CANTON – In what can best be described as a surreal and once-in-a-lifetime event, it is safe to say that the Mid-American Conference Football Media Day down at the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton was a rousing success.
Held at the Pro Football Hall Of Fame due to renovations being made to Ford Field up in Detroit, a wide variety of media outlets such as The Associated Press, ESPN, SB Nation, Fox Sports and local-based publications such as The Toledo Blade, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer along with the two-man contingent from INSCMagazine of myself and staff writer Daniel James Gentile were proverbially jammed into the Events Center to hear league commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher talk about the Cleveland-based conference’s growth and ascension in the proverbial college football pecking order.
On a day in which former Akron standout in Jason Taylor was on a conference call to talk about his Hall of Fame induction and members from the Goodyear Cotton and PlayStation Fiesta Bowls in the room, Steinbrecher talked about the conference’s continued success in the NFL Draft such as former Western Michigan wideout Corey Davis being selected fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans.
Just outside of the room, it just simply hits you proverbially in the jaw of the legendary names of players and coaches of in the form of game-worn artifacts and memorabilia such as Paul Brown’s fedora (Miami-OH), Jack Lambert’s and Joshua Cribbs’ game day cleats (Kent State) and James Harrison’s (Akron) pick-six game ball of his now legendary 100-yard interception return for a touchdown of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII.
You also got to see the past and current banners of NFL standouts such as Super Bowl champion players such as Ben Roethlisberger (Miami-OH), Willie Snead (Ball State), T.J. Lang (Eastern Michigan), Pro Bowl standouts such as Antonio Brown (Central Michigan), the forementioned Davis and the recently drafted Kareem Hunt out of Willoughby South (Toledo), now of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Just this past February, you had former Kent State quarterback—now New England Patriots wide receiver—Julian Edelman make one of the most legendary catches in NFL championship history, so don’t be shocked to see that ball find its way to George Halas Drive in the near future.
With all the great players and coaches mentioned, one simply can only wonder how and why such a mid-major conference such as the MAC is able to produce so many NFL standouts and Hall of Famers.
During the live Q and A with the media, I asked commissioner Steinbrecher this exact question, to which he responded, “Good question, I credit it to the great coaches and staffs that we have in the conference”
In regards to my second question, regarding his thoughts on the MAC crashing the Power Five-exclusive College Football now or in the near future, he confidently replied, “I hope so..”
After the commissioner Q and A now over and players, coaches and staff available to the media for questions, I ran into senior Toledo Rockets quarterback, Logan Woodside to get his thoughts on how he feels about the Rockets being the team to beat in the league.
Woodside, a 6’2 201-pound senior out of Frankfort, Kentucky threw for 4,129 yards, 45 touchdowns—the most in the FBS, ahead of Washington’s Jake Browning (43), current first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in Patrick Mahomes (41), Ryan Higgins of Louisiana Tech (41) and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (40)—in 13 games, while completing almost 70 percent of his passes (69.1) stated,
“As far winning the conference, it’s a pre-season ranking, its something that we are not too concerned about. We’re excited that people think we are going to be good, and that still have a lot of work to do. Camp is going to be important for us, to get to where we want to go.”
After completing 30-of-38 passes for a career-high 505 yards and five touchdowns in Provo vs. Brigham Young last season, Woodside sounded very excited about the prospect of facing another big-name college football program in the Miami Hurricanes this season on Sept. 23 in saying,
“Yes, Definitely, that’ll be a good place for me to go play (at)”.
A early-season candidate for the Heisman Trophy and on the watch list of prestigious honors such as the Maxwell (most outstanding college football player), Davey O’Brien (nation’s top quarterback) and the Manning Award (top college football quarterback), the 2016 First-Team MAC Woodside is also an early All-America and Academic All-America candidate.
Below are my other observations from MAC Football Media Day 2017:
Is Toledo The Head of the 2017 MAC Class? As noted by the forementioned Woodside, the general consensus by many in Canton was that Toledo is the team to beat in the conference, with Woodside being its best player, thanks to 15 returning starters, including five on offense and eight on defense.
Central Michigan TE Tyler Conklin The Next Antonio Gates? Thanks to producing quality tight ends such as future Hall of Famer, Antonio Gates—former basketball player at Kent State—the MAC recently saw former Toledo standout Michael Roberts drafted by the Detroit Lions 127th overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. They could have another potential NFL gem in Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin.
A 6’4, 240-pounder out of Chesterfield, Michigan, Conklin caught 42 passes for 560 yards and six touchdowns in 12 starts.
In what was a potential breakout game for the 2017 Mackey Award Watch List candidate, Conklin caught a career-high seven passes for for 96 yards and two touchdowns during the Chippewas 30-27 controversial upset win over the 11th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys down in Stillwater.
Thanks to his combination of height, size and athleticism, do not be surprised to see his name appear as one of the top tight end prospects for the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.
Miami RedHawks Ready To Swoop Down? Thanks finishing 6-7 overall, tied for first in the MAC East Division, one team that may be able to challenge the conference favorite Rockets is the Miami Redhawks.
With 20 starters—the most in the conference—returning including nine on offense, eight on defense and three on defense for a combined 54 lettermen overall, don’t sleep on the RedHawks.
Among their returning starters are defensive back Heath Harding, a candidate for both the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski Awards (defensive player of the year), wide receiver James Gardner (Biletnikoff Award, best wide receiver) and Ryan Smith (John Mackey Award, top tight end), Miami has a lot of good things going for them.
With three of their first five games on the road at Marshall and a tough back-to-back set of games at Central Michigan and Notre Dame, Miami’s four of their last seven games are at Yager Stadium. A road clash down in Athens at Peden Stadium against bitter rival—and co MAC East leader in Ohio in their annual “Battle of the Bricks” rivalry game—could very well decide divisional supremacy.
Special thanks to Associate Commissioner for Media and Public Relations of the Mid-American Conference, Ken Mather, for his time and assistance down in Canton at Media Day.