The Mid-American Conference released its complete 2014 football schedule on Friday afternoon. We, your friends here at Hustle Belt, are here to analyze it for you. Who has the toughest road to Detroit? Who has the easiest? Who could make it through their non-conference schedule unscathed? We're here to tell you.
First, let's take a look at the schedule. We've compiled a handy table with each team's week-by-week schedule. Please note that the scheduled date for each game appears BELOW the listed opponent (for instance, Akron's game against Howard is on August 28th). Also note that specific game times and television arrangements have not been finalized yet and will be released at a later date.
Here's the Eastern Division...
|MAC EAST||Akron||Bowling Green||Buffalo||Kent State||U Mass||Miami||Ohio|
|Week 1||Howard||at W. Kentucky||Duquesne||Ohio||Boston College||Marshall||at Kent State|
|Aug. 28||Aug. 28||Aug. 30||Aug. 30||Aug. 30||Aug. 30||Aug. 30|
|Week 2||at Penn State||VMI||at Army||S. Alabama||Colorado||E. Kentucky||at Kentucky|
|Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6|
|Week 3||BYE||Indiana||Baylor||at Ohio State||at Vanderbilt||at Michigan||at Marshall|
|Sept. 13||Sept. 12||Sept. 13||Sept. 13||Sept. 13||Sept. 13|
|Week 4||Marshall||at Wisconsin||Norfolk State||BYE||at Penn St.||at Cincinnati||Idaho|
|Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20|
|Week 5||at Pittsburgh||at U Mass||Miami||at Virginia||BGSU||at Buffalo||E. Illinois|
|Sept. 27||Sept. 27||Sept. 27||Sept. 27||Sept. 27||Sept. 27||Sept. 27|
|Week 6||E. Michigan||Buffalo||at BGSU||at N. Illinois||at Miami||U Mass||at C. Michigan|
|Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4|
|Week 7||Miami||at Ohio||at EMU||U Mass||at Kent State||at Akron||BGSU|
|Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11|
|Week 8||at Ohio||W. Michigan||BYE||Army||E. Michigan||at N. Illinois||Akron|
|Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18|
|Week 9||at Ball State||BYE||CMU||at Miami||at Toledo||Kent State||at W. Michigan|
|Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25|
|Week 10||BYE||BYE||BYE||BYE||BYE||W. Michigan||BYE|
|Week 11||BGSU||at Akron||at Ohio||Toledo||BYE||BYE||Buffalo|
|Nov. 4||Nov. 4||Nov. 5||Nov. 4||Nov. 5|
|Week 12||at Buffalo||Kent State||Akron||at BGSU||Ball State||at C. Michigan||BYE|
|Nov. 11||Nov. 12||Nov. 11||Nov. 12||Nov. 12||Nov. 15|
|Week 13||U Mass||at Toledo||Kent State||at Buffalo||at Akron||BYE||N. Illinois|
|Nov. 18||Nov. 19||Nov. 19||Nov. 19||Nov. 18||Nov. 18|
|Week 14||at Kent State||Ball State||at U Mass||Akron||Buffalo||Ohio||at Miami|
|Nov. 25||Nov. 28||Nov. 28||Nov. 25||Nov. 28||Nov. 25||Nov. 25|
And the Western Division...
