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Published: Friday, 10/26/2007

Middling MAC takes a step back

It might not be accurate to say the mighty have fallen because with the Mid-American Conference, well, mighty is a mighty relative term.

But MAC football has been pretty good, if not quite mighty, for the last few years.

Remember all the top-25 upsets of 2003? Toledo beat Pitt, ranked No. 9 at the time, and Northern Illinois ambushed Alabama and Maryland. Bowling Green handled Purdue. The Falcons and Miami both were ranked in the top 25 and both won bowl games. The league had two first-round NFL Draft picks for the first time ever, one being Ben Roethlisberger. Pretty good year.

A record five MAC teams, including Toledo and Bowling Green, played in bowl games in 2004. After the '05 season, the quarterbacks from those two local teams were selected in the NFL Draft while Roethlisberger was winning a Super Bowl. Four '06 teams played in bowls, including Northern Illinois with Garrett Wolfe, who led the nation in rushing.

Have you looked at the 2007 standings lately? Two teams out of 13 currently have winning records. Ball State is 5-3 and BG is 4-3. The defending champion, Central Michigan, currently leads the MAC West at 3-0 but has lost four nonleague games by a combined 211-57 score. That's 52 points surrendered to Kansas, 45 to Purdue, 44 to North Dakota State and 70 to Clemson. Those aren't bad teams, but, my goodness, a 154-point differential seems a tad excessive.

The MAC has affiliations with three bowl games. After eight weeks of the season, not one team is bowl eligible. Not one team has six wins. It is absolutely, positively mathematically possible that fewer than three teams will be bowl eligible when the regular season is concluded. I could explain how that might happen, but I'd prefer you stay awake until the end of this.

Anyway, Northern Illinois will play Toledo tomorrow night at the Glass Bowl. Since the dawn of the 2000s, more times than not, this would be the MAC West championship game. From 2000-05, one team or the other, or both, sported the division's best record five times. NIU went 46-24 overall while the Rockets were 55-19.

Joe Novak and Tom Amstutz must be wondering what hit them. NIU's Huskies are 0-3 in the West, 0-4 in all league games, and 1-7 overall. They will suffer their first losing season since 1999. The Rockets have to win three of their last four games to avoid a second straight losing season. If they do so, they'd be 6-6 which, I believe, is bowl eligible. Wouldn't that be a hoot?

So are Buffalo and the Temple Owls. Hoots, that is.

The Bulls entered this season with an all-time MAC record of 8-56. Now they're 2-0 in the MAC East and 3-1 against all league opponents. In Drew Willy and James Starks they have probably the best quarterback-running back combo in the conference. Akron plays at Buffalo tomorrow after losing at home last week to Temple. Has any team in the history of college football ever lost to Temple and Buffalo in back-to-back weeks?

Temple is idle, which pretty much describes its program since a winning season in 1990. That doesn't sound all that long ago, but, hey, it's 2007!!

The Owls were 1-11 last year, 0-11 the year before that, etc., etc. But, of course, they join the MAC and win three straight games for the first time since '90. Go figure.

The MAC has no premier team. You could say it has no above-average teams, period, and get only a mild argument out of Muncie. There are no premier players. Well, that's not true. There are some exceptional punters.

Some might call it parity. Mediocre is another word in the dictionary.



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