Oh, to be a college football coach in September.
It must be wonderful filling interviews and answering questions with positive things to say about everything. Listening to coaches this time of year is akin to listening to a grandmother talk about her grandchildren: they have nothing bad to say. Coaches talk as though their own team is destined to make it to the BCS, while at the same time they manage to make schedule-fillers like Central Michigan sound like National Championship contenders.
Usually, during the first few weeks, coaches from perennial powerhouses politely compliment teams from smaller conferences in press conferences.
“We’re playing a fine football team with a lot of confidence that knows how to win,” said Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel on playing Akron.
Or Michigan State head-coach Bobby Williams on Central Michigan.
“We know the history and tradition of the rivalry, and we have a very, very tough opponent coming in this week.”
It is gracious and professional for coaches from the major conferences to accolade and praise teams from smaller schools before giving them a 70-point drubbing on Saturday.
This year, however, is different.
One conference that is truly causing people across the country to double take the scoreboard is the Mid-American Conference (MAC). The upsets started last year, as MAC teams knocked off Big Ten teams at home on three separate occasions, with Toledo topping Penn State 24-6, Iowa falling to Western Michigan 27-21, and Ohio beating Minnesota 23-17. Additionally, Western Michigan gave then-top-ten ranked Wisconsin a scare at home before finally falling 17-7.
The most embarrassing game to date though happened last week, as Minnesota lost to Toledo 33-7 in a debacle in which the Gophers managed to do nothing right.
“First of all, if you weren’t impressed with the way (Toledo) played Nicholls St., you don’t know football,” said an upset Minnesota coach Glen Mason. “I’ve seen the MAC for more than the last two years, some of the things you’re seeing now, MAC teams beating Big Ten teams, they’ve had a history of that … they’ve just been overshadowed by the Big Ten.”
Mason would know, as he spent two tenures in the MAC, holding various positions at Ball State in the 1970s, and later some time with Kent in the 1980’s. In fact, Mason is not the only Big Ten coach with MAC coaching experience. Among the others are new Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, and Northwestern coach Gary Walker. Walker, who was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2000, spent nine years as head coach of Miami of Ohio before coming over to coach the Wildcats three years ago.
Instead of acknowledgement towards teams of the MAC, it has become instead popular to talk about parody in college football, with many people citing limited scholarship availability making the talent pool more spread out. There is some truth to this, yet it is time people start to give more credit to the smaller schools from conferences like the MAC when they consistently come up with talent and solid coaching year in and year out.
Next time, at the beginning of a season when Michigan coach Lloyd Carr says something like, “We are coming off a win against a very tough and aggressive Miami of Ohio team,” do not be so quick to sneer. The fact of the matter is that the other Miami of college football is most likely a sound football club.
Those among the coaching ranks are not just putting us on at the beginning of the season when they constantly commend teams from smaller schools – at least not when those teams are from the MAC.
“We’d all be lying if we said the MAC wasn’t a good conferences,”said Tressel.