The Mid-American Conference is probably under the radar of only a few groups of people—fans and alums of the 13 member schools, the Big Ten, who loads up with them in non-conference and hard-core gamblers who have to bet any and all games that appear on TV. And with the MAC getting Tuesday and Wednesday night coverage, they’re the viewing option if you don’t feel like watching NCIS. But if you’re a college football fan and would like to make some sense of the teams floating through on your midweek TV calendar, here’s a short primer on the MAC race…
*Northern Illinois and Toledo are the leaders in the West Division and have the high-powered offenses in this league. NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish can both throw and run and is the most valuable skill player in the conference. As this post goes online the Huskies lead Bowling Green 31-14 tonight and would move to 5-1 in the conference. They have the inside track on Toledo, who is also in the lead tonight on Western Michigan, though in a tough 42-35 game. Toledo’s Austin Dantin is the conference’s best pure passer, and they’ve nearly pulled upsets at Ohio State and Syracuse.
*The East Division is led by Miami-Ohio and Ohio. Both are 3-2 in conference play and both are more defensive-oriented. Ohio is led by former Nebraska coach Frank Solich who has made the Bobcats a consistent contender, but has yet to win a league title. With quarterback Tyler Tettleton, this year’s team has a good shot. Miami’s QB is Zac Dysert and is also adept at spreading the ball around. These two teams meet in the Black Friday finale, but if Ohio doesn’t make it to the championship game at Ford Field on December 2, they will certainly look back on a loss to cellar-dwelling Buffalo is the big reason why.
*Temple, Bowling Green and Kent State are all within one game of the lead in the East, but Bowling Green is losing tonight and Kent State really isn’t that good. It’s Temple who’s really the best overall team in their division, but having to play Toledo in a non-divisional game, plus tough losses that included Ohio, have left them needing help. The Owls are unique in that they’re the one conference contender who relies on a running back as the focal point of their offense. Bernard Pierce is having a fantastic year and has helped cover for inconsistencies at quarterback. Temple plays Miami-Ohio on Wednesday night with a chance to get back in the race.
*The MAC gets at least three bowl bids, and at this point it’s possible the winner of the East might be left out if they don’t win the conference title. Northern Illinois and Toledo would have the clear inside track to two slots and if Temple is able to win tomorrow night (I think they will), but doesn’t win the division, the Owls can still get the third bowl slot. The league’s top team goes to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl to face the lowest Big Ten team—it’s important to note this doesn’t have to be the conference champion, but the bowl usually does choose that team. The other bids are the GoDaddy.com and Idaho Potato Bowls, where high-level opposition from the Sun Belt and WAC are the opponents. For college football junkies in bowl pools, start your homework on possible games like Toledo-UL Lafayette or Temple-Nevada.
I won’t try and sell the idea that the MAC is really a high-caliber league, a Mountain West waiting to happen. It’s the weakest conference in Division I. But there’s still good, exciting football and right now it’s our midweek sports fare.