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MAC preview: Consistently inconsistent, making for entertaining football

by | College Football Blogger
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Western Michigan's Alex Carder led the MAC in total offense with 345.3 ypg. (US Presswire)  
Western Michigan's Alex Carder led the MAC in total offense with 345.3 ypg. (US Presswire)    
In general there are two different kinds of football fans. There are those who are fans or alumni of a school, and aside from rivals, don't care much about anything other than their school. 

Then there are the college football connoisseurs.

These are the college football fans that can't get enough of the sport, and don't need the bright lights of the BCS conferences to keep their interest. These are the people who don't wait until Saturday to get their college football fix.

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Tuesday and Wednesday nights are perfect nights for the game as well. 

Which is where the Mid-American Conference comes in so handy. No, the MAC is not a great football league as far as the level of talent involved, but year in and year out it provides some of the greatest football entertainment of the season.

It's a league that's so entertaining, in fact, that it's earned it's own brand. Those fans who have been turned on to the MAC commonly refer to any conference game as MACtion, and they can't get enough of it.

How can you not love a conference that features games like Northern Illinois' 63-60 win over Toledo in 2011 and sends its teams to bowl games with names like the GoDaddy.com Bowl and the Little Caesars Bowl?

It's a conference where inconsistency is the consistency.

The only school presently in the conference that was there when it was founded in 1946 is Ohio. In 1973 the conference had 10 teams once it added Ball State. Since then it added Northern Illinois and then lost Northern Illinois for ten years before the Huskies returned, added Akron, welcomed Marshall back after 30 years only to see it leave again, gave a home to Buffalo, played foster parents to UCF and Temple, and now its brought UMass to the FBS level.

Over that span, the conference has seen many of its best coaches move on to bigger and better things. You know all about Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian and Urban Meyer, but there are many, many more. The MAC has long served as a proving ground for football coaches, a place for them to hone their craft and get noticed.

It's this turnover, both amongst the coaches and the actual schools, that helps make the MAC one of the most competitive leagues in the FBS.

No, there won't be any school competing for a national championship anytime soon. In fact, no MAC school has so much as played in a BCS bowl game, leaving them a level below their non-BCS counterparts like the Mountain West and the WAC.

The competition inside the conference, however, is amazing.

Since the MAC moved its conference title game to Detroit in 2004 -- the game had been played at campus sites from 1997-2003 -- only one school has won back-to-back conference titles: Central Michigan in 2006 and 2007. Other than that the last eight MAC titles have been shared by six different schools.

You can't find that kind of parity in most conferences.

In fact, since the MAC first instituted a title game in 1997, the only schools currently in the conference who haven't won it are Eastern Michigan, Kent State and UMass. Of course, UMass is yet to play its first MAC game.

The parity isn't just limited to championships, either.

Nick Harwell returns for Miami (Ohio) after catching 97 passes last season. (US Presswire)  
Nick Harwell returns for Miami (Ohio) after catching 97 passes last season. (US Presswire)    
In the last four years the only school that has managed to finish at least 4-4 in the conference each season is Western Michigan. 

Over the last five seasons Northern Illinois and Ohio have won more MAC games than any other school with 26 conference victories. There are eight teams who have won at least 20 in that span.

Only five teams are below .500 in conference play over the last five seasons, and of those teams, Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo have won conference titles in that span. Akron, a school that went 0-8 in the MAC and is 9-31 in the conference since 2006 won the MAC title in 2005.

In other words, no matter how things finished the year before, every school in the MAC has a legitimate chance to win the conference in the new season.

That can't be said in places like the Big Ten and SEC, where doormats remain doormats and the usual suspects compete for the BCS glory.

The players come and go, the coaches come and go, and every once in a while a school comes and goes, but through it all the MAC stands and continues to put out some of the most entertaining product in all of college football.

Heck, it might be some of the most entertaining television period.

Lights, camera, MACtion, baby.

