Conference realignment finally reached the MAC, with Temple departing for its second stint in the Big East and UMass joining the league as it moves up from the FCS ranks. The MAC is coming off its most successful postseason in league history after recording a 4–1 record in bowl games. This year, there is no clear-cut league favorite, but the power still resides in the West Division. The West has posted a dominating 28–11 record (including title games) against teams from the East over the past two seasons, and that trend should continue in 2012.
Traditional powers Toledo and Northern Illinois will once again be strong, but don’t be surprised if Western Michigan sneaks up and steals the West title. The Broncos must replace their entire receiving corps, but they return splendid quarterback Alex Carder and should be very strong on the offensive line.
Toledo suffered heavy personnel losses and will have a new head coach (Matt Campbell), but the Rockets still have enough playmakers to contend. Northern Illinois must replace Chandler Harnish, the most decorated quarterback in school history, but new signal-caller Jordan Lynch and a veteran receiving corps will keep the Huskies in the hunt.
Ball State and Eastern Michigan are two improved teams that may have breakout seasons. Pete Lembo led the Cardinals to six wins and bowl-eligibility during his first season. Ron English continues to work wonders in Ypsilanti, taking a program that was 0–12 in 2009 to 6–6 in 2011. Dan Enos needs to get things turned around quickly at Central Michigan. After winning 38 games from 2006-09, the Chips are just 6–18 on Enos’ watch.
Ohio, led by veteran coach Frank Solich, is the team to beat in the East. The Bobcats are still beaming after recording their first bowl win in school history and now have their sights set on a MAC title, something that has eluded the school since 1968.
Bowling Green and Kent State look to be spoilers. The Falcons feature standout quarterback Matt Schilz and have a friendly league schedule that doesn’t include Western Michigan or Northern Illinois. Kent State made dramatic improvement late in Darrell Hazell’s first season and is looking for its first bowl berth since 1972. Miami is the league’s most storied program, and the RedHawks hope veteran quarterback Zac Dysert, who has 8,530 career passing yards and 48 touchdowns, can lead them to their 16th MAC title.
Buffalo, led by talented running back Branden Oliver, could be a sleeper. The Bulls will be improved on the field, but a brutal schedule — they play Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan out of the West — could prevent a big jump in the standings. Tommy Bowden takes over a dreadful Akron program, and he will make the Zips fun to watch — just not this year. MAC newcomer UMass is fortunate to be on the weaker side of the league, but the Minutemen lack the talent and depth to be a factor in 2012.
Athlon's 2012 MAC Team Previews