Super Bowl will be MAC-tasticWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Much of this year’s college football season was spent debating whether or not the “little guys” deserved a chance to play with the big boys, the little guys being football teams like Texas Christian and Boise State. Both the Horned Frogs and the Broncos proved their worth, ending the 2010 campaign ranked among the top-10 teams in the country in the AP Top 25 poll. TCU finished No. 2 after taking down then No. 4-ranked Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, while Boise State finished No. 9 after dismantling then No. 20-ranked Utah 26-3 in the MAACO Bowl Dec. 22.
Each of the aforementioned football programs served as flagship teams for a lot of the smaller schools around the nation trying to prove that they can hang with bigger programs on any given Saturday. Toledo managed to pull off the upset in a 31-20 victory at Purdue on Sept. 25, the fifth-straight season the Mid-American Conference member Rockets took down a team from a BCS automatic qualifying conference. This year, that small school success has carried over onto the NFL’s biggest stage.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers do battle in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium Feb. 6, 15 former MAC players will be participating. Pittsburgh has six former MAC players, while Green Bay features nine on its’ roster from the conference. That number is tied with the Big Ten for second among FBS conferences, only trailing the Southeastern Conference, which leads the way with 18 former SEC players in the big game.
“It’s huge,” Toledo head coach Tim Beckman said in a phone interview with the Toledo Free Press. Beckman has coached in the MAC for a total of nine seasons between his head coaching position with the Rockets and his former job as the Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach for Bowling Green from 1998-2004. He has also coached in the Big Ten and Big 12 with Ohio State and Oklahoma State, respectively. “We’ve got great football players in this conference, and I’m very proud of them that [we’ve] got that many in the Super Bowl. I think ever since they’ve cut the scholarships down to 85, I mean it’s definitely kind of evened out the masses of recruits.
“You’ve got the TCU’s. You’ve got the Boise’s, and the Utah’s and Nevada’s, and they’re definitely the main non-BCS teams right now. Good football’s being played throughout this country, and you see it each and every weekend.”
What’s more is that three of the best players in Super Bowl XLV are all former MAC players. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker James Harrison hailed from current MAC East Division schools Miami (OH) and Kent State, while Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings played at MAC West Division member Western Michigan. Beckman certainly remembers coaching against them.
“Playing against Jennings and Ben, both of them are great, great players,” Beckman said. “I had to defend them. I’m sure that I’ve got some of this grey hair from trying to defend those two.”
Locally, there are also a couple of players in this year’s Super Bowl who once suited up in the Northwest Ohio area as members of the Falcons. Steelers’ kicker Shaun Suisham and Packers’ linebacker Diyral Briggs both played their college ball at Bowling Green. Suisham, who is in his first year with Pittsburgh after splitting the first five seasons of his career between Dallas and Washington, has made 14-of-15 field goal attempts and all 19 of his extra point attempts for the Steelers.
Suisham finished his career with the Falcons in 2004 as Bowling Green’s all-time leading scorer with 361 points and holds school records for field goals made (45), extra points made (226) and extra points attempted (233).
“Shaun’s a great kid,” Beckman said of the former Falcon whom he spent four seasons with at Bowling Green. “I’m very proud of his career in the NFL. He won a lot of football games for us when he kicked for us.”
According to an article dated Nov. 5, 2010 on the NCAA’s website, the estimated probability of high school senior boys playing interscholastic football eventually being drafted by an NFL team was approximately 0.08 percent, or eight in 10,000. Given the odds, I think it’s pretty cool that 15 former MAC players will be suiting up for the Super Bowl. I bet they and their families do, too.