DETROIT ? Based on totals from the 42 MAC News Media Association voters, the 2003 Mid-American Conference football season will be the closest competition since the league?s divisional play began in 1997. For the first time, Northern Illinois has been tabbed as the favorite to win the West Division and walk off with the league trophy following the championship game Dec. 4.
The totals were released today at the 2003 MAC Football Media Day at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.
And for the first time since Miami was picked to win the East Division in 1997, that same RedHawk program became the only team besides Marshall to gain a preseason top spot in the division. A one-point difference (254-253) separates Miami from the Thundering Herd and second-year MAC program University of Central Florida (248) is just six points shy of first place.
The Huskies, who captured a share of the West title last year (tied with Toledo) and in 2001 (tied with Toledo and Ball State), are the favorite from 15 selectees to win the championship game. Also receiving votes to win it all are Marshall (7), Miami (6), Bowling Green (5), UCF (5) and Toledo (4).
Compared to the East Division, NIU?s 31-point edge (269-238) to take the division over Toledo is a comfortable margin. Bowling Green (232) slides in just six points down from the Rockets. Western Michigan (172), which led the MAC in total defense last year, is selected fourth and is followed by Central Michigan (114), Ball State (104) and Eastern Michigan (47).
Miami?s one-point margin is the closest since 1998 when the Herd was predicted by a 20-point edge over the RedHawks (341-321 among 62 voters) in the preseason poll. In that 1998 poll, third-place selection Ohio was 94 points behind Marshall. Following third-place selection UCF are Akron with 144 points, Kent State at 121, Ohio with 109 and Buffalo with 47.
The winner of the MAC Championship Game is assured of one of the two bowl berths associated with the league ? the Motor City Bowl (Dec. 26 at Ford Field in Detroit) and the GMAC Bowl (Dec. 18 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.).
Marshall is the defending league champion and has the nation?s longest current bowl win streak at five in a row, including victories in the two most recent GMAC Bowls. The Thundering Herd have represented the East Division in the previous six MAC Championship games. Toledo is the two-time defending West Division Champion and has played in the last two Motor City Bowls.
The league race begins early with the Kent State at Akron contest on Aug. 28 and concludes Dec. 4 with the championship game at the site of the West Division Champion.
MAC Preseason Poll
West Division School (1st-place votes) Points 1. Northern Illinois (24) 269 2. Toledo (9) 238 3. Bowling Green (9) 232 4. Western Michigan 172 5. Central Michigan 114 6. Ball State 104 7. Eastern Michigan 47
East Division School (1st-place votes) Points 1. Miami (16) 254 2. Marshall (15) 253 3. UCF (11) 248 4. Akron 144 5. Kent State 121 6. Ohio 109 7. Buffalo 47
Winner of MAC Championship game: Northern Illinois (15), Marshall (7), Miami (6), Bowling Green (5), UCF (5), Toledo (4).
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