Mid-American Conference spring recap

Updated: May 9, 2006, 5:06 PM ET
By Brett Edgerton | Special to ESPN.com

Will any team slow down NIU's Garrett Wolfe? Will Miami (Ohio) find its next great quarterback? Can Akron repeat? Take a look at what questions were answered in the MAC this spring and what problems linger heading into the fall.

Akron Zips
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Penn State
9/9 at North Carolina State
9/16 at Central Michigan
9/23 North Texas
9/30 at Kent State
10/7 at Cincinnati
10/21 Miami (Ohio)
10/28 at Toledo
11/4 Bowling Green
11/9 Buffalo
11/16 Ohio
11/24 Western Michigan

2005 overall record:
7-6
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brett Biggs (1,230 yds)
Passing: Luke Getsy* (3,455 yds)
Receiving: Domenik Hixon (1,210 yds)
Tackles: Jay Rohr (121)
Sacks: Jermaine Reid* (7)
Interceptions: Reggie Corner* and Dionte Henry* (2)

Spring answers: Last year, QB Luke Getsy was an unproven transfer from Pittsburgh who struggled mightily in his first spring. Getsy ended up getting the starting job because his competition, Jabari Arthur, was even worse. Fast-forward to the present. Getsy is coming off a 3,400-yard season in which he led Akron to the first bowl in school history. His No. 1 receiving target this spring? None other than Arthur, who eventually landed at receiver and capped off 2005 with a Motor City Bowl-record 180-yard performance. The ol' spring rivals both have an air of confidence these days. Look for them to air that out this fall. ... There's nobody behind Getsy who has taken a collegiate snap, so it's essential he stay upright as much as possible this season. Luckily for the Zips, all five starters return to the offensive line. When this happened at Akron two years ago, returning all five starters didn't sound so pleasant. With this group, it does. ... In fact, there were pleasant vibes all around Zips camp this spring. Folks close to the program gushed about how different the atmosphere felt than in previous years. Maybe it was the bravado that comes with going to a bowl game. Maybe it was the motivation to prove the conference title wasn't a fluke, as some have whispered in MAC circles. Maybe it was the knowledge that the defense is no longer an embarrassment and that a Charlie Frye-like quarterback doesn't have to throw for 300 yards just to pull out a win. Most likely, it was a combination of all three.

Fall questions: That's not to say there aren't some major issues. The Zips didn't lose too many starters, but the ones who did depart were all key components of the championship run. Take wide receiver, for example. Akron lost its top two options in Domenik Hixon and Jason Montgomery. Arthur came on late in the season and has go-to potential, but who exactly is Getsy going to after that? Sophomore Brandon Williams? Redshirt freshman Jermaine Lindsey? Maybe somebody will emerge the way Arthur did last fall, but until then it's going to be a lot of young, unproven talent. For an offense that needs several options at receiver, being stuck at the "finding a solid No. 2" stage is not a good thing. ... Then there's the loss of two-time All-MAC tailback Brett Biggs. Dennis Kennedy signed with Ohio State out of high school but never ended up going there. So we know he has some talent. The sophomore has seen only limited action at the college level, though. How will he handle the full load? ... Speaking of full loads, turns out 6-foot-5, 315-pound Nate Robinson is right here in Akron. Those who track the recruiting games surely remember Robinson. The top-rated defensive lineman in the Class of 2003, Robinson signed with Miami but ended up going home to Rutgers after not qualifying. He spent an up-and-down two years in Jersey before being kicked off the team for poor academic work. There's no question the talent is there. Is the commitment? If the answer is yes, the Zips sure won't have to worry about Brian White's vacated tackle spot. ... As for the spots formerly occupied by LB Brian Rohr and FS Deon Elie, those are still very much undecided. So are the replacements at kicker and punter, where Akron lost a pair of three-year starters. Those last two spots, and maybe the one at linebacker, likely will fall to true freshmen.

Ball State Cardinals
2006 Schedule
8/31 Eastern Michigan
9/9 Indiana
9/16 at Purdue
9/23 North Dakota State
9/30 Northern Illinois
10/7 at Buffalo
10/14 at Central Michigan
10/21 Western Michigan
10/28 at Miami (Ohio)
11/4 at Michigan
11/14 at Toledo
11/24 Kent State

2005 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
4-4

Returning starters
Offense: 10, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Charles Wynn (533 yds)
Passing: Joey Lynch* (1,982 yds)
Receiving: Terry Moss* (420 yds)
Tackles: Bryant Haines* (83)
Sacks: Blair Kramer (5)
Interceptions: Trey Lewis* (3)

