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Sure enough, the league has three new coaches this season _ Paul Haynes at Kent State, Rod Carey at Northern Illinois and P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan. Carey made his debut as the Huskies’ coach in the Orange Bowl because predecessor Dave Doeren had taken the North Carolina State job after the regular season.

That was an odd scenario, but it was the price of success for the MAC, a league that has built a nice tradition while understanding the challenges of competing with other, more prosperous conferences. Now, the rest of college football is in a state of flux _ and the MAC moves forward amid minimal drama.

“I think that we have a special league,” said Fleck, who at 32 is the youngest coach in major college football. “I think that we’re kind of off in our little special area over here, and you don’t see everybody either coming after us, or us going after someone else. We understand who we are, but we also love who we are and respect everything that goes on in this conference.”