The Mid-American Conference has captured the hearts of the college football Twitterati over the last few years with their willingness to play, seemingly, on any day of the week that ends in the letter “Y.”
For those who cannot get enough college football, a Tuesday night game between Toledo and Northern Illinois in November is like manna from heaven. It’s been a smart move for the conference, elevating the MAC’s visibility during the end of the season.
Having some wild shootouts on the field during those spotlight games hasn’t hurt either.
With the recent decision by the Big Ten to stop scheduling FCS schools, the MAC is viewed as one of the likely beneficiaries of that change in philosophy. This means that the MAC will probably play more games against the Big Ten schools, although they do play their fair share against their “big brothers” already.
But those FCS teams will still need opponents and paydays. The MAC is ready to fill that gap as well. This year, 12 of the 13 MAC schools have an FCS opponent on their schedule. Expect that trend to continue.
The MAC plays an unbalanced schedule. Every team plays eight games, but because the divisions are uneven, the games don’t line up exactly for divisional crossover. It’s a complex schedule, but essentially divisional games mean more, especially in the East Division, which has the extra team.
So, from toughest to easiest schedule, let’s meet the MAC:
1) Akron Zips – When you face three bowl teams in your non-conference schedule (at UCF, at Michigan and Louisiana Lafayette), an FCS program with a solid background and a winning record in 2012 (James Madison) and have to cross over with two of the top teams in the opposing division (at Northern Illinois and hosting Toledo), it looks like another long season for the Akron Zips. If they can overcome this schedule and get close to bowl contention, Terry Bowden will have done a great job.
2) Kent State – The surprise winner of the MAC East last season will not have the luxury of sneaking up on anybody with their bruising ground game. The Golden Flashes have only five home games with road trips to Baton Rouge and State College on the docket. They cross over with Northern Illinois in a rematch of the thrilling two overtime MAC title game from last season which the Flashes lost 44-37.
3) Massachusetts – The transition from FCS to FBS is never an easy one, even if you’re in the MAC. The Minutemen are learning that the hard way. They do have six home games, but two of them are versus Vanderbilt and Northern Illinois. Road trips to Wisconsin and Kansas State provide an even greater challenge for one of the newest programs in the FBS.
4) Central Michigan – The Chippewas have a challenging non-conference schedule that sees them traveling to Ann Arbor and Raleigh, N.C. to face bowl teams as well as a cross-country jaunt to the Mojave Desert to face UNLV. Also, among their five home games is a tilt with New Hampshire, an FCS playoff team from last year.
5) Toledo – While most of the rest of the MAC plays schools from the Midwest at least once during non-conference play, Toledo will head out of region for all four of their non-conference matchups. The Rockets hit the road to face Florida and Missouri in the first two weeks of the season before hosting FCS power Eastern Washington in week three. The crossover games for the Rockets include blood rival Bowling Green and two easier opponents in Buffalo and Akron.
6) Bowling Green – The Falcons get Conference USA champion Tulsa to open the season, and travel to both Bloomington, Indiana and to Starkville, Mississippi during the season. The annual I-75 rivalry game against Toledo provides another hurdle for the Falcons to overcome in their quest to win the East division this season.
7) Eastern Michigan – The perpetually sad sack Eagles have to play at Penn State and at Rutgers out of conference and at Northern Illinois and Toledo in conference. At least Bowling Green and Ohio come to them. It looks like another long year for Ron English and company.
8) Buffalo – Trips to Ohio State and Baylor will offer a stout challenge right off the bat for the Bulls, and a crossover game against Toledo is not easy later in the season. Also, back to back games against Kent State and Ohio in a five-day span just add to the challenge the Bulls will face. College football fans will see a lot of the Bulls in November, since they play three Tuesday games that month.
9) Western Michigan – The Broncos youthful head coach has a bit of a tricky schedule to navigate his team through in his first season. The conference schedule is not too bad with crossover games against Buffalo and at UMass, but the non-conference schedule is a bit of bear with road trips to Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa potentially physically draining. However, that gauntlet could make for a battle tested team later in the season.
10) Northern Illinois – The Huskies have a new head coach and a schedule that seems to be relatively manageable. Two road games against Big Ten schools (Iowa, Purdue) and a long road trip to Idaho make the non-conference a bit tricky, but crossover games against Akron, UMass and Kent balance out the schedule. NIU might not make a BCS bowl game this year, but it has a chance to be another 10 win season for the team from DeKalb, Illinois.
11) Ball State – The Cardinals only face one team with a winning record in the non-conference, a tilt with FCS playoff team Illinois State to open the season. A trip to Charlottesville may not be easy, but it is not an impossible road trip. Crossover games at Akron and hosting Kent and Miami seem to favor the team from Muncie, Indiana.
12) Miami University – The Redhawks don’t have to face either Northern Illinois or Toledo, and while they have three road games on their schedule, each game is possibly winnable if things break right for them (at Marshall, at Kentucky, at Illinois). This looks like a possible rebound schedule for Miami after a disappointing 2012. They have a chance to compete for the East Division title.
13) Ohio – The Bobcats staggered to the finish last season after a hot start. Seven home games with crossovers against Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan could help ease the sting of how 2012 finished. An opening weekend Sunday tilt with potential winner of The American Louisville is a chance for the Bobcats to set a tone for this campaign.