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The Inside Track | Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

It's Harder to Say Bye-Bye to This Mid-American Pie

September 22, 2003|Chris Dufresne

Holy Toledo!

Holy Marshall!

Holy Northern Illinois?

What a weekend for the Mid-American Conference, which toppled three top 25-ranked bowl championship series schools as it served notice that the have-nots have not surrendered to the corporate big-wigs.

The conference, based in Cleveland, officially declared Saturday the greatest day in MAC history ... and it was hard to argue.

We hear the league even got a congratulatory phone call from MACk Brown, the Texas coach.

Marshall over No. 6-ranked Kansas State, Toledo over No. 9 Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois over No. 21 Alabama amounted to three monumental blows to the BCS at a time when the five non-BCS conferences are negotiating for better access into a college football system controlled by the six power conferences.

The MAC-attack helped make the non-BCS case that the on-the-field gap has narrowed and that it deserves a bigger cut of an almost billion-dollar pie.

The MAC could argue right now that, when Miami and Virginia Tech opt out of the Big East next year for the Atlantic Coast, it should replace the Big East as the sixth BCS conference in the next contract.

This is interesting stuff, with Northern Illinois serving as the new poster program for discrimination.

Now for the reality check ...

Even as it improved to 3-0 with victories against Maryland and Alabama, Northern Illinois has almost no shot of rising to No. 6 or better in the final BCS standings and clinching an automatic berth in a major bowl.

This No. 6 spot is the carrot the BCS dangles as "access" to the system and what non-BCS people call the glass ceiling. Since the BCS was formed in 1998, no non-BCS school has finished higher than No. 10.

So, what a surprise that Northern Illinois made its debut at only No. 22 in Sunday's ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and No. 20 in the Associated Press. The Huskies have only one more game against a BCS school, next week against Iowa State, and then will retreat into conference play with no more "juice" games to move up in the rankings.

The non-BCS cause will be praying that Northern Illinois stays unbeaten into November, when conference presidents meet in New Orleans to discuss BCS access issues.

For now, though, break out those MAC party hats.

It was some weekend, all right.

Saturday night, Ericka Dunlap of Orlando, Fla., was named Miss America.

Dunlap is a student at Central Florida, that's right, a MAC school.

Under BCS rules, however, we have learned that Dunlap cannot compete for the title of Sugar Bowl queen this year. She will have to settle for a royal-court position at the MAC-affiliated GMAC or Motor City bowls.


Weekend Wrap

Keeping tabs on: John Gagliardi. The coach of Division III St. John's (Minn.) scored victory No. 402 Saturday when his Johnnies defeated Wisconsin Eau Claire, 24-10.

Gagliardi needs six wins to tie Eddie Robinson's all-time win total of 408. If St. John's keeps winning, Gagliardi can tie the record at St. Thomas (St. Paul) on Nov. 1 and eclipse Robinson in a Nov. 8 home game against Bethel.

Analyze this: It took a week, but Associated Press voters finally got it right, jumping Arkansas over Texas in Sunday's poll. Last week, Texas remained ahead of Arkansas even after the Razorbacks soundly defeated the Longhorns in Austin.

Also, AP voters this week jumped Oregon from No. 22 to No. 10 and ahead of No. 11 Michigan in the wake of the Ducks' win over the Wolverines.

And the coaches' poll?

The men entrusted to watch over your student-athletes still have Texas at No. 13, one spot ahead of Arkansas, and only dropped Michigan five spots to No. 10, five spots ahead of No. 15 Oregon.

Did you know that: The MAC this year has defeated teams from five of the six BCS conferences -- ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Southeastern and Big 12. The MAC and Pacific 10 conferences have not played each other.

You almost needed a calculator to: Add up the points in three Pac-10 nonconference defeats. In losses to Oklahoma, Purdue and Iowa this weekend, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State were outscored, 139-33. Arizona, which has officially become a Pac-10 laughingstock, has been outscored, 166-30, in its three losses.

For what it's worth, in 1997, while coaching at Texas, John Mackovic lost a game to UCLA, 66-3. He was fired at the end of the year.

Had no idea that: Air Force, Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Northern Illinois would be a combined 18-0 on Sept. 21.

Never gave up on: Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti. OK, maybe just a little. Last year's total collapse after a 6-0 start had us wondering about the direction of the program, but this year's 4-0 start and Saturday's win over Michigan proves why Bellotti has been the Pac-10's best coach since 1995.

The whirlpool may be the best place to find: Oklahoma State receiver Rashaun Woods (seven touchdown catches against Southern Methodist); Oklahoma specialist Antonio Perkins (277 yards, three punt returns for scores against UCLA); UCLA punter Chris Kluwe (sore foot).

Dream season goes bust for: Kansas State. Perhaps playing consecutive games against Troy State, McNeese State and Massachusetts doesn't get you ready for the likes of Marshall.

Looking forward to: Three more potential MAC upsets next week: Cincinnati at Miami, Toledo at Syracuse, Ball State at Boston College.

Slip-sliding away: Notre Dame. The Irish are 3-5 since last year's 8-0 start.

Point total I never thought I'd see posted from Arizona State: 2.

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