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Re-establishing parity in college football

The Rieger Report

By JM Rieger
On November 12, 2012

The fourth-oldest conference in college football is making parity relevant again.

Entering week 12, the Mid-American Conference (MAC) has more bowl-eligible teams than the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 10 or the Big East, and is tied with the Big 12 with six eligible teams, the third most in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). On top of this, only the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has a better winning percentage among the conference's top four teams.

Three different MAC schools have been ranked in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 Poll this year alone. Meanwhile, you have to go back to 2010 for the last time a MAC school was ranked. Yet, over the past two seasons the MAC is 6-3 in postseason play and has sent four or more teams to bowl games in five of the last seven years.

Teams like No. 25 Kent State University and Northern Illinois University (NIU) have dominated this year and deserve top 25 rankings, while the University of Toledo and Ohio University have been in the Bowl Championship Series rankings this season.

Of the top 20 running backs this year, six are from the MAC. Kent's Traylon Durham and Dri Archer combined for over 300 yards Saturday against Miami University, and Archer's 9.7 yards per carry and 40 yards per kickoff return lead all FBS players.

Kent is off to one of its best starts in school history, riding a program best eight-game winning streak, while the team is well on its way to its first bowl appearance since 1972.

Meanwhile, a late touchdown resulting in a one-point loss to the University of Iowa in week one is all that is keeping Northern Illinois from an undefeated record.

The University of Cincinnati, the University of South Florida, Penn State University, Rutgers University, Indiana University and Iowa have all fallen to MAC schools this year, which are dominating on both sides of the ball. Through the first 11 weeks, there are at least two MAC teams in the top 20 in total offense and in total defense.

The MAC has again created parity in college football.

The six power conferences are still the best, but the MAC is quickly closing that gap.

ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards each project six bowl game invites for the MAC, which would be the most appearances in conference history. The last time the conference sent five teams to the postseason was in 2009.

This conference is better and deeper than it has been in a long time, and the nation is slowly noticing. With only four weeks remaining, the MAC looks poised to shake up an already unstable postseason structure.

Who wouldn't want to see if Kent State could hang with the University of Michigan? Or what about NIU facing off against the University of Wisconsin?

Instead, the best game MAC fans will likely see is a matchup against a near-.500 SEC team in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., one of the MAC's five secondary bowl agreements.

At least there's the southern hospitality to look forward to.

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