Spring answers: Ball State has had one player rush for 1,000 yards in the last 11 years, and it wasn't even under current coach Brady Hoke's watch. Hoke is a Michigan man. For him, trying to win football games without a quality running game is like trying to play baseball games without a bat. That's why watching B.J. Hill and Larry Bostic this spring had to be encouraging. Charles Wynn was the only starter who departed from the offense, but he'll be replaced by a two-headed monster that looks far more dangerous. Hill showed plenty of flashes as a reserve last year, and Bostic is one of those change-of-pace types who will try to get to the edges of the D, then use his speed to take off. That will come in handy for an offense that had just six runs of 20-plus yards in 318 attempts last season. ... The Cardinals look a lot more lethal at tight end than they did before Mike Steinhaus went down with an injury during the season. That's because 6-foot-6 Darius Hill was able to show off his catching skills, especially in the red zone. Those two will make a nice combo this fall. ... DE Cortlan Booker and DT Amara Koroma were part of the bookselling scandal last season, both losing four games of eligibility and never really looking into it the rest of the year. Now that they will compete for an entire season, the two juniors have to be considered the keys to the defensive line. And it looks as if they're up to the task. The coaches are especially high on Booker, who they think can help generate a consistent pass-rush for a line that got to the quarterback just 16 times in 2005.

Fall questions: Yes, the offensive linemen are all back, but are they any better? If Hoke wants an effective run game, he'll need a tougher and more consistent line. A little pass protection wouldn't hurt, either. We'll chalk last year's struggles up to youth. No such pass this year. ... Any playmakers in the passing game? The Cardinals completed 207 passes last year, but only 18 of them went for 20 yards or more. So on an offense that ranked 106th in the country, it wasn't just the ground game that was stuck in neutral. Terry Moss isn't really a big-play threat, and Louis Johnson still has trouble with the easy catches, so that role might fall into the hands of sophomore Dante Love. BSU says it plans to toss to Love in open spaces and let him do his thing. Will his versatility provide a much-needed spark? ... It's not as though the Cards were exactly sailing along on the other side of the ball last year, finishing last in the MAC in both total defense (459 ypg) and scoring defense (38 ppg). Now they get to figure out how to replace MLB Brad Seiss, who suffered a knee injury in the last practice of the spring and is likely out for the season. Smart and tough, Seiss was undoubtedly the heart of the defensive unit. It's a major, major loss. ... Another big issue is the secondary, where SS Erik Keys is the only full-time starter returning. So, not surprisingly, the defensive backs still are not making any plays on the ball (just eight INTs last year). The situation at cornerback, where the top three were lost to graduation, looks particularly troublesome. How much can the five incoming freshmen contribute? And how quickly?

Bowling Green Falcons
2006 Schedule
9/2 Wisconsin
9/9 Buffalo
9/16 at Florida International
9/23 Kent State
9/30 at Ohio
10/7 at Ohio State
10/14 Eastern Michigan
10/19 at Central Michigan
10/28 at Temple
11/04 Akron
11/15 Miami (Ohio)
11/21 at Toledo


2005 overall record:
6-5
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: B.J. Lane (677 yds)
Passing: Omar Jacobs (2,591 yds)
Receiving: Charles Sharon (1,028 yds)
Tackles: Terrel White* (100)
Sacks: Mike Thaler (5.5)
Interceptions: Jelani Jordan (6)

Spring answers: With four of five starters returning, the Falcons should be fine on the offensive line -- it'll just look a little different this time around. In what on the surface seems like a bit of an odd move this far into their careers, senior John Lanning and junior Kory Lichtensteiger switched places on the O-line. So Lanning now resides at left guard and Lichtensteiger mans the middle. According to the coaches, it's a better fit for the individuals and for the line as a whole. ... In the spring game, sophomore LB Erique Dozier threw down a thunderous hit on a helpless Marques Parks, who is probably still sore. The hit came as no surprise to those who were around practice this spring. Dozier saw an opening at the strongside position and took the starting spot -- and took it with authority. ... Nose guard Nick Davis also seized up on an opening on the defensive side. Mike Thaler will be tough to replace at nose, but Davis has really benefited from increased strength and looks ready for the challenge. With seniors Brad Williams and Devon Parks still around, the D-line should be stout.

Fall questions: Bowling Green must replace its leaders in rushing, passing, receiving, interceptions and sacks. So yes, we have a few questions. For starters, how does BGSU provide an encore to the Omar Jacobs years? The dynamic quarterback jumped to the NFL a year early, and it's a year the Falcons really could've used in the grooming process. Sophomore Anthony Turner, who recently pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct after a marijuana-related arrest, needs to grow up quickly. He reminds some of the dual-threat Josh Harris from a few years back, but we'll need to see it in the fall to believe it. ... Turner is the guy under center, but how will redshirt freshman QB Freddie Barnes be incorporated into the offense? Head coach Gregg Brandon already has said he wouldn't be able to stomach having one of them standing beside him on the sideline. ... With the mass exodus at the skill positions, the team lost its two top rushers (B.J. Lane and P.J. Pope) and top four pass catchers (Charles Sharon, Steve Sanders and the two tailbacks). In the backfield, junior Dan Macon took control of the position and is one of the fastest guys on the team, but he redshirted last season and there's not a whole lot of experience to bank a prediction on. At receiver, Corey Partridge leads the way with his 23 career catches. On a two-deep with 23 freshmen and sophomores, that kind of inexperience seems to be the rule more than the exception. That's especially true at linebacker, where Terrel White is the lone proven commodity of the bunch. ... So is it any surprise the Falcons will have to rely on a pair of August newcomers at punter and place-kicker?

