Arizona Bowl Football

Ball State linebacker Brandon Martin celebrates after the Cardinals beat San Jose State 34-13 in the Arizona Bowl on Dec. 31 in Tucson, Ariz. Martin anchors a veteran BSU defense.

DETROIT — Ball State is the preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference football title.

The Cardinals were picked to defend their championship as the West Division winner in a MAC media poll released Tuesday.

Kent State was selected as the favorite to claim the East Division title.

Ball State returns 20 starters (10 offense, 10 defense) and three key specialists from a team that won its last seven games during the pandemic-shortened season. The Cardinals closed the year with a 34-13 win over No. 19 San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl and finished ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press poll.

Toledo finished second in voting among West Division teams and to win the conference championship. Kent State, Western Michigan, Buffalo and Miami (Ohio) also received votes as preseason favorites to win the MAC title on Dec. 4 in Detroit.

“The MAC is a highly competitive conference, and it’s going to take every member of our program performing at an elite level for us to achieve our goal of making it back to Ford Field in December,” Ball State coach Mike Neu said.

Ball State’s returning players include first-team All-MAC selection and co-Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Martin, an inside linebacker. The Cardinals also return first-team players Justin Hall (WR), Anthony Ekpe (OLB) and Bryce Cosby (safety) and second-team selections Drew Plitt (QB), Curtis Blackwell (OL), Christian Albright (OLB) and Nathan Snyder (punter).

Ball State is scheduled to open with a home game vs. Western Illinois on Thursday, Sept. 2, with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

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