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.