Picking a champion for the West Division of the Mid-American Conference wasn’t easy this season. Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan are all football teams that have a legitimate shot of winning the title and heading to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game.
Picking an East Division winner was a little less complicated. Defending-champion Ohio has 15 starters returning, including Tyler Tettleton, one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The Bobcats have a good coach in Frank Solich and were solid on both sides of the ball last season.
Here’s my entire MAC ballot with a few thoughts:
1. NIU: Sure, the Huskies lose quarterback Chandler Harnish. Yet, Toledo lost running back Adonis Thomas and receiver Eric Page. Western Michigan lost a big part of its receiving corps from last season.
The Huskies’ MAC crossover schedule is also the easiest of the three aforementioned schools. NIU gets Akron, Buffalo and UMass.
The main questions facing NIU deal with are who will block for new quarterback Jordan Lynch, and who will help give the Huskies a competent running game.
2. Western Michigan: Alex Carder could be considered the best quarterback in the division, throwing for 3,873 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago. But, the Broncos lost nearly 78 percent of their receiving yards from 2011, including Jordan White and his 140 catches. Western Michigan’s running game struggled last season, so Carder will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders.
3. Toledo: Thirteen starters from 2011 are gone, including Page, the dynamic receiver and returner. The Rockets do have not one, but two good and experienced quarterbacks in Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens.
Former NIU linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz takes over a defensive unit that was 10th in the league in scoring defense last season.
4. Eastern Michigan: The Eagles have improved every year since Ron English took over in 2009. The next step is getting bowl eligible, which Eastern Michigan was one win away from doing a season ago.
5. Ball State: Everything former Cardinals coach and current Michigan man Brady Hoke built up in Muncie, Ind., was brought down by Stan Parrish in 2009-10. Second-year Ball State coach Pete Lembo is working on repairing that damage.
6. Central Michigan: Believe it or not, someone actually voted for the Chippewas to win the MAC West. Fans in DeKalb still are wondering how the Huskies lost in Mount Pleasant last season. Central Michigan does return 18 starters, which certainly will help its case.
1. Ohio: A team that easily could have won the conference last season should be very good once again. I’m wondering when coach Frank Solich finally will get another chance at a BCS school. He’s won 27 games the past three seasons and 50 overall at Ohio, after coaching Nebraska from 1997-2003.
2. Kent State: After the Bobcats, there are three teams in this division that should compete for the No. 2 spot. Kent State returns nine starters, including first-team All-MAC defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, from a team that was fourth in the league in scoring defense last season.
3. Bowling Green: The Falcons return 20 starters, including 10 on defense. Running back Anthon Samuel rushed for 844 yards as a freshman last season.
4. Miami (Ohio): The RedHawks were picked to win the MAC East a year ago after a surprising conference crown in 2010. Miami has a strong passing connection in quarterback Zac Dysert and receiver Nick Harwell (97 catches and nine touchdowns last year).
5. Buffalo: Junior running back Branden Oliver, who ran for a school-record 1,395 yards last year, is good. The rest of the team isn’t quite as talented.
6. Akron: Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden (son of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden) has a lot to do in his first season in northeast Ohio.
7. UMass: Like any program transitioning from the Football Championship Subdivision, the Minutemen will struggle in 2012. Even if UMass was to shock the league, Charley Molnar’s team isn’t eligible for the MAC Championship Game or a bowl.
MAC Championship Game winner: Ohio
Like NIU in 2010, Ohio was extremely close to winning a MAC title a year ago, blowing a 20-point lead at Ford Field. Like the Huskies last season, I think the Bobcats finally get it done in 2012. Ohio’s last MAC championship came in 1968.
• Steve Nitz is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.