Burke

Northern Illinois: RB Keith Harris Jr.

With Cam Stingily now out for at least the first four games, someone is going to have to step up in the Huskies backfield. Insert Keith Harris Jr. Harris missed most of last season with an injury, however he looks healthy and ready to go this year. The return of running back Akeem Daniels is something that many people have been talking about, however look for the return of Harris to be just as impactful. Daniels has never been the go to guy during his time with the Huskies even though he has been an extremely solid contributor.

Look for Harris to come in and compliment Daniels when he needs a break. Since both are coming off injuries don't expect either to be the featured back, instead expect a split of carries between the two. Harris can catch the ball out of the backfield which will be huge for whoever the new quarterback is. Look for Harris to build on a solid freshman season and what looked to be a decent sophomore year before the injury bug hit, not many people are talking about Keith Harris Jr. now, but at the end of the year they will be.

-Mike Karpinski

Ohio: DE Casey Sayles

Sayles is a big, powerful, and athletic defensive end who should honestly have landed at Nebraska. For whatever reason, the Huskers never offered him, so he came to Ohio, and that's good news for the Bobcats. In 10 games this past season, Sayles racked up 30 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Keep in mind, he played almost exclusively in a reserve role. With the loss of the likes of Ty Branz, Kendric Smith and Nic Barber, Sayles should see much more action this fall, and is the perfect compliment to Tarell Basham's athletic/explosive style of play.

-Bryan M. Vance

Toledo: OL Jeff Myers

The offensive line for the Toledo Rockets could be the best in the MAC. With their star in Greg Mancz getting attention from almost every offensive line preseason watch list, fans might forget about their other guard. Listed at 6 foot 3 and 290 pounds, he doesn't shy away from the weight room or the dining hall. Myers has shown over the past seasons that he can play anywhere on the offensive line. 2011 he appeared in 13 games as a reserve, 2012 started 13 games at Left Guard, and last season was his break out season earning Third-Team All-MAC at left guard. Mancz will be handing the left side of the line with Myers taking care of the right, the Rockets could be back to the top with their bone-crushing offensive line.

-Ian Davis

Western Michigan: K Andrew Haldeman

A year after going 10/16 including a paltry 2/6 from 40+ yards out, Haldeman really came back strong last season, making 80% of his field goals, including a 3/4 mark from 40+ out. He also made all 20 of his PATs, which isn't a lot given that he attempted that many 3-pointers last year.

His star game came against EMU, where the Bronco offense went anemic in the red zone and he ended up with six field goals made, earning National Kicker of the Week honors. He's done it all with pressure on him from the strong footed Brett Scanlon as well, so watch for his continued growth into one of the MAC's better kickers.

-Brandon Fitzsimons