A look around the MAC

As Saturday night spilled into Sunday morning, Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak glanced through the national scores and realized that one of his worst fears had come true:

  • Michigan 43, Miami (Ohio) 10

  • Oklahoma 40, Bowling Green 24

  • Minnesota 63, Toledo 21

  • Iowa 39, Kent State 7

  • Maryland 23, Northern Illinois 20

    And so on …

    Nine MAC teams opened their seasons Saturday, but only one – Ohio – came away a winner. Although six squads faced ranked opponents, Novak could anticipate the general response: Was the MAC's historic success of 2003 merely a fluke?

    "Before the season I said, 'I hope people – if we don't have another weekend like last September – think this football isn't good,'" he said. "I think everybody was double-digit underdogs Saturday. Last year was a great year for us and we'll win some more. But to think it's going to happen again is a little unrealistic certainly."

    "It" was Sept. 20, 2003, the day three MAC teams stunned nationally ranked opponents. Marshall upset No. 6 Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., Northern Illinois edged No. 21 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and a host Toledo squad beat No. 9 Pitt. Earlier in the year Bowling Green and Northern Illinois had knocked off ranked squads.

    The natural impulse is to expect a repeat performance from MAC schools, but coaches call that thinking naïve. The surprise element has disappeared for many mid-majors, they say, and opponents are viewing the early-season games in a new light.