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February 18, 2009

Conference Preview: Mid-American

Countdown to First Pitch: More season previews

Rivals.com Mid-American Conference preview
Predicted order of finish Preseason all-conference
East Division
1. Kent State
2. Ohio
3. Bowling Green
4. Akron
5. Miami (OH)
6. Buffalo

West Division
1. Western Michigan
2. Ball State
3. Central Michigan
4. Northern Illinois
5. Eastern Michigan
6. Toledo

C. Justin Behm, Northern Illinois
1B. Greg Rohan, Kent State
2B. Nate Fields, Ball State
SS. Ryan Shay, Bowling Green
3B. Brandon Besl, Ohio
OF. Marc Krauss, Ohio
OF. Ben Klafczynski, Kent State
OF. Chris Lewis, Western Michigan
DH. Anthony Gallas, Kent State
SP. Billy Morrison, Western Michigan
SP. Kyle Smith, Kent State
SP. Brian Stroud, Western Michigan
RP. Andy Deain, Northern Illinois
MAC breakdown
Team on the rise
Western Michigan
The Broncos have had trouble establishing consistency the past few seasons, but are in great shape entering this season with the return of talented weekend starters Billy Morrison and Brian Stroud. As a result, the Broncos are predicted to finish atop the MAC West Division. The Broncos finished the '08 season fourth in the MAC West Division and had an overall record of 29-23. Previously, they ended the '07 season with an overall record of 16-33 and '06 with an overall record of 30-22. Can coach Randy Ford push the Broncos forward this season?
Coach on the rise
Scott Stricklin, Kent State
No coach in the MAC has improved his stock more the past few seasons than Kent State's Scott Stricklin. Stricklin went to Kent State with the idea of turning the program into a power on the mid-major level. The fifth-year coach, however, has accomplished much more than that. Not only are the Flashes the favorite to win the MAC this season, they also could end the year ranked. Stricklin guided the Flashes to an overall record of 33-20 in his first season and led the program to an overall record of 38-19 in '06. Kent reached an NCAA regional two seasons ago with an overall record of 33-26, while it narrowly missed out on another regional berth last season with an overall record of 36-21.
Best pitcher
RHP Billy Morrison, Western Michigan
The Broncos are expected to take a huge step forward this season with Morrison and a solid weekend rotation leading the charge. Morrison hopes to build on an impressive sophomore campaign last season. He made 13 starts last season and had a 4.76 ERA in 81 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 43 and walked 26, while opponents hit him at a .267 clip. Also worth noting, Morrison ended last year with a pair of complete games and a 6-2 record.
Best hitter
1B Greg Rohan, Kent State
Rohan is one of the nation's best hitters and hopes to lead the Flashes to an NCAA regional this season. The senior first baseman is coming off a phenomenal junior campaign last season. He finished the '08 campaign hitting .355 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs. He also recorded 18 doubles, two triples and 152 total bases. Also worth noting, Rohan had a .772 slugging percentage and a .443 on-base percentage. The Flashes are in great shape if Rohan and other key Kent State hitters have productive campaigns.
Kendall's analysis
Ball State listed its strengths as team speed and pitching depth, while weaknesses include defense and the lack of front-line pitching. Impact newcomers to watch include freshman pitcher Justin Warrington, freshman designated hitter Cody Elliott and freshman first baseman Ian Nielsen Kent State listed its strengths as overall team depth, starting pitching, bullpen depth and left-handed pitching. Team speed could be a weakness for the Flashes. Freshman left-handed pitcher Andrew Chafin, who has been clocked at 88-91 mph during spring workouts, is an impact newcomer to watch After a less than stellar '08 campaign, Toledo hopes to take a step forward this season with the return of six position starters including four-year starters Jake Oester and Josh Colliver Eastern Michigan listed its strengths as team chemistry and the presence of young and energetic players. Youth in some key areas, however, is a weakness entering the season. Weekend starter Corey Chafins is an impact newcomer to watch Western Michigan listed its strength as pitching with the return of Billy Morrison and Brian Stroud. Impact newcomers to watch this season include pitchers Casey Hall and Casey Webber and position players Jack Scanlon and Ryan McMillin.

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