Five things to watch in the Mid-American Conference

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
1.The next Ball State: Ball State's undefeated run through conference play last season was unexpected and it's probably not going to happen against this year -- by any team. Central Michigan might have the best chance to replicate the Cardinals' season, but it will face tough obstacles against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, who will both be vying for the MAC West.

2.Hiller coming into his own: For the past three seasons, Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller has been in the shadow of in-state rival Dan LeFevour. But now, in his senior season, Hiller has a chance to prove his worth, up his NFL draft status, and maybe get on a billboard somewhere. The Broncos lost some key receivers to graduation, but Hiller said the depth of his receiving corps is better than it was last season.

3.Out with the old, in with the new: While LeFevour and Hiller are still tops among MAC quarterbacks, several fresh faces will emerge this year, including Buffalo's Zach Maynard, Ball State's Kelly Page and Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish, who played last season. The MAC has always been known for its quarterback play and it appears that tradition will keep rolling. Watch for both Maynard and Harnish to give their teams an opportunity to win their respective conferences.

4.Earning their keep: Five new coaches entered the league this season with dreams of using the MAC as a stepping-stone to more prestigious jobs. Hey, several coaches have done it before. However, of the group, only Dave Clawson at Bowling Green inherited a squad without a losing record, so don't expect much from those other teams. But the new coaches aren't the only ones who will be under a watchful eye. Ohio, Kent State and Akron might be looking for new leaders if they don't show improvement this season.

5.Moving in the right direction: In the past two seasons, the MAC has gotten better against BCS competition. Last season, it notched six wins against teams from automatic-qualifying conferences, which tied the SEC and was better than the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. Four of those wins were against the Big Ten, the most wins in one year against any automatic-qualifying conference in the history of the league. The MAC is still one of the weaker conferences in the country, but it will have several more opportunities to shed that label against top-notch competition in 2009.