After years of conference realignment, the college football landscape was revamped in 2013. The Big East dissolved, the WAC disassembled, the American Athletic Conference formed, and the Power 5 was established — all one season before the College Football Playoff began.
Since, Group of 5 schools have constantly tested their talents against programs from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC during each season's early non-conference slate. In the past four years, there have been 15 occasions of the MAC surmounting Goliath. Ranked by the significance of the victory, difficulty, and execution, here are the MAC's Power 5 triumphs since 2013:
15. Bowling Green 35, Purdue 28 — September 26, 2015
Road Game, 2015 Purdue (2-10)
The eventual 2015 MAC champions barely escaped a weak Purdue team during a slow start to the season. The teams' offenses consistently traded touchdowns throughout the afternoon, with the Falcons' Travis Greene coming up clutch to ice the game with nine seconds left. It was a road victory for Bowling Green, but if it weren't for several missed field goals by the Boilermakers, the Falcons could have squandered an easy Power 5 victory.
14. Ohio 37, Kansas 21 — September 10, 2016
Road Game, 2016 Kansas (2-10)
The Bobcats bounced back from a shocking week one defeat to Texas State by taking care of business in Lawrence. Ohio charged out of the gate with 25 unanswered points before an offensively dormant second half. The Bobcats' freshman kicker Louie Zervos nearly outscored the Jayhawks with 17 points of his own. A victory over Kansas, a program that has played like a glorified FCS team in recent years, would normally rank last, but this same Kansas team stunned Texas and nearly topped TCU in the same season.
13. Ball State 48, Virginia 27 — October 5, 2013
Road Game, 2013 Virginia (2-10)
The 2013 Virginia Cavaliers were nearly as horrendous as Power Five teams come, dropping their last nine contests in embarrassing fashion. But Keith Wenning and the Ball State Cardinals struggled with Virginia for the first 30 minutes of game time — deadlocked at the half. Entering the third quarter ahead 31-24, the Cardinals outscored the ACC foe 17-3, securing a key win in their journey to a 10-3 record.
12. Toledo 30, Iowa State 23 (OT) — September 19, 2015
Home Game, 2015 Iowa State (3-9)
Toledo's 2015 season was a magical one, beginning with two Power 5 wins and ending with a bowl victory over the Temple Owls. The Rockets got revenge on the Cyclones in the Glass Bowl, although it took four quarters and two overtimes to do so. The Kareem Hunt-led Toledo held a 10-point advantage entering the fourth quarter, but didn't resume scoring until overtime commenced. The Rockets sealed the game in exciting fashion, sacking Iowa State's scrambling Sam B. Richardson on fourth and goal. The phrase "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" does not apply here, because Toledo coach Matt Campbell left to coach Iowa State several months later.
11. Northern Illinois 55, Purdue 24 — September 28, 2013
Road Game, 2013 Purdue (1-11)
During the Jordan Lynch era, the Huskies were never afraid to enter Big Ten stadiums and wreak havoc. The 2013 Boilermakers did not defeat a single FBS program, but they are the only team on this list to allow a MAC opponent to score 50 points. With the help of a 21-point third quarter, NIU managed to extend its lead to as much as 38. Lynch accounted for four touchdowns on the day, but the Huskies also reached the end zone on both defense and special teams in the demolition.
10. Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42 — September 13, 2014
Home Game, 2014 Indiana (4-8)
The eventual MAC East champion Falcons were flying high after narrowly defeating Indiana in a high-scoring affair. James Knapke delivered a game-winning touchdown pass to Roger Lewis with nine seconds left (again) to clinch the victory. The Falcons' defense withstood a dominant, 190-yard performance by Tevin Coleman at Doyt Perry Stadium. Fans were worn out with five lead changes in the fourth quarter, but nothing was quite as worn out as Knapke's arm — 73 passing attempts over the course of the afternoon.
9. Bowling Green 48, Maryland 27 — September 12, 2015
Road Game, 2015 Maryland (3-9)
The 2015 MAC champions earned as many Big Ten conference wins as Purdue and Maryland combined, but in 14 less contests. Tied at 20 entering the final 15 minutes, Matt Johnson lifted the Falcons ahead with four touchdown passes (six total) in the fourth quarter to erase the Terrapins' hope of winning in College Park. Johnson threw for 491 yards and Roger Lewis tallied 200 receiving yards for the number two passing offense in college football in 2015.
8. Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17 — September 6, 2014
Road Game, 2014 Purdue (3-9)
For the final time, the often-struggling Boilermakers find themselves on the list. The Chippewas destroyed Darrell Hazell's Purdue squad just one week after Purdue beat Western Michigan. Thomas Rawls had a stellar day on the ground for the Chippewas (155 yards and two touchdowns), but it was the defense earning turnover after turnover to knock the Boilermakers out of contention for the win. So here's a question to think about — how would Purdue fare in the MAC, 2013-2017?
7. Western Michigan 34, Illinois 10 — September 17, 2016
Road Game, 2016 Illinois (3-9)
P.J. Fleck and the "Row the Boat" Broncos began earning national respect after pulverizing the Illini on the road — their second road Big Ten victory of the season. Jamauri Bogan stomped all over the Illinois defense with 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the lopsided meeting between the Midwest schools. The Broncos only looked to the air 13 times in the game, but played nearly perfect: committing zero turnovers and consistently forcing Illinois to punt.
6. Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15 — September 6, 2014
Road Game, 2014 Northwestern (5-7)
The 2011-15 Huskies weren't just a threat to their MAC brothers, but many Big Ten teams feared them as well. After a 0-0 halftime score in Evanston, NIU took control of the game in the fourth quarter to conquer Northwestern. It was a down year for the Wildcats, but Pat Fitzgerald's team managed to knock off a ranked Notre Dame squad later in the season. NIU, out-gaining Northwestern 221-72 on the ground in the victory, finished on top of the conference in December once again.
5. Akron 21, Pittsburgh 10 — September 27, 2014
Road Game, 2014 Pittsburgh (6-7)
Akron's only Power 5 victory was an impressive one. The Zips began the 2014 season at 4-2, with two respectable losses to Penn State and the 13-1 Marshall Thundering Herd. But the Zips' shocking upset was merely a punt-fest, thanks to the team's stifling defense. Pitt fared .500 in ACC play but lost the Armed Forces Bowl to Houston in one of the most dramatic games in recent history. Meanwhile, Akron stumbled at the season's midway point, finishing 5-7 after pulling off the convincing upset.
4. Western Michigan 22, Northwestern 21 — September 3, 2016
Road Game, 2016 Northwestern (7-6)
The Broncos' dream season that ended in a New Year's Six appearance began in the most chaotic way possible. The Wildcats were coming off a 10-win season, but could not establish dominance over Western Michigan in the 2016 opener. The Broncos' Jamauri Bogan punched in the game-winning touchdown with less than six minutes to go. Northwestern earned an opportunity but quarterback Clayton Thorson fumbled on the one-yard line, on the would-be go-ahead score. The ball rolled into the end zone and Western Michigan inexplicably tried to save it, but luckily for Fleck and the Broncos, the play resulted in a touchback.
3. Northern Illinois 30, Iowa 27 — August 31, 2013
Road Game, 2013 Iowa (8-5)
The 2012 Huskies earned an Orange Bowl nod despite a week one loss to Iowa. In 2013, the BCS-hopeful Northern Illinois would make sure to start the season off with a victory. NIU overcame the pink locker rooms of Kinnick Stadium and earned a victory on Mathew Sims' 36-yard game-winning field goal. The Huskies scored the tying touchdown with about five minutes left and eventual first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward intercepted Jake Rudock to make Sims' field goal, and the victory, possible. NIU would win the next 11 before falling in the MAC title game.
2. Toledo 16, Arkansas 12 — September 12, 2015
Road Game, 2015 Arkansas (8-5)
The Hogs are the lone SEC team to fall to the Mid-American Conference since 2013. Toledo won the game in Little Rock despite losing the yardage battle 515-318 and the time of possession by over 15 minutes. A timely interception by Brandon Allen in the Toledo end zone ignited an 80-yard drive for the Rockets — one of just three total touchdowns in the game. The Rocket defense held its ground throughout the game, but Arkansas had one final attempt from the 16-yard line. However, Allen overthrew the ball to his receiver in the end zone, handing Toledo its strongest victory in a 10-2 season. Arkansas eventually defeated ranked Ole Miss and LSU teams on the road, so this win is about as good as they come for the MAC.
1. Central Michigan 30, Oklahoma State 27 — September 10, 2016
Road Game, 2016 Oklahoma State (10-3)
Conversation about this game has lingered for months and will always be a part of college football history. Before we revisit the game's final sequence, here is why this ranks number one. Oklahoma State has been a consistently ranked team for nearly a decade and finished 10-3 in 2016, good for No. 11 in the final AP poll. The Cowboys dominated a promising Colorado team in the Alamo Bowl (38-8) and were a Bedlam win away from earning a Big 12 title and an automatic bid to a New Year's Six bowl. No other team on this list holds that impressive of a season résumé.
Now, here's the fun part:
Central Michigan played an excellent game in Stillwater after narrowly falling to Mike Gundy's team in 2015. The Chippewas out-gained the Pokes by 80 yards and held a 24-20 fourth quarter lead after falling in a 14-0 hole on the road. Those who watched the game might remember the referees picking up a potential holding flag on Oklahoma State's go-ahead touchdown with 5:28 remaining. The Chippewas earned presumably one more chance but Cooper Rush was intercepted by Ramon Richards.
On the Cowboys' final possession, with four seconds left, Mason Rudolph lobbed the ball to the left sideline, which resulted in an intentional grounding flag. The referees decided to reward Central Michigan with one untimed down, and to the Chippewas' credit, they made the most of their fortunate opportunity.
Rush utilized maximum arm strength to heave the ball downfield to the leaping 6-foot-3-inch Jesse Kroll, who instantly pitched it to Corey Willis to perfect a hook-and-ladder. Willis defeated two Cowboys defenders in a footrace to the left corner of the end zone to seal one of the most bizarre game-winning touchdowns in the sport's history. The play should have never occurred according to the rulebook, but it did, and it will leave quite the legacy.