The MAC sent seven teams to bowl games last season, and five of those seven squads had nine or more wins as well. On the other end, six teams in the conferences had four or fewer wins. For the first time in memory, and perhaps ever, the MAC boasts two Heisman Trophy candidates in Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch and Kent State's multi-purpose weapon Dri Archer. But the conference is deep with talent at the skill positions, and due to the under-the-radar nature of the MAC as a whole fantasy owners can find a lot of potential draft bargains.
TOP-FIVE FANTASY STARS
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
All Lynch did in his first year as starter is put up nearly 5,000 total yards, including an FBS record for a quarterback of 1,815 rushing yards, with 44 total touchdowns (25 passing, 19 rushing). He will again be the centerpiece of the Huskies offense, and there aren't many quarterbacks who are better fantasy options even with some expected drop-off from last season.
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
Archer was a multi-purpose stud last season, leading Kent State in rushing (1,429 yards, 16 touchdowns) and receiving (561 yards, four touchdowns) with three kickoff return touchdowns and a touchdown pass. The prospect of more carries creates further upside potential for this season, and reports out of preseason camp suggest Archer will get his hands on the ball even more by returning punts this season.
David Fluellen, RB, Toledo
Fluellen became a force as a junior in 2012, with 1,498 yards on 259 carries and 13 touchdowns with 32 catches for 246 yards, including three 200-yard rushing games. An ankle injury that caused him to miss a game, and limited him in Toledo's bowl game, means those numbers could have been even better. Fluellen is clearly the No. 1 option for the Rockets after being buried on the depth chart during his first two seasons, and fantasy owners can confidently roll with him as their top back in 2013.
Branden Oliver, RB, Buffalo
Oliver missed five games last season due to injury, but had 100 or more rushing yards in four of the eight games he played, finishing with 821 rushing yards. His role as a receiver was also diminished, with just seven catches, but Oliver had 38 catches in 2011 and could easily see significant production in that area this year. Lingering health concerns could lead to some hesitancy from fantasy owners, but Oliver is in line for a significant workload and has substantial upside.
Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio
Tettleton missed a game early last season with a hand injury, and it may have bothered him throughout the season as he had just one game with multiple passing touchdowns over the final five regular season games. His numbers dropped across the board after his breakout 2011 season (3,306 passing yards, 28 touchdowns; 658 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns), so a return to health should automatically lead to increased all-around production for Tettleton this year.
Bronson Hill, RB, Eastern Michigan
Hill announced himself as a force with a 283-yard, four-touchdown game against Toledo last October, finishing the season with 905 yards on 140 carries along with six touchdowns. The prospect of a bigger role right out of the gate this season creates real upside, even though there are some talented backs behind him on the depth chart. Hill may be fairly inconsistent if the Eagles find themselves trailing in games and abandoning the run, but owners in deeper leagues can find a lot to like here.
Trayion Durham, RB, Kent State
Dri Archer is sure to get a lot of attention, and rightly so, but fantasy owners should not forget about Durham. He led Kent State in carries (276) and had 1,316 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns last season, and the team is sure to run a lot in 2013 with questions under center once again. Durham carries solid fantasy value of his own and may even vulture some touchdowns from Archer.
Austin Boucher, QB, Miami (OH)
Boucher waited behind Zac Dysert the last two seasons and now gets his chance to start full-time as a senior. The left-hander did go 4-0 as a starter in 2010, including wins in the MAC title game and in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, and even with the departure of Nick Harwell he has a solid group of receivers to target. The RedHawks were just 118th in the country in rush offense (86.6 yards per game) last season, even with Dysert contributing 265 net yards on the ground, and barring the unforeseen emergence of a workhorse running back that is unlikely to change this year. So Boucher should be throwing the ball plenty, and based on that alone fantasy owners need to have him on their radar.
Tyler Van Tubbergen, QB, Western Michigan
Van Tubbergen started six games last season in place of an injured Alex Carder, including three 300-yard passing games, and now gets the starting job to himself as a fifth-year senior. The Broncos have a deep group of wide receivers, led by reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Jaime Wilson (67 receptions last season), so Van Tubbergen has nice upside potential if can quickly adapt to the offensive system of new head coach P.J. Fleck.
