MAC sends message: Don#039;t overlook us

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 25, 2003

Wake up college football. Look out for the Mighty MAC.

The overlooked conference filled with directional schools and other disrespected programs had the biggest day in its history Saturday.

From Kansas to Alabama to the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio, the Mid-American Conference sent a clear message to college football's big boys: Don't overlook us anymore.

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''Heading into the weekend we had a sense our teams would compete well,'' MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said Sunday. ''But I don't know if we ever have had a concentration of games on one day like yesterday. We've had teams spring upsets, but to have so many on one day against elite opponents doesn't happen often.''

Marshall started the memorable day with a 27-20 win at No. 6 Kansas State, the highest-ranked team even beaten by a MAC school.

Then Northern Illinois and Toledo followed with big wins of their own at night, with the Huskies winning 19-16 at No. 21 Alabama and the Rockets beating No. 9 Pittsburgh 35-31 at home.

Throw in Miami of Ohio's 41-21 win at Colorado State, which was ranked in the preseason poll, and Bowling Green's narrow 24-17 loss at No. 5 Ohio State and the MAC showed off depth that must make the ACC jealous.

''It was a roller coaster,'' said Chryst, who was in Alabama for Northern Illinois' win. ''You're just tracking each play and cheering like a fan. Everyone in the league shares in those wins. In the long term it really benefits us. In the short term it makes it that much tougher to get games like those scheduled.''

Unfortunately, Chryst is correct on that point.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who tries to schedule as many patsies as he can each year, will surely think twice before inviting Marshall back for another visit.

And other big-name schools might be hesitant, too, as they don't want to see their championship aspirations thwarted in September.

Players like quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski of Toledo, Ben Roethlisberger of Miami of Ohio, and Josh Harris of Bowling Green, and running back Michael Turner of Northern Illinois are making the big-time schools that shunned them out of high school regret those decisions.

Despite the early success, the lack of respect will be stark come bowl season when the MAC will be relegated to the Motor City Bowl and the GMAC Bowl, while schools that lose five games will play in more prestigious and lucrative bowls.

But this is an improvement. The conference added a second bowl tie-in for the 2001 season, which came too late for Toledo and Miami of Ohio who stayed home after one-loss seasons in 2000 and 1998, respectively.

With talks beginning about changes to the Bowl Championship Series, Chryst is more focused on getting better access to the smaller bowls.

Most of the slots are locked in to the big conferences, which can send teams that finish 6-6 to a bowl game while more deserving teams from smaller conferences sit home and watch.

The MAC has provided five of the 15 wins by unranked teams against teams in the AP poll this season - matching its total from the previous 21 years - including the two against Top 10 teams. But it's likely only two of those teams will play in a bowl.

''Days like yesterday really help build awareness about our level of football,'' Chryst said. ''Yet it is still frustrating. Last year, eight teams went to bowls that had sub-.500 records in their conference. That part of the postseason we hope we can get a look at.''

Northern Illinois' second win against a ranked team this season - the Huskies beat No. 15 Maryland 20-13 in their opener - put the school in the AP Top 25 for the first time ever at No. 20 this week.

Toledo, Bowling Green, Marshall and Miami also received votes in this week's poll, giving the conference as many ranked teams and as many teams with votes as the ACC.

''Right now, we're fighting like the devil to get respect for our league,'' Northern Illinois coach Jim Novak said.

''A few weeks ago I said Maryland was our biggest win, but this has to be. When you talk about Alabama, you're talking about one of the best. This is a win we'll never forget.''


WINNERS AND LOSERS: This week's honorees:

Winner: Oklahoma State WR Rashaun Woods. The Cowboys fell off the radar after a season-opening loss to Nebraska, but Woods proved they are still a team to watch. His Division I-A record seven TD receptions against SMU showed why he might be the most talented receiver in the nation.

Loser: Michigan RB Chris Perry. Perry quickly lost his spot as Heisman front-runner after running for only 26 yards in a 31-27 loss to Oregon.

Winner: Louisville and Cincinnati. The two Conference USA teams are trying to prove they're Big East worthy this season. Despite needing three overtimes to beat lowly Temple, the Bearcats joined the Cardinals as two of major college football's 20 undefeated teams.

Loser: Florida coach Ron Zook. The Web site should start getting more hits this week. A home loss to Tennessee is sure to get the Gator faithful fired up.


Josh Dubow covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at jdubow(at)