Our college football conference previews continue this week here at The Comeback, as our staff breaks down the Mid-American Conference. We’ll kick off the position reviews by taking a look at the league’s quarterbacks.
Who are the top returning quarterbacks in the MAC?
3. Riley Neal, Ball State
In any other conference, Neal would already be a household name. Unfortunately, he plays in the MAC, which produces some of the top quarterbacks in the nation year in and year out. Neal is certainly one of the better ones in the league this season. He’s thrown for 4,817 yards and 29 TDs in two years as a starter, and also finished third in the league in completion percentage in 2016. He was especially sharp over the last month of the season, connecting on 64% of his throws, while averaging 280 yards per game. Now that he’s had a full year to learn Mike Neu’s system, he will post even bigger numbers this fall.
2. Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan
The Eagles surprised the college football world last year by finishing the regular season 7-5 and earning the school’s first bowl bid since 1987 (just the second in school history). Roback was a huge part of it. He came off the bench against Wyoming to guide EMU to a 27-24 victory, which set the tone for the rest of the season. Roback was brilliant the rest of the way, throwing for over 300 yards in six of the final seven games and finishing with a respectable 18/7 TD-to-INT ratio. With all of his top targets returning this fall, he should finish among the league leaders in passing.
1. Logan Woodside, Toledo
You can make a case that Woodside was the best quarterback in the nation last year. He ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing yards (seventh), passing yards per game (sixth), completion percentage (fourth), yards per attempt (third), passer rating (second), and touchdown passes (first). He was absolutely amazing in the red zone last season, completing 34 of 48 passes (70.8%) for 304 yards with 22 touchdowns. More impressively, Woodside was at his best when the Rockets fell behind, completing 80% of his passes for 1,467 yards and a 16/3 TD-to-INT ratio in situations where Toledo trailed by 14 points or less. Even though the Rockets will need to replace a few players on offense, Woodside should post huge numbers and earn first-team All-MAC honors for the second straight season.
Q. Which quarterback is poised for a breakout year?
Tyree Jackson of Buffalo is the first name that comes to mind. He showed flashes of brilliance as a redshirt freshman last year, throwing for 306 yards against Ball State and 302 yards against Ohio. However, he did struggle at times (as most inexperienced quarterbacks do), completing less than 50% of his passes in four of his 10 starts. With another year of seasoning, and the addition of Jim Zebrowski – who helped mold NIU’s Chandler Harnisch into an NFL draft pick – there’s no reason to think that Jackson won’t show tremendous improvement in year two. He played pretty well in the spring game, completing 11 of 17 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Who is the top newcomer in the league?
SUGAR SHANE MORRIS WITH THE MOVES! pic.twitter.com/jhkrk4VYLD
— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) September 3, 2016
Many of you will disagree with this pick, but I’ll go with Shane Morris at Central Michigan. Yes, he still has to win the job, but I don’t think that will be a problem since he’s hungry for playing time. Remember, he started a few games for Michigan before Jim Harbaugh arrived on campus. After sitting on the sidelines for the last two seasons, Morris will be more than eager to get back on the gridiron. He certainly made the most of his opportunities last season, completing 4-of-5 passes for 45 yards. Although he might not produce the type of magic that Cooper Rush did*, Morris will have a great year.
* Although Oklahoma State says that the touchdown should not have counted, it did. Central Michigan rightly deserves the credit for winning the game. Sadly, few people — other than our site — did.
What is the most intriguing quarterback situation?
As noted above, the competition at Central Michigan certainly bears watching. However, I am going to keep an eye on the quarterback situation at Northern Illinois. The Huskies have had to play musical chairs under center over the past two seasons, suffering four season-ending injuries at that position. Things didn’t get any easier in the spring, as the NCAA did not grant Anthony Maddie a sixth year of eligibility. Heading into the 2017 campaign, Ryan Graham, Daniel Santacaterina, and redshirt freshman Marcus Childers will battle for the top spot. Given that Graham and Santacaterina have each played extremely well at times throughout their respective careers, the fact that Childers is in the race suggests that NIU is in great shape at this all-important position this fall.