HAWAI’I Warriors (10-3, 6-1 WAC) — This year is the perfect set up for Hawai’i as a year they are usually successful. Returning QB Bryant Moniz, the Warriors will be the best offensive team in the conference once again, as they were with spread QBs like Timmy Chang, and others. Although they only return 3 on offense, that’s never bothered them before as they get everyone involved in the offense.
NEVADA Wolfpack (8-4, 6-1 WAC) — Although Colin Kaepernick has moved on to the NFL, the Wolfpack, led by long-time coach Chris Ault will figure out a way to still finish second in the conference. Returning WRs such as Rishard Matthews and Brandon Wimberly will provide the playmaking ability on the offense. Matthews was the team’s leading WR last season.
FRESNO STATE Bulldogs (6-7, 5-2 WAC) — Without Boise State in the conference anymore, the flood gates have been reopened for the Bulldogs, and coach Pat Hill to take back what used to be rightfully theirs. This season wont be the time to do it, however, even though David Carr’s younger brother, Derek is at the helm of the offense now. Robbie Rouse rushed for over 1,100 yards last season and will be returning, but he doesn’t have much around him.
IDAHO Vandals (6-6, 5-2 WAC) — Idaho might only have 4 players returning on offense, but they’ll be in a battle for fourth place in a sub-par conference. Bringing back 3-of-4 defensive backs will be a catalyst in what seems to be a pass-heavy offense.
LOUISIANA TECH Bulldogs (4-8, 3-5 WAC) — The battle for fourth will definitely be between Tech and Idaho. Idaho has the home game in the game between these two, and they’ll win it. Tech returns its top 2 rushers and top 2 receivers from last season, which will be a huge advantage for them, but still they’ll finish fifth.
SAN JOSE STATE Spartans (3-9, 2-5 WAC) — Definitely the most improved team from last year. They’ll want to cash in on returning all 11 defensive starters from last season because more than half of them will be graduating this season. The only problem with capitalizing on returning talent is the talents just isn’t that good.
NEW MEXICO STATE Aggies (1-12, 1-6 WAC) — It will be a gutsy performance from this team on Dec. 3 because they will be 0-12 going into a game where they can still prevent from finishing dead last in the conference. They’ll beat Utah State to get the one conference win they need.
UTAH STATE Aggies (1-11, 0-7 WAC) — They return a load of WRs, but their tough non-conference schedule will plague them in the end. They’ll get their win against Weber State, after losing the opener at Auburn, but then they’ll find out they’re just not that good.
WESTERN MICHIGAN Broncos (9-3, 7-0 MAC) — QB Alex Carder is so good, 3,300 passing yards and 30 TDs last season, he will lead this team to the MAC Championship. The Broncos, both the overall and West Division champs of the MAC, return all of their best rushers and their best receiver, Jordan White (1,300 receiving yards in 2010), and will get close to beating non-conference teams Michigan, Illinois and Connecticut.
TEMPLE Owls (9-3, 6-1 MAC) — I think Temple would win this conference if their coach last year hadn’t left. Their one loss will come to Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 9. Bernard Pierce will have another huge here, and his year in 2010 would’ve been bigger if he’d been the feature back. He’s that good, and he’ll be an NFL Draft pick. They’re the East Division champs, and No. 2 in the conference.
TOLEDO Rockets (7-5, 6-1 MAC) — They return 9 apiece on offense and defense, but I’m not as big a fan of a successful dual-QB system as other people are. The slated starting QB, Austin Dantin, only had 192 attempts last season. The other QB, Terrance Owens, had 162 attempts. Until one of them steps up and becomes “the guy,” they wont win the MAC.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN Chippewas (7-5, 6-2 MAC) — The Chippewas are returning QB Ryan Radcliff, who had a good season last year, but will want to throw fewer INTs this season, while keeping up with his 3,000-yard pace. The Chippewas also return their best running back and wide receiver, which will help Radcliff a lot. They’ll be a huge improvement on defense and will turn a 3-9 record in 2010 into a winning record in 2011.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS Huskies (7-5, 5-3 MAC) — Last season’s 11-3 record was no fluke. RB Chad Spann had the season other running backs just dream of having. Spann rushed for 1,300 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he’s gone now. The Huskies have back QB Chandler Harnish, who is really efficient and accurate (21 TDs, 5 INTs, 2,500 yards). Harnish will lead the team to another winning record, but unless new RB Jasmin Hopkins is a new Spann, it wont be an 11-3 record.
MIAMI OHIO Redhawks (6-6, 5-3 MAC) — They might be returning 17 starters overall, but the loss of RB Thomas Merriweather will be huge. Add that to a tough conference schedule, which includes road games against Toledo, Temple and Ohio, and the Redhawks will struggle, even with an experienced QB and a great base returning on defense.
OHIO Bobcats (5-7, 4-4 MAC) — The Bobcats lose their top 4 defenders from last season on a defense that already didn’t win the turnover battle enough. Overall they only return four on defense. On offense, the Bobcats are without Boo Jackson, who graduated. Jackson was a huge offensive weapon both passing, running and receiving. Jackson had two catches as a receiver, and scored 1 touchdown on one of his catches.
