The Boston Globe examines how the teams and the Mid-American Conference may look during the 2012 season. (Order of finish based on preseason media poll):
Ohio — The Bobcats return 15 starters and got all 17 first-place votes in the East Division after going 10-4 last season. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who threw for 3,286 yards and 28 touchdowns last season, is back after his 1-yard sneak with 13 seconds left gave Ohio its first bowl win in program history.
Bowling Green — Still young -- 81 Falcons were sophomores or younger last season -- Bowling Green returns junior quarterback Matt Schilz (3,024 passing yards, 28 touchdowns), who already has 22 career starts under his belt. MAC Freshman of the Year Anthon Samuel rushed for 844 yards and five touchdowns last season, third in the country among freshman running backs in yards per game.
Miami (Ohio) — Quarterback Zac Dysert has the RedHawks thinking big in 2012, but the offensive line will have to improve after allowing 46 sacks last season. Miami returns three of its top four running backs and five of its top six receivers, and the front seven is once again strong.
Kent State — The defensive line has never been an issue, but the Golden Flashes could stand to improve depth-wise in the linebacking corps. Quarterback Spencer Keith was inconsistent at times in 2012 with a 46 percent completion rate, but Kent State hopes to lean on its running game to allow Keith some breathing room in the pocket.
Buffalo — Quarterbacks Jerry Davis and Alex Zordich were locked in a battle throughout camp for the Bulls, who finished 3-9 in coach Jeff Quinn’s second season. The transition period endures for Buffalo, which allowed more than 30 points in seven of its past eight games, and was winless on the road in 2012.
Akron — The Zips are 2-22 over the past two seasons, and fired former coach Rob Ianello. But they lured Terry Bowden from North Alabama to help turn around the dismal program. Running back Jawson Chisholm brings back his 961 yards and five touchdowns, but things will be a work in progress throughout 2012 for Bowden and his staff.
UMass — New coach. New stadium. New uniforms. New success? Not likely in the Minutemen’s first season in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The excitement will no doubt exist, what with UMass playing at Gillette Stadium, but first-year coach Charley Molnar inherited a program filled with players recruited to play Division I-AA football. Plus, starting quarterback Kellen Pagel is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms, which led the Minutemen to receive the fewest votes of any team in the preseason poll.
Toledo — All-American receiver Eric Page is gone, as are coach Tim Beckman, who moved to Illinois, and 12 other starters. But the Rockets are still the West Division favorites, receiving seven of 17 first-place votes in the preseason poll for first-year coach Matt Campbell. Toledo plans to split senior Austin Dantin and junior Terrance Owens at quarterback in a pass-happy MAC.
Northern Illinois — The Huskies needed a buzzer-beating 33-yard field goal to beat Ohio for the 2011 MAC Championship, but lost star quarterback Chandler Harnish. Jordan Lynch now gets his turn under center, and will be aided by a bevy of experienced wideouts. Depth on the offensive line could be an issue, and a young defense that took its share of lumps last season made it to the other side vastly improved than when first-year defensive coordinator Jay Niemann entered.
Western Michigan — Quarterback Alex Carder returns for the Broncos, but lost his entire receiving corps after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. He’ll need receivers Eric Monette and John Scaffer and tight end Clark Mussman to step up. Defensively, MAC player of the year Drew Nowak is gone, and the onus is on the defensive front to pressure opposing quarterbacks in coordinator Rich Nagy’s 3-3-5 scheme.
Ball State — Coach Pete Lambo led the Cardinals to a .500 record in his first season, but the defense left much to be desired after giving up the second-most points in the MAC last season, and the most yards. Quarterback Keith Wenning and running back Jahwan Edwards both return after solid 2011 seasons, and Phil Steele is the conference’s most tenured offensive lineman.
Eastern Michigan — The Eagles are on the rise. After a winless season three years ago, Eastern Michigan reached the .500 mark in 2011, its first non-losing season since 1995. Senior Alex Gillett had 17 total touchdowns last season and will be protected by a veteran offensive line in coach Ron English’s fourth season.
Central Michigan — Despite its last-place ranking, Central Michigan still received a first-place vote in the preseason poll, but experience could make the Chippewas a sleeper MAC opponent. They will need more consistent play from quarterback Ryan Radcliffe, but are still stuck in a stacked West Division, and have been miserable on the road during coach Dan Enos’ tenure.