The return of the MAC

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Excuse the Mark Morrison reference, but it's time to take a peek at the Mid-American Conference heading into the 2009 season. Whether you want to admit it or not, Big Ten fans should have some interest in the MAC because of the scheduling relationship the two leagues share.

Big Ten teams play 14 games against the MAC this fall, including two for Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue. No league appears on the schedule more often than the 13-team MAC, which notched four victories against Big Ten squads in 2008.

The MAC held its media sessions last week in Detroit, and Central Michigan once again got the nod as the league's preseason favorite. Colleague Graham Watson has all the details.

Let's take a look at the MAC preseason poll.

West Division
1. Central Michigan (154 points)
2. Western Michigan (126)
3. Northern Illinois (103)
4. Toledo (71)
5. Ball State (58)
6. Eastern Michigan (34)

East Division
1. Buffalo (155 points)
2. Temple (144)
3. Akron (128)
4. Ohio (116)
5. Bowling Green (101)
6. Kent State (51)
7. Miami (33)

MAC Championship Game
Central Michigan (18), Western Michigan (4), Buffalo (2), Temple (2)

Of all the Big Ten teams, Michigan State gets the toughest draw against the MAC and will host both Central Michigan (Sept. 12) and Western Michigan (Nov. 7).

Penn State's soft schedule is well documented, but the Lions do face two of the higher rated MAC East teams in Akron (Sept. 5) and Temple (Sept. 19). The MAC West division looks much stronger to me, and teams like Purdue and Wisconsin should watch out for Northern Illinois. Northwestern gets off very easy, facing the two teams picked to finish last in their divisions (Eastern Michigan and Miami).

An interesting note: Five MAC teams welcome new head coaches this year.