Buffalo Bulls
2006 Schedule
8/31 Temple
9/9 at Bowling Green
9/16 at Northern Illinois
9/23 at Auburn
10/7 Ball State
10/14 Miami (Ohio)
10/21 at Ohio
10/28 at Boston College
11/4 Kent State
11/9 at Akron
11/18 at Wisconsin
11/24 Central Michigan

2005 overall record:
1-10
Conference record:
1-7

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Steven King* (532 yds)
Passing: Drew Willy* (1,481 yds)
Receiving: Brett Hamlin* (371 yds)
Tackles: Kareem Byrom* (85)
Sacks: Aaron Sanders (6.5)
Interceptions: Kareem Byrom* (3)

Spring answers: Regarding UB's hiring of Turner Gill: When you have Nebraska fans not only coming to your practices but donating money to a program they previously knew nothing about, that should tell you something. This might be his first head coaching job, but the man brings instant credibility -- both from his playing days in Lincoln and his time as a top recruiter and quarterbacks coach for three national title teams. Buffalo fans should hold no illusions of grand success in Gill's first couple of seasons, but the team will be well-conditioned and he will create a buzz on the recruiting trail. ... There's still some doubt about how the Bulls will perform in the fall, but Gill cleared up any doubt about the starting jobs at quarterback and tailback. Last fall, after starter Stewart Sampel broke his collarbone in the first month, Drew Willy came in and started the final eight games, with mixed results. He completed plenty of passes, but that 1-to-2 TD-to-INT ratio tells you they weren't always caught by the good guys. The sophomore was just 6-of-21 in the spring game, but Gill loves the potential there. So for the first time in a long time, the Bulls have a clear-cut QB heading into the summer. At tailback, apparently Steven King's 3.9 yards per carry was just too scary for the new staff. Chris McDuffie beat out King, two years after the pair split carries. McDuffie missed all of 2005 with an injury. ... TE Chad Upshaw and LB Ramon Guzman are two other players Gill quickly became a fan of. He doesn't necessarily realize it yet, but Upshaw has all the physical tools to become an NFL draft pick -- or an All-MAC selection at the very least. As for fast and versatile Guzman, it looks as though he finally has found a position after stints at fullback and safety.

Fall questions: Remember, this is still a program that has managed a grand total of five wins in the last four years combined. Generally, the team has been so thin depthwise that the players just plain wear down after halftime. It's not a problem that has suddenly gone away, especially not in the trenches. On the offensive line, only sophomore center Jamey Richard has his spot locked down. Everything else is completely up for grabs. As of this moment, the starters would consist of four sophomores and a rarely used senior. Not a single backup has played a down of college football. ... It's not as if things are much better on the D-line, where all four starters departed. By the end of the spring, the Bulls were lining up a redshirt freshman, a junior with little experience, a junior with no experience and a junior who played tight end last year. Yikes. ... Turning it over 27 times last year wasn't great, but it could've been survivable. Florida State and Cal also turned the ball over 27 times, which was seven fewer times than bowl teams UTEP and Boise State. What is tough to survive is creating only 12 turnovers, including a paltry three forced fumbles. Only two teams were worse, and they went a combined 3-19. ... But when it comes to special teams, no other program -- and folks, this one is not even up for debate -- has been more embarrassing than Buffalo. Last year alone, the Bulls were 113th in KO returns, 115th in punt returns and 107th in punting and the kickers went a combined 4-of-13 on field goal attempts. Does Gill have any secrets from his days with the Big Red? Even if the answer is no, it's not like it could get any worse, right?

Central Michigan Chippewas
2006 Schedule
8/31 Boston College
9/9 at Michigan
9/16 Akron
9/23 at Eastern Michigan
9/30 at Kentucky
10/7 at Toledo
10/14 Ball State
11/19 Bowling Green
11/4 at Temple
11/10 Western Michigan
11/17 at Northern Illinois
11/24 at Buffalo

2005 overall record:
6-5
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Ontario Sneed* (1,065 yds)
Passing: Kent Smith (2,799 yds)
Receiving: Damien Linson* (832 yds)
Tackles: Thomas Keith* (104)
Sacks: Daniel Bazuin* (16)
Interceptions: Thomas Keith* (4)

