Critics say that the Mid-American Conference doesn't belong in
Division I-A. They point out that the MAC struggles to meet I-A
attendance requirements, that it annually ranks near the bottom
of the conference power ratings and that four of the last six
schools to hold the nation's longest losing streak in Division
I-A were from the Mid-American. So why shouldn't the MAC drop to
I-AA? For starters, the conference is one of the last places in
big-time college football where you can still find someone like
Ryan Henry.

Henry, a senior at Bowling Green, has a golden arm, and a gilded
attitude that's rare in college football. In '94 Henry--whom most
recruiters ignored because he's just 6-foot--was 10th in the
nation in passing efficiency and fourth in touchdown passes,
with 25. He set a school record with seven TDs against Ball
State. But records "just embarrass me," says Henry, who'll have
a degree in interpersonal communication and be working on a
master's when the season begins. "Football continues to serve
its primary purpose: funding my education," he says.

Henry grew up in Canton, Ohio, and played his high school ball
on the field at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in front of Mom,
Dad and six siblings. Asked about his travels beyond Canton, the
22-year-old says, "Yeah, I've been to the Far East. Pennsylvania
is a really nice place."

This season Henry may get to see the far west--at the Las Vegas
Bowl, where the MAC winner will play the Big West champion on
Dec. 14. Preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green has all-conference
players Henry, senior offensive tackle Chad Bukey and senior
defensive lineman Greg Cepek. The Falcons are 14-1-1 in
conference games played at home the last four years. The loss
came in last year's finale and gave Central Michigan the MAC
crown.

Central, however, has lost eight starters on offense, including
Brian Pruitt, the nation's second-leading rusher in 1994. Now
the MAC's best back is Miami (Ohio) senior Deland McCullough,
who has broken the 1,000-yard mark twice. The Redskins could
quiet the MAC's critics with a decent showing at Michigan on
Sept. 30.

The league's other shot at bagging a Goliath comes on Oct. 21,
when Western Michigan plays at Auburn. The Broncos' offense is
powered by senior tailback Jim Vackaro and senior quarterback
Jay McDonagh, who combined for 3,689 total yards in 1994.

Toledo has all but one starter back on defense, while Kent
features running back Astron Whatley, the 1994 MAC Freshman of
the Year. New coaches take over at Ball State (Bill Lynch),
Eastern Michigan (Rick Rasnick), Akron and Ohio. With many
players having graduated and only 40 scholarship athletes coming
out of the spring, Lee Owens has his hands full as Gerry Faust's
replacement at Akron, as does Jim Grobe at Ohio, which has
averaged 1.7 wins per year for a decade.

Should the MAC option Ohio to another conference to boost its
power rating? "Oh, no," says Henry. "Ohio will be much improved.
I promise."

Who would want to rid the division of guys like this?

--David Fleming

COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART Bowling Green's Henry would rather count sheepskins than records. [Ryan Henry in game]

RANKINGS

1. Bowling Green
2. Central Michigan
3. Miami (Ohio)
4. Western Michigan
5. Ball State
6. Toledo
7. Kent
8. Eastern Michigan
9. Akron
10. Ohio

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)