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Ohio aiming for MAC title after near-miss in 2011

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DETROIT (AP)

Frank Solich and Ohio University fell two quarters short of a conference title last year.

Now they're eager to finish the job.

The Bobcats led Northern Illinois 20-0 at halftime of last year's MAC title game but went on to lose 23-20. Ohio hasn't won a MAC title since 1968.

''We keep making strides,'' said Solich, the Bobcats' coach. ''We feel really good because we're surrounded by good people. We didn't reach some goals we had last year and our guys know that.''

Ohio returns one of the league's top quarterbacks in Tyler Tettleton. Ohio figures to be pushed by Miami of Ohio and Bowling Green in the MAC's East Division. Toledo and Northern Illinois still look like the class of the West. They played one of the most remarkable games in any conference last year when Northern Illinois outlasted the Rockets 63-60 in November.

Northern Illinois will have to defend its division title with a new starting quarterback after Chandler Harnish threw for 28 touchdowns as a senior last season.

Temple, a football-only member since 2007, left the MAC for the Big East during the offseason and will be replaced this fall by Massachusetts, which debuts in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Terry Bowden, who spent the past two seasons at Division II North Alabama, is the new head coach at Akron. Matt Campbell takes over at Toledo after Tim Beckman left to take the top job at Illinois.

A breakdown of the teams:

EAST

MIAMI (OHIO) - Key players: QB Zac Dysert, WR Nick Harwel, DE Austin Brown, CB Dayonne Nunley. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: Former walk-on RB Robert Williams III hasn't had a varsity carry but emerged from the spring at the top of the depth chart. ... Dysert ranks third behind Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Southern California's Matt Barkley in career yards passing (8,530) among active quarterbacks.

BOWLING GREEN - Key players: QB Matt Schilz, RB Athon Samuel, TE Alex Bayer, DT Chris Jones, LB Dwayne Woods. Returning starters: 7 offense, 10 defense.

Notes: Shaun Joplin is the only returning receiver with a varsity catch. ... The first month of the season includes trips to Florida and Virginia Tech.

OHIO - Key players: QB Tyler Tettleton, DB Travis Carrie, OL Eric Herman, K Matt Weller. Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: The Bobcats are Penn State's first opponent. ... Tettleton, who set 12 new school records last season, is the son of former major league catcher Mickey Tettleton.

KENT STATE - Key players: DT Roosevelt Nix, QB Spencer Keith, DE Jake Dooley, RB Traylon Durham. Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense.

Notes: Nix was named to the preseason Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski award lists. ... The Golden Flashes return most of a unit that finished second in total defense in the MAC last season.

BUFFALO - Key players: RB Branden Oliver, LB Khalil Mack, DL Steven Means, DL Colby Way. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Oliver is the MAC's top returning rusher. ... Four starters are back on the offensive line. ... Mack had 5 1/2 sacks last season.

MASSACHUSETTS - Key players: QB Kellen Pagel, TE Rob Blanchflower, LB Percy McIntyre, S Darren Thellen. Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: The Minutemen make their FBS debut this fall under coach Charley Molnar. ... UMass will play most of its home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, about 90 miles from its main campus in Amherst. ... Pagel's father, Mike, played 12 seasons in the NFL, mostly with Indianapolis.

AKRON - Key players: RB Jawon Chisholm, DL Nico Caponi, DL J.D. Griggs. Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense.

Notes: QBs Curtis Watson and Dalton Williams are vying for the starting job a year after neither threw a varsity pass. ... Chisholm rushed for 961 yards last season as a freshman.

WEST

NORTHERN ILLINOIS - Key players: QB Jordan Lynch, DE Sean Polgar, CB Rashaan Melvin, K Matthew Sims. Returning starters: 4 offense, 11 defense.

Notes: The Huskies won last season's title a season after Jerry Kill left to take the coaching job at Minnesota. ... Northern Illinois hasn't lost a home game since Nov. 12, 2008. ... The defense has a combined 146 starts. ... Harnish threw just six interceptions in his 14 starts.

TOLEDO - Key players: QBs Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin, WR Bernard Reedy, DE T.J. Fatinikun, LB Dan Molls. Returning starters: 4 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: Former offensive coordinator Matt Campbell became the head coach in December and guided the Rockets to a win over Air Force in the Military Bowl. ... The new season begins with trips to SEC opponents Florida and Missouri. ... Owens and Dantin have split playing time most of the last two seasons.

WESTERN MICHIGAN - Key players: QB Alex Carder, RB Tevin Drake, S Rontavious Atkins, DE Freddie Bishop. Returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense.

Notes: Carder and Ohio's Tettleton are the only MAC signal callers on the Davey O'Brien Award watch list. ... The Broncos welcome back three offensive lineman who started all 13 games last fall. ... There's still plenty of youth on a defense that ranked 11th in the MAC.

BALL STATE - Key players: LB Travis Freeman, QB Keith Wenning, DT Donovan Jarrett. Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: The Cardinals were bowl eligible last season but did not receive an invitation. ... Wenning has started 22 consecutive games. ... Freeman ranked second in the MAC last season in tackles.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN - Key players: QB Ryan Radcliff, WR Titus Davis, DB Jaheel Addae, K David Harman. Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense.

Notes: The Chippewas had 24 different players make their first career starts last season. ... Radcliff has thrown for 6,645 yards and 42 touchdowns in the last two seasons. ... Last year's 3-9 mark ended a run of three straight bowl appearances.

EASTERN MICHIGAN - Key players: RB Javonti Green, QB Alex Gillett, LB Justin Cudworth, DE Andy Mulumba. Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense.

Notes: The Eagles are coming off their first non-losing season since 1995. ... Eastern Michigan ranked third in the conference last season in total defense but ranked near the bottom on the other side of the ball.

Tagged: Illinois, Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Miami (OH), Toledo, Western Michigan, Buffalo, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Ball State, Akron, Ohio, Kent State, USC, Oklahoma, Matt Weller, Alex Carder, Alex Bayer, Matt Schilz, Alex Gillett, Tyler Tettleton, Austin Dantin, Dan Molls, Matt Barkley, Keith Wenning, Matt Campbell, Travis Freeman

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