Steelers HC Mike Tomlin on 'trap game' idea vs. Jaguars: 'We're not a Big Ten team playing a MAC opponent'

Mike Tomlin is not here to listen to warnings of a potential trap game for his undefeated Steelers when they face the one-win Jaguars this Sunday.

In fact, he’s so unwilling to consider such a thought, he decided Tuesday to make a collegiate comparison the regionally based Steelers fans will understand.

“We are not a Big Ten team playing a MAC opponent this week,” Tomlin said. “(The Jaguars are) a group trying to kick our butt.”

The old saying “any given Sunday” applies here, illustrating the reality of a league with such effective parity, any team can triumph, against the greatest of realistic odds. They’re all professionals, the elite 1,696 football players on the planet, and they’re not about to lay down for a team that is seemingly superior.

Pittsburgh has won games in nearly every fashion this season, with the outcome — nine victories and zero losses — serving as the most important detail. The Steelers are the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated team, making for a great upset opportunity for the lowly Jaguars, who have won just one game and rank 25th in total offense and 31st in total defense.

It’s not impossible, it’s just not all that likely, much like a Mid-American Conference team stunning a Big Ten team.

Then again, the mid-major MAC isn’t exactly the Washington Generals.

Collegiate and professional football has the MAC to thank for some of its greatest figures. Legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban played defensive back on the 1972 Kent State team that won the MAC, and he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant there in 1973. Saban’s Kent State teammate, legendary Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Longtime favorite target of Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, was a star quarterback at Kent State. And just before him was Josh Cribbs, who saw his kick-return touchdown record (set during his career with the Cleveland Browns) tied Monday night by Cordarrelle Patterson.

Miami (Ohio) boasts an incredible lineage of successful players and coaches, from Pro Football Hall of Famer Paul Brown to Sid Gillman, Weeb Ewbank to Ara Parseghian, Woody Hayes to Bo Schembechler, Jim Tressel to John Harbaugh, and finally, Sean McVay. Urban Meyer began his highly successful collegiate head coaching career at Bowling Green. Brian Kelly ran the program at Central Michigan for three years before moving onto Cincinnati, and eventually, Notre Dame. And former Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck is in the midst of attempting to turn around Minnesota’s program, going 11-2 in 2019 before starting 1-3 in the COVID-19-impacted 2020 season.

One of the game’s greatest edge rushers of the last 30 years, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, played his college ball less than 20 miles from Canton, at Akron’s since-demolished Rubber Bowl (R.I.P.).

And when it comes to Tomlin’s own Steelers, his most important player — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, also a future Hall of Famer — is a MAC guy (Miami). One of Roethlisberger’s most promising young targets, Diontae Johnson, was a third-round pick out of Toledo in 2019. Tomlin’s starting right tackle (Chukwuma Okorafor) and starting inside linebacker (Robert Spillane) are both Western Michigan products. Six players on Tomlin’s current team hail from MAC schools. And well before 2020, Tomlin relied heavily on a MAC standout who didn’t hear his name called until the sixth round, yet torched scores of defensive backs en route to becoming a star in the NFL. That guy was Antonio Brown, from Central Michigan.

Am I writing all of this because I am a product of a MAC school? Absolutely (go Flashes). But the MAC is no slouch when it comes to its place in Football America. And although Tomlin used this comparison to make the exact opposite point, neither are the Jaguars.

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