I think it's high time we started taking a look at the upcoming football season.
The spring games are too soon, because honestly I could care less whether the backup dime package free safety got beat deep in the fourth quarter by a teammate he'll never actually face in a game situation. July is perhaps still soon enough, but one must give time for the information to breathe, so prior to the Fourth of July (America's National Pastime be damned) feels just about right for me.
I'm starting things off by taking a look at who each MAC team has scheduled as their non-conference opponents for the 2012 season, and some trends definitely emerged.
Most teams landed a patsy FCS team to notch a win against (which will clearly help them reach that four team playoff in the near future), and some even went the daring route of having a majority of their other non-con games on the road.
How does everybody size up? Let's look at the MAC East first.
Note: Yes, I am using strictly 2011 performance as a measure of opponent difficulty - I think it's fair to assume that it's more likely that Michigan State stays a 10 win team than it is that Central Florida becomes one. Also, each team starts with a C+ and gains a grade (i.e. C+ to B-) each for a tough opponent (two if that tough opponent is a road game) or an extra road game, while losing one each for an overly easy opponent or an extra home game. And yes, I want you to disagree, because that's how discussion happens.
Home - Central Florida, Morgan State
Road - Florida International, Tennessee
2011 Record - 23-25
A- I will give credit to Terry Bowden for this schedule, which will definitely challenge a team hoping to improve on last season's bupkis outing. They play an up and coming FIU squad on the road and will also face Tennessee in Knoxville. Morgan State is doing for Akron what Akron is doing for Tennessee, but you gotta get a win somewhere.
Home - Idaho, Rhode Island
Road - Florida, Virginia Tech
2011 Record - 23-27
B+ A fan-friendly schedule, that's for sure. Two very ballsy road games that will really test the Falcons, against two likely national contenders, and then two home games against an unimpressive Idaho team and a Rhode Island squad that makes Idaho look challenging.
Home - Pitt, Morgan State
Road - Georgia, Connecticut
2011 Record - 26-24
B- Hey, there's those Bears again! Buffalo will stand a very strong change of going on the road and getting smoked by an SEC team, get a gimme against Morgan State at home, and then round out with a couple other opponents that are close enough they could go either way for the Bulls.
Home - Towson, Army
Road - Kentucky, Rutgers
2011 Record - 26-21
C+ This seems to be a trend with these MAC teams. Schedule a home game against an FCS opponent (although an actual good one, in this case), then a couple road games, one probably fairly easy and one a bit harder, plus a middling "BCS" team. This seems the definition of an average non-conference schedule.
Home - Indiana
Road - Connecticut, Michigan, Vanderbilt
2011 Record - 23-27
B+ The Minutemen open their inaugural MAC campaign by avoiding the pitfall of scheduling a cake FCS team, though their FBS non-conference opponents leave a little bit to be desired (especially depending on your opinion about whether Vanderbilt is on the rise). Still, a very ambitious non-conference schedule for their inaugural FBC campaign.
Home - Southern Illinois
Road - Cincinnati, Ohio State, Boise State
2011 Record - 32-18
A- This is a well-crafted schedule. The lone home tilt is also a surefire winner (though they probably could have done a little bit better than SIU), and they play a strong non-conference schedule (two 10-game winners and another with a well-publicized down year) without even having to leave their home state but once. Heck, they only leave Ohio three times all season.
Home - New Mexico State, Norfolk State
Road - Penn State, Marshall
2011 Record - 28-23
C+ I expected better from a Frank Solich squad. The Bobcats went the route of not one but two cake home games, and then forgot to balance it out fully. They will certainly start their season with a strong test on the road against Penn State, but they could do better than a road game against a middling C-USA team like Marshall.
We will take a closer look at each team as the season approaches, but for now this will suffice. Come back tomorrow for a similar look at the MAC West.