Tom Fornelli's predicted order of finish:

East

1. Ohio: Frank Solich's Bobcats not only have the best quarterback in the East Division with Tyler Tettleton, but they also have eight returning starters on defense. The schedule gives them a bit of a break as they will face only Eastern Michigan and Ball State from the West Division. Combine all that with the motivation of knowing they blew a very good chance at a MAC title last season and the Bobcats look poised to get back to Detroit this winter.

2. Miami (Ohio): Miami had a rough time defending its 2010 MAC title last season, finishing the year 4-8. Even so, the Redhawks outgained their opponents on the year and have one of the best quarterbacks in the conference in Zac Dysert along with 16 returning starters. Don Treadwell's second season should yield much better results.

3. Kent State: Kent State will look to capitalize on the momentum of 2011 as the Golden Flashes finished the season 4-1 after starting the year 1-6. The key for this team will be figuring out how to win on the road after going 1-5 outside of Dix Stadium. This year they'll play only five games at home.

4. Bowling Green: The Falcons could be a surprise this season as they have 17 returning starters, more than any other team in the MAC. This is a team that was one missed extra point and a last second field goal away from finishing the year 7-5 rather than 5-7.

5. Akron: Akron was the worst team in the MAC last season, finishing the year 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the conference. As a result, Terry Bowden is now running the program, and along with defensive coordinator Chuck Amato, the program should experience a kickstart this season. If Amato can get some improvement out of the defense and quarterback Clayton Moore matures this is a team that can grab a few wins in the conference.

6. Buffalo: Buffalo has won only five games over the last two seasons, and though there's some talent here, looking at the schedule it's difficult to see too many more wins in 2012. An non-conference schedule that includes Georgia, Connecticut and Pittsburgh along with the top three teams from the West Division isn't going to do it many favors.

7. Massachusetts: UMass went 5-6 in the FCS last season, so it's difficult to see it finding a lot of success now that it's on the FBS level. Looking at the schedule it's hard to see a winnable game before November, and even that game is on the road at Akron. It would not be a surprise to see the Minutemen finish their first year in the MAC without a victory.

West

1. Western Michigan: The Broncos start with the advantage of having the best quarterback in the league in Alex Carder. Of their six losses in 2011, three came on the road by less than four points, including a game against a ranked Illinois squad. Western Michigan also catches a bit of a break by getting both Northern Illinois and Toledo at home.

2. Northern Illinois: Don't expect the Huskies to win another 11 games in 2012, as they must replace the MAC's player of the year in Chandler Harnish and return only four starters on offense. That being said, this is still a talented team with an experience defense that has a favorable cross-division schedule.

3. Eastern Michigan: Eastern Michigan is a bit of a darkhorse in the MAC this season. The team finally found success in Ron English's third season, finishing 6-6, and it will be looking to take the next step this season. With nine returning starters -- four on the offensive line -- on an offense that rushed for 218 yards a game last season, plus a schedule that bring both Toledo and Northern Illinois to Ypsilanti, this team could definitely find itself in a bowl game.

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4. Toledo: Toledo was a 63-60 loss away from winning the West Division last season but odds are the Rockets will regress a bit in 2012. Not only did this team lose its head coach but only eight starters -- four on offense, four on defense -- return from last season's team. Throw in road games against NIU and Western Michigan and it's hard to see this team going 7-1 in the MAC again.

5. Central Michigan: The Chippewas struggled in 2011, but do have 16 returning starters in 2012. If Central Michigan can take better care of the ball this season they're bound to improve, though a quick start will be necessary. Opening conference play with back-to-back road games against Northern Illinois and Toledo -- not to mention playing Iowa on the road the week before those games -- will be a tough test.

6. Ball State: Ball State may be in for a rude awakening in 2012. The Cardinals went 6-6 last season but were also out-gained by over 123 yards per game last season. Combine that with what might be the toughest conference schedule in the MAC, and wins should be hard to come by in Muncie.

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