Spring answers: After the graduation of Jacob Brown, tight end was a position of need. So naturally, the Chippewas turned to the defense. Redshirt freshman Sam Williams, originally recruited as a defender, switched sides this spring and played himself right into a starting role. He's a big kid with wheels, which is never a bad formula at tight end. ... After Pacino Horne moved to cornerback, free safety was a position of need. So naturally, the Chippewas turned to a 6-foot-4 tight end. And yes, this transition went smoothly, as well. Better than smoothly, in fact. Walk-on Calvin Hissong blew away the coaches, who love his size and his ability to go up and make a play. Those ball skills were a true revelation. ... On the other hand, nothing DE Daniel Bazuin could do at this point could be considered a revelation. The reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year, Bazuin led the nation in tackles for loss (26.5) and ranked second in sacks (16) despite facing double-teams for much of the season. CMU's career record holder in sacks and tackles for loss, Bazuin is a quiet, unassuming farm kid from northern Michigan, but when he gets on the field, all hell breaks loose. Much to the dismay of MAC quarterbacks and offensive tackles, the hell-raiser is back.

Fall questions: How do the Chippewas replace QB Kent Smith and his eight school records? For now, the new quarterback will just be expected to not lose games -- play more of a distributor role. Yes, the solid running game is a reason for that, but using that "distributor role" phrase always makes you wonder about the strength of the quarterback position. Redshirt sophomore Brian Brunner, a smart guy with a solid grasp of the offense, is listed as the No. 1 going into the summer. Redshirt freshman Dan LeFevour, still raw after playing only one year as a quarterback in high school, might still get a look in August. ... Does Central have the depth to replace WR Justin Harper, a four-year starter who finished third on the school's career receptions list? Damien Linson is still around, but others are needed to make up for Harper's production. Diminutive junior Jemmy Jasmin kind of fits into the same mold. Is it his time? ... The defensive front seven should be tremendous, but what about the secondary? That's where the questions begin, especially after the transfer of a few able-bodied types. Curtis Cutts is the favorite at strong safety, but he doesn't have much experience there. Redshirt freshman Josh Gordy is the favorite at one corner spot, but he doesn't have much experience, either. You get the point. The pass defense ranked 108th nationally, and now there are depth issues and untested starters.

Eastern Michigan Eagles
2006 Schedule
8/31 at Ball State
9/9 at Michigan State
9/16 at Northwestern
9/23 Central Michigan
9/30 at Louisiana-Lafayette
10/14 at Bowling Green
10/21 Toledo
10/28 at Western Michigan
11/4 Ohio
11/11 Navy
11/18 at Kent State
11/24 Northern Illinois

2005 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Sherrell (442 yds)
Passing: Matt Bohnet (2,181 yds)
Receiving: Eric Deslauriers* (874 yds)
Tackles: Rontrell Woodruff (112)
Sacks: Kevin Howe* (10.5)
Interceptions: Daniel Holtzclaw* (5)

Spring answers: The most important (and most pleasing) answer came from WR Eric Deslauriers, who turned down an offer to play for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, the team that drafted the Quebec native with the No. 7 overall pick in its league draft. The decision was somewhat expected but was a relief for EMU nonetheless. Especially after Deslauriers added 10 pounds of muscle and vowed to become more physical and improve his yards-after-catch numbers -- this coming from the school's all-time leader in touchdown catches. ... Looks as though the Eagles have that Colorado connection working again. Last year, the defensive line benefited from CU transfer Josh Hunt, who started at tackle in 2005 and returns alongside what should be a solid front line. This year, it's the secondary's turn. The staff didn't have enormous expectations for Cory Reid when he arrived from Colorado; all he did was come in and earn a starting cornerback job this spring. In case you're wondering whether there's a link between Boulder and Ypsilanti, EMU head coach Jeff Genyk once mentored under former Buffaloes' coach Gary Barnett at Northwestern. Plus, both transfers grew up in the state of Michigan. ... Genyk never hesitates to play true freshmen, but FS Chris May simply wasn't physically ready to see the field last year, so he was redshirted. Frankly, he didn't exactly show many positive signs for the future, either. But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. May arrived this spring and hit better, ran better and just plain played better -- enough to earn a starting spot, in fact.

Fall questions: Who wants to be the quarterback? Anybody? It was widely thought Matt Bohnet's backup, Tyler Jones, would quickly and easily seize the opportunity to have the show all to himself. But Jones never really progressed in the spring. In fact, some would argue he actually regressed. It was a disappointing development, and it opened the door for redshirt freshman Andy Schmitt. But he was bothered by a deep quad pull and didn't really blow anybody away with his play. If something doesn't change in August, this team is going to miss Bohnet even more than it originally thought. ... After the graduation of Mike Romeli, the Eagles also aren't sure from whom that eventual quarterback will take snaps. Center is redshirt freshman Desi Mayner's job to lose, but he has no experience and the team plans to try out tackle Kevin Minor in the middle when he returns from a knee injury that kept him out of spring work. What does that tell you? ... Eastern Michigan hasn't been able to run the ball in years. Nothing happened this spring that would make you believe that trend won't continue. Sophomore Dwayne Harrison might have a slight edge, but running back is likely a by-committee position this fall. Unless, of course, local kid Richard Franklin arrives in August as a true freshman and scraps those plans. ... We know the D-line was young and the linebackers were undersized, but nearly everyone is back, so the front seven just has to start stopping some teams on the ground. Opponents averaged nearly 200 rushing ypg last season. ... Will redshirt freshman Zach Johnson take control of the punting duties so Andrew Wellock can concentrate on just kicking this year. Wellock wasn't on his game last year, even missing a few chip shots. Remember, this is the same guy who finished runner-up to current Jets kicker Mike Nugent for the Lou Groza Award in 2004.

