Northern Illinois trounced Bowling Green 51-17 to claim the 2014 MAC title, and 2015 is looking like deja vu all over again.
OK, it won't be by 34 points, but last year's meeting was supposed to be decided by 4.63. The 2015 preseason forecast, based on the Congrove Computer Rankings, is for NIU to down BGSU by 7.75.
As a whole, the MAC is rated by the computer as the second-best conference outside the "Big 5" (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and SEC) and Independents (Army, BYU and Notre Dame).
In fact, MAC teams are preseason favorites to win these games over teams from the big money leagues:
Bowling Green (-1.74) at Maryland
Bowling Green (-4.60) at Purdue
Central Michigan (-7.54) at Syracuse
Massachusetts (-3.48) at Colorado
NIU (-11.35) at Boston College
Toledo (-21.49) vs. Iowa State
Obviously, none of those opponents are expected to finish near the top of a "Big 5" conference, but they would nonetheless be considered huge wins for the MAC against representatives of the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and PAC-12.
Northern Illinois is preseason ranked 16th by the computer and Western Michigan is 27th. The MAC's West division is rated slightly higher than the ACC's Atlantic. It's a situation that exists because Wake Forest and Syracuse are expected to be awful while Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Toledo are seen as teams that could be competitive against just about anybody in the FBS.
Inside the MAC, the computer says Bowling Green will face a stiff challenge from Ohio in the East. The Bobcats actually have the higher power rating (71.93 to 70.66) but surrender home field advantage to the Falcons on November 4 to become a 1.73-point underdog.
UMass is expected to improve to 7-5 and tie Ohio for 2nd place in the East. The Minutemen return 19 starters on offense and defense, including 2014 MAC statistical leaders in tackles, passing yards per game and receptions per game.
In the West division, Western Michigan has a marginally higher power rating than projected champ NIU (78.54-78.41), but home field advantage makes the Huskies a 2.87-point favorite over the Broncos on November 18.
Toledo could also contend for the West title. The Rockets are predicted losers to Western Michigan, NIU and Bowling Green in the midst of a grueling 4-game stretch to end the season, but by narrow margins ranging from 0.35 to 2.23 points.
Overall, 8 MAC teams are forecasted to finish at or above .500. Just 6 teams managed that feat last year.
Buffalo and Central Michigan have new head coaches.
Buffalo fired Jeff Quinn in the middle of the season while Central Michigan's Dan Enos announced on January 22 that he was taking the offensive coordinator post under Bret Bielema at Arkansas. The Bulls hired Wisconsin-Whitewater's Lance Leipold on November 30 and Leipold then went on to win his sixth D-3 national title with the Hawks in the past 8 seasons. The Chippewas on February 9 hired former player and veteran NFL special teams guru John Bonamego who spent last season with the Detroit Lions.