Ballots for the 2009 Mid-American Conference Football Poll were due this weekend. I enjoyed reading your polls and agree that the East is as wide-open as it has ever been. I have seen five different teams picked as the East champion in preview magazines/web polls. The West is a little easier to predict at the top and the bottom.
As promised, here is what my preseason poll looks like.
1. Central Michigan
The schedule won't be easy (road games at Buffalo, Western Michigan and Ball State) but if any team can handle it, it's the Chippewas. Central Michigan returns their top 12 tacklers, 10 starters on defense and the best offensive player in the conference in quarterback Dan LeFevour. The Chips have the weapons on offense (WR's Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson) and defense (DE Frank Zombo and LB Nick Bellore) to win the MAC.
2. Western Michigan
It's not out of the question that the Broncos can win the division. Tim Hiller is an outstanding quarterback. Brandon West leads a deep core at running back. The front seven on defense has potential. Eventually, though, Western Michigan is going to have to beat Central Michigan. That hasn't happened since 2005.
3. Northern Illinois
The 3-4-5 spots here are about as tight as they can be. NIU, Toledo or Ball State can easily take third. I'm giving the edge to the Huskies because they lose a lot less on defense than people think (the low number of returning starters on defense is wildly misleading because of the way NIU rotates) and unlike Ball State, the offense should take steps forward this season.
New! coach! Tim! Beckman! has! people! excited! and! they! should! be! If you follow Beckman's Twitter feed you'll get that joke. Toldeo's offense should improve and the Rockets have a really nice running game. Toledo's defense should improve as well. The early schedule is going to be rough (at Purdue, home for Colorado, vs. Ohio State in Cleveland) and could take an early toll. Can Toledo overcome a lack of depth at wide receiver and major concerns with field position? That remains to be seen.
5. Ball State
It's tough seeing last year's division champion here. But with a new coach, quarterback, four starting offensive linemen and a host of new receivers, this seems like the spot to start at. If Ball State is going to another bowl game this season, the defense, led by safeties Sean Baker and Alex Knipp, will have to lead the Cardinals there.
6. Eastern Michigan
Eastern Michigan has to deal with the unfortunate reality of playing in a loaded division. The Eagles can score with anybody in the MAC, but also can't stop anyone.
That's the West, let's move to the East, where as many as five teams can legitimately say they will emerge as the division champs.
Why not? There is no way the Owls have the same bad luck as last season (three losses on the final play) and they return 17 starters. Replacing quarterback Adam DiMichele will be key, but the defense has a chance to be something special. Temple returns eight of their nine top tacklers. The schedule also looks kindly on the Owls with no crossover games against Central Michigan or Western Michigan.
It's hard not to get excited about two of the top offensive players in the MAC in RB James Starks and WR Naaman Roosevelt. The defense returns its top eight tacklers, and Buffalo will need them for games against Central Michigan and at Western Michigan.
It feels like this gets said a lot, but if quarterback Chris Jacquemain can remain consistent the Zips have a real shot to contend. Jacquemain's top three receiving targets return and the defensive line should provide pressure all season long. Akron might not start well in the conference season, but three of its final four games are at home.
4. Bowling Green
QB Tyler Sheehan, WR Freddie Barnes and LT Brady Minturn are three good reasons to point to why Bowling Green should be fine on offense this season. New head coach Dave Clawson has a good reputation on the offensive side of the ball, despite what happened at Tennessee last season. Getting through October (vs. Ohio, at Kent State, at Ball State, vs. Central Michigan) 2-2 would be huge.
This is the pick I'm questioning the most. Ohio has the tools on both sides of the ball, four of the last six games are at home and include a lengthy bye and more than a week between road games at Ball State and Buffalo. I'm just really questioning how the quarterback situation will work with two experienced players in Theo Scott and Boo Jackson.
6. Kent State
The Golden Flashes have too many holes at wide receiver and an unproven quarterback. That's going to be too much to overcome for a team that hasn't had a whole lot to get excited about for a few years now.
7. Miami (Ohio)
The RedHawks lose the top four tacklers from a defense that gave up 32.7 points a game last season. It's a rebuilding year in Oxford, Ohio.
MAC Championship Game Winner: Central Michigan over Temple
Central Michigan has the experience and the talent. LeFevour rides off into the sunset a conference champion.
That's it for my preseason poll. We'll see how the complete MAC preseason poll shakes out at MAC media days late next week.