Asked by a reporter how it felt to have three former Central Michigan players as Packers teammates, Jennings smiled widely before drawing in a deep breath and dropping his head.There are more than a few Mid-American graduates at Pittsburgh, as well.
"You know what, it really sucks, but I'll take it," he laughed. "You got a lot of guys on this team — Chippewa Nation — and it's just me (by myself)."
Since 2006, Central Michigan has won three Mid-American Conference titles and been to four bowl games. It's forced Jennings to endure some Chippewa championship chirping.
"They are (riding high). Trust me, they bring it up a lot," he said. "They wear their Central gear all the time. And they beat us this year, so I had to go through that. But it's fun, it gives us something to talk about."
The MAC's representation is tied with the Big Ten for the second highest amount of players from FBS conferences. Both trail the SEC, which will have 18 players represented.One of these days, Northern Star editors will grasp the distinction between number and amount. Northern Illinois players have all been excused, Garrett Wolfe and the Bears, and Michael Turner and the Falcons, both by the Packers.
That hasn't stopped Northern Illinois from high aspirations.
“We have a belief here that we could be the first team from the [Mid-American Conference] to compete in a BCS bowl game,” [athletic director Jeff] Compher said. “We talk about that. Because I’ll tell you, if you don’t dream it, it will never happen. Now it’s gone beyond dream (to) how we can execute that.”These aspirations come, and sometimes they go. When I hired out here, the ambition was to replace Northwestern in the Big Ten (that was a sports aspiration, probably not an academic aspiration), but resources for sports were more easily obtained in those days. A few years later, the state austerity regime proposed to lower the academic profile and go cold turkey on sports. The student fees that underwrite sports losses came in at that time. We've since raised our academic profile in some areas, and made a BCS run or two, but student attendance at sporting events is erratic.
During the recruiting process, Compher and coach Dave Doeren set that goal for the 22 recruits who committed. They told them they wanted NIU to become the next Boise State, the next TCU. It’s a bold standard to compare a mid-major program to.