KENT STATE Golden Flashes (5-7, 4-5 MAC) — QB Spencer Keith has eight other players returning on his offense. Of those returning, none are more important than his three top receivers, Tyshon Goode, Sam Kirkland and Jacquise Terry. Terry is the team’s starting running back, returning this year.
BALL STATE Cardinals (3-9, 3-4 MAC) — The Cardinals’ offense has 10 players returning, leading me to believe they’ll have a better season then they did last season. They, however, have a very tough schedule to deal with this season. Forget about their first four games, the rest of the schedule follows like this: at Oklahoma, Temple, at Ohio, Central Michigan, at Western Michigan, at Eastern Michigan, at Northern Illinois, Toledo. Even though the Cardinals are better than Eastern Michigan, that’s a tough three-game road stretch they have.
BOWLING GREEN Falcons (5-7, 2-6 MAC) — It’s simple for the Falcons: they’ll win their first three games, and then their last two. That’s it. Everything in between is too tough for them, despite returning QB Matt Schilz and star WR Kamar Jordan.
EASTERN MICHIGAN Eagles (4-8, 2-6 MAC) — They lost their top three tacklers on defense after 2010, but they’re in a spot where they can rebuild that defense with other players coming up. After losing the top three tacklers, they return 11 of the next 12 top tacklers on their team, led by Marcell Rose.
BUFFALO Bulls (2-10, 1-7 MAC) — The Bulls just aren’t going to be good enough on defense, only returning three from the 9th defense in terms of giving up points in the conference.
AKRON Zips (1-11, 0-8 MAC) — The Zips are just that bad this season. They’ll beat VMI in non-conference play, but won’t do anything else. They’re schedule is too tough and they’re talent level isn’t the same as the other teams in the conference.
TULSA Golden Hurricane (9-3, 8-0 C-USA) — Honestly, if it weren’t for the toughest non-conference schedule in the conference, Tulsa is a team experienced enough, confident enough, and talented enough to go undefeated, as I project they will inside the conference. But games on the road against Boise State and Oklahoma, and a home game against Oklahoma State, might be out of their reach to win. QB GJ Kinnie, WR Damaris Johnson, LB Shawn Jackson, and CB John Flanders are just some of the great players coming back to lead Tulsa to a title.
HOUSTON Cougars (11-1, 7-1 C-USA) — Houston, under the arm of returning 6th-year man QB Case Keenum, will be undefeated going into the last game of the season against Tulsa. An opening game win over UCLA at home will set the pace for a team that will be happy to have Keenum back under center after his terrible injury last season. They may only return 6 starters on defense, but 5 of those 6 were the team’s leading tacklers last season, starting with LB Marcus McGraw.
SOUTHERN MISS Golden Eagles (10-2, 7-1 C-USA) — An upset loss against East Carolina is the only thing holding the Eagles back from matching Houston’s 11-1 overall record, and matching Tulsa’s undefeated conference record. Austin Davis is that good at QB for the Eagles, and he has the help of a two-headed monster at RB with Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson. At receiver there is more depth returning, including Tracy Lampley, who the team found out was really talented last in the season in 2010.
SMU Mustangs (7-5, 5-3 C-USA) — June Jones is in his 4th year at SMU and he is very close to getting them over the hump to the very top of the conference. Unfortunately this year, he is staring up at three teams whose QBs are just that much better than his. But they’re close. Jones brings back 10 starters on offense, which is just the chemistry he needs for the kind of offense he runs. Darius Johnson might be one of the best WRs in the conference, and he has a good QB, Kyle Padron, to throw him the ball.
EAST CAROLINA Pirates (6-6, 5-3 C-USA) — The Pirates have another year on the good side, with a returning QB and a couple returning WRs. They’ll face a tough schedule, including Virginia Tech, North Carolina and South Carolina. QB Dominique Davis had a good season last year, and the team will hope he’ll have another really good one in 2011.
UAB Blazers (6-6, 4-4 C-USA) — They have a favorable schedule and some returning talent to go with it. They will welcome to town UCF Oct. 20 and ring up and surprising win, which will put them in place to finish where they finish.
UCF Knights (6-6, 4-4 C-USA) — They return what they need to on offense, QB Jeff Godfrey and RB Latavius Murray, but not on defense. That makes a difference. They’ll struggle on the road all season, and an inexperienced defense will cost them dearly in big games.
RICE Owls (3-9, 3-5 C-USA) — They have Sam McGuffie at running back, and that makes all the difference. He nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last season, and I bet he will do it this season, his junior year.
TULANE Green Wave (4-9, 2-6 C-USA) — Sure they can bring back a good defense to anchor their team, but if they can’t score (27 points per game, in the bottom half of the conference) they can’t win.
UTEP Miners (3-9, 1-7 C-USA) — They’ll surprise people by beating Rice for the only win in the conference. They’re going to struggle, mightily, on offense, only returning 2 players, and that’s going to be their Achilles heel all season long.
MARSHALL Thundering Herd (2-10, 1-7 C-USA) — This offense was one of the very worst in the conference last season (11th of 12). They only return 5 from an already bad offense, and thus they’ll be more inexperienced than they were even last year.
MEMPHIS Tigers (2-10, 0-8 C-USA) — Coach Larry Porter has not been good for them, at least he hasn’t had enough talent. He has even less talent this season, only returning 9-of-22 starters.