Editor's Note: Welcome back to Belt Loops. It's been a while since you've seen this former recurring feature. Belt Loops, for those of you who didn't have the privilege of reading it before, is essentially a link dump. A composite of links to articles, and content, from all around the web, typically focusing on a singular topic.
But really, Belt Loops is more than that. It's an examination of topics from another angle. Shining a new light on a story you've heard before, or in some cases introducing you to stories you haven't. Starting today, Belt Loops will take you on this journey every Sunday. Rain, or shine.
In a great piece on ESPN.com Jeffri Chadiha examines the changing nature of small school prospects in the NFL Draft. The MAC plays a prevalent role in this feature, and understandably so.
The Mid-American Conference has been, for some time, home to some fantastic under-the-radar talents. Randy Moss, Jack Lambert, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Jason Babin, Antonio Brown and countless other past and present NFL superstars once roamed the fields of the Mid-American Conference.
But until recently many of the MAC players had to make careers either as undrafted free agents, or lower round Draft picks. Players such as Byron Leftwich and Roethlisberger were higher draft picks, but they were rare, and still not considered amongst the elite. But that all changed last year when a former high school punter turned CMU offensive tackle went No. 1 overall. When Kansas City selected Eric Fisher with the top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft it didn't just mark a historic moment for the MAC, it marked a new age of the NFL Draft.
Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack has a shot at giving the MAC the repeat. It's no secret that many NFL DRaft experts view him as the best pro-ready talent in the Draft. Even those that don't hardly have him outside of their Top 3. The casual fan still knocks Mack for a "lack of competition", but in this day and age scouts know better than to rely on that, especially when your looking at a once-in-a-decade talent such as Mack.
But it's not just the Mid-American Conference taking advantage of this rise of Mid-Major prospects. Blake Bortles, the UCF (a former MAC team by the way) quarterback, also has a legit shot of going No. 1 overall. In fact, we could wind up with a handful of mid-major players going in the first round, and in one of the more loaded Drafts in recent history.
But how do small conferences keep turning out these elite level prospects? Well, quite simply, these players have been there for years. The NFL is just now opening its eyes to them.
In this Bleacher Report post (not a slideshow, victory for humanity!) Brian Pederson examines what makes Mack such an intriguing prospect in the NFL Draft.
As mentioned above, Mack is near the top of every NFL Draft experts board, and in the top 3 of most. Mack's sitting up there above Heisman trophy winners, above Alabama super-humans, and in some cases above the monster himself, Jadeveon Clowney. But why?
Well if you're a MAC football fan, you already know why. Mack is a dynamic player. The type of defensive player who demands being game-planned around. Just ask OSU. The Buckeyes took Mack lightly. Nine tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown later and they knew they had underestimated the freakish athlete.
Mack not only is among the best athletes in this draft (just look at his numbers if you don't believe me) he's also among the most proven. Yes, that's right. A guy who played in the MAC is among the most proven. Mack's small-school actually plays in his favor here. There's no work-ethic or devotion questions with him. The guy who wears No. 46 in honor of the ranking NCAA Football gave him as a freshman is as hungry as they come. He's out to prove people that he doesn't just belong, but that he is the best defensive player in this class.
Still not convinced? Maybe Grantland's Robert Mays can do the trick. Mays beautiful ode to MACKtion re-hashes a lot of the stories we've already heard, but when put together in one piece we can fully grasp just how spectacular of a player Khalil Mack is.
Mays writes: "Mack is destruction incarnate. He doesn't have a position, and he doesn't really need one. Put him anywhere on defense and watch the wreckage pile up."
Yeah, that's about the best way anyone has ever described what Mack does on the football field.
- Why Khalil Mack Is Guaranteed to Be an NFL Superstar: Bleacher Report's Eric Mack breaks down why all signs point to Khalil Mack (no relation) being a sure thing, which of course is another reason why teams are so high on him.
- Better Fit For Mack: Jaguars Or Rams?: Here's a short video of Mel Kiper breaking down where he thinks the BEST fits for Mack are. Jacksonville and Atlanta stand out because of their defensive focus and Mack's amazing versatility. He can be plugged in and start right away in either a 3-4 or a 4-3, and in Atlanta's case, they use a mix of both schemes.
- Podcast: College Football Playoff busters for 2014: Chip Patterson and Tom Fornelli wax poetic about several topics on this podcast, most notably Kansas State. But buried in this 34-minute discussion is a list of teams Fornelli believes are the best candidates to get the one spot reserved in the CFB bowls (replacing the BCS bowls) for the highest ranked mid-major team. The shortlist includes a few MAC teams, Toledo, Ball State and even NIU are considered, interestingly though Fornelli doesn't see BGSU in this list, this year.
- Top non-BCS schools of the BCS era: Bill Bender (himself a MACtion alum) of the Sporting News takes a look at the Top 25 non-BCS schools of the BCS era. Good news MACtion fans, your conference makes plenty of appearances. Two teams are ranked in the Top 5, six overall, and a pair of former members in the Top 10. I'd say the past 15 years have been good for MAC football, wouldn't you?
- Kent State shredded documents to hide information about presidential search, committee members say: This has little to do with sports, but is important to follow none-the-less. Kent State, like Akron, is looking for a new president. Unlike Akron, Kent State has apparently went out of its way to make it hard to get information about that search, going so far as to shred documents.