Which teams will surprise in the MAC in 2015?

On Wednesday, we started our discussion on the MAC and that discussion will continue today and tomorrow. TSS Associate Editors Bart Doan and Terry Johnson join staff writer Kevin Causey and special rotating guests in our weekly roundtable discussing all things college football.

On Wednesday we talked about players to watch in the MAC. Today we dig deeper into the MAC as we are joined by the BJ Fischer of the Bowling Green based site, Falcon Blog.

Question: Which team will be the biggest surprise in the MAC?

BJ Fischer:

On Twitter @orangeandbrown

The MAC’s biggest surprise team this year will be a positive surprise:  Terry Bowden’s Akron Zips.  Coming off a 5-7 season and with only 12 starters back, it is going to be easy to call them to have  a poor season.  I think the Zips have an excellent shot to win the East.  They will be very strong on defense–especially up front–and I expect them to have be improved at QB to combine with a solid running game.  That’s combined with a favorable set of cross-over games with the tough MAC West…and a proven Coach who has won everywhere he has been.

The runner up here is Ball State, who should also be improved but play in a much tougher division and will find it harder to register a “surprise.”

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

Lance Leipold’s transition from Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he had a staggering 6 championships in 8 years, to The State University of New York Buffalo, who has mostly been allergic to consistent success since joining the FBS ranks in 1998, will be one of the more intriguing stories in the MAC.Quarterback Joe Licata is in his fourth year as a starter and that should help ease the pain of transitioning to a new offense amid the departure of most of the starting offensive line. The Bulls have the artificial advantage of missing two of the assumed Big 3 contenders in the MAC West this year … Western Michigan and Toledo … while they get Northern Illinois at home and find road games against teams that are looking at being at various stages of a rebuild process.
So basically, the surprise here is that I’m taking the Bulls to win the MAC East. They have a lot to replace on defense, but it’s hard to not put your money on Leipold, who showed immediate success at Whitewater in his first year. You know, winning the first of those 6 championships right out of the gate. But there’s only so much gin you can put in the Kool-Aid. They’re not winning the college football playoff this year.

Kevin Causey:

On Twitter @CFBZ

Is it finally time that UMass broke through? After a long run in the NFL, Mark Whipple led UMass to show a lot of improvement last season. They started out 0-6 but four of those six losses were by five or less points. Over the second half of the season, the Minutemen went 3-3 with wins over Kent State, Eastern Michigan and Ball State. Yeah, those teams weren’t very good last year (Ball State was decent) but it showed that UMass was ready to win games that they used to lose with ease.

This year, Whipple returns for his second season so the troops will be much more in tune with what he is trying to accomplish. They return the most starters in the MAC with 19 overall (10 on offense and 9 on defense). They also don’t have to play NIU or WMU, who could be the two best teams in the MAC. Their first three MAC Conference games? Akron, Kent State and Miami (Ohio). Yes, the schedule ends with a tough stretch but by that time this could be a UMass team with a lot of confidence. UMass isn’t going to win the MAC this year but bowl eligibility might not be out of the question.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

The biggest surprise in the MAC will be the Buffalo Bulls.

Let’s be honest: UB was a much better team than last year’s 5-6 record would indicate. Three of the Bulls’ losses were by eight points or less, and all of those came on the road. They also led at Eastern Michigan before collapsing in the second half, which is ultimately what led to Jeff Quinn’s dismissal a few days later.

However, the Bulls showed signs of life at the end of the season, defeating Akron and Massachusetts to close out the year. Had Buffalo been able to play Kent State (cancelled due to weather), it likely would have attained bowl eligibility with a 6-6 record.

Things will be much different this season under the direction of Lance Leipold, one of the most successful coaches in college football history. In eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold compiled a 109-6 record with six national championships. That record includes a 4-1 mark against Hall of Famer Larry Kehres, who won 92.8% of the games that he coached

There’s no way to compile numbers like that without learning how to win close games. Expect Buffalo to come out on the right side of them this year, and to challenge Bowling Green for the MAC East crown.