LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 10: Ryan Radcliff #8 of the Central Michigan Chippewas pitches the ball to Tim Phillips #5 during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on September 10, 2011 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Seven weeks into the season, there is no great team.
Temple and Toledo appear to be the best, but UT barely escaped a close one at struggling BG. Temple looks almost unbeatable, save for their game against Toledo. NIU flexed its muscles against WMU, who destroyed CMU, who took down NIU in a shootout. Ball State and Buffalo both knocked out OHIO, one of the contenders in the MAC East. Eastern Michigan has four wins. Miami fell back down to earth and just narrowly edged Kent State. Akron remains Akron; a comforting constant in life. It's a daisy-chain of parity.
Steve Addazio has pontificated in the past that he wants to make Temple the Boise State of the East. Ask MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and he'll tell you that he'd love to see one or two teams sneak into the Top 25. This would require upsetting AQ-conference teams and staying undefeated in the conference. This vision is the opposite of parity.
It's really a matter of what you want to call it. Maybe the level of competition is down, or maybe it's pivoting around a nexus, keeping teams in close orbit with each other, causing potential conference division winners to have three MAC losses. Nobody looks great. As a result, the MAC is looked down from the national college sports scene as a frivolity; a weekday recreational television experience. There's no love lost from NFL scouts, wherein I think I heard Michael Reghi say during the UT-BG game that there's at least one MAC player on each of the 32 pro teams.
And you can blame Rick Chryst for doing whatever he did as commissioner to downgrade the league, best intentions he may have had, but it seems like they're in a perfect position to survive a tumultuous conference realignment frenzy.
FOX Toledo did a really enigmatic segment on what the Rockets would do if the Big East invited them. It was goofy in that I have heard zero Toledo-to-Big East rumors, but sports director Howard Chen apparently did, so he turned it into a story by asking athletic director Mike O'Brien about it. It's come to this; all whispers must be taken seriously. And among those who are conference realignment junkies, this is probably necessary for survival because the news changes every day. But when we hear rumors about any non-Temple MAC team leaving for the Big East ... I kind of laugh.
And it goes back to parity.
There is no great MAC program. Here, success is sinusoidal. Dynasties are supplanted by tepid years of .500 ball. Schools fall into lucky recruiting trips, discovering a star dwelling in the Big Ten's blind spot.
It makes for wonderful competitiveness. Every school has a chance and a hope at a division title on any given year. Yes, some of you may have thought that Kent State actually had a shot at the MAC East. And you could've been right — that's a killer defense they have. If only they were able to move the ball when they possessed it. Maybe next year.
Not so much the case in the Big Ten or the SEC. It's basically the same handful of teams at the top, with also-rans surprising the world with a seven- or eight-win season here and there. Maybe even a taste of a share of the championship or a division title. Parity is a laughable concept that would destroy the signature of any major conference program. They need the big boys to stay big. It was a down year for the Big XII when Texas had a losing season. The Big Ten lost a step as Michigan plummeted over the last few years. The Pac-12 is missing something without USC contending for the Rose Bowl. The SEC is back in rare form now that Alabama is a contender.
Who are the greatest teams in MAC history? Miami seems like the most logical choice, given they have the most wins and championships, but can you really imagine MU really going somewhere like the Big East, Big XII or even Conference USA? It seems almost like an outside shot. Look at how much history they have. (Look, it's all explained on this helmet.) But historical fortutide doesn't always impress. It requires sustainability at such a high level unimaginable by MAC standards. Central Michigan would need to win three out of four conference titles every four years. Instead, they're back to another horse in the MAC West race, beating the defending West champs and losing to the defending West last-place finishers.
It could be that the conference is a turnstile for coaches, causing momentum to digest itself. And in a way these perpetual dymanics appear to be keeping the conference afloat. If focus on the conference and its 12 full-membership schools and soon-to-be two football-only members can be promoted and energized in the region, then the perfect entity can be formed that will continue to lose 62-6 to top-ranked teams and occasionally 38-31 to some unsuspecting name-brand victims. Nobody else wants to inherit that. Phew.