Uncertainty looms at the quarterback position throughout the MAC as the 2010 season approaches.
The departure of NFL hopefuls Tim Hiller and Dan LeFevour forces Western Michigan and Central Michigan, respectively, to thrust inexperienced and unproven players into the spotlight. In all, eight MAC teams are expected to use a first-year starter at quarterback, leaving just five schools with a proven commodity at QB entering 2010.
Miami's Zac Dysert figures to have a strong season after throwing for more than 2,600 yards as a freshman in the RedHawks' short passing attack. The improvement of running back Thomas Merriweather and a talented receiver corps anchored by Armand Robinson gives Dysert a strong supporting cast.
Ohio's Boo Jackson threw for 19 touchdowns in 2008 before suffering a shoulder injury early last season. Despite the loss of talented receiver Taylor Price, the Bobcats return three solid targets in 2010, led by the versatile LaVon Brazill. Jackson has the ability to make plays with his legs and should have a nice senior season in Athens. If he is unable to get healthy, Iowa State transfer Phillip Bates will run the show.
Chandler Harnish is expected to be Northern Illinois' starting quarterback despite missing all of spring practice while recovering from a knee injury. The junior has shown flashes during his first two seasons in DeKalb but is being pushed by DeMarcus Grady, who will certainly have an impact in 2010.
Elsewhere, Akron's Matt Rodgers and Patrick Nicely return to compete for the Zips' quarterback spot. Rodgers is generally considered the favorite to win, but Nicely performed much better as a passer last year. Kent State's Spencer Keith had a strong freshman season cut short by a shoulder injury and returns to lead what could be the best offense in the MAC in 2010. The Golden Flashes also feature running back Eugene Jarvis, a two-time all-conference selection who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, and explosive receiver Tyshon Goode.
Among the projected first-year starters, Buffalo's Jerry Davis is a player certainly worth keeping an eye on. Despite completing only eight passes during the 2009 season while backing up Zach Maynard, don't be surprised if Davis puts up huge numbers for the Bulls. Former Central Michigan and Cincinnati assistant Jeff Quinn brings a pass-happy spread offense to Buffalo.
Toledo's Austin Dantin is inheriting a good situation in 2010. Dantin did reasonably well as a freshman last year and should be Toledo's answer at the quarterback position. Toledo has a talented running back in Morgan Williams and a loaded group at receiver, headlined by the spectacular Eric Page, so Dantin will have plenty of help.
First-year Central Michigan coach Dan Enos takes over a team depleted by the loss of the best quarterback in school history and two of the program's top receivers. Sophomore Ryan Radcliff is expected to get the nod under center after seeing limited duty last season. It might be a bit of a rebuilding year for CMU, but it should be short lived. Enos has developed a reputation for being a strong recruiter, especially in the Detroit area.
Players to TargetZac Dysert, QB, Miami (OH)
The leader of the RedHawks' short passing game isn't likely to have many big plays in 2010, but he will pile up completions and collect some rushing yards along the way. Miami struggled on the offensive line last season and needs to find a running game before Dysert can be an all-conference QB.
Spencer Keith, QB, Kent State
The Arkansas native burst onto the scene as a freshman before a shoulder injury ended his season in mid-November. Keith was fairly inconsistent from a productivity standpoint in 2009, but should flourish as a sophomore. The Golden Flashes will throw the ball all over the field in 2010, setting Keith up for a sensational season.
Chad Spann, RB, Northern Illinois
Spann took the starting running back job from Me'Co Brown and ran with it, finding the end zone 19 times en route to a 1,038-yard season. Spann's nose for the goal-line makes him an intriguing fantasy prospect, though it remains to be seen if he can shoulder a full load for the Huskies – he's never rushed more than 200 times in a season. Still, you can't argue with his success last season, which could translate to another standout campaign in 2010.
Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple
Temple football experienced an unforeseen resurgence last season, and Pierce can take much of the credit. The 6-0, 212, freshman averaged 5.8 yards per carry and found the end zone 16 times for the 9-4 Owls. Pierce rushed for 1,361 yards, and Temple will need more of his rushing ways if the Owls are to continue the upswing in their program.
Eugene Jarvis, RB, Kent State
Jarvis suffered a kidney injury and played in just two games last year. The jitterbug rushed for 1,669 yards in 2007 and is Kent State's fourth all-time leading rusher, so a bounce-back is in order. Jarvis is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield and could have an impact as a receiver, too.
MiQuale Lewis, RB, Ball State
The bowling ball is back after being granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA. Lewis is a touchdown machine, but will likely have split carries in a crowded and talented backfield. Ball State opens the season against two FCS schools (Division I-AA) — setting the stage for Lewis to explode.
Eric Page, WR, Toledo
Although just 5-10, 165, Page turned in an impressive freshman season, totaling 82 receptions for 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The shifty playmaker also will return kicks for Toledo. Page isn't a burner, but he has fantastic hands and is extremely elusive after the catch.
LaVon Brazill, WR, Ohio
The versatile senior is mostly a possession receiver, but as Ohio's No. 1 option this season, an 80-catch season isn't out of the question. Taylor Price is gone, so Brazill likely will take some of his 56 receptions from last season. Brazil is also a phenomenal punt returner, as he took three back for touchdowns in 2009.
Tyshon Goode, WR, Kent State
A virtual unknown heading into last year, Goode was named to several freshmen All-America teams after a 53-catch, 755-yard, five-touchdown performance in 2009. Goode developed a strong rapport with fellow freshman quarterback Spencer Keith, until Keith went down with a season-ending injury. An off-season of chemistry building can only help, and Goode should see plenty of targets in Kent State's pistol offense.
Armand Robinson, WR, Miami (OH)
A possession receiver for the most part, Robinson appears poised for a big senior season. His upside is minimized in Miami's precision passing game, limiting potential for big plays and success in the red zone, but Miami will throw so much that Robinson will be useful in MAC-only leagues by default.
Morgan Williams, RB, Toledo
Williams is in line for a major breakout season in 2010. He ran for 1,010 yards in the 2008 season, but he fell behind DaJuane Collins on the depth chart last year. Still, he managed to run for 444 yards and two touchdowns on just 74 carries while adding one receiving touchdown and another touchdown on a kickoff return. With Collins gone this year, look for Williams to at least match his 2008 numbers and provide Toledo with lots of big plays.
Dwayne Priest, RB, Eastern Michigan
Priest looked good in spring practice after underachieving somewhat last season thanks in large part to inconsistent offensive line play. The senior should surpass 1,000 yards in 2010.
Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois
Harnish is expected to be the starter for what could be the best team in the MAC, but he brings durability concerns and might be in somewhat of a quarterback rotation. Backup DeMarcus Grady adds another running threat to NIU's arsenal and could push Harnish for snaps.
James Green, WR, Toledo
Green is a former big-time recruit who transferred from Tennessee after dealing with academic troubles. Green also received offers from programs like Auburn, Mississippi and North Carolina when he came out of high school, so his talent greatly exceeds that of the average MAC receiver. He's worth a significant pick in MAC-only leagues, ideally as a high-upside depth option.
Kenny Ashley, RB, Ohio
Listed at 5-9 235, Ashley joins the Bobcats after spending two years at the junior college level. The California native originally signed with USC out of high school and has a great chance to earn carries for Ohio this season.