Not even the the sweeping realignment changes to the college football landscape left the MAC untouched, but theirs was relatively minor. Temple left for the Big East and UMass moved up from the FCS so the conference could apparently keep its awkward 13 team format. The conference had a very successful showing during bowl season and hopes to continue that trend. It can make a statement during opening weekend when Ohio travels to Penn State, Western Michigan to Illinois and Toledo to Arizona, with all three games being winnable for the MAC.

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1) Northern Illinois
Last season’s conference champs are in line for a possible repeat. They lose decorated QB Chandler Harnish, but new guy Alex Lynch should keep the offense running. A deep, talented group of receivers and a rotation at RB will also help, despite a revamped O-line. The strength of the defense will be the LBs with Devon Butler, Tyrone Clark and Jamaal Bass, but the D-line, led by DE Sam Progar, will be no slouch. The secondary has a nice mix of veterans and emerging talents.

2) Toledo
There’s a new coach and several starters must be replaced, but the Rockets are still MAC contenders. Austin Dantin and Terrence Owens are a QB duo that work well together, however there was an exodus of talent at WR and RB, but there’s enough for good replacements. The O-line, led by C Zac Kerin, will be very good. The defense just didn’t produce consistently and the secondary got torched on a weekly basis, but there is room for improvement.

3) Western Michigan
The good news is that star QB Alex Carder returns. The bad news is that he loses his three top targets, but the offense should be fine with TE Blake Hammond and WR Josh Schaffer putting up numbers. The defense was one of the worst in the conference, but returns most of its starters, so a year of experience should help. A favorable schedule could also contribute to a successful season.

4) Eastern Michigan
The offense will be the key to getting the Eagles their first winning season in a long time. QB Alex Gillett is back and the RB trio of Dominique Sherrer, Javonti Green and Dominique White make this a very talented backfield. The receivers and O-line look to be improved. The LBs are the strength of the defense with Justin Cudworth chief among them. The D-line and secondary lose starters, so finding new ones will determine the unit’s fortunes this season.

5) Ball State
A 6-6 record is normally considered mediocre but for Ball State it was a success in Pete Lembo’s first season as coach. QB Keith Wenning and a quartet of RBs should keep the offense going, despite losses at receiver. The defense wasn’t much good last season and losing several starters doesn’t make it seem like it will improve that much this year.

6) Central Michigan
It wasn’t so long ago that the Chippewas were winning MAC titles, but coach Dan Enos hasn’t had that kind of success. QB Ryan Radcliffe leads a decent offense, but one that must improve its bad turnover margin if it wants to move up the standings. The defense was pretty bad last season and the front seven needs to play better, but the secondary has depth to overcome deficiencies in pass defense.

1) Ohio
To say the Bobcats had a breakout season would be an understatement as they smashed several school records for offense. QB Tyler Tettleton is back to lead that attack with an O-line that might be the best in the MAC. The team loses its top rusher and receiver, but has great depth to replace them. The defense likewise returns incredible depth, with DE Tremayne Scott and CB Travis Carrie both having first team all-MAC potential.

2) Miami(Ohio)
After winning the MAC in 2010, the Redhawks fell back to a 4-8 record, but there’s reason for a bounce back year. QB Zac Dysert will break Ben Roethlisberge’s career passing yards record with a collection of talented WRs, which is good since the running game was horrid last year. The defense played better then the record showed and should be just as good this year.

3) Bowling Green
The Falcons came very close to a bowl last season and look to get over that hump this time. QB Matt Schilz is solid and RB Anthon Samuel was MAC Freshman of the Year. The team loses some talented receivers but has a stout O-line. The defense returns all but one starter and DT Chris Jones, MLB Dwayne Woods and LB-to-S Jerry Gates are some of the top guys.

4) Kent State
The Golden Flashes always seem to come just short of getting to a bowl, but this could be the year they finally make it. The offense was one of the worst in the MAC and guys like QB Spencer Keith, RB Taryion Durham and a uninspiring receiver will have to step up their games big time. DE Roosevelt Nix, the MAC DPOY, leads a strong front seven that will get into opponent’s backfields, but it’s the surprisingly stingy secondary that will determine how far the unit goes.

5) Buffalo
The Bulls have been trending downward since their breakout 2008 campaign. Returning to that level starts with RB Brandon Oliver, arguably the top rusher in the MAC. Whomever emerges at QB will have a few weapons in the receiving game to help them. The defense has promise and All-MAC contenders like LB Khalil Mack and Najja Johnson, but must get pressure on opposing QBs.

6) Akron
Terry Bowden comes in as coach to try and drag a Zips team out of a winning drought. RB Jawon Christian and a solid receiving corps make for talented skill players, but a QB must emerge in order to harness said talent. Any improvement on defense will be good since this unit was the worst in the conference last season and has lost several starters.

7) UMass
The Minutemen will be welcomed to the FBS by becoming the doormat for the MAC. Playing tougher competition will be bad enough, but they also lose several key players on both sides of the ball. Veteran QB Kellen Pegel is back, along with deep lines on both sides. However, that’s about it as there’s not enough talent to get out of the MAC basement in their first season.