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Published: 7/30/2008

BGSU's Sheehan included in top tier of conference loaded with quarterbacks

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - It may seem obvious, but the Mid-American Conference is best viewed when it has bona fide stars cast in the most important roles.

It wasn't too long ago when fans could rely on the likes of Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Gradkowski, Jacobs and Pennington to provide great TV. But it was long enough.

The new generation of elite quarterbacks has surfaced in the MAC, which was a topic of discussion yesterday at the league's media day at Ford Field. All 13 MAC teams are blessed with the return of their starting quarterback, or at least a quarterback that started at one time last year.

"I think from a fan's perspective, from a national awareness perspective [it's a positive] because people love to see the ball in the air. They love to see offense," Eastern Michigan coach Jeff Genyk said.

The three quarterbacks who earned All-MAC honors last year return for their junior seasons, hoping to again lead their teams to bowl games. The second tier of quarterbacks includes guys who have started for several seasons.

"It's kind of cool to have a lot of pretty good quarterbacks in the same conference," said Bowling Green State University's Tyler Sheehan, a third-team pick last year. "You always want to be better than the guys you're compared to."

Along with Sheehan, the league's headliners are Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Ball State's Nate Davis. LeFevour has helped the Chippewas win two consecutive MAC titles and is the biggest reason the media chose CMU to make it three in a row. The MAC freshman of the year in 2006 and player of the year in 2007 has thrown for 6,683 yards and 53 touchdowns.

Davis, who like Sheehan has not redshirted, will enter his third year having already broken many of Ball State's career records. He's already tossed 48 touchdown passes.

"I look at [LeFevour] as a potential NFL player," University of Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "Ball State's guy has as much talent as any of the guys in the early 2000s. Bowling Green's quarterback's very talented, and Western's [Michigan] quarterback is good. I think there's another batch of very talented quarterbacks in our league."

Amstutz nearly had "Ball State's guy," but Davis, of Bellaire, Ohio, elected to sign with the Cardinals instead.

But Amstutz likes his guy, junior Aaron Opelt. Opelt has started 15 games over two seasons, and when he's healthy and playing well, the Rockets can win big games. Opelt, though, has yet to break into the upper echelon of MAC quarterbacks. Amstutz is confident that can change.

"Now that he's coming into his third year of being on the field, he understands the expectations that you have on you as a quarterback," Amstutz said. "I think he wants to make sure his team steps up to that same level."

Last year's results indicate that good teams have reliable guys behind center. Not only do BG, CMU and BSU have what are widely considered the MAC's three best quarterbacks, but they are also the only teams that played in bowls last year.

"I don't think you can win in this league unless you get good quarterback play," Western coach Bill Cubit said.

Cubit said Broncos quarterback Tim Hiller, who has started in 17 games, "has gotten better." Other quarterbacks of note include Kent State's Julian Edelman (second team All-MAC in 2006), Buffalo's Drew Willy (28 starts) and Eastern Michigan's Andy Schmitt, whom Sheehan called, "under the radar, but pretty good."

Only four projected MAC starters are seniors.

Sheehan admits that he peruses the stat sheets for LeFevour's and Davis' names throughout the season. It's a pride thing that comes with such a glamorous position on the field. LeFevour also likes to keep abreast on what's going on.

"Do I get too caught up with it? No, because the bottom line is wins and losses," LeFevour said. "I check more on Ball State and Bowling Green to see what they're doing."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com.



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