Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Proponents of mid-major conferences have
been screaming at the top of their lungs to anyone who would listen, that
their brand of football deserved national recognition. Well, they may not have
to raise their voices anymore. The reason being is that the Mid-American
Conference has done in one week, what all the smaller conferences couldn't
accomplish in years of trying -- making the high profile programs take notice.
Last week was the greatest in MAC history, as three nationally-ranked teams
fell victim to the conference, with Kansas State losing to Marshall, Alabama
falling to Northern Illinois and Pittsburgh getting upset by Toledo. Another
big win was posted when Miami-Ohio destroyed Colorado State, while Bowling
Green, although not winning, went toe-to-toe with the defending national
champion Ohio State Buckeyes. The most impressive thing about the four
victories was that three of them came on the road (Marshall in Manhattan,
Northern Illinois in Tuscaloosa and Miami-Ohio in Fort Collins).
Michael Turner is one of a handful of stars playing in Mid-American Conference.
The fallout from such a successful week will certainly have a ripple-effect at
the season's end, when the big boys are jockeying for bowl position. For now
however, it is time for the MAC to bask in the glory.
There is only one guaranteed spot for the Mid-American Conference in the
postseason, as the winner of the league championship earns a spot in the Motor
City Bowl. When push comes to shove however, a second or even third spot may
have to be found for this league, depending on who steps up and wins the
The cream of the crop in the MAC is certainly the teams mentioned above.
NIU has been the most impressive thus far and is the only team currently
sitting in the top-25, with good reason. The Huskies have taken out two ranked
foes in 2003, opening the season with an overtime win against Maryland and
topping that with an improbable win in the shadows of the Bear Bryant Museum
in Tuscaloosa. The team boasts one of the nation's top rushers (Michael Turner
was second in the nation in rushing in 2002), but others have stepped up on
both sides of the ball to complement the talented tailback and make the
Huskies a program that rivals any.
Selection committees for postseason venues certainly hope that Northern Illinois
wins the MAC, so that they can select more glamorous programs for their
respective games, but what happens if NIU gets all the way to the MAC title
game unscathed and then falls? The Huskies may force a tough decision if they
are sitting out there with only one loss on the season.
Other teams that certainly have a shot at the conference crown are Marshall,
Toledo, Bowling Green and Miami-Ohio.
The Thundering Herd have been carrying the conference on their collective
backs for several years now. With high-profile players like Randy Moss, Chad
Pennington and Byron Leftwich playing in Huntingdon, Marshall has been the
best team since joining the league.
The Rockets have been the only team to really challenge Marshall during the
Herd's reign over the conference. This year is no different. It is the passing
of youngster Bruce Gradkowski that has led Toledo to victory. He has completed
nearly 70 percent of his passes in the first few games, with 10 TDs and only
one interception. That kind of efficiency (160.4) ranks eighth nationally.
The Falcons and RedHawks are a pair of teams that have steadily improved and
finally have put it all together in 2003.
Bowling Green upset Purdue earlier in the year and gave the Buckeyes all they
could handle in Columbus. The Falcons are led by one of the nation's premier
players in Josh Harris. The talented QB has a knack for making big plays with
his arm or his legs, with perhaps only Kansas State's Ell Roberson matching
his athleticism under center. Last season, Harris was responsible for 41 TDs
(20 rushing, 19 passing and two TD receptions). This year, he continues to
mature under center and has become more of a passer.
Miami-Ohio is also led by a superb signal-caller, but unlike Harris, Ben
Roethlisberger is as impressive a pocket-passer, as there is anywhere in the
country. A junior now, Roethlisberger has been lighting up the airways since
his freshman campaign and only seems to be getting better with each year. In
his first two seasons in Oxford, Roethlisberger has thrown for 6,343 yards and
47 TDs. He is passing for 311 yards per game in 2003 and is well on his way to
another superb campaign.
All five teams have the wherewithal to win the MAC title.
While the MAC has played second-fiddle to the nation's elite conferences for
years, the winds of change are blowing through the ranks of college football.
The little guys have stood up and proved their worth...The top teams in the
country had better beware, before penciling in any wins against this