That seven Mid-American Conference players are on the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award means little in the big picture of the upcoming college football season.
Preseason watch lists are sort of like getting an invitation to enter a raffle for the chance to buy a lottery ticket. For a really big lottery.
Too, there could be 30 MAC players on the list and none of them would have a realistic shot of winning the Maxwell, which has been given to college football’s most outstanding player every year since 1937.
But this most recent list is the most recent sign that the MAC is out there, at least much further “out there” than it used to be. The seven players — Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch, Kent State RB/WR/KR Dri Archer, Ohio RB Beau Blankenship, Ball State QB Keith Wenning, Central Michigan RB Zurlon Tipton, Buffalo RB Branden Oliver and Toledo RB David Fluellen — are still very much Davids amongst college football’s Goliaths, but they’ve earned the recognition they’re receiving.
High-scoring weeknight games, eye-popping stats, the occasional headline-grabbing upset and the emergence of social media have helped #MACtion take off over the last few seasons. As the league looks to extend its current television deal to help its programs sustain this run of success, every notice on every list counts.
It’s possible, too, that the fun is just beginning. Lynch and Archer, undoubtedly the league’s headline players during the countdown to 2013, were first-year starters last season. So, too, was Blankenship.
More MAC players are on the Maxwell watch list than All-American (the old Big East) Conference and Conference USA players combined.
Again, it all means nothing come August 29. But to the MAC and the football programs that operate under the national radar in places like Muncie, Indiana and Athens, Ohio, the attention always means something.
MAC football is coming off a banner season, quite possibly its best ever and certainly the best since Marshall was playing on a national stage and several other schools were consistently producing NFL talent and beating what are now BCS conference programs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Seven MAC schools played in bowl games last year, highlighted by Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.
West Virginia’s Tavon Austin was a top-10 NFL pick last year, and NFL scouts see Archer, who scored 23 touchdowns last season, as a similar player. They’ll stop by Toledo to see Bernard Reedy, too, who’s not even on this list but will be up for every award for the nation’s top return men and most versatile players. Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is a possible top-two round selection next April, too.
Lynch last season became the first FBS player to pass for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,500 in a single season. His 1,815 rushing yards were the fourth-most nationally.
What will he do for an encore? Iowa, which narrowly beat Northern Illinois in last year’s opener, probably isn’t overly anxious to find out. But Lynch has the talent to again push his team — and his conference — towards national prominence. And every little bit of that counts.