Kent State Golden Flashes
2006 Schedule
8/31 Minnesota
9/9 at Army
9/16 at Miami (Ohio)
9/23 at Bowling Green
9/30 Akron
10/7 at Temple
10/14 Toledo
10/28 Ohio
11/4 at Buffalo
11/11 at Virginia Tech
11/18 Eastern Michigan
11/24 at Ball State

2005 overall record:
1-10
Conference record:
0-8

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jerry Flowers* (304 yds)
Passing: Michael Machen* (2,078 yds)
Receiving: Najah Pruden* (688 yds)
Tackles: Justin Parrish (96)
Sacks: Parrish (8.5)
Interceptions: Jack Williams* (4)

Spring answers: It's hard to describe just how bad the Kent State running game was last year, but we'll give it a shot. For the entire season, the Golden Flashes totaled a whopping 505 yards on the ground. To put that in perspective, KSU could've increased its total by 60 percent (300 yards) and still been the worst rushing team in the country. So yes, when you average 45.9 yards per game and 1.8 yards per carry, just about anything that walks in a forward motion is considered a spring answer. But the Kent staff feels as if it has more than that. Both Michigan State transfer Tony Howard and redshirt freshman Eugene Jarvis showed speed this spring that coach Doug Martin said he never has had in the backfield. In fact, Martin went as far as to say tailback was now one of the team's strongest areas. We'll wait and see on that one -- and we're not sure what that says about the rest of the team -- but a pair of breakaway threats is certainly a welcome sight for a running game that didn't reach the 100-yard mark until a blowout loss in the season finale. An offensive line that's a year older and looks two years better should help. … The team's best defensive player, Danny Muir, moved from tackle to end without a hitch. On the other edge, fellow senior Bruce Rice successfully returned from a broken foot this spring and Colin Ferrell -- no, not that one -- looks ready to better last season's total of 13 tackles for a loss.

Fall questions: Kent State has a decent stable of receivers. Will QB Michael Machen be able to find them this year? That's the question. Last season, Machen tossed 18 picks, just one short of the highest total in the country. And it's not as though there were a lot of touchdown throws (11) to balance things out. Simply put, Machen has to be better. Of course, he wasn't responsible for all those conference-worst 31 turnovers. If the offense wants to average more than 283.4 yards and 16.4 points per game, holding onto the ball would be a good start. … The Flashes have to replace just two defensive starters, but they're big vacancies. LB Justin Parrish recorded a school-record 25 sacks in his career, including 22.5 in the last two years. And fellow linebacker Jon Sessler was right behind Parrish in total tackles last season. Kent State will still be running the 3-4 defense, but there are major questions about that "4" part. The Golden Flashes will have just one senior and three sophomores in the inside rotation and two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore on the outside. … When a team goes 1-10, there generally aren't many bright spots. KSU's kicking game actually provided one, though. Punter Josh Brazen averaged more than 42.4 yards a boot, and Travis Mayle holds every major kicking record Kent has on the books. Both are gone. So, will kickoff specialist Reid Macko take over both roles, as he did in the spring? Or will true freshmen Jake Kilroy (punter) and Nate Reed (kicker) win spots once they arrive in August?

Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
2006 Schedule
8/31 Northwestern
9/9 at Purdue
9/16 Kent State
9/23 at Syracuse
9/30 at Cincinnati
10/7 Northern Illinois
10/14 at Buffalo
10/21 at Akron
10/28 Ball State
11/4 at Western Michigan
11/15 at Bowling Green
11/24 Ohio

2005 overall record:
7-4
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 2, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Brandon Murphy* (1,070 yds)
Passing: Josh Betts (3,178 yds)
Receiving: Ryne Robinson* (1,119 yds)
Tackles: John Busing (97)
Sacks: Craig Mester* (5.5)
Interceptions: Frank Wiwo* (4)

