Thursday, August 31, 2006


Moving From Down Home to the Big Time - New York Times

The MAC Conference is turning heads. Be on the lookout for Northern Illinois’s Garrett Wolfe, at only 5-7, 177 pounds.

At Northern Illinois, there are cornstalks taller than the tailback, barns bigger than the football office, and games of enormous consequence played on Tuesdays.

To most of the country, the Northern Illinois Huskies look all mixed up. To the Mid-American Conference, they are a model member.

The MAC is made up of 13 universities, most of them spread across the heartland, in towns like Ypsilanti, Mich.; Oxford, Ohio; and Muncie, Ind. Despite fertile soil, the teams are traditionally undersized and underfinanced. They play in whatever time slot ESPN gives them, even if it means rescheduling homecoming.

And yet, when a major upset happens early in the season, a MAC team is often the one pulling it — Toledo over Penn State, Northern Illinois over Alabama, Bowling Green over Purdue, Miami of Ohio over North Carolina, all on the road and all in this century.

The MAC is to college football what the Missouri Valley Conference is to college basketball, and if the bowl season were traded for a 65-team N.C.A.A. tournament, Northern Illinois would be that pesky team seeded No. 12 that no one wants to play.

On Saturday, the Huskies will go to Ohio State with a tailback who is 5-foot-7, a coach who once lost 23 consecutive games, and a group of tight ends who meet on a racquetball court. Sandbagging is part of their strategy.

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