Athlon Sports MAC Predictions

The Mid-American Conference hopes to continue its climb up the college football food chain. The league is 6–1 in bowl games over the past five seasons and has placed a team in the Top 25 — at some point in the season — seven times in the past eight years.

Projected Finish - East

1. UCF
2. Miami
3. Marshall
4. Akron
5. Ohio
6. Kent State
7. Buffalo

Projected Finish - West

1. Toledo
2. Northern Illinois
3. Western Michigan
4. Bowling Green
5. Central Michigan
6. Ball State
7. Eastern Michigan

Not only are the programs in the MAC getting better on the field, but they are also bringing in better opponents to their respective stadiums. League schools will host 10 non-conference Division I-A foes in 2003, the most in MAC history, and these 10 games include seven against teams from BCS conferences. In the last two years, the league has produced an 11–6 non-conference home record against I-A opponents.

Since Marshall rejoined the MAC in 1997, the Thundering Herd have won five of the six league championships. That reign may be ending, however, due to the improved overall strength of the conference and the departure of All-America quarterback Byron Leftwich.

UCF is the team most likely to dethrone Marshall atop the MAC East standings. The Golden Knights finished second in the division in their inaugural season and have a favorable conference schedule that will put them in position to claim the division title and earn their first-ever bowl bid. Marshall and Miami will offer the Knights their stiffest challenge. Akron and Ohio are middle-tier teams in this division with Kent State and Buffalo rounding out the East.

Toledo looks to continue its winning ways in the West. The Rockets return 13 starters from their division championship team, and they are the favorites to claim their fifth West title in seven years. Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Bowling Green are talented teams that will provide the biggest challenge. Central Michigan, Ball State and Eastern Michigan should be improved but aren't expected to compete for a title.

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