Spring answers: It seems as though the RedHawks haven't stopped passing since the day current head coach Shane Montgomery took over as offensive coordinator in 2001. Believe it or not, though, the program also has produced a trio of 1,000-yard rushers during that time, including Brandon Murphy last season. Nursing an injured ankle, Murphy was held out of contact drills this spring, but that only created an opportunity for the rest of the backs. So they went out there and, just like that, looked like the deepest group on the team. The two Jimmys (Murray and Calhoun) were back, but the most intrigue came from two players who weren't even on the field last year: redshirt freshman Andre Bratton and junior Austin Sykes, who sat out 2005 to clear up his academics. … Some wondered whether WR Ryne Robinson might skip his senior season of football to play professional baseball. That's not going to happen. And if that answer doesn't make Miami fans giddy, we're not sure what team they've been watching lately. Robinson is easily the most electrifying player on the team, a threat to score every time he lines up to receive a pass or a punt. … On a decimated defense, at least the RedHawks can still count on safety Joey Card. The senior is a big hitter with enough quickness to defend the pass.

Fall questions: For the first time since 1998, Miami has no idea who its quarterback is going to be heading into the summer. It was an on-again, off-again kind of spring for the three contenders. Junior Mike Kokal might be the slightest of favorites, partly because he's the only one with any college experience (albeit just 27 passes). But redshirt freshman Daniel Raudabaugh and sophomore Jared Elliott, who is battling a nagging shoulder injury, will be right there in August. Not to put any pressure on whoever wins the job, but he'll be following in the footsteps of the top three passers in school history: Mike Bath, Josh Betts and some guy named Roethlisberger. … That might not be the only pressure the new guy faces. Oncoming defenders surely will notice the RedHawks are missing three starters on the offensive line and go only about six-deep there -- and that's on a good day. … Then there's the defense, which often got overlooked last year despite forcing a stunning 35 turnovers, fourth most in the entire country. However, a whopping nine starters graduated from that side of the ball. And now there are questions everywhere. The line is young and undersized. At linebacker, five of the top six on the two-deep are gone and it's basically back to square one. With just three scholarship linebackers on the RedHawks roster, a few true freshmen will need to step in right away. Finally, there's cornerback, where everywhere you look untested is competing with unproven, who is battling inexperienced and injury-prone. … Oh, and did we mention All-MAC kicker Todd Soderquist is being replaced by a true freshman? Good times all around.

Northern Illinois Huskies
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Ohio State
9/9 Ohio
9/16 Buffalo
9/23 Indiana State
9/30 at Ball State
10/7 at Miami (Ohio)
10/14 at Western Michigan
10/21 Temple
10/28 at Iowa
11/7 at Toledo
11/17 Central Michigan
11/24 at Eastern Michigan

2005 overall record:
7-5
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 6, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Garrett Wolfe* (1,580 yds)
Passing: Phil Norvath* (2,001 yds)
Receiving: Sam Hurd (1,074 yds)
Tackles: Dustin Utschig* (106)
Sacks: Craig Rusch* (6)
Interceptions: Utschig* (3)

Spring answers: The great Garrett Wolfe, the nation's second-leading rusher last year (176 ypg), sat out the entire spring rehabbing his injured right shoulder. He'll be 100 percent by preseason practice, but it was still important for NIU to find a reliable No. 2, considering Wolfe's size (5-7, 175) and the fact that he missed three games last year dealing with shoulder and knee problems. As good as Wolfe is, the Huskies do not want their star carrying it 35 times a game. That's where sophomore Montell Clanton comes into the picture. He's not big either (5-9), but has elusive speed and showed a consistency that was missing last year. Clanton beat out an improving Cas Prime, finally healthy for the first time in three years. Coach Joe Novak also seemed pleased with Justin Anderson, but didn't forget to remind all the backups about incoming freshman Ricky Crider. … Wolfe had some time to observe the scrimmages this spring, and the name that seemed to keep coming out of his mouth was that of right guard Matt Rogers. The staff was equally impressed, awarding the junior a starting spot on the line. … With two vacancies on the interior, the NIU defensive ends might need to carry the D-line early on. Returning starter Larry English got off to a good start this spring, spending plenty of time in the backfield.

Fall questions: When starting QB Phil Horvath was injured late in the season this past fall, it was considered fairly devastating since no one really knew what to expect out of a redshirt freshman like Dan Nicholson. Well, that redshirt freshman not only steadied the ship but sailed it right into the MAC championship game with crucial wins over Central Michigan, Toledo and Western Michigan. So what does all that mean? Why, a quarterback controversy, of course. Minor injuries popped up here and there this spring, preventing the two contenders from getting as many reps as Novak wanted. So this one might go the distance. When asked when he would decide on a starter, Novak said he could foresee the race coming down to the final days of August. … Which line, offensive or defensive, has an iffier situation in the middle? That's not exactly the kind of question coaches like to hear posed at the end of spring practice, but that's what gets asked when you lose every interior starter on both sides of the ball. On the O-line, the two new guards (Chris Acevedo and Rogers) were hurt most of last year and the new center (redshirt freshman Eddie Adamski) didn't even play. On the D-line, the Huskies have the fortune of breaking in their new starting tackles in -- of all places -- the Horseshoe in Columbus. That should be fun.

