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December 13, 2007

Conference Previews: MAC

Competition is a good thing and the Mid-American Conference has a lot of it with Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Miami and others leading the charge.

Despite winning just 33 games last season, Kent State managed to reach the NCAA Tournament by winning the MAC Tournament.

The Golden Flashes hope to take the next step in 2008.

Ohio should also make noise in the MAC's East Division, while Miami must find a way to replace pitchers John Ely and Connor Graham.

In the conference's West Division, Western Michigan could be a pleasant surprise while Central Michigan has a potent offensive lineup. Eastern Michigan and Ball State are also worth watching.

We preview the MAC.

Rivals.com's Mid-American Conference Preview
Predicted order of finish Preseason all-conference
Eastern Division
1. Kent State
2. Ohio
3. Miami
4. Buffalo
5. Akron
6. Bowling Green

Western Division
1. Western Michigan
2. Central Michigan
3. Ball State
4. Eastern Michigan
5. Toledo
6. Northern Illinois
1B. Doug McNulty, Akron
2B. Zach Gentile, Western Michigan
3B. Jordin Hood, Northern Illinois
SS. Jordan Petraitis, Miami
OF. Tyler Stovall, Central Michigan
OF. Marc Krauss, Ohio
OF. Anthony Gallas, Kent State
C. Kurt Davidson, Akron
SP. Dan Taylor, Central Michigan
SP. Sean Hoffman, Eastern Michigan
SP. Ethan Hollingsworth, Western Michigan
RP. Matt Shoemaker, Eastern Michigan
DH. Greg Rohan, Kent State
Mid-American Conference breakdown
Team on the rise
Western Michigan
After finishing last season with a dismal 16-33 overall record, it's easy to be down on Western Michigan. However, the 2008 team doesn't have an excuse to not compete for the conference crown. Not only do the Broncos welcome back premier pitcher Ethan Hollingsworth, they also return fellow weekend starter Billy Morrison - who finished last season with a 4.01 ERA in 74 innings of work. The Broncos should also be improved offensively, as second baseman Zach Gentile returns after hitting .319 with 20 RBIs last season. They welcome back five position starters.
Coach on the rise
Scott Stricklin
When coach Scott Stricklin took the Kent State job in the summer of 2004, he hoped to guide the program to new heights. He has done just that. After guiding the Golden Flashes to 33 wins in his first season, Stricklin led the program to 38 wins in 2006. In 2007, the Flashes took the next step by reaching the NCAA Tournament. Overall, Stricklin has compiled a 109-58 record in three seasons at Kent State. Additionally, his team is expected to win the MAC regular season crown in 2008. While some MAC programs face an uphill battle, Stricklin has the Flashes headed the right direction.
Best pitcher
Ethan Hollingsworth
The Broncos had a less than stellar 2007 campaign in the MAC Western Division, but hope to take the next step in 2008. While the MAC was filled with premier pitchers last season, the 2008 prognosis is pessimistic. Hoping to continue an impressive pitching tradition, Western Michigan junior right-hander Ethan Hollingsworth expects to have a great season. As a sophomore last season, Hollingsworth went 4-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 74 innings of work. He also struck out 54 and walked 18, while opponents hit him at a .264 clip. Hollingsworth should help the Broncos compete for the conference crown.
Best hitter
Tyler Stovall
The Chippewas put together a solid 2007 campaign, but were unable to reach the NCAA Tournament without winning the MAC Tournament. As CMU moves forward, they hope to silence potential doubters with another impressive campaign in 2008. For that to happen, senior outfielder Tyler Stovall must have a productive season. As a junior last season, Stovall was the league's best hitter and finished the year with a .391 batting average. He also hit six homers and knocked in 59 runs. Additionally, he ended the year with a .564 slugging percentage and a .462 on-base percentage. When it comes to the nation's top hitters, Stovall deserves to be on the list.
Kendall's analysis
As recent history indicates, the MAC title race is always wide open. That's good news for teams like Western Michigan, Ball State and Ohio. After reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, Kent State is the favorite to win the league title. The Golden Flashes welcome back talented outfielder Anthony Gallas and hard-hitting Greg Rohan, among others. Ohio has the ability to challenge Kent State in the eastern division, while Miami is always in the mix even without star pitchers John Ely and Connor Graham. In the West Division, Western Michigan could be the surprise champion. However, Central Michigan is expected to field another good team with the league's best hitter outfielder Tyler Stovall leading the charge. Then there's Eastern Michigan with new and talented coach Jake Boss guiding the way, while Ball State always factors into the equation. It's anyone's game in the MAC.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.