It’s been quite a run for the Mid-American Conference.
Last year, Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the No. 1 pick in the draft; this past season, Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting; and now, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, who has been steadily rising on draft boards for the last several months, looks like a lock for a top-five pick – and possibly even the first overall pick.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “As he takes on blocks, he hits and sheds, he pursues and tackles. And when he tackles, he arrives there in a bad mood.”
In fact, Mack set an NCAA record last season for most forced fumbles in a career (16) and is tied for most tackles for loss (75).
“It just tells you the kind of mindset (he has),” Quinn said. “It’s hard to game plan when you have a player of that caliber.”
But Quinn always enjoyed watching teams try.
“I always get a kick out of what teams try to do to block Khalil,” he said. “They don’t bring one guy to the point of attack; there’s a lot of times that we saw him double-teamed, tripled teamed – there was times there was four guys searching out No. 46 on our ball club, and he was still finding ways to make plays. When you have a great player – and the guy is really a complete player; he’s not just a great pass rusher, but he can also drop back in coverage.”
Mack had three interceptions this year, including a pick-six against Ohio State.
“If you run away from him, he’s going to track you down from behind,” Quinn said. “If you run to him, he’s going to stuff you from the point of attack. It’s going to be excited to see him play at the next level.”
Mack, 23, is 6-3, 247. This past season, he won the Jack Lambert Award for the best linebacker in the game, and he helped Buffalo to an 8-5 record and its second bowl bid in program history.
That’s right. The second bowl bid – in more than a century of football.
“We’re building it the right way; we’re doing it both on and off the field,” Quinn said. “We did it with great leadership, and certainly Khalil Mack is one of those young men that really helped us secure the kind of season we had. He’s been one of those dynamic players that developed in our program, and he’s certainly been very responsive to a lot of the things we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Quinn, who arrived at Buffalo in 2010, has watched Mack’s progression from redshirt freshman to one of the best players in the country.
“I knew he loved football,” Quinn said. “He has a passion for the game. I started to recognize he had something special going on. He created a lot of takeaways. I saw it in practice, I saw it in games.”
So did many fans. Buffalo set a school attendance record this year and had the No. 1 attendance in the MAC.
And now, a player from the MAC might be the No. 1 pick for the second straight year.
“It certainly makes a statement that we have those kind of players that can play at that level and certainly get that recognition,” Quinn said. “That just says a lot about our conference and the quality of play that we see each week.”