Ohio Bobcats
2006 Schedule
9/2 Tennessee-Martin
9/9 at Northern Illinois
9/16 at Rutgers
9/23 at Missouri
9/30 Bowling Green
10/7 Western Michigan
10/14 at Illinois
10/21 Buffalo
10/28 at Kent State
11/4 at Eastern Michigan
11/16 Akron
11/24 at Miami (Ohio )

2005 overall record:
4-7
Conference record:
3-5

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 0

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Kalvin McRae* (1,153 yds)
Passing: Austen Everson* (1,151 yds)
Receiving: Scott Mayle* (338 yds)
Tackles: Matt Muncy* (115)
Sacks: Jameson Hartke* (4)
Interceptions: Dion Byrum (6)

Spring answers: Too many dropped passes. Too few big plays. By all accounts, 2005 was a pretty crummy year for the Ohio receiving corps. When your leading receiver averages 30.7 yards per game, that's a fair statement. But two early enrollees, Chido Nwokocha and Chris Garrett, offered hope this spring. The coaches raved about Nwokocha's ability to pick up the offense so quickly. The JC transfer also has good hands and shows the ability to get open. True freshman Garrett won't intimidate with size (5-8), but he was a high school running back and has great feet and quickness. He'll also contribute a much-needed boost to the return game. … What made TB Kalvin McRae's All-MAC season all the more impressive was that opponents knew exactly what Ohio was going to do (Hint: It doesn't rhyme with "glass") yet still couldn't do much about it. Now it looks as if they might have to deal with junior Josh Abrams, who came out of special teams purgatory to become easily the surprise of the spring. Those 87 yards on just six carries in the final scrimmage is about how it went all month. Hey, at the very least, he and Voncarie Owens offer the Bobcats a couple of speedy options in reserve. … The linebacking corps already was stacked at the top, anyway, but it's adding three more -- and they're not from high school or junior college or another D-I program. No, these guys came from their own secondary. The numbers, after all, are aplenty at safety, where Virginia Tech transfer Michael Hinton dropped some jaws with his sheer athleticism this spring.

Fall questions: Last fall, Austen Everson became the first Ohio quarterback since 2000 to start every game of the season. That's a distant memory these days. Now, in the face of three contenders, he's scratching and clawing just to hang on to his job. The accuracy still hasn't come around for the senior, and it might just end up doing him in. If you polled the fans, the choice probably would be Brad Bower, a transfer who played a few games for Illinois in 2004. Sophomore Brandon Jones is also in the mix, but strong-armed redshirt freshman Josh Febus is probably too raw to start at this point. … So who will be snapping the ball to the eventual quarterback in the season opener? When center J.J. Knabb went down with an injury last season, freshman Tommy Stuck turned into more than just a fill-in. He turned into a possible starter. Those two will battle it out this August for the starting honor at center. ... CB Dion Byrum was the definition of a playmaker last year because he just made things happen. If you don't believe us, give Dave Wannstedt, Tyler Palko and the gang at Pitt a call. Sophomore Mark Parson separated himself from the pack of replacement candidates this spring, but those are some large shoes to fill. You know what wouldn't hurt? An improved pass rush from the front seven. … The loss of punter/kicker Matthew Miller is probably the most troublesome. Only one person on the roster has attempted an extra point or a field goal, and that came on a quick kick by Everson. As for the punters, there are about three or four of them competing, and they're all equally inconsistent.

Toledo Rockets
2006 Schedule
8/31 at Iowa State
9/9 at Western Michigan
9/15 Kansas
9/23 McNeese State
9/30 at Pittsburgh
10/7 Central Michigan
10/14 at Kent State
10/21 at Eastern Michigan
10/28 Akron
11/7 at Northern Illinois
11/14 Ball State
11/21 Bowling Green

2005 overall record:
9-3
Conference record:
6-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Trinity Dawson (1,294 yds)
Passing: Bruce Gradkowski (2,469 yds)
Receiving: Steve Odom* (690 yds)
Tackles: Anthony Jordan (107)
Sacks: Mike Alston* (9.5)
Interceptions: Keon Jackson (4)

Spring answers: The Rockets aren't mourning the graduation of TB Trinity Dawson. That's not because he wasn't productive (Dawson rushed for nearly 1,300 yards last year) but rather because Toledo has multiple options that have emerged as replacements. Junior Jalen Parmele presents a battering-ram style, and sophomore Richard Davis is quick and shows crafty footwork. Then there's redshirt freshman DaJuane Collins, a former New Jersey prep standout who looked great this spring. The wild card is Scooter McDougle, who was one of the key contributors on the 2004 MAC championship team before a severe knee injury in the MAC championship game. If he can get back in game shape by the fall, look out. … How good is LB Mike Alston? When UTEP quarterback Jordan Palmer gets done wiping the chunks of grass off his helmet, go ahead and ask him. By halftime of last year's GMAC Bowl, Palmer already had been sacked three times by Alston, and he was clearly frazzled the rest of the way. Well, Alston was every bit as dominant this spring and might be the fastest player on the team. He's a prime candidate to lead the league in sacks and win conference defensive player of the year. … Just like the loss of Dawson, the departure of All-MAC strong safety Keon Jackson looks like a cause for concern. However, after the spring performance of redshirt freshman Lester Richmond, the Rockets aren't all that concerned. The growing sentiment around the program is that Richmond will be one of the top defensive players in the program in the not-so-distant future.

