Mighty MAC? Not this season

CHAMPAIGN — Northern Illinois crashed the BCS party last year.

Upset Kirk Herbstreit in the process. Along with many other fans of the power conferences.

NIU still can send the same shockwaves throughout college football this year.
The Huskies are undefeated. They made it to the Orange Bowl as a one-loss team last season. But having other members of the Mid-American Conference have solid seasons played a role, too, in sending NIU to Miami on New Year’s Day.

In the last year of the BCS system and with the first BCS standings still more than three weeks from being released, the MAC still could have a school play in a BCS bowl. It just doesn’t appear likely. Unless NIU finishes the year undefeated, anything but a guarantee after the Huskies nearly lost to FCS foe Eastern Illinois last Saturday.

“The question I dealt with constantly was can the MAC ever get a team into a BCS game?” said Jon Steinbrecher, the MAC commissioner who is in his fifth year. “If you go back and look at the history of the BCS system, my answer is pretty straightforward. If we had the rules 14 years ago when this thing started, we would have had two or three teams in BCS games by now.”

Miami (Ohio) can help out its fellow league brethren Saturday with an upset of Illinois.

“I haven’t paid enough attention across the board to other leagues other than to see scores, so I don’t know that we’re too dissimilar from other similar conferences,” Steinbrecher said. “I really think once you get through this week, which is essentially the third of the season, will be a good place to measure.”

Half of the 14-team league finished with winning records and played in bowl games during the 2012 season. In fact, six teams finished with eight or more wins, the first time in league history that was achieved. A 23-28 nonconference record, which included a league-record 16 wins against FBS nonconference teams, benefited the league. This year, the MAC sports a 19-27 nonconference record so far, but only six of those wins have come against FBS teams. And MAC teams only have nine more nonconference games against FBS opponents this season, so even if they win out, they won’t reach last year’s total.  

“It’s kind of been a mixed bag so far,” Steinbrecher said. “We have a grouping of teams that are doing pretty darn well and have very high hopes. There’s another group that’s kind of in the middle, and another grouping of teams that are still looking to find their footing.”

Miami (Ohio) falls into the latter category. The RedHawks are winless, have had resounding defeats in two of their three games and are 1-9 in nonconference games against FBS opponents with coach Don Treadwell at the helm.

The Big Ten has a decided MAC-like feel to it. Five of the league’s 12 coaches — Tim Beckman, Darrell Hazell, Brady Hoke, Jerry Kill and Urban Meyer — had stops as head coaches in the MAC, including three who arrived at a Big Ten school straight from the MAC in Beckman, Hazell and Kill.

“It’s really become quite a proving ground in this industry,” Steinbrecher said. “Clearly we have some turnover in our coaches who have had success. Our financial model is not one that supports multi-million-dollar coaches. Maybe that comes down the line as we continue to grow, but that’s not our model right now. When our schools, by and large, have been very successful, is they have been continuing to identify and recruit that next wave of great head coaches.”

Win some, lose some
If Miami (Ohio) shocks Illinois on Saturday, it would give the Mid-American Conference its most surprising victory this season. Beat writer MATT DANIELS offers three notable wins by the favorite conference of David Letterman (Ball State, Class of 1969) and three discouraging losses by the 14-team league this season:

Three cheers for ...
1. Northern Illinois 30, Iowa 27. It is Iowa’s only loss so far. If Kirk Ferentz’s team had not let the Huskies rally late on Aug. 31, you’d have an undefeated Iowa team playing an undefeated Minnesota team on Saturday in Minneapolis.

2. Ohio 34, Marshall 31. Marshall isn’t quite on the same level it was when Randy Moss and Chad Pennington roamed the streets of Huntington, W.Va., but the win Sept. 14 should help the Bobcats reach their fifth straight bowl game this winter.

3. Bowling Green 34, Tulsa 7. The Golden Hurricane was coming off an 11-3 season and a Conference USA championship. Didn’t matter to the Falcons, who stifled Tulsa’s offense Aug. 29 in a convincing win.

Three jeers for ...
1. Maine 24, Massachusetts 14. The folks in Amherst are probably wondering if it’s too late to drop back to the FCS. The Minutemen, who suffered this loss Sept. 7, are 1-15 since starting FBS play last year and have lost eight of those games by at least 30 points.

2. Baylor 70, Buffalo 13. It seems Art Briles’ team in Waco will do this to many opponents. But Lou Tepper’s defense gave up a whopping 781 yards to the Bears in the rout Sept. 7. Sorry, Lou, but Dana Howard, Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy don’t have any eligibility left.

3. Iowa 59, Western Michigan 3. Kudos to Bill Cubit’s old school for playing three of its four nonconference games against Big Ten teams. That helps the athletic department’s budget. But the winless Broncos, who were competitive against Michigan State and Northwestern, were anything but that last Saturday against the Hawkeyes.

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