Is the MAC gaining on the Big Ten?

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten and Mid-American Conference formed a scheduling partnership several years ago, with the intent to give the MAC more exposure and the Big Ten more home games and, presumably, more non-league wins.

All but one Big Ten team (Iowa) had a MAC opponent on this year's slate. Both Indiana and Minnesota faced two MAC squads.

With regular-season nonconference play almost complete -- Wisconsin faces Cal-Poly next week -- the MAC has to be pleased with how the season turned out. The MAC posted a record four wins against Big Ten teams, including a historic win by Toledo at Michigan.

Bill Simonson, who hosts a popular sports talk radio show in Michigan, recently opined on his blog about whether the MAC is better than the Big Ten top to bottom this year. He notes the accomplishments of MAC West teams like Ball State, Central Michigan and Western Michigan and points out that several other teams (Ohio, Northern Illinois) nearly knocked off Big Ten foes.

"Ball State could be on its way to a BCS bid this year if the Cardinals win out. Western Michigan had more votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll this week than Iowa, and the Hawkeyes just beat No. 2 Penn State. (Hey, JoePa, at least Bill Cubit and the Broncos could win in Iowa City last year).

I think America sees the growth of this so-called mid-major conference into a college football machine. Central, Western and Ball state all could beat any Big Ten team this year -- that includes Ohio State and Penn State."

I'm a big non-BCS advocate and enjoy watching MAC games, but I don't agree with this at all. Sure, Ohio State got a scare from Ohio on Sept. 6, but the Buckeyes in their current form (Terrelle Pryor/Chris "Beanie" Wells) would beat any MAC team, including Ball State. The same holds true for Penn State. It would be interesting to see Ball State match up with Michigan State or Iowa.

Central Michigan ended its prolonged drought against BCS teams by beating Indiana, the Big Ten's worst squad, two weeks ago. But to be considered a legitimate non-BCS threat, the Chippewas need to consistently beat BCS teams. There were too many lopsided scores last year.

The MAC West is certainly on the rise, and it has been a better season for the league overall after some lean years. But the fact that Ball State isn't in the BCS discussion despite a strong chance to go undefeated shows there's still a long way to go. If the MAC can pull off similar results against the Big Ten in the Motor City Bowl and next fall -- the opportunities are there because of the scheduling agreement -- it will have a stronger case.