The Watch List: MAC Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Corey Willis, WR, Central Michigan: Willis is probably best known for his highlight reel hail mary touchdown against Oklahoma State last year.  Honestly, he didn’t do a whole lot on that play, the ball was tipped back to him by a teammate, but it’s the type of play that gets a small school guy some attention and SportsCenter buzz.  He has good speed, maybe 4.50, and is a good open field runner.  He catches the ball away from his body which is good because he’s relying on his hands rather than his body to catch the ball.  John Brown and Travis Benjamin are two good size and speed comparisons, I think.  He had a productive 72/1,091/9 season in 2016 and had his best game against a Power 5 team (albeit a bad one in 2-10 Virginia) racking up 145 yards and 2 TDs on 6 catches.  I think CMU could be a spoiler in the MAC and if Willis is again the leading WR he will creep up NFL and RSO draft boards.  His draft stock might be similar to Taywan Taylor this year.
  • Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan: Franklin’s pro prospects will hinge on what he does in 2017.  He dominated as a freshman in 2014 with 306 carries, 1,531 yards and 24 TDs but had a disappointing sophomore season.  He was back to a starring role in 2016, with 1,353 yards and 12 TDs (plus he was more of a pass catcher with 25 receptions and 288 receiving yards) but was overshadowed by WR Corey Davis.  With Davis gone, and QB Zach Terrell gone, and head coach PJ Fleck gone, can Franklin carry the team to another bowl game?  If so he could be a solid late round RB.
  • James Gilbert, RB, Ball State: The reason I decided to research Gilbert was his tremendous output against Buffalo last year: 34 carries, 264 yards and 2 TDs.  In the last five seasons, only 16 players have had a better D1 game than Gilbert (and the list includes some great NFL fantasy names: Le’veon Bell, Derrick Henry, Thomas Rawls).  Gilbert was the leading rusher on a bad 4-8 Ball State team last year (just 1-7 in conference) but he managed to improve his per carry average (4.0 in 2015 to 5.3 in 2016) and is just shy of 2,000 career yards.  His biggest weakness?  He has just 4 career catches.  Another issue with Gilbert, at least for me as a writer?  Good luck finding game film or highlight reels.  If he shines again on a bad team, and makes some good tape for himself, he might look to leave early for the NFL.

Storylines to Watch

  • The exodus from Western Michigan: The Broncos are losing the three biggest reasons they went to the Cotton Bowl last year: head coach PJ Fleck, WR Corey Davis and QB Zach Terrell.  Fleck has left to “row the boat” at Minnesota; Davis will be catching balls from Marcus Mariota in Tennessee; Terrell signed as a free agent with the Ravens (ironically Joe Flacco’s younger brother Tom could be starting for Western Michigan this year).  The team only returns 9 starters, just 3 of which are on the offensive side of the ball.  Luckily for returning RB Jarvion Franklin, another one of those returners is monstrous LT Chukwuma Okorafor (6’6″, 330lb and a possible first round NFL pick).
  • Central Michigan as spoilers: Most preseason magazines and online previews I have seen have Central Michigan somewhere in the 4-7 range in the conference.  That might be right but I have them pegged as a potential spoiler.  The Chippewas have a winnable non-conference schedule (Kansas, Syracuse and Boston College) and luckily get to host Toledo, Northern Illinois and Miami Ohio, most of the top conference competition, at home.  Another thing working in their favor is their experience.  Per Phil Steele, CMU returns the most seniors in the “two-deep” depth chart in the MAC; they also have the most returning OL starts, a boon for a middling offense.  I enjoyed watching highlights of Corey Willis so maybe I’m just trying to convince myself so I have a reason to tune into Central Michigan’s games this season but I think they could surprise.

Games to Watch

  • September 23, Toledo at Miami (FL): When I first saw this one on the schedule, I assumed it was supposed to be Miami of Ohio but was pleasantly surprised to see I was wrong and that it was in fact Miami of Florida.  If Toledo has any chance of making it to a top bowl game this year, like Western Michigan did last year, it will likely come down to this game.  Western Michigan stole an early season game by one point against Northwestern last season and if Toledo could do the same it would propel them and QB Logan Woodside to the national discussion.  Of course, they also need to win-out in conference otherwise it’s all for naught.
  • October 31, Miami Ohio at Ohio: Looking for some MACtion on Halloween night?  The Tuesday night games in the MAC can be dull but this one should be entertaining.  The in-state foes should be pacing the East division and whoever wins could end the season with the tiebreaker that gets them in the conference championship.
  • November 24, Northern Illinois at Central Michigan: As I mentioned above, I think CMU has a chance to weasel their way into the conference championship.  Chances are they wouldn’t have any margin for error, so winning against NIU in the last game of the season would be necessary.  Even if it isn’t Central Michigan playing spoiler for Toledo, it could be NIU.  Either way, the winner of this game will be hoping to beat out Toledo for the West division crown.

Thanks for reading.  Check back soon for the Mountain West preview.


Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.