Part of the Doc's Mid-Major Week.
Western imperialist dogs. For one-sided divisional formats, the MAC West's lead on the East is at least as large as the South's over the North in the Big 12. Four of the MAC's record five bowl teams in '08 were from the West, and those four teams -- Ball State, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan -- were 10-0 in the regular season against teams from the East. Add to that this year the most experienced team in the conference (Toledo, with 16 returning starters), and it's arguable that the five best outfits in the MAC are all on the same side of the ledger.
Give the conference this: At least every team has eight verifiable conference games for the second year a row, after years of lopsided scheduling that left teams playing different numbers of league games and only counting the divisional match-ups toward the official conference record. Now: No more expansion or attrition and they're set.
And you shall know us by our ridiculous passing stats. Within the West, the showdown is clearly between Central and Western Michigan -- or, more specifically, between the prolific senior quarterbacks, Dan LeFevour and Tim Hiller, neither of whom has much margin for error: CMU finished dead last in total defense for the second straight year despite nearly winning the division for the third year in a row, and Western loses 10 starters from a D that was only middle-of-the-pack as it was. It's not hard to see why Central Michigan is the near-unanimous pick to take the division and the conference again: The Chippewas have won three in a row over WMU and, bad as they've been the last two years, have 10 starters back on defense, half of those now in their third year as front-liners. (Even if they're all mere accessories to LeFevour.)
It's supposed to be a Bobcat, right? The East, on the other hand, reminds me of one of the old "Magic Eye" pictures: You can claim to see whatever you want, but I refuse to believe anything is there. I've already expressed my skepticism about Buffalo, which -- while dramatically improved the last two years -- still isn't far enough removed from the dark days to warrant its status as overwhelming favorite, especially minus four-year starter Drew Willy at quarterback. Bowling Green has a little going for it on paper (namely the pass-catch combo of Tyler Sheehan and Freddie Barnes in an offensively bereft division), but is also under the unsteady hand of Dave Clawson, fresh from his disastrous season as Tennessee's offensive coordinator.
Ohio, last seen scaring the living daylights out of Ohio State a week before the Buckeyes' pounding at USC, is a stab in the dark (you know, the kind that usually wind up injuring the person wielding the knife): The Bobcats have a veteran quarterback (the enticingly named and dreadlock'd Boo Jackson), a couple potential playmakers on offense (receiver Taylor Price and Chris Garrett, who set a school record with 321 al-purpose yards in the year-end win over Miami, Ohio) and the majority of starters back from one of the league's better defenses; Ohio was also extremely snake-bitten by turnovers last year (–13), not characteristic of Frank Solich's teams since he's been in Athens, which portends an immediate turnaround. Doesn't it? You see that, right?
Cardinal bin (remainder, that is). The most interesting team in the league is last year's best team, Ball State, written off with the departure of coach Brady Hoke and especially quarterback Nate Davis, a crippling blow in a division with competition as high-flying as LeFevour and Hiller. If the Cardinals have any chance of approaching last year's surprising success, it will be by more trench-bound means, with short-but-stout workhorse MiQuale Lewis and four returning starters on the defensive line. Either way, it will be a massive disappointment if BSU isn't still in the thick of the division race by the time the three best teams -- Northern Illinois, Central Michigan and Western Michigan -- roll around in late November.