But historically, the MAC has been a criminally underrated conference. Part of the public perception problem--as I see it--lies in a double standard that the MAC is subjected too.
In college football, conferences are in large part judged by the strength of their top teams, but this courtesy, outside of this year, isn't generally extended to the MAC.
When college football fans think about the Big Ten, their minds undoubtedly move to Ohio State and Michigan. When talking about the Big 12, they talk about Texas and Oklahoma. When referring to the Pac-12, it's all about USC and Oregon. Now switch the conversation to the MAC, and you get a lot of Akron and Eastern Michigan (no offense) talk.
Where's the NIU and Toledo talk? And where, one may ask, is the talk about Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Kansas, Duke (not this year, congrats Blue Devils), and Wake Forest?
In fairness to The Crown, this matter isn't as simple as an AQ vs. EQ (non-AQ) thing. I remember that in some of the best years for the Mountain West Conference and WAC, their top teams (TCU and Utah in the MWC and Fresno State and Boise State in the WAC) defined those conferences. While the bottom of the conferences, which had some of the worst teams in the FBS, went mostly ignored.
I'm not asking for preferential treatment, I'm simply asking that the MAC get passed through the same filter as all the other conferences. It's great that it's happening this year and hopefully it's something that continues moving forward.
All of this got me thinking. I understand that most college football fans may not be familiar with all, or any, of the MAC teams except for perhaps the cellar dwellers that are the subject of the many jokes, and that this may be contributing to the problem.
So I thought I'd shed some light on the MAC for those unfamiliar. And while I've had enough of comparisons between the MAC and the Big Ten, I acknowledge that that is the natural parallel that college football fans across the nation will draw, so why fight it.
So, just for kicks, here's the North Coast Bias: A Comparative Guide to MAC Football for the Casual Fan:
NIU Huskies: Dekalb, IL - Football established 1899
The Huskies, along with the Rockets of Toledo, are one of the two most consistently successful programs in the MAC in recent history. Often the bragging rights for the title of the best in the MAC comes down to the annual game between these two. Contrary to the Ohio State-Michigan relationship, which is defined by one of the most storied rivalries in college football, the NIU-Toledo relationship may be among the best non-rivalries in college football. The NIU Huskies are...
Big Ten equivalent: Ohio St. Buckeyes.
Toledo Rockets: Toledo, OH - Football established 1917
As mentioned above, the Rockets are one of the two strongest teams in the MAC year-in-and-year-out, with the Rockets the MAC's Blue and the Huskies the MAC's Red. Just like in the Big Ten, Blue has, historically, the better overall winning percentage and head-to-head of the two, but Red has been the more consistent recently. The Rockets recently went four straight seasons without a winning record and UM had the Rich Rod era. The Toledo Rockets are...
Big Ten equivalent: Michigan Wolverines.
Bowling Green Falcons: Bowling Green, OH - Football established 1919
If the Rockets are the MAC's Michigan than the Falcons are the MAC's Michigan State. The proverbial little brother of Northwest Ohio with a very impressive resume of its own but always in the shadow of the team from the Big City. The Bowling Green Falcons are...
Big Ten equivalent: Michigan St. Spartans.
Ohio Bobcats: Athens, OH - Football established 1894
A school that thinks it is Harvard academically, Penn State in football, and Kentucky in basketball; when in actuality, it is a good basketball school without the football tradition or success of some of its conference mates. The Bobcats are...
Big Ten equivalent: Illinois Fighting Illini.
Miami U. Redhawks: Oxford, OH - Football established 1888
The obvious parallel is the one to Northwestern as one of the smaller schools (enrollment wise) in the MAC and with its prestigious academic classification as a Public Ivy, but I'm going another direction. In football terms, Miami University is the most accomplished and tradition-rich school in the MAC but has not lived up to its legacy lately. As the birthplace of the Cradle of Coaches, Miami University's place in college football history is well cemented. The Redhawks are...
Big Ten equivalent: Penn St. Nittany Lions.
Kent State Golden Flashes: Kent, OH - Football established 1920
Kent State ranks near the bottom in all-time winning percentage among FBS programs but is one of the top MAC basketball programs. The Flashes are definitely a basketball-first school with probably a few other sports coming in ahead of football. The Golden Flashes are...
Big Ten equivalent: Indiana Hoosiers.
Akron Zips: Akron, OH - Football established 1891
The Zips' heated rivals are the Kent State Golden Flashes. So, if Kent State is Indiana University then Northeast Ohio is the state of Indiana. And like Indiana, where the favored college football program comes not from the Big Ten but from out of conference (Notre Dame), Northeast Ohio's favored college football team comes not from the MAC but from out of conference (Ohio State). It's a stretch, but the Zips are...
Big Ten equivalent: Purdue Boilermakers.
Western Michigan Broncos: Kalamazoo, MI - Football established 1905
The Broncos wear a big "W" on their helmet and have one of the longest and most played rivalries in the MAC and all of college football against Central Michigan. The two teams have played 82 times to an almost even record and the rivalry recently added a trophy to the series in 2008. The Broncos are...
Big Ten equivalent: Wisconsin Badgers.
Central Michigan Chippewas: Mt. Pleasant, MI - Football established 1896
The Chips are the Hawkeyes to the Broncos' Badgers. Wisconsin and Iowa have one of the longest rivalries in the Big Ten and all of college football with the teams playing to a 42-42-2 all-time series tie and recently added a trophy to the series in 2004. The Chippewas are...
Big Ten equivalent: Iowa Hawkeyes.
Eastern Michigan Eagles: Ypsilanti, MI - Football established 1891
Historically, one of the least competitive programs in the conference with a decided competitive disadvantage, which is not necessarily their fault and which they are not in the position to be able to change. Northwestern has its academic requirements to contend with while EMU has the shadow of UM to deal with. In addition, both are located in a suburb/exurb of a large metropolitan city with pro sports options. The Eagles are...
Big Ten equivalent: Northwestern Wildcats.
Ball State Cardinals: Muncie, IN - Football established 1924
The Cardinals wear Red and White, come from a state known for corn, and are a relatively new addition to the conference. That's all I got. The Cardinals are...
Big Ten equivalent: Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Buffalo Bulls: Buffalo, NY - Football established 1894
A geographic outlier located in a large cold climate city that does not seriously contend with its conference mates for football supremacy. The Bulls are...
Big Ten equivalent: Minnesota Golden Gophers.
UMass Minutemen: Amherst, MA - Football established 1879
Not a Full/Real member of the conference that is using the conference to advance its own agenda and relies more on name recognition than results on the field. Plus there are a lot of Irish Catholics in Massachusetts. The Minutemen are...
Big Ten equivalent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish.