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January 14, 2010
MAC Breakdown: CMU comes through
Central Michigan went into the season as the prohibitive favorite to win the MAC West title, and the Chippewas came through. They finished unbeaten in league play, in fact, and went on to win their bowl game to finish 12-2.
The East Division race, though, was seen as a muddled one before the season. That prediction came true, as well. The division title was decided on the last weekend of the regular season, when Ohio beat Temple (Temple!) for the championship.
QB Dan LeFevour led Central Michigan to a 12-2 mark and a bowl win in his final year.
Bowling Green, with first-year coach Dave Clawson, also contended in the East thanks to a phenomenal season from senior wide receiver Freddie Barnes - who set an NCAA record for receptions in a season with 155. But as well as Barnes played, he wasn't our MAC player of the year.
Here's a final look at the 2009 MAC season.
Coach of the year: Al Golden, Temple. The Owls finished 9-4 and went bowling for the first time since 1979. Golden has changed the culture at the Philadelphia school, and the Owls' defense-first style serves them well in the MAC. This is a team that now looks built for the long haul - or, at the least, as long as Golden is in charge.
Freshman of the year: Temple RB Bernard Pierce. Pierce is an example of the recruiting work done by Golden and his staff. Pierce is a big guy (6 feet 1/225 pounds) with good speed. He ran for a league-leading 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he ranked 15th nationally in rushing at 113.4 yards per game.
Offensive coordinator of the year: Mike Bajakian, Central Michigan. Bajakian, who will become offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Cincinnati, oversaw the highest-scoring offense in the league. The Chippewas averaged 33.9 points per game, which was 13th in the nation. CMU averaged 423.1 yards per game and finished 9-0 in MAC play. The Chippewas outscored foes by 21.2 points in league games.
Defensive coordinator of the year: Jimmy Burrow, Ohio. Ohio pulled a minor surprise by winning the MAC East, and an opportunistic defense was perhaps the biggest reason. The Bobcats forced 37 turnovers, which tied for the national lead with Texas. Ohio also finished second in the league in scoring defense, first in pass efficiency defense and fifth in total defense. Burrow doubles as the Bobcats' safeties coach, and Ohio had 20 interceptions.
Biggest surprise: Temple. The Owls hadn't been to a bowl since 1979, but Golden, Pierce and a solid defense had them in contention for the East Division title all season. Temple, without an injured Pierce, fell to Ohio in a game that determined the division crown.
Biggest disappointment: Western Michigan. The Broncos were seen as a potential contender in the West, but a porous defense and an awful rushing attack led to them finishing 5-7 overall. They finished 4-4 in the division, four games behind Central Michigan.
Best postseason performance: Central Michigan. This is an easy pick because the Chippewas were the only MAC team to win their bowl. And it was a good performance, too - at least by the offense. CMU beat Troy 44-41 in the GMAC Bowl.
Worst postseason performance: Ohio's offense. The Bobcats managed just 123 total yards in falling 21-17 to Marshall in the Motor City Bowl. Ohio finished with 12 rushing yards against the Thundering Herd, who were mediocre defensively.
Underclassmen liable to leave early: Central Michigan WR Antonio Brown (already declared).
Next season's breakout offensive player: Kent State QB Spencer Keith. Keith was supposed to redshirt this season as a true freshman but instead was pressed into action and responded quite well. Most of Kent State's key skill-position talent were underclassmen this season, so Keith will have some weapons to work with next season.
Next season's breakout defensive player: Northern Illinois DE Sean Progar. Progar was a big-play guy for the Huskies this season - six sacks, eight tackles for loss, two forced fumbles - and should be a better overall player next season as a sophomore. NIU should have the best defense in the MAC in 2010, and Progar will be a big reason.
Player most on the spot next season: Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish. Harnish battled injuries this season, which stunted his growth a bit. As a junior next season, though, he needs to be more productive as a passer. He has good mobility and can hurt foes with his legs, but no one has been scared of NIU's passing attack of late; that has to change.
Next season's division champions: Temple in the East, Northern Illinois in the West. With Central Michigan in rebuilding mode, NIU looks to be the clear favorite in the West. The Huskies' defense should be stout, and though two starting offensive linemen are leaving, the rushing attack again should be a strong one. As for the East, Temple will have to learn how to deal with expectations. Pierce will run behind a line that returns four starters. If the coaching staff can rebuild the linebacking corps, the defense will be salty. As for overall favorite, let's go with NIU because of that defense.
National title contenders: None.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.