1 - NIU has recently cracked the top 25 in both the AP and Coaches Polls should they win out, and if Fresno trips up, do they finish in the top 12? What would a back to back trip for NIU to a BCS bowl mean for that program and for the MAC?
I think they do finish in the top 12. They would have two wins over BCS schools (albeit against Iowa and Purdue, but still), late wins over good teams in Toledo and Ball State, and a win over the MAC East Champion (presumably Ohio). Hell, we could even see something like the 2008 season where two non-AQ teams finish in the top 10 of the BCS (OK, so TCU and Boise State finished top 5, but still). Either way, if NIU stays focused, another BCS bowl should be theirs for the taking.
As for what it would mean, let's start for the program. Suddenly, NIU becomes the "Boise State of the Midwest" with two BCS Bowl games. They rival the best of the Mountain West (if they can keep up the strong play in the post-Lynch years), and should the American regress like we expect it to, they are fighting for the "Group of 5" bid in the playoffs. They could also be poached by the Big Ten or Big 12 really easily, although the latter seems more likely even with the odd geographies.
For the conference? Well, it would be nice, but let's go back to the Boise State example. The WAC was just awful otherwise, with occasional challenges from Nevada, Fresno State (once or twice), and Hawaii (under June Jones only). Hence, the conference was never taken seriously. The MAC would need more strong teams to fully rival the American or Mountain West as the powerhouse non-AQ conference. But, putting one representative in the big picture is a start.
2 - Miami has cast Treadwell to the side half way through year three while Ron English is in year five and just survived the "Quinn Reaper". Buffalo has been limping along with Quinn since 2010 and in fact gave him an extension last season. Is a big part of the problem for the poor performing MAC football schools tied to their expectations?
Possibly. That and money. When you see EMU not win in forever, and sign anyone as their coach, AND have nobody at their games, there is no way you can fire a coach and afford his buyout and a decent new coach. It is probably a similar thing at the other smaller schools. I mean, Akron did fire Ianello after 2 seasons as well too. I don't know. Blame the ADs?
3 - Of all the games coming up this week in the MAC which one should give us the best indication of how each division, and the conference will play out.
Pick one? Well my obvious choice is Kent State at Ball State. The question basically asks for a cross-over game, with this game being the only one that should look somewhat respectable (Akron @ NIU, UB @ WMU, CMU @ Ohio the others). Akron, WMU, and CMU are bad. Two are on the road, and Buffalo should run all over the Broncos. Meanwhile, Kent State seems to have found their offense again with the return of Dri Archer and go against a suspect defense in Ball State. Keith Wenning is a monster, but will face a decent defense in the Golden Flashes. Get yo' pop-corn ready! Upset alert!
We'll see if Kent State is ready to throw a monkey wrench in the MAC East picture despite a shaky, tough start. We'll see if Ball State can truly contend with NIU for the MAC West Title. We'll see so much more stemming downward. It should be that ideal game.