Detroit — Ohio University was picked to win the Mid-American Conference championship in voting by media members in a preseason poll released at the conference's media day Tuesday at Ford Field.
Ohio was the overwhelming favorite to win the East Division, getting all 24 first-place votes.
Toledo was picked to win the West Division, but by a much closer margin. The Rockets received 15 first-place votes, compared to five for Western Michigan and three by defending MAC champion Northern Illinois, which earned a comeback win over Buffalo in last year’s conference title game at Ford Field before head coach Rod Carey left to take over the head job at Temple.
Ohio was followed by Miami, Buffalo, Kent State, Akron and Bowling Green.
Toledo, which defeated Akron in the 2017 MAC championship game, was followed by Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Ball State and Central Michigan, which received a first-place vote.
Ohio received 13 votes to win the conference championship game with Toledo getting seven, Western Michigan getting two, and Northern Illinois and Central Michigan getting one apiece.
“We have very high standards set for ourselves and we’re extremely excited to get started,” said Ohio senior quarterback Nathan Rourke, who threw for 2,434 yards, ran for 860 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns last season to help the Bobcats to a 9-4 record (6-2 MAC). “We know that things like this (MAC favorite) just put a target on our back more than anything. We know we’ll get every team’s best, so we have to be consistent and show our brand of football.
“It will be 51 years (since winning last championship in 1968), so it’s a long time coming, especially for the guys who have played here before. We want to win for them and for Coach Solich, who has been here a long time to help this program progress. It will be my last opportunity to help this program get over that hurdle. We’re ready for that challenge and it’s about time.”
Frank Solich, in his 15th year as head coach at Ohio, is still in search of his first MAC title. The Bobcats advanced to the championship game multiple times, including a 29-23 loss to Western Michigan in 2016. Solich is also five wins away breaking the MAC’s coach record for victories set by Herb Deromedi from 1978-1993 at Central Michigan.
Bowling Green was the last East Division team to win a MAC championship, defeating Northern Illinois, 34-14, in 2015.
Western Michigan received five first-place votes for good reason, with many voters feeling the Broncos can win the division title if senior quarterback Jon Wassink stays healthy. He missed the second half of the season in each of the previous two years due to injuries.
“We don’t mind that,” Wassink said of being picked second in the West Division. “We definitely have a lot of confidence in our team. We’re really excited to get going and show what we can do.”
Wassink completed 151 of 245 passes for 1,994 yards and 16 touchdowns last season to help the Broncos get off to a 6-2 start. He suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Toledo a week after rushing for three TDs in a win over rival Central Michigan.
The Broncos (7-6, 5-3) return 17 starters, including running back LeVante Bellamy who rushed for 1,228 yards and six TDs on 205 carries to earn first team All-MAC honors.
Eastern Michigan went 7-6 (5-3 MAC) last year, with a Week 2 win over Purdue, 20-19, and a 23-21 Camellia Bowl loss to Georgia Southern. The Eagles will play at Illinois in Week 3.
Eastern Michigan senior Michael Glass III was second last season in the MAC in passing efficiency (158.7).
“When I talk to recruits now, I tell them we’ve been to two bowl games in the last three years, we’re 2-0 against the Big Ten the last two years, we have a 3.0 GPA and a $20-plus million end zone facility which has just been finished," Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton said. "But we haven’t won a bowl game, haven’t won a championship, so we have plenty of work to do. But, I think we’re close.”
Creighton pointed out that the Eagles lost to Northern Illinois, 26-23, in triple overtime last season. Eastern Michigan defeated Rutgers in 2017, then defeated Purdue last year.
The Eagles will have three straight road games to open the season, at Coastal Carolina (Aug. 31), at Kentucky (Sept. 7) and at Illinois (Sept. 14), trading its home game with Kentucky to get $800,000 to go toward completing the 63,000 square foot end zone facility.
Jim McElwain replaced John Bonamego as Central Michigan’s head coach after the Chippewas finished 1-11 last season and went winless (0-8) in MAC play. Thomas Hammock takes over for Carey at Northern Illinois after working the last five years as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens. Other new head coaches include Tom Arth of Akron and Scot Loeffler at Bowling Green.
“Someone has to be last I guess, and yet it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever been picked last,” said McElwain who was Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year in 2014 after guiding Colorado State to a 10-3 record and SEC Coach of the Year in 2015 while at Florida.
“We’ll see how the players respond. I like our team. I like our guys, the guys who have committed to something bigger than themselves, so as we start camp we’ll find out who we’re going to be.”
Central Michigan will be led by quarterback Quinten Dormady, a transfer from Houston who also started at quarterback for Tennessee while playing against a McElwain-coached Florida team. His go-to receiver will be Virginia Tech-transfer Kalil Pimpleton (Muskegon).
McElwain said he expects former Michigan four-star recruit JaRaymond Hall to play at left tackle, protecting Dormady’s blind side while opening holes for a healthy Jonathan Ward, a 1,000-yard back in 2017 who was limited to 76 carries last season due to injuries.
Central Michigan faces a challenging schedule, with road games at Wisconsin on Sept. 7 and Miami (Fla.) on Sept. 21.
MAC media poll
1. Ohio (24 first-place votes) — 144 total points
2. Miami — 107
3. Buffalo — 100
4. Kent State — 62
5. Akron — 54
6. Bowling Green — 37
1. Toledo (15) — 127
2. Western Michigan (5) — 112
3. Northern Illinois (3) — 103
4. Eastern Michigan — 83
5. Ball State — 43
6. Central Michigan (1) — 36
MAC championship game winner: Ohio (13), Toledo (7), Western Michigan (2), Northern Illinois (1), Central Michigan (1)