State of the conference: Mid-American Conference

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
The Mid-American Conference went through more coaching turmoil than any conference in the country this offseason.

The conference replaced five coaches, four of whom were fired, and its commissioner. The conference is hoping the change will mean more wins and notoriety for the conference. Four of the five coaches came from major programs and Ball State coach Stan Parrish was the offensive coordinator for last year's 12-2 Cardinals team.

Perhaps the changing of the guard will mean a change in the MAC's place on the nonautomatic qualifying conference totem pole.

Currently, the MAC is fourth among the five conferences, just above the Sun Belt. Since the MAC's peak in 2003, a season where Miami (Ohio) nearly went undefeated and finished ranked 10th in the country and Bowling Green and Northern Illinois also had stellar seasons, the conference has had just two teams finish with double-digit wins -- Central Michigan (10-2) in 2006 and Ball State last season.

The last time the MAC posted a winning record over an automatic qualifying conference was in 2002 when Bowling Green beat Kansas State and Missouri and Ball State lost to Mizzou.

But there have been signs that the conference is starting to come into its own. Last season, the MAC notched four wins against the Big Ten (4-9), the most nonconference wins the MAC has ever earned in one season against an automatic qualifying conference. Quarterbacks Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan) and Tim Hiller (Western Michigan) are on the Davey O'Brien Award watch list and Central Michigan is receiving votes in the recently released preseason coaches' poll. A MAC team has not been mentioned in the preseason coaches' poll since Northern Illinois received two votes in 2006.

But the MAC still has a long way to go to keep up with the Mountain West, WAC and the re-emergence of Conference USA. But it's on the way toward finding that 2003 swagger that put the non-AQs on the map.