You can be certain Urban Meyer will warn his Ohio State players about the attack of the MAC when they host Northern Illinois on Saturday and Western Michigan next week.
The Mid-American Conference has won at least one game a season, and 21 in all, against the Big Ten over the last 10 years.
Maryland was the latest to lose, falling 48-27 to Bowling Green last week, and there are seven more Big Ten-MAC matchups this season.
Meyer’s top-ranked Buckeyes are five-touchdown favorites over the Huskies this week, but his first head coaching job was in the MAC, and he understands how its teams relish opportunities against the big boys.
The MAC’s wins are more than just a feel-good story for the 13-team league that shares the same geographic footprint as the Big Ten. They help enhance the MAC’s image and potentially its bottom line.
“Where we are in the food chain, all our nonconference games are important,” said MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher, who also celebrated Toledo’s 16-12 stunner over Arkansas of the Southeastern Conference last Saturday. “We have to do well from the start of the season to the end of the season if we want to gain national notoriety. When you step up and play the real high-profile programs and teams, that goes a long way if you have success in those games.”
The end game for the MAC is to have the College Football Playoff committee deem its champion the best among the Group of Five conference winners. The highest-ranked champion is guaranteed a New Year’s Six bowl berth and the considerable sum of money that goes with it.
Boise State’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl last season netted the Mountain West an additional $6 million in bowl revenue, to $23.5 million. The MAC had five teams go to bowls and divided $14.1 million among its members.
The league’s high point in football came in 2012 when Northern Illinois made it to the Orange Bowl under the old BCS system.
“This is a league that has high expectations,” Steinbrecher said. “We believe the teams at the top end of our league can compete with most folks in the country.”
No two conferences have played more games against each other than the Big Ten and MAC. The Big Ten’s all-time record in the matchups is 261-47-2, according to the sports website mcubed.net. The MAC beat the Big Ten three times last season.
Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson was the pride of the MAC this week after throwing for 491 yards and six touchdowns against Maryland. His only scholarship offers coming out of high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, were from Falcons, Miami (Ohio) and Temple.
Johnson ranks among the top high school passers in his state’s history, but he stands only 6-feet — too short for the big time, he was often told. Penn State, 85 miles from his hometown, had no recruiting contact with him other than through form letters.
Johnson said he doesn’t dwell on being snubbed by bigger schools, but winning does send a message.
“You naturally get that feeling that, yeah, we weren’t recruited by you guys, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play with you guys,” Johnson said. “You just get that re-assurance after a win. It’s big for not only your program but for the MAC as a whole to show that we can play up with these Power Five schools.”
Meyer said he enjoyed mining for players when he was head coach at Bowling Green in 2001-02. He challenged himself to find under-recruited players who showed great potential. He said he suspects that’s the same strategy used by Northern Illinois, his opponent this week.
“I would imagine they probably redshirt most of their linemen and let them develop because they’re a really big, physical team,” Meyer said. “That’s kind of what we did at Bowling Green. You redshirt your linemen. You go places and try to find kids an inch too short but have great speed.”
Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said the Gophers will be lectured about not taking Kent State lightly this week. Claeys and the other Minnesota assistants were with Gophers head coach Jerry Kill at Northern Illinois from 2008-10.
“You had every kid in that conference told he ain’t good enough to be in the Big Ten,” he said. “And so they play with a chip on their shoulders and you’ve got to be ready to play or you’ll be in for a long day. You’ll see their best when you play a MAC school and you’re in the Big Ten.”
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org