|MAC WEST||Ball State||C. Michigan||E. Michigan||N. Illinois||Toledo||W. Michigan|
|Week 1||Colgate||Chattanooga||Morgan State||Presbyterian||New Hampshire||at Purdue|
|Aug. 30||Aug. 28||Aug. 30||Aug. 28||Aug. 30||Aug. 30|
|Week 2||at Iowa||at Purdue||at Florida||at Northwestern||Missouri||BYE|
|Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6||Sept. 6|
|Week 3||Indiana State||Syracuse||at Old Dominion||at UNLV||at Cincinnati||at Idaho|
|Sept. 13||Sept. 13||Sept. 13||Sept. 13||Sept. 12||Sept. 13|
|Week 4||at Toledo||at Kansas||at Michigan St.||at Arkansas||Ball State||Murray State|
|Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20||Sept. 20|
|Week 5||BYE||at Toledo||BYE||BYE||C. Michigan||at Virginia Tech|
|Sept. 27||Sept. 27||Sept. 27|
|Week 6||at Army||Ohio||at Akron||Kent State||at W. Michigan||Toledo|
|Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4||Oct. 4|
|Week 7||W. Michigan||at N. Illinois||Buffalo||C. Michigan||at Iowa State||at Ball State|
|Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11||Oct. 11|
|Week 8||at C. Michigan||Ball State||at U Mass||Miami||BYE||at BGSU|
|Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18||Oct. 18|
|Week 9||Akron||at Buffalo||N. Illinois||at E. Michigan||U Mass||Ohio|
|Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25||Oct. 25|
|Week 10||BYE||at E. Michigan||C. Michigan||BYE||BYE||at Miami|
|Nov. 1||Nov. 1||Nov. 1|
|Week 11||N. Illinois||BYE||BYE||at Ball State||at Kent State||BYE|
|Nov. 5||Nov. 5||Nov. 4|
|Week 12||at U Mass||Miami||at W. Michigan||Toledo||at N. Illinois||E. Michigan|
|Nov. 12||Nov. 15||Nov. 15||Nov. 11||Nov. 11||Nov. 15|
|Week 13||E. Michigan||W. Michigan||at Ball State||at Ohio||BGSU||at C. Michigan|
|Nov. 22||Nov. 22||Nov. 22||Nov. 18||Nov. 19||Nov. 22|
|Week 14||at BGSU||BYE||Toledo||at W. Michigan||at E. Michigan||N. Illinois|
|Nov. 28||Nov. 28||Nov. 25||Nov. 28||Nov. 28|
Now, let's go team-by-team and give a couple of brief talking points about their individual gauntlet...
The Zips start out with an FCS team, but the remainder of their non-conference slate is difficult. Pittsburgh won a bowl game last season, and Marshall won their division in Conference USA. If there's a chance for an upset in their two road games, look towards the game at Penn State. The conference schedule looks very manageable. The only home game of consequence is Bowling Green, and they avoid both Northern Illinois and Toledo entirely.
The Falcons have an FCS team at home and a winnable road game against Western Kentucky. However, their two Big 10 opponents will be very tough. The home game with Indiana prevents a revenge opportunity for last year's 42-10 disaster. In conference play, they have two home tricky cross-division games against teams they haven't seen in a few years, especially that season-ender against Ball State. The roadie at Akron could be huge for the division, but all eyes will be focused on the weeknight game at Toledo.
Buffalo plays Baylor at home, and so apparently that makes it necessary to play two FCS teams. We're not a fan of this strategy. When you include their game at Army, it ought to be an embarrassment if the Bulls aren't 3-1 when MAC play begins. The Bulls get Akron at home the week after the Zips host BGSU, but trips to both Bowling Green and Ohio may be hard to overcome.
The Golden Flashes have the chance to kick off the season in style when those host Ohio on August 30th. They have two very winnable non-conference games at home but also must play at Ohio State and Virginia. The conference slate is non-forgiving. They have a trip to NIU then back-to-back games at BGSU and Buffalo. They also have to play Toledo and Akron at home.
The Minutemen are one of only two MAC teams (Kent State is the other) to not have an FCS team on their schedule. Their four games against power-conference teams aren't against any big names, but anything but an 0-4 start would probably be an upset. They'll have a hard time starting the conference season off well, too. Three of the first five are on the road, and one of the home games is Bowling Green.
The RedHawks have a new coach and will likely have a new quarterback, but will it lead to more wins? They start the season with two home games and avoid BGSU, but three of their first four in conference play are on the road against Buffalo, Akron and Northern Illinois. Right now, it's hard to see more than 1 or 2 wins in their first eight.
Ohio's losing some star talent, but if they can get some good quarterback play early, a 3-2 or 4-1 start isn't out of the question. They should beat Idaho and Eastern Illinois at home, and games at Kent State and Kentucky are winnable. The Bobcats do have to play BGSU, Akron, Buffalo and Northern Illinois, but all of those games are at home. This team could surprise.
