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Zero Hour: The MAC Should Learn About Moral Victories From the SEC

Unlike a lot of sports, moral victories turn into real ones in college football.

Illustration: James H. Jimenez | Photo: ESPN/Outside the Lines

Spoiler: Most decision makers and talking heads in college football don’t watch every game. They don’t even watch most games. They also have very short memories. When the 2019 regular season is in the books, they look at records and final scores. Very few of them are going to remember that Toledo was in the Kentucky game during the 4th quarter. Miami only down 3 to Iowa at the half will be as forgotten as the socks you received for your 10th birthday, and a late win by Auburn against Oregon just might decide the playoff picture. Plus, the kids aren’t really watching, either.

The first week of the college football season is in the books. The SEC actually took a little bit of an uncharacteristic beating, however, it could have been much worse. The MAC went chalk, including final scores. However, the reality is that the MAC played quite well early in a lot of games. There were a few that could have been bigger blowouts, but those are not the focus of this article. I am going to examine 3 games that changed perception of the first week, which changes the reality over the course of the season.

The Toledo Rockets headed south to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Toledo had a mediocre season in 2018, while Kentucky had an historic one. The two teams battled to a tie at halftime. Kentucky pulled ahead by 7 in the 3rd, then a 3 and out followed by an interceptions helped give us the final score, 38-24. Toledo did score late, or the final score would have been 38-17. Instead of a relatively close game turning into a blowout by season’s end, the Rockets will now look like they were a little competitive against a potential top 25 team. While 38-24 isn’t bad, 38-31 would have looked a lot better. We also could have had a different outcome, which I will bring up later.

The Miami RedHawks look like they found a starting quarterback in Brett Gabbert. They went against a top 20 Iowa Hawkeyes team and played well in the first half on defense. Even though Gabbert played well, the RedHawks couldn’t quite punch it in against a stingy Iowa defense. The Hawkeye running game hit it’s stride and pulled Iowa away in the second half. A few more plays that went Miami’s way could have given them a “signature loss”, especially if Iowa ends up winning the Big Ten West. This can matter both in bowl game selection and recruiting.

Finally I am going to write about a game that didn’t involve a MAC school. A ranked Auburn team, out of the SEC, took on a ranked Oregon squad out of the PAC 12. Oregon looked liked they were the better team, at least on that night, for much of the game. Auburn hung around and hung around and then the Ducks choked the game away. This one game could have huge implications come playoff time. Not just for Oregon and Auburn, but in an argument between the conferences.

Had Auburn just accepted Oregon as the better team that night, it would be easy to imagine the Ducks piling it on at the end and the SEC slander would have been huge. Instead, Auburn hung around, and gave themselves a chance to win. That is a reoccurring theme I have seen in this SEC era of college football. They grind, especially in the non-conference. This helps with recruiting and bowl selection.

I am not saying Miami or Toledo gave up, they didn’t. However, as the bigger, faster power conference teams started to pull away, you could read in their body language that they were thinking, “Ah well, we gave it a shot, it just wasn’t our day.” Instead of coming out of the gate and going toe to toe with the big dogs early and wearing out, maybe take a let’s keep it close until the 4th and then see what happens type of approach. Keep it close, and give the other team a chance to choke as they get frustrated by not putting the little guy down enough.