FOOTBALL: Notebook - Experienced QB play finally evades MAC

Notes from around the MAC as gridiron season gets underway

DETROIT – The NFL has long admired quarterbacks from the Mid-American Conference, filling its rosters with former college stars like Ben Roethlisberger, Chad Pennington and Charlie Batch. The trend continued as Nate Davis and Dan LeFevour were drafted the past two years.

But with LeFevour, Tim Hiller, Aaron Opelt, Andy Schmidt and Tyler Sheehan graduated, the MAC has few experienced quarterbacks left.

At MAC media day, coaches said they expect a new crop of young quarterbacks to replace last season's seniors.

"I think the next wave is probably coming in," said Eastern Michigan coach Ron English, who had Schmidt last season. "This league is known for developing quarterbacks."

Many teams, including Ball State, will rely on a young quarterback this fall. The lack of experience at the position is part of the reason Stan Parrish expects the MAC, especially the West, will be more wide open than in previous years.

"We had three teams on our side [that lost] four-year starters at quarterback," he said of LeFevour (Central Michigan), Hiller (Western Michigan) and Opelt (Toledo). "We all know that's where it all starts."

Even Northern Illinois, who is predicted to win the MAC West, has a quarterback competition. First-year Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn didn't rule out the possibility of playing multiple quarterbacks all season.

English said these opportunities make MAC quarterbacks so desirable to NFL teams in the draft each April.

"I think this league develops quarterbacks because they play a lot," he said. "They play as a freshman or at least as a sophomore. So they play three, four years, so they become proficient at the position. In other leagues, you may start two years, you may start one year."

Do the Heisman
Temple running back Bernard Pierce had a fantastic freshman year, setting the school record with 16 touchdowns and rushing for 1,361 yards. He was named MAC Freshman of the Year and to ESPN's All-Freshman team.

Now Temple is setting its goals a little higher for the suburban-Philadelphia native. The school launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for Pierce, complete with, billboards and his face on buses.

Pierce said he is honored Temple would create the campaign for him, and a little awed.

"It's crazy," he said. "I just laugh. I never thought I'd be on a billboard."

First-year Central Michigan coach Dan Enos already admires Pierce's play. Enos was the running backs coach at Michigan State for three seasons before taking over at Central Michigan in January.

"That guy's pretty good," Enos said. "He's really dynamic."

As good as Pierce was in 2009, it could have been better. A shoulder injury limited him at the end of the season, and he missed Temple's 35-17 loss at Ohio in the final regular-season game. The loss cost the Owls' a trip to the MAC Championship Game.

Pierce played in Temple's 30-21 loss to UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl, the program's first bowl game in 30 years. But he was unable to play in the second half as the Bruins scored 23 unanswered points.

"It really upset me to watch that," he said. "I wanted to play so bad."

Back to the MAC
Quinn spent the past 21 years coaching under Brian Kelly, so he had a tough decision to make when Kelly became the coach at Notre Dame.

Quinn could have gone to South Bend as offensive coordinator, the position he held under Kelly at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. But after being the Bearcats interim coach at last season's Sugar Bowl, he looked for his own head-coaching job.

Buffalo gave him that chance when Turner Gill left for Kansas.

"There are only 120 head coaches in the country, and this is a great opportunity for me," Quinn said. "The opportunity to go to Notre Dame was there, but I said ‘When you die and go to heaven, you first coach in the Sugar Bowl and then you go to Buffalo."

Dorm life
For the second consecutive year, Toledo coach Tim Beckman lived with his players in a dorm during fall camp. Beckman said he got the idea from Urban Meyer, who he coached under at Bowling Green.

It's an effort to build team camaraderie, but Beckman said he and the players enjoy it.

"They're fired up, they can't wait," he said before practice began. "I'll be their bunkmates. I know camp is a time we become even closer as a family."


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