We already noted how two MAC teams have no FCS schools on their schedule. Well, two others make up the difference by playing two, and Ball State joins Buffalo in that group. The Cardinals play Colgate and Indiana State, and while their other two non-conference games are on the road, one of those is Army, just like Buffalo. And just like Buffalo, Ball State better go at least 3-1 outside of the MAC. The Cardinals open and close the MAC season with tough road games, but in between, they play four home games from Week 7 to Week 13.
The Chippewas stand a decent chance of going at least 2-2 in non-conference games. They host Syracuse and have road games against two of the worst power conference teams during 2013 (Purdue and Kansas). Four of their first six MAC games are on the road, including trips to NIU and Toledo. However, if they can emerge from those in contention, they close with Miami and WMU at home.
The Eagles better beat Morgan State at home to open the season, because after that, it gets ugly. They have trips to Florida and Michigan State before September is over, then play at Akron and at home against Buffalo and Northern Illinois during October. They don't have to face BGSU again, but they also don't get Miami or Kent State -- and their game against Massachusetts is on the road.
If the Huskies are to get back to another MAC Championship game, they'll have to survive a difficult opening month that includes trips to Northwestern and Arkansas. However, NIU has a great chance to start the MAC season 4-0, as they open with three straight at home (Kent State, CMU, Miami) before playing at EMU. The Huskies also get Toledo as their only home game in November and avoid BGSU, Buffalo and Akron. It's a very favorable schedule.
The Rockets path to Detroit starts with home games against Ball State and Central Michigan. A tricky trip to Kalamazoo follows those game. However, the two games of the year for Toledo are back-to-back in November. They travel to DeKalb for a game with Northern Illinois on November 11th, then they host Bowling Green eight days later. The Rockets' season will live or die by those two games.
Can the Broncos' 2014 recruiting class help turn things around right away? We'll see with two immediate road games against Purdue and Idaho, who were both terrible in 2013. They also get Murray State at home, so is a 3-0 start out of the question? Well, 2-1 might be more realistic, but 3-0 isn't as far-fetched as you think. Outside of the trip to BGSU, their hardest conference games (Toledo, Ohio and NIU) are all at home. These guys could definitely play spoiler in 2014.
So, who's got the hardest conference schedule? Based on conference records from 2013, that distinction goes to Kent State. The Flashes have to play both defending division champions on the road and have to play at Buffalo. What about the easiest? Again, based on 2013 conference records, Buffalo has the easiest slate. The deciding factor there is that the Bulls don't have to face any of the top teams from the West in their cross-division games.
Here's how those schedules are ranked, from easiest to hardest, with opponents' 2013 conference record in parentheses:
1. Buffalo (25-39)
2. Northern Illinois (26-38)
3. Akron (29-35)
4. Massachusetts (33-31)
5. Ohio (34-30)
6. Central Michigan (32-32)
7. Toledo (33-31)
8. Ball State (32-32)
9. Miami (32-32)
10. Bowling Green (31-33)
11. Eastern Michigan (37-27)
12. Western Michigan (37-27)
13. Kent State (35-29)
As you can see, the top three and bottom three teams each really separate themselves out from the middle of the pack. What we did here was rank each team's schedule of four home games, then rank schedule of four road games. We then combined the two rankings.
For instance, Ohio has the league's hardest schedule at home (composite opponents' 2013 record was 25-7) but the league's easiest schedule on the road (9-23). Bowling Green ranks 8th-easiest at home and 7th-easiest on the road. This is why Ohio has the 5th easiest overall schedule and BGSU's is 10th, despite the fact that Ohio's opponents had a better overall record in 2013. Their home-road split is simply more favorable than Bowling Green's.
Now, all this doesn't really mean a whole lot as spring practices are just beginning, and the off-season still has several months to go. However, it does give us some preliminary ideas of what to expect once fall arrives...and if nothing else, it allows us to plan our own schedules so we can watch as much quality #MACtion as possible.