College football

2017 Preview:
Mid American Conference

Predicted order of finish

1 Ohio
2 Bowling Green
3 Akron
4 Miami OH
5 Buffalo
6 Kent State

1 Western Michigan 
2 Toledo
3 Northern Illinois
4 Central Michigan
5 Eastern Michigan
6 Ball State

champion W. Michigan

East Division

Ohio has been a model of consistency under coach Frank Solich and should be a lock to earn its eighth bowl bid in nine seasons. The defense ranked second in the MAC in fewest points allowed per game (22.6) and should remain near the top of the league despite a few personnel losses. The biggest concern for Solich is on offense. Can quarterback Quinton Maxwell take the next step in his development?

#82: Bowling Green | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Bowling Green closed 2016 and the first year under coach Mike Jinks by winning its last three contests. The Falcons utilized a favorable schedule - Akron, Buffalo and Kent State - to finish the season out on a high note, and Jinks returns enough pieces to build off that momentum. Quarterback James Morgan is a rising star, while favorite target Scott Miller (74 catches) also returns. Just like Akron, defense is an issue at Bowling Green. The Falcons gave up 38.3 points per game in 2016.

#91: Akron | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Zips aren't without their share of question marks and face a brutal crossover slate (Toledo and Western Michigan). Quarterback Thomas Woodson had offseason shoulder surgery and is hoping to return to full strength in time for the 2017 campaign. If Woodson is limited, junior college transfer Nick Johns will start at quarterback. With four returning starters up front, and the return of running back Warren Ball from injury, the quarterback should have a solid supporting cast in place. Akron must find a few answers on a defense that gave up over 460 yards and surrendered 33.6 points per game last fall.

#101: Miami OH | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The RedHawks finished 2016 by winning six out of their final seven games and return 16 starters this fall. Quarterback Gus Ragland's return to the lineup from an offseason knee injury was a big reason for the second-half improvement, and the junior should push for all-conference honors with a full year of snaps. In addition to Ragland's emergence, Miami's offensive line is expected to take a step forward, and the defense should rank among the best in the MAC.

#118: Buffalo | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Bulls have some upside behind quarterback Tyree Jackson and a defense that returns eight starters. However, coach Lance Leipold's team is likely a year away.

#124: Kent State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Kent State is running on empty. No passing game, no star running backs, a defense in need of rebuilding. It will be a long season for the Flashes.

West Division

#6: Western Michigan | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Western Michigan is the defending champion, but the Broncos lost a significant chunk of talent, and coach P.J. Fleck departed to Minnesota. New coach Tim Lester is a former Western Michigan quarterback and has a good idea of what it takes to win in the MAC. Lester's top priority is to find a quarterback to replace Zach Terrell and rebuild a receiving corps that will miss No. 1 target Corey Davis. While there are some significant personnel losses to overcome, Western Michigan still returns a solid one-two punch at running back with Jarvion Franklin and LaVante Bellamy and eight starters on defense.

#18: Toledo | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Rockets are led by senior quarterback Logan Woodside, one of the league's top receiving corps and seven starters on defense. Even though Toledo has to play at Ohio on Nov. 8, the defacto West Division title game takes place in the Glass Bowl on Nov. 24. Look for coach Jason Candle to guide the Rockets to their first appearance in the MAC title game since 2004.

#64: Northern Illinois | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Northern Illinois' 5-7 record in 2016 was the program's first losing mark since 2007. Additionally, the Huskies had their streak of eight consecutive bowl games snapped, and the five wins represented the second straight year the program watched its victory total decline after posting 11 in 2014. Injuries at the quarterback position are a big reason why coach Rod Carey's team has been on a downward trend over the last two seasons. In 2016, Northern Illinois played four quarterbacks, including junior Ryan Graham and sophomore Daniel Santacaterina who are competing with freshman Rodney Hall for the starting job this offseason. Assuming the Huskies can find an answer at quarterback, Carey has the necessary pieces to guide this team to a bowl game. Senior running back Jordan Huff should pickup where Joel Bouagnon left off behind a solid offensive line with three returning starters. Finding a replacement for top receiver Kenny Golladay remains a concern for Carey, but this unit has reinforcements on the way from Iowa State transfer Jauan Wesley and Chad Beebe (back after missing 2016 due to injury). The Huskies return six starters on defense, and this unit has to take a step forward after giving up 30.3 points per game in 2016. One advantage for Northern Illinois' bowl hopes - the schedule. The Huskies do not play Ohio, Miami or Akron - the projected top three teams from the East - and host Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan in key swing games. Expect Northern Illinois to rebound (slightly) in 2017.

#71: Central Michigan | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Central Michigan coach John Bonamego has a tough assignment trying to replace quarterback Cooper Rush this offseason. Michigan transfer Shane Morris and sophomore Tony Poljan will battle in the fall for the starting spot, and if a clear answer emerges, the Chippewas have the necessary firepower to reach six (or more) wins once again. The backfield and receiving corps are deep with options, and the line returns all five starters from 2017. The defense has room to improve after giving up 30.3 points per game in 2016. But this unit returns six starters, including All-MAC selections Joe Ostman, Amari Coleman and Josh Cox.

#98: Eastern Michigan | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Eastern Michigan was the biggest surprise in the MAC last year. After a 3-21 start under coach Chris Creighton, the Eagles showed marked improvement in 2016. The program earned its first bowl trip since 1987 and finished with seven victories. Can Creighton guide the program to another postseason bid in 2017? Eastern Michigan's hopes of a winning record rest with a dynamic offense and quarterback Brogan Roback. The Eagles will have to break in a couple of new starters in the trenches, and tight end Nigel Kilby won't return to the team after catching 34 passes in 2016. While the personnel is certainly there to go bowling once again, Eastern Michigan's schedule isn't friendly.

#108: Ball State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The lone bright spot for Ball State is their passing game. It shows promise, but without a running game and a defense with a lot of holes to plug, it will be a long season for the Cardinals.

2017 Preseason Ranking

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