As the College Football season approaches, today we will look at the always action-packed and unpredictable MAC conference.
(Odds courtesy of FanDuel)
Last year Northern Illinois defeated Kent State 41-23 to secure their championship run. Northern Illinois rode a 7-3 record in one-score games (4-0 in games decided by three points or less) and a formidable rushing attack ranking third in Stuff Rate, 36th in offensive rushing explosiveness and 23rd in offensive rushing success rate.
On the opposite side, Kent State was led by QB Dustin Crum’s 3187 passing yards, 20 TDs, six INTs and a +13 turnover margin (ranked fourth overall). This year a lot has changed, and some new teams stand out as contenders. We will look at Returning Production (from the TARP database on the Action Network) and pair it with SP+ Efficiency measures from 2021 and other advanced stats from PFF and CFBdata.
Toledo at +400 is the longest odds for any favorite to win their conference. Toledo is head and shoulders above the rest of the MAC. Last year they were highly unlucky, posting an 0-5 record in one-score games and 0-4 in games decided by three points or less. They will not post this record again in 2022. They did boast a +10 Turnover margin (13th overall) and will unlikely reach those heights again, but their returning production will have them contending across the board in every category.
Toledo is one of only seven teams to rank top 30 in defensive returning production (19th), paired with a top 30 2021 SP+ defensive ranking (21st). The other six teams are Alabama, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, NC State and Pittsburgh. Toledo’s 2021 advanced defensive metrics are phenomenal. Here’s a list of the notable standouts:
- 20th in Def PPO (points per opportunity)
- 46th in Def Front seven havoc
- Ninth in Def DB Havoc
- Ninth in Def standard downs success rate
- Ninth in Def rushing success rate
- 17th in Def passing success rate
From a returning production perspective, Toledo brings back a ranking of 12th (77.53%) in tackles, sixth (85.20%) in pressures, and 10th (78.16%) in stops. Their only weakness is that they are below average in allowing explosive plays (85th in def pass explosiveness and 100th in def rush explosiveness). This unit will be the barometer for how well they do this season.
Toledo on offense has a respectable returning production ranking of 45th paired with a 2021 SP+ Offense ranking of 65th. QB Dequan Finn had a very respectable freshman campaign with 2044 passing yards, 8.2 yards/att, 18 TDs and two INTs. He was also a dual-threat with 505 rushing yards and nine TDs. His PFF grade of 72.4 (7th overall in the MAC) leaves room for improvement but is still a solid baseline for a true freshman.
Toledo on offense was a boom-or-bust unit. They ranked first overall in standard downs explosiveness, first in rushing explosiveness and 12th in passing explosiveness. In contrast, they ranked 62nd in standard downs success rate, 58th in rushing success rate and 115th in passing success rate.
To better explain that, it was big chunk plays or minimal gains. If they can show more consistency to stay ahead of the chains and less dependency on big plays, they will probably run through the entire MAC conference. The conference boasts just one team with a 2021 SP+ defense ranking better than 91st, Miami (OH) at 67th.
Central Michigan (+380)
Central Michigan finished last year on a tear, winning five straight games, including a bowl win over Washington State 24-21. They won four of those five games by double digits. Alas, they still were on the outside looking in when it came to an opportunity to play for a conference championship because of their heartbreaking loss to Northern Illinois 38-39.
They rank 48th in offensive returning production and 66th in defensive returning production. Neither of the units stands out from an efficiency standpoint (68th in SP+ Offense, 92nd in SP+ Defense), but there are some areas they excelled in that could be a difference maker this year.
QB Daniel Richardson posted a 73.9 PFF grade to rank fourth in the MAC – a solid season for a freshman. He posted 2583 passing yards, 8.2 yards/attempt, 24 TDs and six INTs. He did not have much to offer in the rushing department as he only attempted 23 rushes on the year for negative yardage. He led the Chippewa’s offense to a solid ranking of 45th in offensive passing success rate, 24th in offensive pass explosiveness and 15th in offensive passing PPA (points per attempt). This type of consistency from a freshman QB shows a ceiling for this offense that hasn’t yet been reached.
Central Michigan’s defense was pretty average across the board in most advanced statistics, but they excelled in causing havoc. They had elite rankings of fifth in Defensive Front Seven Havoc and 22nd in Defensive DB havoc. They are the only MAC team to rank in the top 25 in both metrics.
Despite this, they had awful luck in only producing 15 takeaways, ranking 84th overall. This lack of takeaways contributed to just a +1 turnover margin (57th overall). Even though their returning production in these areas is not elite (55th for passes defended and 69th for pressures), they will still field an above-average defense for the MAC conference. Beating Toledo on the road will be challenging this year, but they can take confidence that it is not impossible, as they defeated them 26-23 in 2021.
Thanks for reading, and as always, come back for the next article where we check in on the AAC and see if Cincinnati can repeat or if it will be a new champion.
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