MAC football defined by one word: ‘Parity’

Chris Gates

Conference loaded with growing teams looking to win in ’08

When asked to describe Mid-American Conference football, one word came to mind for Kent State coach Doug Martin: “Parity.”

Last year, Kent State was highly regarded as a favorite to win the MAC East and play in the conference championship game. However, after a series of injuries that led to four different starting quarterbacks and a 3-9 regular season record for the Flashes, Martin and his staff learned how unpredictable the conference can be.

“Especially for the East,” Martin said. “Central Michigan probably has an edge on most people in the West, but when you look at the East side of this conference it has got to be parity.”

Martin and his staff have been together for three seasons now, a rarity in the MAC. Together, they have learned that preseason rankings mean little and add to the testament that parity runs strong.

“They didn’t help us last year,” Martin said of the preseason rankings. “We were picked high last year so it doesn’t mean a whole lot. You’ve got to go out there and play.”

His players recognize it too.

“(There’s) good competition, good coaching,” junior running back Eugene Jarvis said of the MAC. “I honestly think it comes down to just being healthy and whoever’s clicking toward the end of the season.

“Each year, we’re all in there trying to win the MAC championship,” he added. “That’s what everybody’s goal is.”

The closeness in the MAC East was recognized by the MAC News Media Association in July. Each team received at least two votes to win the division this season.

Kent State was one of the three receiving two votes, along with Akron and Temple. Bowling Green was picked to win with 17 votes.

“The talent level is just razor thin,” Martin said. “There’s not that much difference between most of our teams. The most consistent teams are the ones that are going to win.”

Such was the case in 2007, as Central Michigan went 6-1 in the MAC and won the MAC Championship Game. The Chippewas have won the conference championship twice and have been picked to win it again in 2008.

Central Michigan’s consistency aside, surprises in the conference are commonplace. Bowling Green won the MAC East after going 4-8 the year prior, and Eugene Jarvis finished seventh in the country in rushing yards with 1,669.

Jarvis and players like Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour and Ball State quarterback Nate Davis have made the conference somewhat of a hidden talent pool for NFL scouts. With the amount of MAC players currently in the NFL combined with the new, young talent currently in the conference, coaches hope this can help recruiting.

Along with the talent pool, MAC schools have tried to enhance their appearance to attract recruits. Ball State, Northern Illinois and Bowling Green have recently made improvements to their own facilities. Kent State has followed suit.

“We desperately needed the facility changes that we got this year,” Martin said. “That’s going to help us a lot in recruiting. That’s going to help us attract those types of NFL type recruits that we haven’t been able to get in to before.”

The improvements have paid off for both Bowling Green and Ball State, who have become dangerous teams in the MAC.

Those facilities also are attracting high-profile home games for several MAC teams. Miami will host Vanderbilt, Bowling Green will host Minnesota and Temple will host Connecticut in non-conference play.

Kent State has a veritable home game in Cleveland as well. Overall, 10 MAC schools will play against preseason top-25 schools.

“It’s a big momentum booster,” Jarvis said. “For your first game to be against Boston College at Cleveland Browns Stadium, that’s enough to ask for.”

Kent State will have its first chance to improve upon the 1-7 conference mark from last season at Ball State on Sept. 27.

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