2015 was a weird and fascinating season for MAC football, as there was a four-way fight for the top of the MAC West and some MAC East teams (namely, Ohio) played major spoiler in the conference season. Sadly, there were two teams that were not able to participate in the fun: Eastern Michigan and Miami.
Both teams are in similar spots. Both squads have third-year coaches in the midst of trying to fix a culture of malaise in their programs.
Chris Creighton, who made the jump from Drake University in Iowa, has take "The Factory" mentality and turned it into a brand, relying on a hard-nosed defense and a power running attack. A highlight for his philosophy last season was in the setting of Death Valley, where the Eagles kept up with the LSU Tigers for three quarters, coming within eight points at one point.
Chuck Martin, a former offensive coordinator at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly, had to repair bridges after Don Treadwell torched the program much like General William Sherman on his way out. Replete with new uniforms and imaging, the RedHawks struggled in his first season, but showed a lot of promise in the second with a ton of young talent.
The records, needless to say, have not been great for neither Creighton (3-21) nor Martin (5-19) early on. Those numbers are not to be unexpected, given the conditions of the programs. That being said, the patience of fan bases is smaller than ever in the digital media age, and fans of both of these programs will want results sooner, rather than later.
So, what do both programs have to look forward to next season?
EMU seems to return players on defense that they missed last year due to injuries, including Pat O'Connor and Jeremiah Harris, and have a favorable OOC schedule that could see more than one victory. However, they also miss Reggie Bell and Darius Jackson on offense, and will have to rely on the running game heavily behind Shaq Vann and (potentially) Breck Turner.
Mid-American Conference Football Schedules Released
The MAC Championship will be on Friday, December 2 at 7 p.m., and games 17 games will be nationally televised.
Miami has a stanch running game returning as well, with Kenny Young and company in the backfield, while either Gus Ragland or Billy Bahl should emerge as the option at quarterback. JT Jones will anchor the defensive line after an breakout year in 2015. However, the RedHawks are still developing despite losing Bryson Albright and Brison Burres as senior leaders as a defense. They've also shown they're prone to losing games they shouldn't have in the past (see EKU in 2014.)
It's very hard to project how 2016 will turn out before spring practices even begin, but both teams show great potential for growth in year three. Though both teams finished near the bottom of the MAC in recruiting rankings for this class, EMU brought in a lot of prospects that could see immediate playing time, including Joe Keels and Todd Porter, while Miami aimed at skill position prospects in this class, trying to find more weapons on both sides of the ball.
Perhaps the true indicator of both team's potential success are the schedules. EMU has to go through the meatgrinder that is the MAC West, while Miami has a (slightly) easier road in the MAC East, which looks to be wide open this year. Miami's OOC is tougher, with trips to Rose Bowl participant Iowa and rival Cincinnati, while hosting a Top-25 team in Western Kentucky and FCS foe Eastern Illinois. EMU will host FCS Mississippi Valley State and Wyoming, who the Eagles beat last year on the road. EMU will also travel to Missouri and Charlotte, a very winnable game.
The two teams will meet up in Ypsilanti on October 29.
Time will tell, but ultimately, it will be fascinating to see both teams develop and strive to reach for their goals with different tacts. If you cornered me, I would tell you I have a little more optimism for Eastern's chances this season, but both teams will surprise onlookers in 2016.