Has the resurgent MAC passed the Big East?

The Mid-American Conference has made a few national headlines over the last two weekends, and two have them have come at the expense of the Big East.

The MAC’s resurgence has been highlighted — and legitimized — by Toledo’s win over Cincinnati on Oct. 20 and Kent State’s dominating win at Rutgers last weekend. Both Cincinnati and Rutgers were undefeated headed into those games.

What it all really shows is just how fleeting and insignificant things like rankings can be — as well as just how small the difference between flirting with the BCS and getting zero national attention can be. Cincinnati is a handful of plays from being 7-0, but instead is 5-2, unranked and would need lots of help to come back and earn the Big East’s BCS berth. Ohio University’s first foray into the BCS rankings lasted less than a week as the Bobcats lost a three-point decision at Miami-Ohio and fell out of every ranking..

Asked after his team’s win over Cincinnati what it would mean for his team to achieve a Top-25 ranking, Toledo Matt Campbell said it would mean only “that we’re getting on the bus to go play another tough game at Buffalo” the following weekend.

The Rockets beat Buffalo 25-20 last weekend and remain on the fringe of both national polls. Buffalo dropped to 1-7 with the loss.

The MAC vs. Big East argument, if such a thing took place, would be a tough one for either side to win convincingly. Ohio’s win at Penn State is probably the best non-conference victory for either conference thus far, but it’s not clear cut. The MAC doesn’t miss Temple, but new addition UMass might be the worst team in FBS football. Bowling Green has probably played the toughest schedule of any team in either conference to this point, but that’s disputable, too.

It comes down to wins and settling things on the field. A further examination of head-to-head, MAC vs. Big East games this season shows the count at four wins apiece. Thanks to Toledo and Kent State on the last two weekends, the MAC indisputably has the two quality wins of the bunch.

Just two weeks ago, three Big East teams were unbeaten and ranked. Just four days ago, the MAC had a semi-legtimate BCS contender.

Louisville rallied to beat Cincinnati last Friday night in overtime, moving to 8-0 and all the way up to No. 10 in the newest BCS Standings. Now, no sane person outside Louisville city limits actually believes the Cardinals are close to being one of the best 10 teams in the nation right now, but Louisville has kept finding ways to win. Also, Louisville fans would start any MAC vs. Big East argument by pointing out that Kent State’s only loss came to Kentucky — by 33 points.

Yes, that really happened.

Both Toledo and Northern Illinois stand at 8-1, 5-0 in MAC play. The winner of their Nov. 14 game will all but clinch the West Division’s spot in the Nov. 30 MAC Championship Game and should be in the top 25. Both teams probably should be now, and both can lament close Week One losses. Toledo lost in overtime at Arizona, and Northern Illinois let Iowa rally late for a neutral-site victory.

The teams in both the MAC and Big East — and their fans — can agree on at least one thing: There’s not much margin for error. Cincinnati isn’t in the excuse-making business but was 5-0 with Walter Stewart in the lineup and is 0-2 without him. Ohio went from mini-national darling to a second place tie in the MAC East.

About all we know for sure is that Toledo and Louisville look like teams that could compete in any conference when they take the field, and that the MAC is in position to scoop up some bowl bids that normally would belong to Big East teams when this season ends. The MAC already has six teams that have reached the six-win baseline for bowl eligibility. The Big East goes to November with just three teams having posted winning records.

Louisville is scheduled to host Ohio in the 2013 season opener. Both teams have underclassmen at quarterback this season and lots of reasons to believe they’ll be very good next season, too. We can revisit this argument then. In the meantime, there are still plenty of chances for plenty of good teams to prove themselves on the field.

MAC vs. Big East, 2012

UConn 37, UMass 0

Western Michigan 30, UConn 24

Ball State 31, South Florida 27

UConn 24, Buffalo 17

Cincinnati 52, Miami-Ohio 14

Pitt 20, Buffalo 6

Toledo 29, Cincinnati 23

Kent State 35, Rutgers 23