The Mid-American Conference consistently flies below the radar as a non-BCS league, but it is not immune to the team movement that seems to be en vogue in the more noteworthy conferences. This season the conference loses Temple, which went back to the Big East, and Massachusetts joins the FBS and the MAC with a new head coach in Charley Molnar. The difference between the haves and have-nots in the conference largely hinges on quarterback play, and fantasy owners will find a lot of depth at that position.
TOP-5 FANTASY STARS
1. Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan
Carder set a school record with 3,873 passing yards and 31 touchdowns in 2011, including at least 400 yards in the final four games of the season, and he completed nearly 66 percent of his passes. He loses his top wide receiver in Jordan White, who led the country in catches (140) and receiving yards (1,911) last season, but the Broncos have other options who may be ready to step up. In any case, Carder could become the next MAC quarterback to forge an NFL career for himself, and 2012 should be another banner year for him.
2. Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
Tettleton took over as the Bobcats' starting quarterback as a sophomore last season, becoming a fantasy force with 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns through the air and 666 ards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He did not often put up huge numbers, with two 300-yard passing games and two 100-yard rushing games, but there's something to be said for consistency - he threw multiple touchdowns in 11 of 14 games and scored at least one touchdown (passing or rushing) in every game. Similar production looks to be coming this year even with the loss of his top two wide receivers in LaVon Brazill and Riley Dunlop.
3. Nick Harwell, WR, Miami (Ohio)
Despite being suspended for the season opener, Harwell still had 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns last season in 11 games. His outstanding finish to the season - 43 catches for 530 yards over the final three games - certainly helped many fantasy owners win their league titles. Harwell will again be the top target for Redhawks quarterback Zac Dysert, and with questions in the running game he'll put the ball in the air plenty again this season. As long as he avoids off-field discipline issues (he was suspended for the first game of 2011), Harwell is an upper-echelon fantasy wide receiver.
4. Branden Oliver, RB, Buffalo
Oliver emerged as a force last season as a sophomore, setting single-season school records in carries (306), rushing yards (1,395), 100-yard games (eight) and all purpose yardage (1,760). He is in line for another big workload this season with the uncertainty the Bulls have in the passing game, and four returning starters along the offensive line will certainly help. Buffalo has a tougher schedule in 2012 than last season, but Oliver remains a top-tier fantasy running back who might fly way under the radar.
5. Bernard Reedy, WR, Toledo
Reedy had 39 catches for 762 yards and nine touchdowns last season, leading the MAC in yards per catch (19.5) in a complementary role. He had six receiving touchdowns in the last four games of the season, including three in the Rockets' bowl game, creating some momentum heading into 2012. Reedy looks headed for an expanded role this season with the departure of top wide receiver Eric Page. That gives Reedy huge upside as Page had at least 82 catches in all three of his collegiate seasons.
Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State
Wenning had a solid sophomore season in 2011 with 2,786 passing yards and 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was particularly strong late in the season, throwing for 1,497 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions over the final six games, including three 300-yard games. Another step forward as a junior in 2012 would put him among the best signal callers in the conference - many fantasy owners don't even know who he is at this point.
Alex Neutz, WR, Buffalo
Neutz missed the final three games of 2011 with a wrist injury, but still had 43 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns as the team's leading returning receiver. He now takex over as the Bulls' No. 1 and most experienced wide receiver, and whoever starts under center (Alex Zordich or Joe Licata) will have a reliable wideout option. Buffalo might have to throw late in games to keep up with some of the MAC's more prolific offenses, so Neutz should put up solid numbers at times even if he is a bit inconsistent due to lackluster quarterback play.
Alex Gillett, QB, Eastern Michigan
Gillett has not been a prolific passer with little more than 3,100 combined passing yards the last two seasons as a starter, but that can partially be blamed on not throwing the ball much (a combined 427 attempts). He did lead a balanced Eagles rushing attack in 2011 with 736 yards along with three touchdowns, and also had 766 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2010. Coach Ron English has suggested the team wants to throw more in this season, but it's hard to imagine Eastern Michigan going too far from the running game as it ranked 14th in the country in rushing offense last season. All things considered, Gillett's ability as a dual threat and expected progression as a passer make him a suitable fantasy option in deep leagues.
Trayion Durham, RB, Kent State
Durham led the Golden Flashes in rushing as a freshman last season with 630 yards and four touchdowns. He finished strong with 371 rushing yards and all four of his touchdowns in the final five games and heads into the season as the frontrunner the starting tailback job. Questions at quarterback should lead to a heavy reliance on the run game, though Dri Archer, who missed 2011 with academic issues, is a threat to steal touches. Durham might be one of the few fantasy worthy players on the Kent State roster, but fantasy owners should definitely keep an eye on him.
