State MAC schools picked to struggle, Bowling Green picked to be champs

DETROIT (AP) - Defending champion Bowling Green is the favorite to win this season's Mid-American Conference title.

A poll of media that cover the conference on Wednesday picked the Falcons to finish ahead of Akron in the conference's East division and defeat projected West champ Toledo in the MAC title game here in December.

Bowling Green went 10-4 last season and defeated Northern Illinois in the championship game before losing to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The Falcons will seek to defend their title with new coach Dino Babers, who comes from FBC Eastern Illinois to replace Dave Clawson, who was hired by Wake Forest during the offseason.

Sixteen starters, including eight on offense, are back this fall. Quarterback Matt Johnson, who passed for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns, and running back Travis Greene, who rushed for 11 touchdowns and a school-record 1,594 yards, lead the way in Babers' scheme, which averaged more than 48 points per game last season at Eastern Illinois.

"It's a good feeling," Johnson said. "For the last few years we've been the ones fighting to get to the top.

"It feels good to know we have the 'X' on our backs because it's something we think is rightfully deserved."

The Falcons are seeking to become the first team to win consecutive conference championships since Miami (Ohio) won a second straight in 2004 and Babers said he's excited by the chance.

"We've got a good defense," he said, "and that's huge getting started. This also is the most experienced coaching staff I've worked with, so we just need to work at being as fast and efficient as we can be."

Toledo (7-5 last season), did not play a postseason game but welcomes back 19 starters, including 10 on defense. That unit, led by linebacker Junior Sylvestre, will be a focal point early in the season while the Rockets decide which of three potential starting quarterbacks deserves the job.

"Our strength is in the offensive line," said coach Matt Campbell, who welcomes back four starters there while Phillip Ely, Logan Woodside and Michael Julian vie to replace three-year quarterback Terrance Owens.

Bowling Green, which won its first league title since 1992 last fall, received 18 first-place votes in the East to Akron's three. Toledo (11), Northern Illinois (eight) and Central Michigan (two) each garnered first-place votes in the West.

Babers is one of four new coaches entering the MAC. Chuck Martin is the new coach at Miami while Mark Whipple arrives on the sideline at Massachusetts. Chris Creighton was hired by Eastern Michigan, which will play its home games on newly installed gray artificial turf this season.

The conference title game will be played here Dec. 5 but the winner won't have the prospect of returning to Ford Field for a bowl game. Stadium management announced plans to host a bowl game pitting teams from the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences during the offseason. The MAC has tie-ins with five postseason games.

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