This coming Saturday, there is a college football game scheduled that will be so far under the radar, no one will notice it. None of the predictors on College Game Day will say a thing about this one; however, if the road team wins, it will be a cause for celebration…for one particular conference.
The game is between the University of Toledo Rockets and the Miami University Hurricanes to be played on Miami’s home field. What the Rockets would like to do is continue a trend that began way back in 1991 and has continued through the first three weeks of the 2017 season…a Mid American Conference (MAC) team knocking off a so-called “Group of Five” FBS opponent. It seems to happen every year and nobody really cares…except for the teams in the Mid American Conference!
As a definition, the “Group of Five” conferences are the ones in which the four teams picked to play off for the College Football National Championship usually come from one of five conferences: The Atlantic Coast Conference; The Big 10; the Big 12; the PAC 12; and the Southeastern Conference. The other conferences in the FBS are considered mid-major schools and are typically not in the mix for a shot at the National Championship. With the recent spate of upsets by the MAC over “Group of Five” conference schools, however, these teams are now starting to be considered.
Upsets of major college football teams by teams from the MAC began in 1991…in fact, there is even a list of top ten upsets by MAC teams! Five of the top ten upsets occurred in 2003: Northern Illinois upset Alabama (SEC) by a score of 19-16 (had to happen before Nick Saban!); Bowling Green topped Purdue (BIG 10), 27-26; Northern Illinois defeated Maryland (then of the ACC) 20-13; Toledo edged Pittsburgh 35-31; and Marshall knocked off Kansas State, 27-20.
Fast-forward a decade or so and the MAC teams are still pulling off upsets. In fact, these so-called upsets are happening so many times, they are probably not even considered upsets any more. Just in 2017, alone, there have been four games in which MAC teams have knocked off “Group of Five” opponents: on September 9, Central Michigan defeated Kansas (BIG 12), 45-27 and Eastern Michigan topped Rutgers (BIG 10), 16-13. The following week, Ohio defeated Kansas, 42-30; then, in perhaps the biggest upset since that Alabama game in 2003, Northern Illinois turned back Nebraska (BIG 10), 21-17. The rumblings heard in and around Lincoln were severe: “Fire Coach Mike Riley”; “How Could this Happen?” It is because the MAC is no longer a patsy conference.
As a matter of fact, a MAC team muscled its way into the BCS playoff picture, in 2012. Northern Illinois University rolled to a 12-1 season and was chosen to play in the Orange Bowl…one of the BCS major bowl games. They were defeated by Florida State, 31-10. Then, last season, Western Michigan University steamrolled their way to a 13-0 regular season, including wins over Northwestern and Illinois (BIG 10). They did not make the “Final Four” but were invited to the Cotton Bowl to play another BIG 10 team, Wisconsin, and bowed, 24-16. It is safe to say that the Mid American Conference has accorded itself well over the past decade-and-a-half.
Attention “Group of Five” athletic directors: Don’t schedule a Mid American Conference school unless you are prepared to lose the game!