The MAC was one of the few conference untouched by realignment in the past year, and coaching changes aren't expected to have much impact either.
Dave Doeren has moved on to N.C. State after leading Northern Illinois to a second straight MAC title, and Darrell Hazell left runner-up Kent State to take the reigns at Purdue.
Rod Carey replaces Doeren and the Huskies still get picked to go 8-4 overall and 5-3 in conference for a mark that would leave them just one game out of first.
Paul Haynes takes over the Golden Flashes who are projected to go 10-2 overall and undefeated in the conference while claiming the MAC East title. Furthermore, the Congrove Computer Rankings say Kent State ultimately downs Central Michigan in the championship game at Detroit for the school's first MAC crown since 1972 and only its second in history.
Both divisions are top-heavy as less than 6 power points separate Kent State, Bowling Green and Ohio in the east, while fewer than 4 points separate Central Michigan, Toledo, Northern Illinois and Ball State in the west.
The Golden Flashes are 3.03-point favorites at home over the Falcons in the second week of the season in a game the computer scores as the eventual tie-breaker for the top spot in the east. The Chippewas get a scant 0.43-point home advantage over the Rockets on September 21 for the west division tie-breaker.
As usual, the better MAC programs should be competitive in multiple games against foes from college football's more traditional power conferences. For example, Bowling Green is a 0.02-point dog at Mississippi State, Central Michigan is a 2.73-point favorite at N.C. State, and Kent State is just a 0.38-point underdog at Penn State (the computer predicted Ohio's win at Penn State a year ago).
All four of Ball State's forecasted losses are by less than 5 points (at North Texas by 0.04, home vs. Toledo by 0.84, home vs. Kent State by 4.57, and at NIU by 4.94. But the Cardinals are also favored by just 1.94 at Virginia and 1.73 at home over Central Michigan.
Buffalo sits firmly in the middle of the east pack with a forecasted .500 record overall and in-conference. Akron and UMass bring up the rear with the Minutemen over 10 power points below every team in the league.
UMass is a mere 8.5-point favorite over FCS member Maine for its only given win. The team will play its home games this year at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, while an 8,000-seat upgrade is underway at the on-campus McGuirk Stadium.
Western Michigan follows the four west division front-runners while Eastern Michigan is poised to grab the cellar for the fifth time in the last six years.
Western Michigan fired Bill Cubit after last season's 29-23 loss at home to Eastern Michigan on November 17, though the decision was reportedly made the Thursday before the game. It was EMU's first conference win of the year in the MAC and only its second of the season.
32-year old P.J. Fleck became the youngest head coach in the FBS when he was named as Cubit's replacement. Fleck is a Greg Schiano disciple who put in two years at Rutgers, followed by a season with the NFL's Tampa Bay Bucs where Schiano was hired last year.
As for the other two new head coaches in the MAC - Paul Haynes was a standout defensive back with the Golden Flashes from 1987-1992. He spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas after serving as an assistant with the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2005-2011. He also has NFL experience as a quality control coach for Jacksonville. Meanwhile, NIU's Rod Carey was the offensive line coach under Doeren and led the Huskies in their historic 31-10 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State.