SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Conference Previews

  MAC


Projected Standings
(Projected overall record in parentheses)
East Division
1
  Miami of Ohio
   6-2  
(8-4)
1
  Marshall
   6-2  
(8-4)
3
  UCF
   5-3  
(6-6)
4
  Akron
   4-4  
(7-5)
5
  Kent State
   3-5  
(4-8)
6
  Ohio
   2-6  
(3-9)
7
  Buffalo
   1-7  
(2-10)
West Division
1
  Northern Illinois
   7-1  
(9-3)
2
  Bowling Green
   6-2  
(8-4)
3
  Toledo
   6-2  
(7-5)
4
  Western Michigan
   5-3  
(6-6)
5
  Eastern Michigan
   2-6  
(4-8)
6
  Ball State
   2-6  
(3-9)
7
  Central Michigan
   1-7  
(3-9)
Photo: Ben Roethlisberger, Craig Jones/Getty Images
 

SI.com's Stewart Mandel breaks down the 2003 conference race and predicts the final standings.

Could this be the year someone ends Marshall's six-year streak of MAC championship game appearances? It's easy to say the Thundering Herd might be vulnerable after losing star quarterback Byron Leftwich, but his replacement, Stan Hill, got valuable experience last season when Leftwich was hurt and has the luxury of two accomplished receivers, Darius Watts and Josh Davis.

One team hungry to replace Marshall at the top is Miami, following its controversial 36-34 loss in Huntington last November. RedHawks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has one of the best arms in the country and four of his offensive linemen return. Second-year MAC member UCF also will be a factor behind prolific QB Ryan Schneider, though the Golden Knights lost several key players over the summer to academics and injury.

Akron, which returns QB Charlie Frye and eight other starters from a potent offense, could make a run at its first winning record since 1998, while Kent State's 2,000/1,000 guy, Joshua Cribbs, could use a better supporting cast. Ohio has yet to rediscover its winning ways under coach Brian Knorr, while Buffalo should consider it an accomplishment to win three games.

In the West, Northern Illinois boasts the nation's leading returning rusher, Michael Turner, and was nine points from going 11-1 instead of 8-4 last season. The Huskies are a serious contender for their first conference title since 1983.

But so are Bowling Green, which reached as high as 16th in the polls last season, and two-time defending West champ Toledo. The Falcons return electrifying quarterback Josh Harris, but the jury is out on new head coach Gregg Brandon. The Rockets lose super passer Brian Jones but are banking on their trio of "Baby Backs" -- sophomores Astin Martin, Trinity Dawson and Quinton Broussard.

Western Michigan, division champs in 1999 and 2000, is slowly climbing back into the upper echelon. The same can't be said of Eastern Michigan, Ball State and Central Michigan, any of whom could finish in the cellar.

 
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