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N Illinois hopes to bounce back after losing title

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 7, 2014 at 3:55 pm •  Published: August 7, 2014

A bump in the road or a changing of the guard?

Northern Illinois arrived in Detroit for last year's Mid-American Conference championship game with an undefeated record, but the Huskies lost 47-27 to Bowling Green, ending their shot at a third straight league title.

Star quarterback Jordan Lynch has moved on to the NFL, and Northern Illinois is expected to face a significant challenge in the MAC's West division from Toledo.

The Huskies have represented the conference well, reaching the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2012 season, but the rest of the MAC has to feel as if there's an opening at the top after Northern Illinois looked so formidable for a while.

"This year is so much different than last year because we have so many people in different roles," Huskies coach Rod Carey said. "We're always changing. Hopefully it's a good change."

Don't write off Northern Illinois just yet. The showdown with Toledo — which may decide the division title — will be a home game for the Huskies.

And although Lynch is gone, Northern Illinois has had to replace top talent before and succeeded anyway. Chandler Harnish of the Huskies was the MAC's offensive player of the year in 2011 before Lynch won the award the past two seasons.

Here are 10 things to watch in the MAC this year:

NEW STARS?: Lynch was outplayed in last season's title game by Matt Johnson, and now the Bowling Green quarterback is the man dealing with all the hype as the season approaches. Johnson is on the preseason watch list for the Walter Camp Award, which goes to the nation's best player. Also keep an eye on Ball State running back Jahwan Edwards.

TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW: Lynch finished third in the Heisman Trophy vote in 2013, part of a remarkable 12 months in which the MAC also had a team (Northern Illinois) in a BCS bowl and a player (Central Michigan's Eric Fisher) picked No. 1 in the NFL draft. That stretch will be tough to top.

HOME COOKING: MAC schools always play their share of big-name opponents, but it's not every day one of them has a chance to do so at home. Toledo hosts Missouri on Sept. 6, and Buffalo hosts Baylor on Sept. 12. Massachusetts will play at home against Boston College and Colorado early in the season.

TAKING OVER: There are four new coaches in the MAC since the end of the 2013 regular season — Dino Babers at Bowling Green, Chuck Martin at Miami of Ohio, Chris Creighton at Eastern Michigan and Mark Whipple at Massachusetts. Babers takes over the defending MAC champion after leading Eastern Illinois to a quarterfinal appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision.

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