DETROIT - In 2008, every Mid-American Conference football team will return at least 13 of 22 starters from last season. A few squads have 18, 19 and even 21 starters back.
It's one reason why when Central Michigan coach Butch Jones says any team can win the league championship, he means it.
"Of all my years being in the Mid-American Conference, I think this is the most competitive it's ever been," Jones said. "I think each and every team has the opportunity to win the championship. When you look at our West side, there's not much separating each team in our division. It's going to be extremely competitive."
CMU, the two-time defending MAC champion, was picked to win the title for the third straight year by the MAC News Media Association. The preseason poll was released yesterday at the football meetings held at Ford Field.
The Chippewas were chosen to win the MAC West and Bowling Green State University was picked to win the MAC East. The University of Toledo was picked to finish fourth in the MAC West.
"For us it's always nice to be picked first," BGSU coach Gregg Brandon said.
"It's an honor. Because we have that expectation, to compete for championships."
BGSU is coming off a bowl appearance, while UT has had back-to-back 5-7 seasons. UT coach Tom Amstutz said the Rockets' place in the poll "doesn't really matter to me.
"All the coaches look at what we do on the field, and the challenges and opportunities we all have," Amstutz said.
CMU received 29 of 36 first-place votes to win the MAC West division while BGSU garnered 17 first-place votes to win the East. Every East team had at least two first-place votes, with Miami in second place with seven. Ball State received five first-place votes in the West and Western Michigan two.
In the championship game, 24 voters picked CMU to win, with Ball State receiving five votes and BGSU four. The championship game is Dec. 5 at Ford Field.
The three MAC teams that played in bowl games last year, Central Michigan, BGSU and Ball State, all have at least 15 starters back, including the top three legaue producers in total offense in quarterbacks Dan LeFevour, Tyler Sheehan and Nate Davis.
Returning MAC East champion Miami has 17 returning starters. Temple has 21 returners and Western Michigan has 19.
"The league has become so balanced, especially on our side," Brandon said.
"I think any team in the East could win it."
Before the meat of the conference schedule arrives, the MAC will take its chances against several nationally ranked or historically strong teams in the non-conference schedule. Last season the league had a dismal 5-28 record against teams from BCS conferences.
Because of the experience and depth so many conference teams expect to rely on this season, though, Amstutz sees the potential for a successful nonconference showing by the MAC.
"I think this year you'll see our conference come away with some really big nonconference wins," Amstutz said. "Just like in 2004, when our conference came up with some really big weekends, I'm predicting you'll see that again this year."
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