The first player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft was a Mid-American Conference offensive tackle (Eric Fisher of Central Michigan), and while the league doesn't have anybody that will be picked No. 1 in the 2014 draft, it does have someone who could go in the first round (Buffalo LB Khalil Mack) and a handful of others that could end up being drafted relatively high.
Here are five MAC players that can make some national noise early in the season with big games against "Big Six" conference (the leagues that have automatic BCS berths) opponents.
Buffalo OLB Khalil Mack at Ohio State, Aug. 31: Mack (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) is No. 19 on NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah's Talented Top 50 list. He'll have a chance to greatly increase his national profile in the Bulls' opener. Ohio State is expected to have the best offensive line in the Big Ten and one of the top 10 in the nation -- OLT Jack Mewhort is a potential All-American. ORT Taylor Decker will be making his first career start against Buffalo. In his career, Mack has 18 sacks, 56 tackles for loss, 11 forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and an interception. He has averaged 18.7 tackles for loss per season and is 19 shy of setting the NCAA career record in that category. In seven career games against "Big Six" competition, Mack has three sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.
Kent State RB Dri Archer at LSU, Sept. 14: Archer (5-8, 175) is one of the most explosive players in the nation, according to NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. He has excellent speed, quick feet and elusiveness. He ran for 1,429 yards and 16 TDs last season and also is a dangerous receiver and kick returner (three touchdowns on 16 returns last season). A new coaching staff expects to use him more in the slot this season, where he should prove to be a mismatch. LSU's defense, by far, will be the most athletic Archer sees this fall. He has seen extensive action just once in his career against a "Big Six" conference opponent and ran for 78 yards and a TD on eight carries against a bad Kentucky team last season.
Central Michigan WR Titus Davis at Michigan, Aug. 31: Davis (6-2, 190) is a junior and the only non-senior on this list. He had 43 catches for 860 yards and eight TDs last season -- that 20-yards-per-catch average was the highest in the nation for anyone with at least 40 receptions. While lacking elite speed, he is a legitimate deep threat and knows how to find the end zone: 16 of his 83 career receptions have resulted in touchdowns. Davis will be working with a new starting quarterback, but that could be mitigated in this game because Michigan will be breaking in seven new starters on defense. Davis has two TD receptions in five career games against "Big Six" opponents.
Toledo RB David Fluellen at Florida, Aug. 31: Fluellen (6-0, 214) rushed for 1,498 yards and 13 TDs last season, his first as the full-time starter. Fluellen lacks top-flight speed, but he is a tough inside runner who also can get around the corner on occasion. He loves a heavy workload, too: Fluellen had at least 20 carries in 10 games last season and had two games with at least 34. While Florida is talented defensively, the Gators will be without their best linebacker (the suspended Antonio Morrison) in this one and also will be breaking in two new starting defensive tackles and two new starting safeties. Fluellen ran for 243 yards and a TD in two games against "Big Six" competition last season.
Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch at Iowa, Aug. 31: Lynch (6-0, 216) is being hyped as a Heisman contender, and there's no question he put up huge numbers last season. Lynch finished second in the nation in total offense, behind only Johnny Manziel. Lynch threw for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns and added 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground as a first-year starter. But he didn't exactly light it up against "bigger" competition. He was a combined 21-of-57 for 230 yards with two TDs and three picks last season in losses to Iowa and Florida State. If he struggles this season against what is expected to be a middling Iowa club, the Heisman talk should stop. If he has a big game, on the other hand, the hype will ramp up. Lynch has a lot to prove to NFL scouts -- he is short and his arm strength is lacking.