FOOTBALL: Ball State to be in expected wide-open MAC West race

Ball State picked fifth in preseason poll

DETROIT – In a championship race as wide open as some the longest tenured Mid-American Conference's coaches can remember, Temple University and Northern Illinois University were tabbed the favorites by the conference's media.

Ball State University was picked to finish fifth in the MAC West, the same position it ended last year. Coach Stan Parrish said he doesn't put any stock into the preseason poll and hadn't even looked at it before media day began Friday morning. He was, however, able to correctly guess which teams were picked to win both divisions.

"Based on the way they always do it with number of guys back, Northern's probably picked to win our side and Temple's probably picked to win the other side," Parrish said.

The Cardinals are looking to regroup after a disastrous 2009 and are just fine with being picked near the bottom of the conference.

"In '08 we were picked third," Parrish said. "The guys picking it don't even know who's on our team."

Other teams don't have the luxury of being clear-cut underdogs. Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann said until defending MAC champion Central Michigan University lost, it was the team to beat. The Chippewas, of course, have to overcome the departures of MAC Offensive Player of the Year Dan LeFevour, All-MAC wide receiver Antonio Brown and MAC Coach of the Year Butch Jones.

New coach Dan Enos finds himself in a similar position to Parrish last year, but said he hasn't used the Cardinals as a cautionary tale.

"The one thing we talk to our players about is when you're the king of the hill, that's what everybody's goal is, they all want to beat us now," Enos said. "Our players are very eager to prove to people that this is a good football program. We haven't felt any complacency anywhere."

Northern Illinois also had its supporters. Eastern Michigan University coach Ron English said he thought the Huskies were the favorite, partially because of coach Jerry Kill. Though English declared Northern Illinois his favorites, he isn't sure how the league will shake out.

"I think it's going to be interesting to see where everybody is," he said. "I think Ball State and us will be better."