DETROIT – Whatever the Mid-American Conference’s reputation is nationally, it’s probably not boring.
Look for that to continue in 2012 as nine MAC teams return their starting quarterbacks, and 11 of the 13 teams bring back at least six players who started on offense at some point in 2011.
It would be impossible to predict a repeat of what happened last November, when Northern Illinois essentially clinched the West Division title by beating Toledo, 63-60, and just a week later Toledo beat Western Michigan, 66-63, in the same stadium.
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It would also be silly to pick against some sort of high-flying run of memorable shootouts.
“The best part of our Toledo game was the next week I got to kind of watch it (Toledo-WMU) on TV and didn’t have to agonize,” Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said Tuesday at MAC Media Day. “Thinking about winning 63-60, with us returning two kickoffs for touchdowns then scoring last, it was a heck of a game…for the ages.
“It was a game I hope I never have to go through again.”
Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, the MAC Player of the Year, graduated and was drafted in the seventh round by the Indianapolis Colts after leading the conference with 4,595 all-purpose yards. Among those returning are Western Michigan’s Alex Carder (4,143 all-purpose yards, 31 passing TDs), Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton (3,915 all-purpose yards) and Miami of Ohio’s Zac Dysert, who’s likely to pass Ben Roethlisberger as the school’s all-time leader in passing yards and, if he can come close to matching his 3,513 passing yards from last year, can finish as one of the most productive quarterbacks in MAC history.
Dysert is 4,395 yards short of Dan LeFevour’s MAC career record. Getting there seems absurd, but this is the MAC.
In all, five players who threw for more than 3,000 yards last season return. Toledo returns its 1-2 quarterback punch of Austin Dantin and Terrence Owens, who combined to throw for 3,426 yards and 33 touchdowns last year. Bowling Green returns both quarterback Matt Schilz (3,024 passing yards) and running back Anthon Samuel, the MAC Freshman of the Year in 2011. Six players who earned conference first or second-team honors at wide receiver or tight end also return.
VOTES ARE IN: Ohio was the unanimous choice of the voting media to win the East Division, while Toledo was made the pick in the West. The Rockets got seven first-place votes, while second-place choice Northern Illinois got five and third pick Western Michigan got four.
Central Michigan was voted sixth and last in the poll but got one first-place vote.
“I think the West is very strong,” Doeren said. “I chuckled at the (poll) when I saw one guy had Ball State last. I thought they were one of the toughest teams we played last year. The West is very strong, very balanced, there are a lot of experienced quarterbacks. I think if anything has been proven in the MAC, it’s that it’s anybody’s league and it usually comes down to who has the best quarterback.”
Bowling Green was voted second in the East, not much ahead of Miami and Kent State in third and fourth, respectively.
The league title game will be played on Nov. 30. The MAC and Ford Field announced a four-year contract extension to keep the MAC title game there through the 2015 season.
NEW GUYS: Massachusetts jumps to Div. I/FCS status and begins play this fall as a football-only member of the MAC, giving the East Division seven teams. Temple left its football-only role in the MAC to play in the Big East this season. Temple will join the Big East in all sports in 2013-14.
Kellen Pagel — a native of Strongsville, Ohio and the son of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Mike Pagel — is expected to again be the quarterback at UMass. He started eight games last year after transferring from Bowling Green.
UP FOR GRABS: Second-year Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said his team will hold an equal-reps-for-all quarterback competition in training camp. Senior returnee Spencer Keith has the experience edge, but Hazell said junior college transfer David Fisher and true freshman Colin Reardon will also be given a chance to compete.