1 – Northern Illinois Repeat?
Last season, Northern Illinois rose from the basement to win the conference championship behind head coach Thomas Hammock and a run heavy attack.
So, is Northern Illinois a clear favorite to repeat? Not exactly. Northern Illinois returns starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi and plenty of defensive starters from last season, however the Huskies defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in many key categories. Four of the Huskies nine wins in 2021 came by three points or less, and seven of those wins were by one possession. Odds are, that luck won’t continue in 2022, and I think Northern Illinois will regress a little bit, but bowl eligibility is likely and even another conference championship appearance isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
When it comes to conference scheduling, other top end MAC teams like Miami, Toledo, and Central Michigan will all make trips to DeKalb, signaling to me that Northern Illinois will ultimately control its own destiny as it pertains to a repeat performance in 2022.
2 – Sean Lewis: Best Coach in the MAC?
2021 saw the Kent State Golden Flashes make an appearance in the MAC Championship followed by a bowl birth behind the arm of quarterback Dustin Crum and head coach Sean Lewis. Lewis has been a rising name in the coaching ranks, running a solid up-tempo offensive system that has put Kent State near the top of the conference.
Now, Dustin Crum has departed and in comes touted junior Collin Schlee. All reports from Kent suggest Schlee won’t be much of a step down from Crum, if at all, after several years backing up the former quarterback. The Flash also come into 2022 with a backfield combination of Marquez Cooper and Xavier Williams who combined for more than 2,000 yards last season and leading receiver Dante Cephas who was a thousand yard pass catcher last year. A few Big Ten transfer additions along the offensive line and returning starters, and all signs directly point to a repeat performance from the conferences best offense.
One of Lewis’s best moves comes on the defensive side of the ball after bringing in Northern Iowa defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson to help remedy a defense that finished 116th or worse in all major categories. Northern Iowa consistently had stingy defenses at the FCS level, and this addition plus several transfers could be a key to help elevate Kent State to MAC supremacy.
Here is the bad news: what the hell is this schedule?? In the first four weeks, Kent State travels to Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia! That is literal insanity. (Long Island, which I’m not entirely sure is even a school, is smushed in there as well). Things don’t get much better on the MAC side, with road games against Miami and Toledo.
Kent State is going to struggle early on, no doubt about it, but those tough games early could help them once they get into conference play comes October. If Kent State comes out of this season with a MAC Championship birth? Lewis will surely be a talked about name when the coaching carousel comes around next winter.
3 – Joe Moorhead and Akron
Akron has struggled mightily ever since Charlie Frye departed as quarterback, and while I maintained that Frye is the guy they should have gone after as the next head coach of the Zips this offseason, they surprised many by bringing in former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead. Known mostly for his time as offensive coordinator at Penn State during the Trace McSorley/Saquan Barkley era, Moorhead was tapped to replace Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and was ultimately ousted after two unspectacular, but not bad, seasons.
Moorhead’s most recent stop was at Oregon as the offensive coordinator under Mario Cristobal, and a game plan against Ohio State that helped lead the Ducks over the Buckeyes proved that Moorhead is still a capable offensive mind. So what to expect of him at Akron?
It won’t be an easy turnaround. The Zips lack talent and depth across the roster to compete even in the current MAC, but the addition of several transfers from power five schools at the skill positions and an intriguing quarterback in DJ Irons could help Akron pull off an upset or two in year one against some unsuspecting foes.
4 – Predictions & Notes
5 Biggest Games
Pittsburgh at Western Michigan (Sept 17) – Western Michigan upset Pittsburgh last season, denying the Panthers any shot at making the playoffs. Can the Broncos make it back-to-back when the Panthers come to Kalamazoo?
Miami at Northwestern (Sept 24) – One of the better MAC programs in recent years travels to face a bottom tier Big Ten squad in Northwestern. Can the RedHawks get a big power five upset?
Toledo at Northern Illinois (Oct 8) – A battle between two of the best MAC West teams and potential key game to decide who makes the conference championship
Kent State at Miami (Oct 8) – On the same day, the two best MAC East teams will square off with a potential championship game birth on the line
Miami at Northern Illinois (Nov 16) – A big cross division matchup in late November that could play a huge role for one and spoiler for the other. Or, could this end up being a preview of the MAC Championship two week before?
Kent State defeats Northern Illinois
- Kent State
- Bowling Green
- Northern Illinois
- Central Michigan
- Western Michigan
- Eastern Michigan
- Ball State