I was perusing the NFL’s website looking at their statistical leaders because that is what sports nerds do. I am not even that huge of an NFL fan. One thing caught my eye. The Mid-American Conference was well represented. I also recognized some names from some smaller schools, and decided to click on the name of each and every player and see where they went to school. A lot of them I knew, some I had no clue.
What really caught my eye was that the MAC had a top 5 player in Passing Yards, Rushing Yards, and Sacks. I would say those 3 categories would be considered by most the most important. Former Miami RedHawk Ben Roethlisberger is numero uno in passing yards. Kareem Hunt was great for the Toledo Rockets and now he is great for the Kansas City Chiefs. Last year’s rushing leader comes in at number 5 in rushing yards. The number 1 glamour defensive category, sacks, has former Buffalo Bulls monster Khalil Mack ranked number 2.
Of the power 5, only the Pac 12 and Big Ten have a former member in each category. With regards to the Big Ten, the MAC can claim J.J. Watt as their own first! Ok, now I am being a little petty, but my point is simple.
Kareem Hunt was Kareem Hunt while in the MAC. The same can be said for Big Ben and Khalil Mack. Even though each of those players put up amazing stats in the Mid-American conference, they have proven in their post college career that they would have been stars for the Ohio States and Alabamas of the world, too. In the case of J.J. Watt, he went on to be a star at Wisconsin.
All three of those players should have been considered for college awards, and probably won a few. I am going to use 2003 as the example. Let’s look at Ben Roethlisberger. He was 9th in Heisman voting. Above him, Phillip Rivers came in 7th place. They were statistically similar and Rivers suffered because he played at a lower esteemed power 5. Eli Manning was also at a bad P5 school, but managed to come in at 3. His name certainly helped, but so did his amazing ability. He certainly had a wow factor. All 3 are NFL Hall of Famers, so there that isn’t were my main gripe lies.
Jason White, Heisman winner. He was a great college player, so I have no problem with him winning the Heisman that season, though I personally would have voted for Eli Manning. It’s not that he won, it’s that Ben wasn’t even considered. Matt Leinart was on a loaded USC team and not near the talent as any of the QBs mentioned. He finished 6th and won a year later. (don’t flame me if he won as a senior and Bush in 2004. I am on a roll and don’t want to look it up)
Kareem Hunt looked NFL ready as a freshman. Khalil Mack is in my top 1 of most dominating college football players. Ndamukong Suh got some Heisman hype with 24 career sacks and 49.5 tackles for loss on his career. Mack had 28.5 and 74.5 TFLs. He almost beat the Ohio State Buckeyes by himself. Not that Buffalo didn’t play a good game all the way around, it is just that Mack was in the Buckeyes backfield every single play.
Clearly having the stigma of playing in the MAC doe not prevent someone from being a great player. To dismiss a player out of hand because they play in a lesser conference is a disservice to the talent that is in those conferences, both at the top and the bottom. I am going to use Roethlisberger as the example again. He was denounced by many, including me, for his NFL ability because he got trounced by Ohio State. Did nothing in that game. I was youngish back then. What did not dawn on me was that his entire team was out “talented”. To expect him to play great in that game was unreasonable.
While I don’t really see a Heisman candidate this season in the MAC, odds tell me I should see one in the future. Sadly, reality tells me I will not.