MAC flexes muscles
When Northern Illinois defeated Iowa 30-27 on a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left on Saturday, there was no great seismic shift in the foundation of college football.
The Huskies played in the Orange Bowl last season — not the Hawkeyes. And the Huskies were nationally ranked in 2012 — not the Hawkeyes.
It also was the seventh straight season in which a team from the Mid-American Conference defeated at least one team that plays in a conference that has an automatic Bowl Championship Series qualifying spot.
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said no other major-college conference is as competitive from top to bottom as the MAC.
“In our conference, you just can’t say, ‘This game is a W. There is another W,’ ” he said. “Those conference games are hard work to win. A lot of it has been because our conference has been stable. The administrations of the schools are on board. Just count the number of nonconference wins we’ve had and bowl games we’ve played in. This league has never been better.”
Last season, seven MAC teams played in bowl games and Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ohio University and Toledo were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 during the regular season. There were nonconference victories over Penn State (Ohio), 15th-ranked Rutgers (Kent State), 20th-ranked Cincinnati (Toledo), Iowa (Central Michigan) and Indiana (Ball State).
Second-year Akron coach Terry Bowden, who coached at Auburn for six years and has been in the sport since 1983, said the MAC’s formula for success is not unique.
“Football is not mystical. It’s not rocket science,” he said. “You put good players on the field and play well, and you will win your share of games. What has made the MAC’s reputation is winning games. Look at Ohio beating Penn State last year. We have to play against some big-time teams in order to pay some bills. If you don’t pay us, we don’t come back. We win some of those games.”
The MAC had one bowl tie-in from 1981 to 2000 until former commissioner Rick Chryst got a second in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. This season, the conference has three primary and four secondary tie-ins.
The conference’s name also has been spread nationwide with a unique television contract with ESPN that airs MAC games during midweek late in the season. Ohio tailback Beau Blankenship said the players don’t mind the inconvenience.
“Who wouldn’t want to be on ESPN?” he said. “I know I love it. In our conference, every single game is a battle. You have to bring your best every single week. We’ve played a lot of big conference games on TV during midweek. That just showcases our conference.”
Ohio coach Frank Solich said bowl and television exposure has helped in recruiting nationwide.
“When we first got here (in 2005), we were unable to attract the top players in the state,” Solich said. “We’re isolated down there (in Athens), and we could not get them to visit. Now, we’re on TV all the time. Recruits see us. We’ve got 14 commitments for next year, and we’ve never had that before.”
Solich: Ohio will return
Solich was more stunned than upset after ninth-ranked Louisville routed the Bobcats 49-7 on Sunday.
“We didn’t give them much resistance,” he said. “We all need to accept blame for this one, and that’s the coaches and players.”
The key, he said, is to regroup for the home opener on Saturday against North Texas.
“Every year I’ve been in coaching in this business, I’ve never made one game so big that it would be devastating if we lost,” he said. “In this business, you have to prepare every week because one loss can lead to two and two can lead to three. You can have your season cave in on you. We understand that as tough as it is, we will move forward.”