DETROIT – The Mid-American Conference has crowned a different champion in each of the past four seasons. Sure enough, there is another favorite going into this season.
Defending East Division champion Ohio, which lost in last seasons conference championship game, was the medias preseason pick Tuesday to win the MAC.
The Bobcats received all 17 first-place votes to win the East, ahead of Bowling Green and Miami. Toledo was a close pick in the West ahead of Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
Ball State, coming off a 6-6 record (4-4 MAC) in its first season under Pete Lembo, was picked to finish fourth in the West.
Ohio (10-4 last season) welcomes back 15 starters, including quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who threw for 3,286 yards and 28 touchdowns during his sophomore season. The son of former major league catcher Mickey Tettleton said hes flattered by the predictions.
Its a compliment, he said. Thats what the coaching staff has been all about since Ive been here so were pretty excited about the chance to go out and play for one.
The Bobcats have been to three straight bowl games and won their first under coach Frank Solich last year when they beat Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The coach said the momentum from that win can only help.
When youre coming back from a bowl loss, theres a little something nagging at you, he said. After winning last year, you can just tell how pleased guys are we reached one of our goals and how much they want to get another one.
One goal still eludes Solich and his staff: Ohio has played in three of the last six MAC title games and lost each time.
Northern Illinois, led by former Norwell and current Colts quarterback Chandler Harnish, defeated Ohio 23-20 in last seasons title game. Second-year coach Dave Doeren, whose team won its final nine games last season, said the taste of success helped plenty during the offseason.
Its always good to go out with a championship, he said. And when you get back into offseason conditioning, its a lot easier to get players to do what you ask them when they saw what last year added up to.
Temple, a football-only member since 2007, left the MAC for the Big East during the offseason and will be replaced this by Massachusetts, which debuts in the Football Bowl Subdivision and is coached by former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar.
Terry Bowden is the new head coach at Akron, and former offensive coordinator Matt Campbell was promoted at Toledo after Tim Beckman left to take the top job at Illinois.
The MAC also said its championship game will stay at Detroits Ford Field through 2015. Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said the conference expects to surpass last seasons TV exposure, when 71 percent of its games were broadcast nationally or regionally.