NCF Nation: Frank Zombo
1. Offensive player of the year: Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan -- LeFevour suffered some ankle injuries, which resulted in a down season, but he's still the best quarterback in the league and maybe one of the beat dual-threats in the country.
2. Defensive player of the year: Frank Zombo, DE, Central Michigan -- Zombo didn't get a lot of help last year, but still managed to lead the conference in tackles for loss and rank third in the conference in sacks.
3. Newcomer of the year: Ansel Ponder, WR, Western Michigan -- Ponder joins Western Michigan after a season with Hargrave Military Academy. While there, he amassed 760 yards receiving and 11 receiving touchdowns. He had 13 touchdowns overall.
4. Comeback player of the year: Theo Scott, QB, Ohio -- Scott was the Bobcats starter at the beginning of last season, but suffered a broken collarbone and a dislocated shoulder in the second quarter of the second game. He's still competing with Boo Jackson for the starting job.
5. Freshman of the year: Kelly Page, QB, Ball State -- Page steps in for all-everything quarterback Nate Davis, and does so having been groomed for the starting role last season. He has the receivers and running back to be successful, but his offensive line is in question.
6. Most exciting player: Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan -- Brown led the conference and was fourth in the country with 178.08 all-purpose running yards per game. He was dynamic on both kick and punt returns and was the team's leading receiver.
7. Coach of the year: Al Golden, Temple -- Temple has gotten better every year Golden has been in charge and this could be his best season yet. If the Owls challenge for the MAC East, which they have the personnel to do, Golden should win the coach of the year award for the turnaround of the program.
8. Game of the year: MAC Championship, Dec. 4 -- Last year's MAC title game was the best and most surprising game of the season. This year's game could be equally as interesting especially since many believe Central Michigan should run away with the title and no one's talking about the threats in the East.
9. Surprise team of the year: Temple -- The Owls are a team no one is talking about and that's probably a big mistake. The Owls finished third in the East last season and were a game away from bowl eligibility. Behind a new (unnamed) starting quarterback, they should be much improved this season.
10. Team that will disappoint: Ball State -- After a fantastic 2008 campaign, the Cardinals are going to have a little trouble getting back to the top of the MAC West, especially with Central Michigan and Western Michigan poised to have stellar seasons behind senior quarterbacks. Still, the season will be a good learning experience for Page and new head coach Stan Parrish.
After finishing as a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award a year ago, TCU defensive end Jerry Hughes headlines the award's preseason watch list that includes eight players from the nonautomatic-qualifying schools.
The award, which is in its eighth season, is given annually to the nation's top defensive end. At least one player from every non-AQ conference is represented. No player from the nonautomatic-qualifying schools has ever won the award.
Hughes led the nation in sacks last season and helped TCU become the nation's best total defense, best rushing defense and No. 2 scoring defense. The Horned Frogs also were second nationally in sacks.
Non-AQs on Hendricks Award watch list
Alex Carrington, Arkansas State
Jan Jorgensen, BYU
Frank Zombo, Central Michigan
C.J. Wilson, East Carolina
Dontay Moch, Nevada
Jerry Hughes, TCU
Brandon Lang, Troy
Koa Misi, Utah