The Mid-American Conference out of conference scheduling model is a tricky one. On the one hand, you need to play the payday games to fund the athletics budget. On the other hand, you want to hit that magic six win mark to give yourself the opportunity for a postseason appearance (though seven or eight takes you off the bubble). Then there’s the unicorns: the FBS P5 schools that you have the opportunity of upsetting. If you’re lucky, they’ll venture into MAC territory. More likely than not, you’re doing it on the road.
This season there are 48 out of conference football games ranging from the biggest of the big to the smallest of the small. We rank them all, and tell you why you should care. Perhaps most importantly, we give each contest a (Jeremy) Guy Factor. The Guy Factor is an extremely scientific, very precise, exceptionally accurate measurement of the amount of MACtion each game is set to produce. If we anticipate a blowout game against an FCS bottom-feeder? One Guy. An expected shootout that is primed for overtime or other tomfoolery? Five Guys. Let the countdown begin...
48. Presbyterian @ Central Michigan (9/1)
Presbyterian is not what you would call an elite program. Last year, the Blue Hose, Presbyterian’s mascot and allegedly John Bonamego’s old AIM handle, dropped not close games to fellow MAC brethren Miami as well as recent FBS-elevated Charlotte. Not close, not exciting.
47. Mississippi Valley State @ Eastern Michigan (9/2)
Mississippi Valley State is 0-8 against FBS programs all time, along with a 66-0 loss last season to New Mexico. This is EMU, though, so it’s worth at least checking in once or twice in the first quarter to see if this is a snoozer or worth watching.
46. North Carolina Central @ Western Michigan (9/10)
Western, the trendy pick for the MAC West, and do well in home openers against lower level teams, with the exception of a 2013 loss to Nicholls. NC Central went 8-4 last year and also has experience playing FBS opponents, usually larger than Western. If there was ever a coach to try some weird things, PJ Fleck is the one to do it, especially in a home opener after a potential season opening loss to Northwestern.
45. Gardner-Webb @ Ohio (9/24)
Ohio has been successful against FCS opponents but rarely has blowout victories, with an average score of 35-11 in their 12 straight wins since 2003. Coach Frank Solich isn’t a run it up kind of coach, so expect this to be slow, methodical, and overwhelmingly average, much like my prom night.
44. Albany @ Buffalo (9/2)
Buffalo actually has a losing record against Albany, but those are historical contests and not recent results. The positive for Albany? They are the Great Danes, and that’s pretty awesome. Expect Buffalo to get their season off to a good start and not break much of a sweat putting away their in-state opponent.
43. Monmouth @ Kent State (9/17)
I’ve never been a big believer in the trap game phenomenon, but this is the definition of one. One week out from a road date against blue blood Alabama, Kent will either be coming in off a win over a quality FCS opponent or on the receiving end of the jeers and scorn of an FCS over FBS upset. Monmouth shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Golden Flashes, and expect a minimal effort to get rested and ready for their southern showdown.
42. North Carolina A&T @ Kent State (9/10)
Kent State’s schedule is the definition of dichotomy, as they have two FCS opponents (see #43), and two outstanding opponents. It just so happens that this game is after Penn State, and NC A&T isn’t your run of the mill FCS program, finishing 10-2 last season and ranked #21 in the FCS. As a loyal fan of MACtion, I can’t bring myself to suggest an upset, but with an FCS team with talent and a track record of success, this one may be worth watching if not for the sure to be MACtion from both squads, then for A&T’s band.
41. Maine @ Toledo (9/10)
It’s new head coach Jason Candle’s home opener in the Glass Bowl, so expect some fanfare and excitement. The Black Bears are in for a rough go of it, as Toledo, historically, does quite well against FCS opponents, 17-0 to be exact.
40. Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan (9/24)
Last year, Georgia Southern took Western to the woodshed 43-17, but 2016 and 2015 are different animals entirely. This year, the game is in the friendly confines of Waldo Stadium and Western won’t be coming off an emotionally draining game against an in-state Top 5 opponent. This is the final tune up before MAC play begins, so expect Western to be a well-oiled machine at this point but with no desire to get anyone hurt or tip their playbook hand before Central..
39. VMI @ Akron (9/3)
Ask Kentucky basketball what happens when you overlook VMI. I still hurt, but Terry Bowden isn’t Billy Gillispie. VMI’s backstory doesn’t bode well for them, as they lost last season to Ball State and were Akron’s only in in their 1-11 2011 campaign. Akron was my darkhorse pick for the MAC this season and this game should explain (and hopefully show) why.
38. Texas State @ Ohio (9/3)
Ohio has won six straight home openers and it is more likely than not it goes to seven after this contest. Texas State went 3-9 last year and though the excitement for this game isn’t what one would call “palpable” given Ohio’s lack of bombastic fireworks and methodical approach, it is possible. Texas State lost to Southern Miss 56-50 in 2015, and that’s as close to MACtion as you’re going to get outside of our footprint.
37. Eastern Illinois @ Miami (9/10)
There’s a few things to keep in mind for this one. First and foremost, Eastern Illinois is a pretty good team (#25 in FCS last season, made the playoffs). Second, Miami has lost to an FCS opponent as recently as 2014 (Eastern Kentucky). So to call this a sure thing would be an error in calling. The Redhawks will be coming off a season opening road trip at Iowa and are likely to not be at full strength. Call me crazy, but this one is worth watching.
Later today we’ll have out of conference contests from #36 to #25. The appetizers have been served. Now the real fun begins.