Detroit – At Tuesday's Mid-American Conference Football Media Day, coaches wanted to talk about the upcoming season. But they had difficulty avoiding a quick look back on the previous one.
In 2003, MAC teams won five games over ranked teams, including three--Marshall over No. 6 Kansas State, Toledo over No. 9 Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois over No. 21 Alabama--on Sept. 20. Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio) each won bowl games over major conference teams. The RedHawks finished the season ranked No. 10, tying the best-ever final ranking for a MAC team.
"It's going to be hard to beat last year," Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon, whose team won at Purdue and finished the season ranked No. 23, said. "It probably was the best year for the MAC. But we need to continue to win in the non-conference. That's what will make the league continue to prosper."
"Last year was a year people will talk about for years to come," Ball State coach Brady Hoke said.
MAC teams will have plenty of opportunities against big-time opponents early this season. Boston College visits Ball State Sept. 2, Bowling Green is at Oklahoma Sept. 4, and Northern Illinois will try to repeat its non-conference magic from a year ago with road games at Maryland (Sept. 4) and Iowa State (Sept. 18). Last year, NIU beat both teams in Dekalb.
"We've got to be careful," Huskies head coach Joe Novak said. "Don't be disappointed if (the MAC has) seven or eight great wins this year."
No Love for EMU
Eastern Michigan head coach Jeff Genyk has spent the better part of eight months as a salesman. He tries to convince players, recruits, high school coaches and even his dry cleaner why the Eagles will be better this year.
"Every day, when I meet with somebody, I spend minutes and hours convincing them that we're going to be good and that you need to come see us," he said.
That sales pitch apparently has not worked on conference reporters, who again picked EMU to finish last in the West Division.
"I think that the media is often in a show-me type environment," Genyk said of the predictions. "They want to see us win and I can respect that. I obviously don't think that way."
Genyk does have a bit of personal history proving the pundits wrong. In both 1995 and 2000, while Genyk was an assistant at Northwestern, the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Big Ten. Both times, they finished the year as Big Ten champions.
"Those (preseason) publications, although fun to read in July, are not often accurate," Genyk quipped.
First-year head coaches Brian Kelly of Central Michigan and Genyk provided two of the better wisecracks during Monday's press conferences. Kelly was asked about the biggest difference between coaching at Division II Grand Valley State and at CMU. "My office is much bigger at Central," he replied.
When a reporter mentioned that EMU plays at Florida Sept. 11, Genyk played dumb. "Really? Oh, darn." He did, however, offer his philosophy on the David-versus-Goliath matchup. "You've got to prepare to win. Especially with what transpired in the MAC last year. Obviously, the talent discrepancy is significant at Florida, but we're going go down there and prepare to win," he said. "We're going to fight, and we're going to put something on the field that you'll to be proud of."
Here is the complete preseason poll released by the MAC News Media Association.
West Division: 1. Toledo, 278 points 2. Northern Illinois, 225 3. Bowling Green, 223 4. Western Michigan, 154 5. Ball State, 118 6. Central Michigan, 84, 7. EMU, 66
East Division: 1. Marshall, 258 2. Miami (Ohio), 257 3. Akron, 188 4. UCF, 176 5. Kent State, 119 6. Ohio, 82 7. Buffalo 67
MAC Champion: Toledo 22 votes, Marshall 9, Bowling Green 3, Miami (Ohio) 3, Northern Illinois 3, Akron 1.