Shaun Joplin, WR, Bowling Green
Joplin enters this season as the Falcons' most experienced wide receiver after six wideouts graduated (including top targets Kamar Jorden and Eugene Cooper). He had 21 receptions for 292 yards and a touchdown last season, and a climb up the depth chart stands to give him plenty of opportunities this season. Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz is an ascending talent who finished second in the MAC in passing touchdowns (28) and attempted 411 passes in 2011. Joplin should find himself targeted plenty by Schilz this season, and as such makes for a high-upside under-the-radar fantasy option.
Ryan Radcliff, QB, Central Michigan
Radcliff has had two productive seasons as the Chippewas' starting quarterback, with more than 3,200 passing yards each year and 42 passing touchdowns total. But he has 33 combined interceptions in that span as well, including nine games with multiple interceptions. Radcliff has some nice receivers around him, including Cody Wilson, Titus Davis and Courtney Williams, so he should again be able to post nice yardage totals regularly. But an early four-game stretch that includes non-conference battles against Michigan State and Iowa could lead to a benching if he struggles.
Jawon Chisholm, RB, Akron
Chisholm had a nice freshman for the Zips in 2011, with 961 rushing yards (on 218 carries) and five touchdowns in an offense that ranked 100th or worse in the country in the four most significant offensive categories (scoring, rushing, passing and total offense). He is in line to be the team's starting running back based on that, but junior Broderick Alexander and incoming freshman Hakeem Lawrence are threats to take away playing time and touches. Coach Terry Bowden has already suggested he need to "kick it up a notch," which could lead to lack of job security as the season continues. Chisholm is draftable in MAC-only or very deep leagues but carries significant downside.
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
Lynch faces the tough task of replacing Chandler Harnish under center for the Huskies. He had only 26 pass attempts as Harnish's backup the last two seasons but was productive as a runner with 608 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman and sophomore. Having a deep set of skill-position players around him will certainly help Lynch make the transition to full-time starter, but anyone expecting him to put up the numbers Harnish did in 2011 (39 total touchdowns) might be left disappointed. Lynch is likely to be productive for his fantasy owners this season, but he has more downside than a lot of other quarterbacks, including many in his own conference.
Cody Wilson, WR, Central Michigan
Wilson was fairly productive last season with 48 receptions for 526 yards and three touchdowns, but all those numbers were notable drop-offs from 2010 (83 receptions, 1,137 yards, five touchdowns). There appears to be a changing of the guard in the Chippewas' receiving corps with sophomores Titus Davis and Courtney Williams showing flashes as freshmen last year with a combined 61 receptions for 1,136 yards (18.6 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns. Wilson might take a backseat to Davis and Williams in a big way this year, limiting his fantasy value in anything but MAC-only leagues or perhaps PPR formats. Just be aware of the downside, and do not expect anything close to a repeat of 2010.
Austin Dantin, QB, Toledo
Dantin was productive in 2011 with 17 total touchdowns (15 passing) and 183 rushing touchdowns, but with Terrance Owens sharing the duties with him under center for the Rockets his upside is limited. In fact, it can be argued that Owens is the more physically gifted of the two and was himself productive last season (18 passing touchdowns, 209 rushing yards, 72.2 percent completion percentage). It would take an injury for either to become a consistent fantasy stalwart, but if you have to choose between the Toledo quarterbacks you have to choose upside, and Owens just has more than Dantin at this point.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
RB Jawon Chisholm (70)
Ball State Cardinals
RB Jahwan Edwards (58)
Bowling Green Falcons
RB Anthon Samuel (30), TE Alex Bayer (37)
RB Branden Oliver (17)
Central Michigan Chippewas
QB Ryan Radcliff (43), WR Titus Davis (25), WR Courtney Williams (37)
Eastern Michigan Eagles
TE Garrett Hoskins (25)
Kent State Golden Flashes
Miami (OH) RedHawks
QB Zac Dysert (30), WR Nick Harwell (3), WR Dawan Scott (68)
Northern Illinois Huskies
QB Jordan Lynch (6), RB Akeem Daniels (36), K Matt Sims (3)
QB Tyler Tettleton (3), TE Jordan Thompson (28), K Matt Weller (1)
RB David Fluellen (26), WR Bernard Reedy (23), K Jeremiah Detmer (18)
Western Michigan Broncos
QB Alex Carder (16), WR Josh Schaffer (53), WR Eric Monette (54)