Rob Blanchflower, TE, Massachusetts
Blanchflower is the leading returning receiver for the Minutemen, with 43 receptions for 464 yards and two touchdowns last season, and his role is in line to expand this year with the other three of the team's top four pass catchers from 2012 gone. He also ended last season on a high note, with 20 catches in the last three games and 10 receptions for 100 yards against Central Michigan in the season finale. Mike Wegzyn is clearly not a great quarterback, but pure volume of targets makes Blanchflower a viable fantasy option.
Beau Blankenship, RB, Ohio
Blankenship had a fantastic season in 2012, setting a single-season school record with 1,604 rushing yards (ninth in the country) and 15 touchdowns along with 21 receptions and another touchdown. But his 312 carries from last season are unlikely to be repeated, with backups Ryan Boykin and Daz'mond Patterson pushing for playing time and Tyler Tettleton healthy enough to re-take a bigger role as a runner. Blankenship is a legitimate top-tier fantasy running back, but he is sure to be overvalued and has bigger downside than many others.
Willie Snead, WR, Ball State
Snead had a terrific season last year, finishing in the top 20 in the country in receptions (89, 16th) and receiving yards (1,148, 19th) yards along with nine touchdowns as quarterback Keith Wenning's top target. But the Cardinals are deep with skill position talent, so Snead's targets and production look certain to fall some this year. He is still a solid fantasy option, with 60-70 receptions a realistic projection, but any owner that expects a repeat of 2012 from Snead is likely to be left disappointed.
Jawon Chisholm, RB, Akron
Chisholm had a second straight solid season last season, with 953 rushing yards, 38 receptions and seven total touchdowns (five rushing, two receiving). If not for missing a game due to injury, he surely would have topped 1,000 rushing yards. But the Zips have inexperience under center with the departure of Dalton Williams, so opposing defenses are likely to focus on neutralizing Akron's running game. Factor in a more difficult schedule, which includes a road game against Michigan and contests against the three teams that look to be the best in MAC's West Division (Northern Illinois, Toledo, Ball State), and Chisholm has a lot of downside for fantasy owners this year.
Titus Davis, WR, Central Michigan
Davis' has a career average of 19.4 yards per catch with 16 touchdowns through his first two seasons, but the graduation of Ryan Radcliff creates uncertainty under center for the Chippewas heading into this season. Being the clear top option in the passing game for Central Michigan, with Cody Wilson gone, may not mean anything for Davis if the team ends up with a revolving door at quarterback and no one proves capable of getting him the ball consistently.
Dareyon Chance, RB, Western Michigan
Chance had a team-leading 947 yards and four touchdowns last season, but he only had more than 15 carries five times and the Broncos still have a deep group of running backs even with Tevin Drake's recent suspension. Brian Fields worked as the No. 1 running back during spring and thus far in fall camp, and he is line for a bigger role (68 carries last season) if he can stay healthy. Antoin Scriven had eight total touchdowns last season (seven rushing) and he should see more than the 32 carries he had last season. Western Michigan's running back rotation looks likely to be a weekly source of frustration for fantasy owners, so avoiding Chance or anyone else might be the best option.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Overall position ranking in parenthesis.
RB Jawon Chisholm (45)
Ball State Cardinals
RB Jahwan Edwards (28), WR Willie Snead (31), WR Jamill Smith (72), TE Zane Fakes (27)
Bowling Green Falcons
WR Chris Gallon (67), TE Alex Bayer (42)
RB Branden Oliver (23), WR Alex Neutz (7),
Central Michigan Chippewas
RB Zurlon Tipton (31), WR Titus Davis (40)
Eastern Michigan Eagles
RB Bronson Hill (39), TE Tyreese Russell (21)
Kent State Golden Flashes
RB Dri Archer (16), RB Trayion Durham (61)
TE Rob Blanchflower (15)
Miami (OH) RedHawks
WR Dawan Scott (17), TE Steve Marck (48)
Northern Illinois Huskies
QB Jordan Lynch (1), RB Akeem Daniels (76), WR Tommylee Lewis (68), K Mathew Sims (8)
QB Tyler Tettleton (22), RB Beau Blankenship (17)
QB Terrance Owens (20), RB David Fluellen (2), WR Bernard Reedy (20), WR Alonzo Russell (24), K Jeremiah Detmer (5)
Western Michigan Broncos
WR Jaime Wilson (33)