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Published: Saturday, 8/1/2009

Preseason picks can be off

BY DONALD EMMONS
AND ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITERS

In recent seasons, the preseason favorites to win the Mid-American Conference division titles have not finished as well as predicted.

That doesn't bode well for Central Michigan and Buffalo, which topped their respective divisions in this year's MAC preseason poll.

Central Michigan, returning 42 letterwinners, is projected to win the West Division and Buffalo, returning 25 letterwinners, is projected to finish on top of the East.

The Chippewas received 154 points to top the West Division, followed by Western Michigan (126 points), Northern Illinois (103 points), Toledo (71 points), Ball State (58 points) and Eastern Michigan (34 points), respectively. The Bulls top the East Division with 155 points, followed by Temple (144 points), Akron (128 points), Ohio (116 points), Bowling Green (101 points), Kent State (51 points) and Miami (33 points), respectively.

The fact the favorites have not come out on top as predicted in recent years can be encouraging for teams like Toledo and BG, which are picked to finish around the middle of the pack.

"It is what it is," BG first-year head coach Dave Clawson said. "At the end of the year nobody rarely looks back at the preseason. One of the best teams I ever coached was picked fifth in their division in the preseason. That was a team that won a championship."

BEAMING BULLS: When coach Turner Gill arrived at Buffalo in December, 2005, he took over a program that had won 10 games since making the jump to Division I-A in 1999. Since then, Gill has lifted a one-win program to a MAC championship last season, and yesterday the Bulls were selected to win the East division in a preseason poll of 26 members of the conference's media contingent.

The ranking marks the first time since joining the conference in 1999 that the Bulls have been picked as preseason favorites.

"It's very rewarding," Gill said. "That's the goal when you first get there - to be recognized as a good football program. To get there, you have to win championships. It's as simple as that. Now, which is going to be a little bit more of a challenge, we have to do it consistently. That's the key."

The Bulls return 15 starters from last year's team that defeated Ball State 42-24 in the MAC championship game at Ford Field. But they were not voted by the media to defend their title, as Central Michigan was the overwhelming choice yesterday to win the West division and the conference championship.

"Our goal is to have a winning record and give ourselves a chance to win a championship," Gill said. "That's where we want to be in this program, year after year."

WEEKENDS FREE FOR BG: The Falcons' first four games of the season (Troy, at Missouri, at Marshall, Boise State) make for a challenging start to the year for BG.

However, it's the final month of the season for the Falcons that appears most interesting from a scheduling standpoint.

For the first time in school history the Falcons do not have a single game in November scheduled to take place on a Saturday. It's a month of weekday games for the Falcons beginning with a Tuesday night road contest at Buffalo on Nov. 3. The Falcons will also play at Miami on Thursday, Nov. 12 and host Akron Friday, Nov. 20 before playing Friday, Nov. 27, before a Doyt Perry Stadium home crowd against rival Toledo.

Clawson said he's never experienced a schedule that involved a month of weekday-only contests. Yet, he recognizes the opportunity it provides for mid-major programs like the Falcons, who don't receive the kind of national attention BCS programs typically receive on Saturdays.

"We're on national TV," Clawson said. "Would I prefer to play on Saturday, yes, because the week's flow is better. But when you have a chance to play on national TV against Buffalo you can't pass up those opportunities.

"It's great for our recruiting. It's great for the conference, so the positives of it far outweigh the negatives."

BG senior safety Jahmal Brown is familiar with playing in weekday games. He considers it an honor to play in a weeknight matchup, especially when it may be the only college game on television that night.

"It's kind of weird because you're so used to playing on Saturdays," Brown said... "But at the same time it's also fun because usually when you're playing during the week that means you're going to be playing on television and that's something we look forward to.

"We're pumped up for every game but when you know you're going to be on TV and you're going to get that extra exposure it's a good feeling."

DAVID VS. GOLIATH: MAC teams won a conference record four games over Big Ten opponents last season. With 14 more contests between the MAC and the Big Ten this season, the opportunity exists to match or surpass that mark. That doesn't mean, however, that the mid-major conference is getting too big for its britches.

"Our guys still look at it as David vs. Goliath every time we step on the field against a Big Ten team," said Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit, whose team opens the season Sept. 5 at Michigan. "Not one of our kids was recruited by [Michigan]. We just tell them to go out and play hard and see what happens."



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