Ten must-see games in the MAC
Ready for some Mid-American Conference football?
Of course you are. After last season, isn't everybody?
All the MAC did in 2012 was send a team to the Orange Bowl and produce the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. It also saw a Kent State team that hadn't had a winning season since 2001 and hadn't been to a bowl game since 1972 win 11 games and the league's East Division crown.
Two MAC programs are conducting Heisman Trophy campaigns for their returning stars, two others are coached by guys named Solich and Bowden and seven are looking to return to bowl games. Yes, another MAC season is here -- and here are 10 games that figure to dictate the direction it follows.
If it's going to be #MACtion, the popular catch phrase and hashtag that's been associated with the high-scoring and unpredictable mid-week games of recent years, it might as well be on a Tuesday night, right? Led by a potential NFL first-round pick in linebacker Khalil Mack, Buffalo has enough talent that the Bulls have landed on the midweek docket with a home game that figures to mean something in the MAC East race. The opponent is an Ohio program that's established and looking to win its first MAC title since 1968.
Right away, the MAC East will have a leader and another team with high expectations will be essentially down a game and a half and chasing. Last season these two teams played a winner goes to Detroit classic in November at Bowling Green, and this year the schedule makers have made it the season's first MAC contest. Bowling Green is the trendy pick to win the East but will need to be better on offense, and Kent State will be eager to defend its East title -- and its home field.
Ohio will be a big underdog against the defending Sugar Bowl champions and a team that could rank in the top five in the preseason polls. In other words, the Bobcats have the Cardinals right where they want them. It's a Sunday afternoon national showcase game for Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater and his talented Louisville teammates, but Ohio brings an experienced roster and won't be intimidated by the atmosphere or any ranking. Ohio winning here would be a much bigger upset than winning at Penn State was last year, but there's some chance it could happen.
Last year, Penn State's season opener vs. Ohio was the No. 1 MAC game to watch of the whole season. It became a launching pad for what might have been the best MAC season ever. Part of that season was Kent State's improbable run to the MAC East title, and the Flashes have the dynamic Dri Archer and a bunch of top-line defenders back from that team. Trying to win in Happy Valley will be made tougher by the previous week's trip to LSU, but this has the makings of a good one -- and possibly an attention-grabbing MAC upset.
Here's a less-than-completely-crazy thought: Maybe Ball State beats Toledo on Sept. 28, and maybe at that point the Cardinals will be 5-0. It's certainly possible, and it would set the stage for a big one -- and one that's certainly winnable -- in Charlottesville. For MAC teams to get national attention they have to win a bunch of games, they have to win on the road and they have to beat BCS conference opponents. The ingredients are there, Cardinals. We'll see what you have.
Not just a backyard rivalry but probably an elimination game here between two teams with realistic MAC title expectations. Bowling Green leads the overall series but Toledo has won three straight, and a talented BG senior class will be hungry to stop that streak. Both teams play enough difficult road games to look at this one as a must-have game in terms of advancing up I-75 in early December for the MAC title game, and both teams have enough talent to think about winning if they get there.
Another midweek special that just might be for the MAC West title. Northern Illinois has made its way -- and its name -- through winning these midweek MAC encounters, and the Huskies will wear quite the bullseye all season after playing in the Orange Bowl last January and returning quarterback Jordan Lynch. Ball State is an experienced and worthy heir to the throne, and the Cardinals have a string of winnable games leading up to this one. They don't have a bye week and that could be a factor, but they'll be ready for this one.
The Falcons caught the Bobcats at the right time last November, scoring a road upset that officially derailed the league's preseason favorite. Bowling Green brings back as many good players as any team in the league this season and will have to hold serve at home if it wants to reach its goals. Ohio still has Tyler Tettleton and Beau Blankenship and the Bobcats will remember last year and look to seize the national spotlight while gaining revenge.
Two years ago, this game was 63-60 -- and every bit as wild as the score indicates. A national audience was watching, and the Huskies used the win as a springboard. Toledo over the last three seasons has been as good as any MAC team but has watched the MAC title game from home, and Northern has used its key November victories to push the program to new heights. Ball State wants to make sure this one doesn't fully decide the West title, but chances are something is going to be on the line and plenty of points will end up on the scoreboard.
If the MAC is going to have anywhere near the season it had in 2012, it needs the program currently carrying its banner to win this game. And it's certainly winnable as Iowa is struggling. The Huskies have had a coaching change and are coming off a humbling Orange Bowl experience, but Lynch again has the chance to be among the nation's leaders in total offense and has a nice stage to get it started in Week One. What better way to reignite a little #MACtion than with a road upset of a Big Ten opponent?