Fall questions: When the quarterback who wins league MVP and breaks every major passing record in school history departs, that's generally going to be your top question mark going into next season. The Rockets are no exception. Although redshirt freshman Brandon Summers hasn't been ruled out completely, Bruce Gradkowski's old job is Clint Cochran's to lose. Cochran showed good accuracy whenever he needed to fill in for a hobbled Gradkowski in the past, but the playbook generally was limited to short passes. How will he handle the full works? Cochran didn't exactly look exceptional this spring. … The receivers, however, looked outstanding. Is that going to continue the whole year? This group was plagued by drop after drop in the first half of the 2005 season. On the final play of the team's upset loss to Central Michigan, Nick Moore dropped what would've been the winning touchdown. For 2006, pretty much all the targets are back. With a new quarterback, it's essential they're consistent from the first game on. … Toledo took a heavy hit when it lost the inside linebacking duo of Anthony Jordan and David Thomas. Steven Morrison slid over from the outside, but is anyone going to emerge at the other spot? And how much will these losses right up the gut hurt the MAC's best defense? … PK Jason Robbins doesn't have a big leg, but he sure was accurate (13-of-13 in 2005). Will true freshman Alex Steigerwald be able to fill his shoes?

Western Michigan Broncos
2006 Schedule
9/2 at Indiana
9/9 Toledo
9/16 at Virginia
9/23 Temple
10/7 at Ohio
10/14 Northern Illinois
10/21 at Ball State
10/28 Eastern Michigan
11/4 Miami
11/10 at Central Michigan
11/18 at Florida State
11/24 at Akron

2005 overall record:
7-4
Conference record:
5-3

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 10, Kicker/punter: 2

2005 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Trovon Riley (1,004 yds)
Passing: Tim Hiller (1,334 yds)
Receiving: Greg Jennings (1,259 yds)
Tackles: Antwain Allen* (95)
Sacks: Ameer Ismail* (8)
Interceptions: Louis Delmas* (3)

Spring answers: Much to the delight of Broncos fans, QB Ryan Cubit was granted a sixth year of eligibility, which was huge. After Cubit went down in the fourth game of the season, all freshman Tim Hiller did was come in and throw 20 TDs (and just three INTs). But Hiller tore ligaments in his right knee and likely will redshirt in 2006. Son of head coach Bill Cubit, Ryan returns healthy and obviously knows the offense. Without Greg Jennings to toss it to anymore, he'll need to be at his best in 2006. … Of course, he will have Jamarko Simmons around. Simmons is one of those playmakers who simply has to be on the field. If he's not running the ball, he'll line up in the slot or on the outside. And although just a sophomore, Simmons already is taking a leadership role. Louis Delmas might be switching positions, but rest assured offensive coordinators in the MAC will know where he's lining up. Delmas moved from corner to strong safety, but he will be every bit as good as he was during his superb freshman campaign. He's a hard hitter with a nose for where to be at all times. The kid has a future.

Fall questions: How do the Broncos replace a 1,000-yard rusher like Trovon Riley? Mark Bonds had a nice spring, but he's more of a downhill, bruiser type. Will he hold up over a long season? In August, three freshmen -- guys Cubit and his staff are very high on -- will arrive, and sophomore Kirk Elsworth is also around. … Jennings, who led the nation in catches (98) last season, was a tremendous weapon. He could take a 5-yard out pass, make a few cuts and turn it into a 35-yard completion. The staff can't expect another Jennings, but will someone emerge as a go-to guy? At this point, it's not clear who that would be. Cubit's offense requires plenty of receivers, but much of the unit is young and simply doesn't have a lot of touches. And it doesn't help that TE Tony Scheffler, the team's second-leading receiver with 57 catches and 670 yards, also departed. … Scoring points wasn't a problem last season, and that was a big part of the remarkable turnaround from 1-10 to 7-4. With many of those stars on offense gone, though, it's essential the defense get better. WMU gave up an average of 31 points and 451 yards per game. In addition, Texas A&M was the only I-A school that gave up more passing yards than the Broncos' average of 303 through the air. Ten starters return on defense, so no excuses this fall. It's time to get it done.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at Brett.M.Edgerton.-ND@espn.com.

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